This blog post is about the first New Year’s resolution that I have kept in my whole life. For all 365 days of 2015, Al and I (and sometimes Megan) have written our happy moment of the day on a tiny scrap of paper and popped it in a glass jar that is known as the Surycz Happiness Jar. It is our record of good times. Tada!
I remember the dark, confused and unhappy period when I lived in London and was in the throes of my job miseries. I told a friend that I was not sure what to do next. I explained that I was treading water and waiting to catch my next big wave. I will never forget his reply. He said, ‘Julie! Life is not about sitting about and waiting for waves. YOU MAKE THEM.’
That’s the point of the Happiness Jar. Every evening this year, we have identified and therefore appreciated the moment in the day that gave us the most joy. I’m trying to teach my girls that you cannot sit on your butt and wait for the future to unfold like an endless magic carpet. I’ve realized that you create your happiness by putting in decisive, specific effort. You have to angle your life in the direction you want it to go. Happiness is mostly something you DO, not something you wait or hope to FEEL. Joy doesn’t just fall on you like fairy dust. You have to go out and create it and I’ve realized that it is mostly to be found in the smallest, simplest experiences and in interactions with others.
One of the decisive actions I have taken to make myself is happier is that I have culled many of my Facebook friends. Not literally, of course. If anyone shares anything miserable, weepy, fearful, illogical, obscene or dumb, then I defollow them and remove them from my newsfeed. I don’t want to know if the uncle Bob of a random person I knew at varsity just keeled over from a heart attack. I also don’t want to know about the girl in Minnesota who needs a bone marrow donor by tomorrow or else she will die. I don’t want to know that Telfon pans or WIFI cause cancer and that garlic cures it. I don’t want to be forced fed articles and links and videos about war, poverty, terrorism, Syrian refugees, natural disasters, illnesses and accidents. It’s too much. It is not that I don’t care for these things. I don’t have the emotional capacity to cope with the collective misery of the world. I attest to the fact that ignorance is more bliss. Now I control my newsfeed and it displays what I want to see, not what friends want me to see.
By the way, happiness is different to gratitude. This was not a gratitude jar. You can be grateful for certain perks in your life, but these things do not necessarily make you happy. Gratitude is no guarantee of happiness. I reckon gratefulness is more passive whereas happiness is not.
In summary, 90% of our happy moments were relational. Al’s happiest time most days was the moment he came home and the children squealed with delight when the front door opened. My happy moments were endearing things Megan and Jessica said or did, sunny days, an afternoon nap on the weekends, coherent French conversations, uninterrupted and focused chats with Al on long car journeys, quality time with friends and family, long summer evenings, walks out in the fresh air, picturesque views, yummy meals, edible books, tinkering on this blog and binge-watching DVD boxsets on the iPad at night (Suits, House of Cards and Modern Family). Material, physical possessions didn’t rock my world. I recall only one happy moment involving stuff and that was around July when we bought a very cosy fake Persian carpet for the lounge.
Even Megan thinks about happy moments now. One morning I asked her to wake Alastair, who was having a little lie in. She tiptoed over to the bed and shook him. ‘Daddy! Wake up!’ Then I saw her lift Al’s eyelids, bend over and whisper, ‘Daddy, what’s your happy moment for today?’
I have said before that parenting is full of paradoxes, one of which is that I have never been so happy in all my life but I have also never been so afraid either.
This Happiness Jar exercise has been a useful antidote to my constant fear. Al and I are the most unnecessarily petrified people I’ve ever come across. He is mostly scared of losing his job, our ability to retire, not being able to provide for his family and he worries our children won’t ever find work which will result in us supporting them financially until they are 50. I am less concerned about financial stuff but I would generally like to wrap my family in bubble wrap and stow them safely under the bed in order to protect them from any harm and misery.
While I am over the top in my worries, I think it is realistic to believe that life is generally angled towards the negative and is pretty hell-bent on bringing you down. If you want to feel miserable, just read the news for 5 minutes. I hope that this Happiness Jar will be a reminder of good times and a reservoir of strength and encouragement when things are tough. I doubt that – I probably will still fall to pieces.
Nevertheless, the Happiness Jar has forced me to notice and appreciate that my glass is definitely half full and that one of the keys to a rich and splendid life is to create joy out of small and simple things. As the poet Jack Gilbert said, we should have ‘the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.’ I’ve noticed that the people who are most fun and interesting to be around are those who have the stubbornness to accept their gladness. They radiate light and positive energy and make the world a better place. Choosing to be a happier person is a special gift that you can offer both yourself and the people around you.
We are continuing the Happiness Jar every day, every year from now onwards.
I got the Happiness Jar idea from my favourite writer Elizabeth Gilbert so it feels right to end this with a quote of hers:
I am so stubborn about living a happy life — about pushing toward the light, climbing up that hill toward wonder. I don’t know if people realize sometimes what a full-time job it is. Waiting for happiness to fall on your head out of the sky isn’t going to get you there. Stubborn gladness doesn’t come out of nowhere; you fight for it. You push back against despair. I look hard for miracle and beauty and joy every day. I could look just as hard for misery and sorrow every day (and would not have any trouble finding it) but I aim myself in the other direction, with real focus and determination. It’s a big job, staying afloat on contentment, but it’s such a worthy job.