I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. No, I’m not in the midst of an existential crisis and yes, everything is okay. I’ve been thinking about happiness because with the new year approaching lots of people are talking about their New Year’s resolutions and asking me what I’d like to be different in the new year.
This question always throws me because I never have a good answer for it. Of course, there are things I’d like to be different: I’d like to be just an inch or two taller. I’d like to go to Iceland and see the northern lights. I’d like to wear a real fur coat that is completely cruelty- and controversy-free. Not all these things are practical or possible, though. That’s why I generally just resolve to “be better” in the new year. It’s a simple resolution that covers all the bases.
After the third or fourth conversation about resolutions, I started to notice a pattern. Whether you want to lose weight, wake up earlier, save money, or get out more, there’s something all these resolutions have in common: We think that making changes will make us happier. The catch is that everyone’s idea of happiness is somewhat unique to them, so how do you write an article about happiness that appeals to everybody?
I was stewing over this idea, wondering what to write, when a long, sustained shriek broke my concentration. Before you jump to conclusions, I should say that my brother and his family, which includes my two school-aged nephews and toddler niece, were visiting. My niece was feeling fussy, as toddlers do sometimes, because she had missed her nap and, more importantly, finished the last strawberry on her snack plate. Based on her anguished screams, you would think the world was ending.
Then, just as quickly as it began, the screaming stopped and was replaced by the happy gurgles of a sweet and contented toddler. The strawberries may have been gone, but in their place, was a freshly-peeled tangerine. And she loves tangerines. The expression on her face was pure bliss as she slipped each wedge into her smiling mouth. She even insisted on sharing, shoving a juicy piece into my mouth with one tiny fist as the other stroked and pulled my beard.
I had never seen her happier, except for every other time she’s been happy. That’s when it clicked. When we think about happiness, we tend to think of a state of being. You wake up, live your life, and go to bed feeling happy all the time. This generally isn’t the case for most people because life invariably has ups and downs. We consider ourselves happy if we’re scoring a seven or better on a scale of one to ten, but we would all prefer to coast through life in the nine-to-ten range – and that’s why we make resolutions.
What the toddler taught me is that maybe we’re looking at New Year’s resolutions all wrong. Yes, it would be great if everybody could be a ten on the happiness scale all the time, but is that realistic? Is it even possible? Perhaps the best way to achieve happiness in the new year is to live like a toddler and celebrate even the smallest of victories. Most resolutions have a set goal, a kind of finish line that’s off in the distance. We think we’ll be happy once we achieve whatever our goal may be; but, in doing so, we’re also delaying the happiness we’re all chasing. Isn’t it easier to take a moment to appreciate all the good things life has to offer when we have a happy experience?
If we do this, perhaps we’ll realize that even when life’s strawberries are gone, there’s always a juicy, delicious tangerine just waiting to be discovered and that thought alone will bring us happiness. Happy New Year!