Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Causes Happiness...?

The Lake
Isaac Levitan

The other day a fellow from British Columbia won a $6.5 million lottery. He is an unemployed father with four children. He had a $20 bill in his pocket and he spent $19 of it on the lottery ticket. "It's all based on my dad's numbers. It took 20 years. There have been times I can't play the lottery because I have no money to play, but somehow on that day, everything worked out. My father passed away in 1997, so I feel that my dad has sent me this blessing." He says he doesn’t want the money to go to their heads, but he is going to pay off his bills and now that he can afford passports, he is going to take his wife and family on a trip to Disneyland. The fellow looked so happy when he was receiving his cheque, I was happy for him.

This led to a discussion at work yesterday with several of my co-workers, “What is happiness?” “Can money buy happiness?” Well, yes and no. For me, happiness means the absence of anxiety, and of course, having money takes away a lot of anxiety. A lot...! But I suppose it can also bring new anxieties. I wouldn’t know, however, because I have never experienced that particular problem.

For many years my life was filled with anxieties. After my husband died, I was a single mother during an era when landlords could refuse to allow children to live there, when employers could refuse to hire a single mother, or alternatively, could fire her if her child got sick. I spent so many years tap-dancing from one crisis to another; it was all I could do to maintain some semblance of normalcy. My main concern was that my daughter was healthy, well-educated, and had childhood fun. She was a very bright, funny, intelligent child, but sometimes I felt completely inadequate, and my anxieties ruled my very existence. I was in a constant state of worry. Worry, worry, worry... And then one day, several years ago, I woke up one morning and realized that many of my worries and anxieties had fallen away. I felt this very strange, foreign feeling. What was this odd feeling? Happiness... I felt happy, serene, and content. And the feeling lasted -- first for one day, then a week, and then a few weeks...

Could this be for real? I didn’t have any more money than I had before; nothing in my life had changed. But then I realized I had changed. Oh, I am still a worrier, believe me – but my overall feeling is not one of discontent or despondency, but rather of contentment. What on earth has caused this? I have no idea. I do know that I have learned to be happy with the smaller things in life, rather than the extravagant. I’m happy when I open my mail box and find my New Yorker magazine there. I’m happy when I get a good night’s sleep. I’m happy when my friends and family are safe, healthy and enjoying their lives. But I also understand that awful feeling of anxiety, and its two cousins, depression and ennui. They can stop folks from living and enjoying their lives.

Sketch with Trees
Isaac Levican
There is a theory that folks can teach themselves to laugh, and they will automatically feel happy – fake it till you make it. Perhaps there is something to that theory. As my mother used to say, “Life is short, and you’re dead a long time...” We should learn to enjoy this wonderful gift of life, and not let the anxieties get in the way of our daily enjoyment. I know that is sometimes difficult to do, and I suppose it depends on where our priorities lie. If you get the chance today, stop and smell the roses, or go for a walk and crunch leaves, or listen to your favourite music – whatever makes you happy. We still can’t change all the awful things that life sometimes throws at us, but we can learn to balance the good with the bad, the sunlight and shadow, the yin and the yang. It's our choice.  I wish I had learned that lesson years ago, but it’s never too late.


Toyin O. said...

happiness is learning contentment; great post!


It's just like a beautiful painting, you have to have the 'light' and 'dark' for the contrast and depth.

Life has to be the same; the same light and dark experiences are what color us and give us depth.

The more we experience, the more we can empathize and understand.

I'm just so happy the man won the money; it's takes a leap of faith to spend $19 on lottery tickets when you only have $20 to your name. A remarkable story!

budh.aaah said...

Dear Jo, left you an award on my blog :)

DJan said...

And I too am happy for the guy who won that money. I am a naturally optimistic person, but boy I know that feeling of worry, anxiety for no reason, and ennui. I am fortunate to know that it passes, just like everything else. Very interesting and thoughtful post, Jo, as usual. Thank you.

Paula Slade said...

Insightful post Jo, and a good thought to keep in mind. Gratitude, for even the smallest gifts in life, makes for a contented attitude.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

My oldest daughter ia always bemoaning her lot in life, always looking for something or someone to make her happy. Always faulting others for the mistakes she has made in her life and looking for a solution to be provided to undo what she has done. Needless to say, she does not keep friends long and most people do not want to be around her. I have offered my advice more than once....... happiness is a choice. You have to make your own happiness, it comes from within.

Single and Sane said...

It's true - contentment is a choice, and it doesn't depend on our circumstances.I wish I had learned that lesson when I was younger, too.


Charlene said...

Contentment is happiness.

I also think happiness is near if your expectations are not so great. Why would constantly striving to be more wealthy than your neighbor, be a good thing?

A friend used to give me Life magazine every year for Christmas. I had it sent to work and when it came I went around telling everyone. Loved that.

June said...

A great post.
Isn't a relief to have lived long enough to have learned that the small daily joys are happiness?

Amy said...

I agree with Paula about gratitude and June re the daily joys. Obviously Jo, you raised your daughter well and you can now enjoy Phinneus and Marigold - to me, my grandson is the greatest reward. I, too, have had periods of loss, depression, and anxiety. Now, I really try not to feel guilty if I don't accomplish anything for a whole day (or maybe even two!). There's been an 'evening out' - no pun intended! Thanks for the heartfelt reminder of what's important in life.

Anonymous said...

I know the saying "Money can't buy happiness" but is it asking too much to have the opportunity to prove it right?

Anonymous said...

I know the saying "Money can't buy happiness" but is it asking too much to have the opportunity to prove it right?

jennifer black said...

Great post!

I remember reading several years back that people who report being the happiest in their marriages are those with the lowest expectations of what marriage will do for their happiness.

You also might enjoy this video:


P.S. What makes me truly sad is thinking about the great number of people who spend 19 of their last 20 dollars--for a lifetime--but never win the lottery. Just think what that bit of money every week could do in an account of some type over 20 years--if it's weekly, that's almost 80 dollars a month! There need to be big signs explaining compounded interest above lotto ticket sales. (not that it would make any difference--lottos are about instant gratification (or not), not about the odds of the long haul. ;-)

Rachel Fox said...

Spotted your heading at the Bug's Eye View.
I've been plagued by anxiety for years... battling it right now, as we speak. Good to read you.

Katy said...

I think a lot of people think happiness just falls out of the air, but you are right Jo - its something that we chose to find for ourselves.

Land of shimp said...

Jo, I think a lot has to do with our area of focus, what we choose to focus upon in our lives, and our environments. When we get overwhelmed, it helps to purposefully change the area of focus.

Years ago, when I was in college, I was working as a waitress and waited tables with a nice young woman who was just as poor as she could humanly be. She was putting herself through school, after a falling out with her parents and when she was on campus could only afford a little packet of oyster crackers for lunch, daily. I mean, she was the embodiment of the starving student.

But she would buy a pear, or a peach, or an orange to eat every afternoon, and sit facing the foothills while she ate it, far away from other people. She said it was her happy time.

Anyway, that's how she got through four years of just almost desperate poverty while getting her degree. She'd sit, stare at the mountains, and enjoy her one little luxury. Just finding a way to be happy with what she had, rather than concentrating on what she didn't.

I often wonder if she kept that habit up throughout her life.

Vic Kirby said...

Interesting post, and valid comments about happiness. But I am surprised at the lack of comments about spending $19 of your last $20 when you are unemployed and have kids to look after. I just don't find that responsible - sorry!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Oh, this took me back. I was also denied housing as a single mom with children, and was fired from the domestic violence shelter I managed because my daughter was hospitalized with pneumonia and I went to her rather than to work. (Ironic that such abuse came from that quarter.)

I wish you knew what changed in you so suddenly because many people could be helped to find the contentment that eludes them, or is overshadowed by anxiety. Thank you for another wonderful post!

myletterstoemily said...

you are so wise and inspiring!

it made me feel very happy to
see both of the gorgeous
paintings. art and music are
fundamental to my happiness.

The Bug said...

Right now I'm having a lot of anxiety about money, but before that started I considered myself mostly pretty content. I'm learning to define happiness in a new way - we'll see how it goes.

In the meantime I'll keep buying lottery tickets - I consider them to be part of the entertainment budget :)

A.M. said...

and this is why I totally admire you and look up to you. You have things completely figured out and you have survived some very hard times. I really needed this post today and I hope one day I can live a life free from all the worrying, but since I'm a fairly new mother I think I'm stuck with it for awhile.

Another awesome post!

Linda Myers said...

I was a single mom for a bunch of years. I was lucky in that I had enough money - my grandmother had died and left me a bit, and my ex never missed a child support payment. Still, I worried a lot. What if it all changed the next day? What if I spent the rest of my life alone? What if, what if, what if?

Eventually I wandered into a life philosophy that encourages me to live today, to keep my expectations low, to do the footwork for tomorrow, and to let go of the rest. I was astonished to find that worked.

I'm still lucky. And grateful.

Russell said...

I should be very, very happy as I have no money!

I have never purchased a lottery ticket. However, I have an aunt who is quite wealthy (under statement).

Years ago when scratch tickets first came to our state, she bought one scratch ticket just to see what they were.

She won $10,000. Can you believe it? I really think some people have that golden touch.

I have the touch, too - but it sure isn't golden! Heh!

Wolynski said...

You're right - happiness is in the detail.

People think of happiness as a constant state, but you can be happy and unhappy in a single day.

Money certainly helps - boy, does it ever, not that I've ever experienced an abundance. Can't really be happy living in poverty.

Nice, reflective post.

@ly said...

My father always not worry about what you cannot change. I've tried to follow that rule and for the most part I do that. The only time I really worry myself sick is when it is a health situation whether it be me a friend or a relative. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

Cloudia said...

Just a wonderful post!

Post it annually, Jo

Warm Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Jennifer D said...

Oh Jo, that was such a beautiful read. Posts like these are why I love this blog and your mind so much.