Friday, February 05, 2010

What Makes You Happy?

What makes you happy?

That's the subject of a puzzling new book, The Happiness Project, by a youngish woman who embarks on an ambitious quest to seek out tasks that make her "happy."

(She concludes that cleaning closets, "acting energetic," and exercising are on her happiness short-list. In reality, what also makes her happy is writing at length about herself doing tasks. But I digress... )

The question is a serious one these days for people mired in the busy rat-race of the world. But the question is not:
  • What makes you content?
  • What gives you peace?
  • What brings you joy?

The question is... What makes you happy? The dictionary here on my desk defines happy as "feeling or showing pleasure," which, to me, implies a temporary condition. A fleeting feeling of bliss, far more temporary than, say, contentment, joy, or certainly, peace.

I've fought blood pressure battles for over decade, and have taken mild medication for most of that time. At my doctor's behest, I bought a good-quality blood pressure wrist monitor (see photo above) five or so years ago, and have used it sporadically... sometimes diligently, sometimes forgetting it altogether for months at a stretch.

While I feel great these days, and less excitable as the years drift by, blood pressure is again, and always, an issue. And my doctor is rightly peeved that the monitor has recently gathered dust.

I dusted it off last week, and bought new batteries for it. And like the author of the The Happiness Project, I've started a project ot studying what makes me happy... feeling pleasure, relaxed, devoid of stress... via measuring my blood pressure at all times of day and night, in a variety of circumstances.

Here's what I've observed via blood pressure reading, thus far, that makes me happy:

  • Reading interesting books when the house is quiet.
  • Writing for personal pleasure, usually not about politics.
  • Cooking creatively for someone who enjoys it.
  • Doing things for my family that makes them feel listened to, supported, and/or loved.
  • Listening to most praise music and many kinds of jazz.
  • Sitting on the couch with Ron later at night, talking, laughing, watching dumb TV shows or baseball scores, winding down from the day.
  • Hugs. Hugging. (And other acts of affection, of course.)

(My blood pressure falls, too, while I'm eating. Seriously... I measured it. No wonder I like eating too much... This pleasure is more of a problem, than positive attribute, in my family.)

Cleaning closets or any other part of the house, garage or yard will never be on my bliss list, although our house is tidy and well-organized. Nor will exercising or crafting/sewing or most shopping . Or hanging out with unkind folks or those who take themselves far too seriously.

Now, none of my "happiness" factors are particularly original. Frankly, my inner critic finds them embarrassing, more than a little mawkish and oh-so Lifetime-ish. But like my talents and flaws, my green-gold eyes and milky skin, my arthritic knees and chubby thighs and big feet... they're mine. All mine. Given to me by an infinitely gracious God.

Contentment, though, is not a perpetual state of bliss, but rather, a tension between taking care of one's responsibilites within community and world, and savoring moments of happiness that allow us to refuel to face our stressful, imperfect world. And, of course, contentment isn't possible without an ever-growing relationship with our God...

My advice to anyone else confused about "What makes me happy?" Get a blood pressure monitor. Like a polygraph test, it's a truth teller. And truth detector.

No comments: