On Happiness

On Happiness

Maxwell Ryan
Mar 19, 2005

All this week I've been thinking about Maxwell's excellent post "Apartment Therapy on Mania" and about how, over time, with ups & downs, I've somehow gone from being a basically unhappy person to a basically happy--often downright joyful--person.

We poets are a notoriously melancholy lot, so this is an amazing transformation indeed.

I used to keep a Far Side cartoon on my fridge which read, "The Bluebird of Happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the Chicken of Depression." How do I keep the Chicken away?

As a modest contribution to the World Database of Happiness, here's my Top Ten Toolbox:

1. Choose.
Mornings are hard, and it's all your fault. You walk too slowly. You block the subway doors. You have leaky headphones that expose your terrible taste in music, and the worst part of it all is that you blithely ignore the running diatribe in my head and seem to be having a perfectly fine day, while my morning is ruined, thank you very much.

Except when I remember to take a breath and say to myself, "I want to be happy," and look at the cute, mercifully silent, baby on the seat beside me instead of at your ugly mug. I'm a slow learner, so I have to do this, oh, maybe fifty times a morning. But it works. It doesn't mean I never get unhappy, just that I spend less time making myself that way.

2. Ask For Help.
Weirdly, the more I get humble by admitting what I don't know (xml, my way around Chicago, how to do my taxes), the more my confidence and self-reliance seems to grow. I know very little, but I have a great team.

3. Get G.O.D.
This is actually #1, but I didn't want to scare anybody off. Whether God is, to you, a guy in a white beard, or just an acronym for Good Orderly Direction, it's a great resource to have in your corner.

4. Review.
My partner Erica is one of the happiest people I know, and one of the reasons is that instead of compulsively reading or doing crosswords during every spare second of down-time, like I do, she uses the time to review her day-the deli guy with the great smile, the amazing thrift-store find, the tasty Vietnamese take-out shared with her adoring girlfriend… By reviewing her day, she's able to enjoy life one day at a time instead of lurching from weekend to weekend.

5. Don't Take Yourself Too Damn Seriously.
Like a Martini, this is simple in principle but very difficult to execute perfectly.

6. Too Much Is Not Enough.
I avoid Times Square whenever possible and, while a little Retail Therapy can work wonders, it's no fun waking up with a bad case of Affluenza.

7. And yet, Splash Out.
Years ago, I spent the staggering sum of $200 on a pair of used Italian loafers. They're probably worth ten times that for the amount of confidence they give me.

8. Don't Postpone Joy.
Note to self: I should really wear those shoes more often.

9. Clean Your Plate.
By this I don't mean "enjoy your food," though that's key too. Instead, it means that when I take care of the thousand little undone tasks that weigh me down, I have more energy to use having fun. Note to self: must write Christmas thank-you notes.

10. And yet, Avoid Self-Improvement.
I suck at self-improvement. I start really strong for, say, the first fifteen minutes, but quickly spiral off into a vortex of self-abasement and procrastination. Games, though--games I'm good at. So I trick myself into doing things that are good for me by trying to make them fun. There's nothing wrong with a 33 year-old who chews Flintstones vitamins, is there?

So that's my toolbox. Here's Lawrence Ferlinghetti's:

"Recipe For Happiness Khaborovsk Or Anyplace"

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day.

What's yours? (SGH)

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