I am over one-third into my Happiness Project, and I have discovered another Noble Truth: the extraordinary is in the ordinary. In short, happiness lies in the ordinary.
Most of us (erroneously) believe we will be happy “when” or “if:”
- We have more money
- Get married
- Get divorced
- Have kids
- When the kids move out
- When we lose a few pounds
- When we “tone” up
- When we change job or city
You get my point.
On the occasions we don’t play the “when” game, we indulge in the “if” game instead:
- If only I was prettier
- If I had a toner stomach or no stretch marks
- If I was smarter
- Yada, yada, yada
While it’s true some of these things may bring temporary happiness, they do not inherently endow pure joy and contentment.
Indulging in the “when” and “what if” games are pointless, hurtful and the equivalent to saying the grass is always greener on the other side. Actually, it so happens that the truth is that grass is greener where it is watered and fertilized.
Water and fertilize the thoughts and beliefs which serve you.
Money and Happiness
Money is a category all on its own when it comes to happiness. While money does not buy happiness, neither does struggling to pay the bills or to put food on the table.
On the flip side, living in the lap of luxury does not guarantee unending and unabated joy ad perpetuum either.
Apparently, from my research, when it comes to money, we need enough to have a sense of security: pay the bills, provide the essentials for our family, have some in savings for the hard times, and a bit more for occasional splurges.
Having more money beyond these needs does not make us happier even though it can provide us with more material comfort.
Appearance and Happiness
When it comes to beauty, without enhancements, the truth is that most of the world’s population is plain (me included). Despite the continuous harping of the media on the benefits of physical beauty, it doesn’t buy happiness. We only need to turn a watchful — and discerning — eye to the stars in Hollywood or toward the lives of other famous beautiful people to find this to be true.
Most of the time, the life of “the world’s most beautiful man or woman” isn’t something to envy. Case in point: Marilyn Monroe is still idealized as one of the most beautiful women to ever walk this earth. However, she was anything but happy. Diddo for Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Di, Whitney Huston, and the list not only goes on but is also quite lengthy.
You can even throw a few of the girls you knew in High School — which were considered knockouts — on that list. If you happen to run into some of them decades later, you quickly realize that beauty indeed is not a direct ticket to a happy life.
Yet, most of us, myself included, think we were shortchanged in the looks department and continuously abuse ourselves with negative self-talk. Getting older usually does not help our self-image any.
Beauty Can’t Buy Me Love
Recently, I learned a delightful lesson. My two youngest children are ten-year-old fraternal twin boys. Most of the kids their age have mothers at least a decade younger than me and nowhere near grandmotherhood. I, however, am about to become a grandmother for the third time.
I assumed my sons could tell I was “older.” Come to find out, I was wrong on my assumption. They don’t care. They still lavish me with “you are beautiful.”
The other day, upon hearing those words of love, I realized my face is the face of “Mama,” of someone they genuinely love AND love unconditionally. This realization was so humbling for me.
I assume this is the same for the rest of my kids, my friends, and let’s not forget my hubby. When “Florence” comes to mind, they don’t think “pretty, plain or ugly,” instead, they think of my qualities, of what they love about me, of THEIR affection for me.
It is the same for me when I think of my nanny or my Mamie (or all those I love). Their gray hair or wrinkles were inconsequential. My nanny had a blind eye which was obviously opaque; I did not care one iota. Love rendered them all beautiful aside from their physical form.
I think we care more about our looks than those who genuinely love us do.
Truth be told, most of life involves mundane routines:
- Brush our teeth
- Go to work
- Grocery shop
- Do the laundry
- Dental appointment
- And so it goes
Most of our days are filled with the same humdrum activities, not with romantic or heart-pounding events which leave us breathless and utterly happy.
What I recently discovered is that we can indeed find happiness in the ordinary. Whether we make a homecooked meal or we bring home pizza, there can be happiness in the midst of feeding our families. Whether we hang our clothes on the line to dry or shove them in the dryer, there is also joy there.
I could go on.
The Root of Happiness
Happiness is an internal state, not an external one.
Human beings can be miserable in the midst of the best of circumstances just as they can be equally happy in less than stellar ones.
I have indeed found the extraordinary in the ordinary. Small gestures and kind words from my kids and my hubs are incredible blessings. Some don’t have such treasures.
I get to (rather than it stinks I have to) hang my wash on the line because I have a fancy washing machine to clean my clothes, clean water to use, an abundance of clothes for my loved ones to wear, and I live in a sunny place.
I get to drive my kids to dental and orthodontic appointments because I have insurance, the ability to pay my bills, and children to put braces on. I wasn’t a woman unable to get pregnant, or heartbroken because my pregnancies ended in miscarriages while my friends invited me to baby showers I couldn’t bear to attend. If anything, I was the one infertile women envied. I have much to be grateful for and to be happy about.
The Extraordinary in the Ordinary
Breathing is pretty ordinary because we all do it, right?
However, I find breathing rather extraordinary if you consider the other option. Each commonplace day is fertile ground for extraordinary events. Each day we have the opportunity to see beauty if we have eyes to see and a heart to feel.
There is true joy in washing the dishes, doing the laundry, brushing our teeth, putting gas in the car…
Gratefulness does indeed breed contentment, and contentment coupled with thanksgiving are the bedrocks of a truly happy life.
Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary in no way infers that you will joyfully bound out of bed every morning when the alarm goes off, fawn over brushing your teeth, laugh gleefully while driving your kids to school, and sing out of cheer happiness while washing dirty undies. Nor will you sing zip-a-doo-dah zip-a-deh-ay I get to wash the dishes (again) today.
Happiness does not mean continuous, unending ecstasy. Nor does it mean that if you aren’t happy every single day, your life isn’t worth living.Yes, some days won’t be happy…at ALL. In fact, some will indeed be dark and gloomy, or even terrifying and painful. As some would more plainly state it: “some days will suck.”
Despite what movies and commercials continually tell us, joy (happiness) does not enter with fanfare and confetti, it comes softly and gently. It is birthed in the depth of our being, it bubbles gently into our soul, and we can only feel it in a quietness of heart and spirit.
The extraordinary is that in the ordinary, mundane, repetitive, and monotonous actions there is indeed contentment, and in the seed of contentment, there is joy.
We only need to look at children to see this fact in action. They find joy in soap suds, water trickling down the sidewalk, rain puddles, cardboard boxes, and so it goes.
Don’t let adulting steal your childlike happiness…it is still there somewhere. Go find it.
And if some days, you can’t muster any joy at all, it’s okay.
Breathe deeply and march on.