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Happiness (203 posts)
We could all use a little more happiness in our lives. But sometimes the universe forgets it's supposed to be our accomplice, and dumps hail storms AND droughts AND babies smashing cameras AND immediately-spilled iced lattes into our laps all at once. Anyone looking for an infusion of happiness would do well to visit Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show. If you happen to be in Philadelphia you can view the show at the Institute of Contemporary Art this week before it closes. Otherwise, the evidence of the show is archived for all to take joy in -- thank you Internet! -- on Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter. Sagmeister's show features the graphic designer's own rules to live by, based on his ten-year exploration of the topic of happiness, like so:
But the Happy Show also, crucially, invites participants to weigh in by drawing their symbols of happiness (like the heart-cloud above), and answering questions about what makes them happy. For example: What is the happiest word? As the ICA blog points out, the answers often create a kind of poetry:
"What Did You Do to Make Someone Else Unexpectedly Happy?
I took care of a dog last summer. I emailed pictures of her every day to her owners with funny captions.
I admit, these questions, even the idea of the symbols of happiness, seem anodyne until I actually try to answer them in my own head. What IS the happiest word? What WOULD I do with a year off? I can rattle off lots of foods that make me happy (probably too many), but what is my symbol of happiness? It seems like we should know what makes us happy, or how to make others happy. But as the need for such an exhibit, and the outpouring of response they've received via social media, proves, these are not questions we as a culture find easy to answer.
The exhibit doesn't profess to be able to provide happiness either. But it does provide insight, and most meaningfully, a way to connect. Which, when you think about it, might just be a road to happiness in itself.
Of course, they are missing the subtext, which is that for some strange reason grown-ups seem to stop liking their birthdays. How to explain to a child? That you start to put pressure on yourself, or the world does, to do certain things and certain times; that you are supposed to have achieved This and That and The Other by This Age, so that if you haven't you greet your birthday with glum recognition. Oh, and the nearing specter of old age and death. But whatever -- cupcakes!
Blogger Abby Try Again has a lovely solution for again malaise: the birthday list. Of her thirtieth birthday she wrote, "It felt special but not, big and little, insignificant and significant. I'm a believer in recognizing the power of each day—not just focusing on milestones...but I couldn't help but be reflective." So she created a list of 30 Things to do Before Turning 31. I love the idea of making every birthday a kind of a milestone birthday (and by doing so, taking pressure off the Big Ones), and I love the list itself. "Make 3 new friends." "Go roller skating." "Do something completely out of my comfort zone." (Hey, those might just all be the same thing!)
Read (And Make) More:
A Mighty Life List
An "I Want" List
A Bliss List
My thoughts drifted back to that cookbook last week, when I saw NPR's piece on the history of community-based cookbooks. The writer, Jessica Stoller-Conrad, pointed to The Woman's Suffrage Cookbook and 1904 Bluegrass Cookbook from Kentucky. Like me, she recognized their outdated references belonged to a time when women didn't have a lot of personal or professional choices. But she also felt the books were social outlets that "were so much more than just a catalog of recipes—they were fundraisers, political pamphlets, and historical accounts of the communities they served."
They were memoirs too, I suddenly realized. Every gravy stain and little handwritten comment ("add extra salt!" or "need more clam juice") tells a story. My cookbook, however, is wonderfully blank. My mother did not cook. She was a social worker in the 1970s. She did not have the time, interest or energy. Her lack of comment was a comment: There's a big world beyond the kitchen, honey. The silence of stains on each page may just have resulted in my being a working mother too (though I do love cooking, especially when it's something like "Mooseburger Meatloaf.").
Now that we live in the age of round-the-clock blogging, any lack of commentary (of any kind) seems harder and harder to find. I see these kinds of tell-all-say-nothing moments occasionally when a friend restrains herself from making a political point over dinner or someone shows you a photo but fails to tell the story behind it. I wish there were more of them. These omissions aren't nothing. They're windows into our choices: to cook or not cook, to explain or not explain, to show and see if anybody is ready to understand instead of just lecture and opine.
Tune out the World, Find Your Voice
Do You Trust Yourself?
Last year, the blogatorium (okay, I just didn't feel like typing "blogosphere" one more time) hummed with talk of "FOMO." That is, Fear of Missing Out, that social-media-fueled sense that you are missing everything good, that the world is teeming with super-cool events and parties and talks and lives you'll never be a part of. Now blogger Anil Dash has weighed in with his counter-phenomenon: JOMO. That is: Joy of Missing Out.
Dash writes, "There can be, and should be, a blissful, serene enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved to, but are simply skipping." It's okay to learn, through whatever human-tracking-app your mobile phone is stocked with, that everyone is having the Best! Time! Ever! at the TED Talk/art opening/cocktail party/perfect summer getaway while you, after putting down your phone with a sniff, roll over to read one more page of your book before falling asleep on the couch. Particularly if you love the book. Particularly if you're tired because you were up early to run, or take the kids to the beach, or meditate. It's okay to miss out on the big things in favor of The Big Things, like time with your family, your friends, even yourself. In fact, carving out quiet time in our so-many-invitations-so-many-options world might just transform your life. Which is more than you can say for most cocktail hours.
Why it's Okay To Put Yourself First
The Beauty of Living in the Moment
I'm all for cheap happiness. I'll take it in whatever form it comes: gummy hamburgers, drugstore vanilla candles, 50 cent handfuls of food for the geese at the local zoo. Free happiness however is even better and harder to find. Except when it comes to animal photographs. The world is awash in fuzzy-wuzzy, big-eyed, potbellied, snuggly-duggly snapshots of kittens and pigs these days and...I'm in favor of it. My favorite part about this whole fad is that, unlike in some many other cases, animal photographers don't have to be original. Nobody needs a a cutting-edge shot of a mommy dog and her puppies or an avant-garde depiction of a two dolphins kissing. Fireworks, boob jobs, a raw-meat dress adds nothing to baby monkey dreaming on a pillow. And yet...this does not mean that a total lack of originality can't result in surprise, as I found on this slideshow of The World's Happiest Animals on Inspire First. He looked so human to me, this mysterious yet content creature, who as I later found out had never worked in his life and spends 15 to 18 hours a day sleeping Because, after all, he's also one of The World's Wisest Animals too—a sloth.
17 Ways to love your life this summer
What really makes people happy
I'm a sucker for a niche obsession. Mine have included: dog hair brushes, chicken marinades, tasteful bean bags, not-too-thick but not-too-thin milkshakes, and French songs for small children. I plunge myself into these interests with great attention and vigor—only to collapse later, having acquired some understanding of the subject, but not enough to make a life work's out of it.
Which is why I found Evan Leeson's photographs so inspirational. There he was on photography blogger with 19 dazzling photos of......wet grass. An obscure love, sure, but who doesn't love wet grass? It's the sweet, quiet younger brother of the ever popular, relentlessly successful "freshly mowed." Further, Leeson didn't just take evocative pictures of it, ones that bring back those barefoot runs through the neighborhood, post-thunderstorm, he also managed to take the pictures so that one drop of water on a blade captures larger surrounding landscapes, including barns, flowers, and an entire law. In short, he shows us how the great big world might look like, from the grass's perspective. Now that's an understand that veers into empathy, folks—the first sign that a niche obsession has turned into a niche work of art.
4 Reasons You're Not Writing the Book You're Meant to Write
The Unexpected Art of the Latte
Killer Goldfish Inspires Mass Creativity
Fast Company has curated this lovely collection of 8 Examples of Good Defeating Evil on the Internet. Example Number One is the amazing Indie-Go-Go campaign that a kind-hearted soul started in order to give a lady named Karen a nice vacation. You probably heard the story: a senior citizen works as a bus monitor, and one day the middle-schoolers on her bus decided to record their verbal harassment of her and put in online, because it's just so hilarious to taunt a sweet older woman into tears. One man decided that Karen the bus monitor needed a break, and started the campaign in order to raise $5,000 for her. Thousands of views, tweets, likes, and donations later, Karen's campaign has raised over $679,000.
Read on for more stories that will make you feel better about the world, the Internet, and your hours spent trolling its mysterious depths.
The Ripple Effect of Oprah's Act of Kindness
Pick a Card, Do Good, Share Online
Technology + Charity = Hope Mob
Q: I have an idea, and even some talent or training, but every time I sit down to do something about it, all I can hear is a sniveling, critical, who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are voice in my head. How can I get past that?
A: Freezing when you sit down to work by yourself is the same thing as freezing in front of an audience. In both cases, you're stymied by the fear of what people will think of you. The only difference is that here, the audience is in your head--a hypothetical group of people who will judge your output in the future. How can an imaginary audience have such a paralyzing effect? The answer is that deep down you feel you have to be perfect to win their validation. That's impossible. In fact, there's a strange truth about human creativity: The most creative part of you is also the most imperfect. This imperfect part of you is what we call the Shadow; and you shouldn't freeze it out of the creative process, you should invite it back in. This requires you to accept the worst--in whatever form it comes out: Write the worst sentence, paint the worst portrait, play as off-key as you can. Once you do this, the Shadow feels accepted--and creativity will then take over. For most people, this is pretty counterintuitive, but here's the truth: A real creative process isn't immediately gratifying. It's frustrating, mysterious, and uncertain.
The other day I was feeling bummed about the paunch, and was glumly considering my options. I asked my neighbor, who's a personal trainer, where I should start. "Three minutes running, three minutes..." "Crying?" I guessed. "Um, no. Walking. No crying." A run in the 90 degree heat? Okay. I immediately went to air-conditioned cafe and the thing is they have these really special donuts.
Evening plans: shame spiral.
Then I was talking to my husband, and moaning about the paunch, and a thought struck me: I love this problem. Don't get me wrong, it's a problem. If there's one thing I hate more than working out, it's shopping for clothes, so never getting back to my normal size is out of the question. But I am so mindblowingly lucky that this is my problem. I mean, I'm not talking the-mom-in-What's-Eating-Glibert-Grape obesity here. And I'm not starving either. I mean: Hooray! It's just a non-delicious muffin top! That's not to say I want to keep it around, but it did occur to me that if I treated my problem with loving kindness, or more accurately, an amused detachment, it's possible that I would have less angst and more energy to combat it. Like, instead of feeling depleted by it, I should be thankful for it. Hey, baby weight! Wasn't that fun when you served a purpose? Guess what, buddy? The baby's out! The baby walks and talks! So, listen, you know what you might really enjoy, is this, it's called "salad"! How lucky, to have this paunch around to convince me to exercise!
What's your paunch? -- that little problem annoying your subconscious all day? A small debt piling up on the Victoria's Secret credit card you refuse to believe you even have? A kitchen that seems to mess itself up when you're sleeping? A sense that your blah haircut is the key to all your life's inadequacies? Trust me, I know that there are big problems that are hard to love: bankruptcy, disease, bangs that refuse to grow out gracefully. But maybe if we can remember to treat our paunch-like problems with love, we can remember that it's actually kind of fun to, I don't know, run for three minutes.
9 Rules for Everyday Senseless Joy
The No-Gimmick Way to Make Change in Your Life
Here are a few:
"I lack the motivation to exercise..However, there is nothing quite like a big dumb dog to give you the kick in the pants. Mine will let me sit on the couch for about 1/2 a minute in the morning drinking coffee. Then it’s so on. She’s a herding dog so magically I become an unruly sheep."
"Set a time limit (I usually give it one day) and wallow. Drink gin. Eat chocolate and junk food. Watch Lifetime movies in bed. Make it an official party and invite friends, if you want. When I give myself permission to be in a funk, as well as a deadline, I’m usually eager to face tomorrow and my ubiquitous to-do lists."
"When we were training our dog, every time she went to the bathroom outside we would have a “puppy party” – dance around, give her treats, lots of pats, and lots of praise. I think we all need to have “puppy parties” for ourselves, especially for some of the small tasks that normally no one recognizes. Clean the kitchen? Organize the closet? Do the laundry? Every once in awhile, I think those all deserve some ice cream, or chocolate, or snuggle time on the couch with an old movie."
"What I have found motivates me is cheating on to-do lists. If I don’t feel productive, then I make a list of things I need to do (broken down into SMALL parts) & I always include a couple of things that I have already (completely or partially) accomplished. That way, my list is not “to do,” but instead “partially done.” It’s a small mind trick (a la my clock being 5 minutes fast), but it seems to work for me."
What about you? How do you give yourself a "kick in the pants"? Tell us in the comments!