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A lot has been written lately about “happiness” - how to know if you’re happy, how to know if you aren’t - and what to do about it. Arthur Brooks noted in a recent piece in the NYTimes Sunday Review called, "A Formula for Happiness," the old axiom that "happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” I really like that idea. But as Brooks points out, according to a survey conducted every year since 1972 by the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, roughly a third of Americans have consistently said they're "very happy" and about half report that they're "pretty happy.”
Okay, but what about the rest of us? Well, there are a lot of books out there to tell you how to “get happy." Martin Seligman's book, Authentic Happiness and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin are definite stand outs (each has sold well over a million copies worldwide.) And there's a provocative new book out called, The Happiness Choice by my friend, Marilyn Tam. I don’t think any of them mentions butterflies...
But I’d like to abandon the soul-searching and analysis for a minute and embrace the philosophy of the lead character in another book called, Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. The book, one of my all time favorites, is set in New Orleans, and is a wildly entertaining, saga about the secret to immortality which has something to do with perfume. (I still haven’t figured that part out but I like it anyway...) The book’s very colorful "hero," a janitor named Jinx Dannyboy, has an opinion on just about everything including happiness...and unhappiness:
“Unhappiness is the ultimate form of o’ self-indulgence, “ Jinx says. “When you're unhappy you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. And you get to take yourself oh so very seriously.Your unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwellin' on himself and start payin' attention to the universe.” On other hand, Jinx says, “Your truly happy people, which is to say, your people who truly like themselves, they don’t think about themselves very much.”
So maybe we need to stop analyzin’ (as Jinx would say) whether or not we’re happy. Maybe we need to stop payin’ attention to ourselves, stop taking ourselves “oh so seriously” and start payin' attention to everybody else in the universe.
And how about making a list of all the things we actually like about ourselves? It could include just about anything - like the amazing way you “bond with” little kids and animals. Or what about the way you dance with total and complete abandon when nobody’s looking - and sometimes even when they are. Or, I know, how about your talent for stopping a New York City cab from three blocks away when you do your third-finger-and-thumb, ear-piercing whistle? (That’s the thing I really like about myself...Actually, I’m feeling happy just thinking about it.) Or what about that drop dead Chili you make that no one else can emulate, even when you give them the recipe?! (Jim, my husband, really likes that about himself. A lot. Everybody else does, too..) Hey, maybe you’re already happy and you don’t even know it.
One more thing: Maybe we need to look for happiness; you know, like invite it in. So maybe every now and then we should sit down quietly for a minute, open our minds, hearts and maybe even our arms...and wait for that butterfly to “alight.”
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns©2014 All Rights Reserved
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