This week I was lucky to have an excuse to spend time with Gretchen Rubin – I interviewed her for a speaker series at my company. Nothing like mixing work with the people you love and the books that changed your life.
Because Gretchen’s area of expertise is happiness, I have, of course, not stopped thinking about it in various forms, all week. Nor have my co-workers. Gretchen tends to have that effect on people.
There was a fun exercise after the panel, in which the attendees were asked to write down the strangest thing that makes them happy in 6 words or less, (huge hat tip to SMITH Magazine). I joked earlier that my answer was Watching Real Housewives uninterrupted, and one of my male colleagues said, “I HATE that show! It makes me crazy!”
“Exactly,” I said.
“Nate feels the same way. So there’s something about knowing that Nate is off at work that night and that I’ve got an uninterrupted hour with no one around to make fun of me or criticize me or roll their eyes at my choice.” I can just lie there in peace, with the kids asleep, thinking about absolutely nothing of importance or pressing societal value for a whole sixty minutes.
And it’s awesome.
Even if it’s not as erudite an answer as “Reading Chaucer and sipping Oolong.”
But hey, one of Gretchen’s points in her book is that acknowledging the hobbies and activities you enjoy (Twilight novels! Angry Birds! Drinking White Zinfandel with ice cubes!), whatever they seem to say about you, is a big contributor to happiness too.
I would add things like The misspellings on my kids’ artwork.
How Sage can’t say her R’s.
Photos of grandparents I never knew.
Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.
Watching children in a museum.
(I also thought about how hugging my kids at the end of the day still makes me happy. Although I wouldn’t call that strange.)
Some of the other answers from other people were really wonderful:
The smell of dirt
Watching The Sound of Music
The girders on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Getting to break the six world limit. (Ha)
But I think my favorite was: Finding empty parking spaces.
When I’m walking around and I see a big, comfy, cushy space smack in the middle of a busy New York block and I think, wow, someone is going to be really happy to get that. And that makes me feel good. And then Gretchen and I both confessed that we get the same feeling seeing a taxi drive by with its “available” light on. It makes us think, hey, I could go somewhere right now if I wanted! Anywhere, almost! There’s something incredibly happiness-making when you’re faced with possibilities and no right or wrong answers, no consequences. Just a big old, “what if?”
I started to analyze the things that make my kids happy and how that changes–or will change–over the years. About how Thalia today can just cuddle up next to me in the nail salon, without getting any services, without playing iPad or reading a book, because, as she says, she just likes to be there with me. I thought about how funny it is that Sage is so happy when we jump in bed to read the next chapter of the Oz books and she gets to be on my coveted right side. For some reason, the right side is the BEST side in her world.
Then I realized something else after a few days of reflection: it actually makes me happy to think about the things that make other people happy.
Just thinking about another person smiling as she watches Do Re Mi for the 400th time, or comes home to a freshly made bed makes me feel good. Watching thousands of New Yorkers fill the intersections acrosss 23rd street last night for Manhattanhenge simply to cheer a sunset, made me happy–in part because I felt their joy too.
That’s a pretty cool thing. And I think, when I’m feeling kind of down or cynical or anxious or whatever is the opposite of happy, I want to try and work hard to think about other happy people–not to mock them or question their authenticity, but to find some inspiration of my own. It seems like a good plan right now; we’ll see how it goes.
So tell me, in six words or less, what is the strangest thing that makes you happy?