Are You Happy? PART 1: It's the margins that make all the difference!

Am I Happy

We live for the weekends and long for the summer vacation.

But are these "times off" actually hindering our ability to be happy?

The origin of the word vacation comes from the latin vacare, meaning to be unoccupied.

Think of your last vacation.  Would you describe it as "unoccupied"? Or, was it just another way of being completely distracted with a myriad of tasks, adventures, or places to visit and things to do?

We use the term leisure activities to describe the sundry things we find ourselves occupied by during our down time.  It may be watching television, playing golf, shopping, or going to the park with the kids.

These things can be wonderful activities and help create an enjoyable life.

But are we really giving ourselves time to be "unoccupied" with life in order to figure out life?

Unless we find time to stop the busyness of doing, are we ever really giving ourselves a chance to ponder the happiness we all seek?  Unless we stop and think about what we know, how can we truly know what we think?

I recently went on vacation.  But this vacation was unoccupied by television, cell phones, internet, and even much of anything in the way of leisure activities.  I had time just to think and ponder.

Here's what I've discovered that can also help you start to find the happiness you're seeking out of life.

Here's Where Margins Make All the Difference

Margins are just outside.

Just outside all the to-do lists, appointments, and mundane tasks that fill your day.  Just outside the boundaries that everyone sees.  Where the real you lives, away from the you that everyone knows.

You may have caught a glimpse of the margins in your life if you've ever:  

  • just put the kids to bed and before running off to the next task you stopped and took a few deep breaths.
  • let your mind break from that project at work to wander... no where in particular.
  • had a minute before you headed out, paused at the mirror, and looked deep beyond the surface.
  • wandered into a church or museum, let go of the outside world, only to get a sense of the enormity of life.

In pondering my own happiness, I've discovered that we all often unknowingly run from it.  By not slowing down long enough to know what it means to be happy, we miss it even in the things we do or buy or seek to bring us happiness.

Maybe we think that if we slow down long enough, let our guard down, maybe we won't like what we find.

That old riddle can be a guide, "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, does it make a sound?".  Reframing it, "If you think you are happy, but never stop to consider it, do you really know if you're happy?".

I mean, what really makes you happy anyway?  Have you stopped lately to think about it?

Stop right now.  Wherever you are, take a moment.

Deep down you know that things don't make you happy, right?  More money, that fancy car, the great job, the important status.  Do you really think they can make you happy?

I mean, if having everything makes people happy, then anyone who's ever won the Mega-Millions lottery would be the happiest person(s) on the planet! But find these winners a few years later and more times than not you'll discover, that on the contrary, just how unhappy their lives became.

So, if the things of life don't make us happy, what does?

This is where I'm going to pause.

Give us all some time to ponder that question.  Because it's an important question! And until we find the answer, can we really know, for certain, that we are happy?

Word of Advice: There is no one answer!  But, there are some easy-to-follow, practical tips for discovering the answer for yourself.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this happiness series where we will explore the connections between happiness, our views on relationships, and how we overcome suffering and difficult circumstances. The handwritten note will take on a higher level of meaning when you see it as a tool to increase not only your own sense of happiness, but also the happiness you help create in others!

But first, a little bit of homework.

You've Got to Create the Margins! They Don't Just Happen.

You've got to purposefully become unoccupied.

In order to really think about your happiness, you've got to step away from doing the things that you think bring you happiness.

You've got to step away long enough to let your mind settle, disengage and wander freely.

It's really hard at first!  But the more you do it, the easier it gets.  You can actually train your mind to let go.  But it takes practice.

As you think about your own meaning of happiness, here are some ways to start purposefully adding margins to your life:

  1. Find the least busy time of your day.  Maybe first thing in the morning or late at night. Then, make an appointment with yourself.  And keep it!
  2. This one is important! Go where there are no distractions. Take a walk. On the porch. In the bathroom or the closet with the door closed.
  3. Give yourself time. Work towards 20-30 minutes. I know you are busy. But you are worth it!  Start with just 5 minutes if that's all you've got!
  4. Now, sit and focus on a sound. It could be your slow steady breathing. A bird singing outside. The hum of the air conditioner or the ticking of that old clock hanging on the wall. Focusing on a something that's really a nothing.  It gives your mind something to do, without really doing anything.

Like I said, this won't be easy. Any skill worth cultivating takes nurturing and time to grow.

But just maybe, by purposefully spending time in the margins of our lives we can all start to better understand ourselves. Why we do the things we do. How we truly feel and think.

What really makes us happy.