What is happiness?

“Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

            -Nathanial Hawthorne


Over the recent weeks of isolation, I have found myself resisting temptation to settle in to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or an endless stream of YouTube wood working videos. Instead, I have attempted to maintain a fairly regular routine. My wife leaves for work around 4:45 or 5:00 in the morning (The dog and I sleep until around 7:45!). Once Ford (the dog) and I get up I make a cup of coffee and two eggs, over medium. He gets dog food. After breakfast we go for a walk around the neighborhood, and then I spend a couple of hours working. A regular morning routine is one of the best things that I can do if I want to avoid finding myself at one o’clock in the afternoon, having nothing accomplished. Taking charge of my morning leads to time spent more productively. This led me to wonder: can I take charge of my happiness too?

What would taking charge of my happiness even look like? People who chase after things they think will bring them joy usually search their whole lives. So, how can I flip the switch on happiness? I am sorry to report that I did not find a silver bullet to the problem. Establishing a routine was a significant component to feeling content given recent events, but it was not the total solution. I had to decide to prioritize things according to what I felt would bring me joy over the long(er) term. This looked like scheduling time to read some of the books I have had on my list for a while, connecting to friends and family, and reducing the amount of time I spend looking at my phone!

Happiness in changing the media I consume

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, was the brilliant novel that I just finished the other day! Finishing a book brings me far more joy and mindful reflection than finishing a series on Netflix or Disney+. I know, from experience, that finishing a television series in two days leaves me feeling anxious and wanting to consume more. Contrasted to finishing Dostoyevsky. Where I wake up the following morning with the characters, the places, the circumstances, and the philosophy marinating in my mind. New ideas cropping up from moment to moment. Compelling me to flip back through the books pages and re-read certain passages that have now taken on new meaning given the climax of the story.

Happiness in remain connected to loved ones

I have noticed that I am compelled to call and check in with family and friends more often. Talking to loved ones has helped me to feel grounded and encouraged me to stay in the moment. Not to mention that with social distancing, it is the only option I have to talk to anyone but my dog! In all seriousness, spending time in isolation facilitates the realization that the relationships that I have are deeply meaningful to me. They add to my sense of identity, and contribute to my well-being. Friends and family have helped to push me to expect the most from myself. And helped guide me along the path to righteous living. Each person in my life brings with them special and unique characteristics. Characteristics that fill my spirit with happiness. Remaining connected to them has been helped me remain grounded in the present moment.

Stepping back from media use

Reducing the amount of time I spend engaged with social media, and other media in general, has been critical to finding happiness in the present moment. Now, I just mentioned staying in touch with friends and family, for which social media is a wonderful tool; however, it is all too easy to use social media in unproductive ways. Refraining from media use has allowed my mind to slow. Allowed for my thoughts to compose and structure themselves. And allowed for me to focus on reading and writing more. Lowering my media intake has reduced my anxiety about the coronavirus, and checking in with my family more has helped me to rest assured that everyone is doing what they can to remain safe and healthy, which is all anyone can do.

All of these little habits have helped me to “sit down quietly” and give myself the opportunity to find happiness in the present moment. The best way to ensure that happiness is not “just beyond your grasp” may be to find yourself in the present moment.  Let it come to you.


Check out some other posts from Stand4Kind:

Understanding the bystander effect

Cabin fever? Try going for a walk!

Identity: What is it? How do I find mine?

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