Saturday, April 19, 2014

You can't say no to happiness...

Thank you for all your replies to my last post on happiness, and what it is that gives us those fleeting moments of contentment and joy. In the two weeks since I've thought about it a lot more. I happened to write that post at a time when I hadn't been feeling a lot of joy, worn-down by an attention divided too many ways, not enough sleep and anxiety over all the good things that are going on in my life. Worrying about good things? Silly, I know. But in order to make those things happen, we've had to work pretty hard and having one too many projects, plans and jobs to juggle, doesn't leave me with enough mental space to really enjoy it all.

However, as previously established, these things we all juggle, are in fact, the foundations on which future happiness will be built: the right work, the good friends, the things you love, the money you need to live, creativity, self-sufficiency, whatever it is that makes you happy in the long term.

And yet piled altogether and all at once, they can make you wholly unhappy. Not only that, but I have found that it is consistently pretty hard to take the daily steps needed for the feeling of happiness and all too easy to choose a momentary satisfaction that mimics real happiness, say watching TV and eating candy, instead of going for a run,  meditating, or engaging in real emotions with real, actual people (that's not to say that watching TV can't sometimes bring you genuine happiness).

Everyone I know that meditates, including teachers and long-time practitioners still says its hard. I've never met anyone who says watching Mad Men is particularly hard. Yet TV almost perfectly mimics the "loosing your self" aspect of joy. You are less within yourself when you watch movies, television, plays, surf-around the internet, or read.

Of course he path of least resistance is always, always easier to take than the high road, but personally I think that a little bit of both is the way to Shangri-La. Choosing that which will increase your happiness to come often, yet sometimes also letting yourself choose that which will unwind your racing mind.

So why talk about happiness? Why is every lifestyle blog full of tips for "staying present in the moment" and why does NY Times keep running articles on transcendental meditation (And why do so many of all articles about meditation have pictures of thin white women?), why is instagram filled with the hashtag #hundreddaysofhappiness (apparently according to a dear blog friend most people don't complete this challenge 'cos they don't have the time! What?)? Why can't we, myself included, just shut up about it already and just be happy?

Because, it is the one thing that we all strive for. If anyone denies their desire to be "happy", they're probably full of "shit". It is the ultimate goal of…well…life. I don't know if all societies, always have spoken of happiness, or if it once was implicit. If maybe the fall from Paradise is a myth remnant from the moment when happiness stopped being our natural state of being and became something we aspire to? The one universal thing we all want, so much so that pursuing it is written in the constitution of this unhappy nation.

The pursuit itself may be as old as civilization, but it seems to remain a wild goose chase, that many, if not most, of us are going about achieving the wrong way.

In this world, the world of complexity and endless choices, where most people do not do something meaningful for a living, where many people have no spiritual foundation, or no community, where everything is all at once up to our individual choice, and at the same time, we are more or less powerless to affect the larger framework within which we live, happiness can be hard to find.

We often confuse it with lust, love and want, with money, possessions, altered states, security, conforming to societal expectations.

The hardest thing about happiness for me is two-fold. On the one hand being happy with what you have, on the other working hard to achieve that which will create more happiness. Sometimes even identifying the things that make us happy can be a hard, having them obscured by those afore-mentioned, confusing substitutes.

In my last post, I talked about moments of transcendence, trying to each day stop for even a short while to examine our surroundings for the signs of silent bliss. Yesterday, for instance, I watched Charlie lay in the sun-warm grass with our cat, I stopped to look at the new chicks as they ran for the coop door, having never been outside of anything in their lives and intuitively still knowing that it is where they belong, I constructed pictures of myself, of all things, yet forgot myself, framing them, and all this made me happy.

But at the same time, I did this in the midst of completing an epic task list, reserved for this, my sole day off. Yet the expectation of completing all of these things didn't make me anxious, resentful, or depressed, simply because they are the things that make those other moments possible and more abundant.

It may not make me happy to spend my day off weeding clumps of grass from our still completely unfinished garden, even though it is mid-april and I'm still only getting started on the first bed, which is to house potatoes; but it makes me happy that we will have a garden, full of greens, peas, radishes and those potatoes. It makes happy that our busy farmer friend took that time to help us till it. It makes me happy that in a few brief weeks it will be something,  a living growing thing we accomplished.

I would love to spend my days writing, kayaking, reading the Tarot, but in the end, building something that will feed us, or making money that will shelter us, buy us time for those pursuits should also fill me with happiness. Not the blissful joy-kind. The steady, sweaty, job-well-done, we'll-be-sleeping-sound-tonight-kind.

Daily happiness may not be just about looking up and recognizing the joy you have, it may also be about identifying the things that bring you joy, contentment, that make you feel like you've  accomplished something, and then pursuing them; at times relentlessly in spite your exhaustion, at others, when you have the strength and concentration. At times it really is the experience of flow in even the most humbling, mind-numbing work.

Because even if I'm not writing, or doing the other things I'm passionate about, I'm still doing the "right work".

I've slowly come to accept that even the "wrong work", the day jobs, being tied to the computer, instead of the woods, can be the "right work", so long as it serves our greater purpose.

I'm also learning that sometimes the things we love the most can come second, can stay on the back burner for another little while. Rushing to complete the weeding, the sauerkraut, the etsy photos, the cleaning, I was in my head planning for this morning, how Charlie and I were going to get up early and go kayaking, finally a tranquil time alone in nature. Yet waking up early today to list stuff on my shop, to maybe write this post, though I did not know what it was going to be about yet, I realized that it  would stretch the day too thin, that he was too tired, that I had too much to do still. Laundry, gifts, notes for a meeting I have, plans for work. Instead of being sad an disappointed, feeling like I'm failing, I'm writing this. Soon, Charlie will get up and we will drink coffee together and walk to the neighbors and go on with what we need to do today.

I'm perfectly happy about it. I can't make more time, he can't function on less sleep. We'll still have the day, with friends and costumed parades and cold cloudy weather. We will not go kayaking, but I will write a letter to someone who needs it badly, I will do the laundry we so badly need.

Happiness is in the cards.

Happy Weekend!  


  1. Oh, Milla, I really love your posts so much. The integral importance of "the right work". Such wisdom, as always.


  2. It's true. Sometimes all of the crappy little jobs mean happiness, just in having them done. Accomplishments, wrong or right. I wish I could knock out a blog post, but the timing isn't quite right. Your list is a great sign of being organised! Why do I rebel against being organised!? I am loving these few well earned days of rest with my husband, he doesn't have to go to work for four days, and we are seriously slothing quite a bit - today at least. Beautiful dress on beautiful you. x

  3. Milla - you've done it again! I feel like commenting every single paragraph. But I can't, so I'll just say what comes more pressingly in my mind after I've read this - gladly laying aside my task at hand ;o)

    Firstly, I've always found it quite hard to remain balanced and happy (and grounded) with only one day off, particularly after a while. In my life and in others... So I do hope all the good things in your own life can truly bring you this balance, and the feeling that you satisfyingly "belong" there, even in unexpected moments :o)

    Secondly, I've also found happiness very elusive whenever I was trying to combine into the same day, several things in fact not really compatible in their "spirit", even if I technically had the time to do them all (and more). Strangely enough, I was perfectly aware of the frustration it brought, and of the fact I ended up not really enjoying either of these things, even if I only managed to do a third of them at most - but I could not help myself.

    I could not just take a quick shower, then jump on my bike to enjoy the mountain in the best light, which was my true intention and dearest wish. Nope! It was logical to do the chores first, since they involved getting dirty, and then take a shower (involving dry-brushing, cold and hot water, the whole kit : this was my day off, right ?), next prepare a picnic, eat right away instead (I was ravenous by then), and gather everything I would need on the mountain: drawing, writing and reading material, a warm sweater, my camera, etc.

    By the time I actually left, the sun was on its mid-afternoon position in the sky (at best) and I had lost (again) an opportunity to enjoy my secret garden in the morning/noon light. This tortuous scenario happened Every Single Time. For years.

    Then in the beginning of last year, out of despair, I switched to "let's have one Priority today, and one side task/errand, at most" on these days off. (I know, it sounds impossible when you have only one !) But it did the trick for me! I manage to still do several good things during the day, except I mostly improvise around whatever I feel most like doing at this moment. And I feel me so much more grounded, most of the time. The most helpful thing I guess is that I don't feel guilty anymore for not doing it all. Which apparently broke the spell ;o)

    So we've come to the same conclusion it seems - lets' improvise, and follow the lead from our heart, then whatever comes to us does so with more meaning, feeling and sensations. Yes?

    May deep peace come to your heart from the very food you are cooking, the dandelions you are picking, and from earth that you are weeding and planting! It's one of my favourite activities in the world. I wish I could come help you do it :o)

    1. Quite an epic comment! I was not aware it was going to be so long ;o) and the little comment window does not allow you a whole view of what you are writing... So there is at least one typo here - in the 6th paragraph ( ! ) it should read "I feel so much more grounded" (mais quand même distraite !) xo

  4. Happy weekend to you ..or what´s left of it :)
    Spring is here and I´m so happy!

  5. As always, such wise words that really hit home with me. <3

    I've been coming to the realization (slowly) that these everyday tasks, to-dos, chores *can* bring happiness, once I accept they are all part of the bigger picture, the long-term, that they are the foundation-building, as you said.

    I hope your weekend is full of happiness and peace---no matter what activities and tasks fill your time. :)

  6. I think that's key...experiencing flow in the most mundane of tasks. The things that must get done in order for the fun to be had...If you can experience peace while folding the laundry or doing the dishes the other stuff is that much sweeter. If I can manage to quiet that ever present voice in my head, and simply BE while doing the "wrong work" I actually find it quite enjoyable and even joyful!

  7. Great post! I love how you see the world, and I agree with most of your views.
    I think happiness just might come from satisfaction...which, of course, can come from so many different things for so many different people. Looking at beautiful imagery on the blogs I follow or on Pinterest brings me a temporary satisfaction, but unless it spurs something bigger from inside, it isn't good for much. I also think that the moment something we do shifts from being satisfied, to being an obligation; I think that is one of those soul-dimming things. It's a weird balance to maintain.

    1. "...the moment something we do shifts from being satisfied, to being an obligation; I think that is one of those soul-dimming things" - I think you're very right about that! I think that's often the problem with things in my life, though I also realize it is probably not more than a mindset. Are you going to feel bogged down because of the obligation of doing the dishes, or are you going to feel satisfied that you're getting it done?

  8. My mind is too foggy today to string together the thoughts I have about this part of the subject of happiness you talk about, but I just wanted to say that it's a good addition to your earlier post, focusing on the meaning of those less happy moments. I think if you'd feel happy all the time, you'd go crazy (like young people - fools - in love)!