It seems appropriate that on our drive back to DC on Sunday from a 9 day vacation (something my husband and I haven’t done alone in a very long time), we would hear an entire hour of TED talks devoted to the subject of happiness. For those who don’t know, on the weekends, NPR airs something called The TED Radio Hour which pulls various TED talks together to form a show devoted to a single subject. As the dread of emails ignored and work/every day life stresses seeped in through the heat on in the car (WHY IS IT COLD ALREADY???), we listened intently.
Obviously things like going on vacation or quality time with friends/family/loved ones causes a feeling of “happiness”…but what else can you do when you are short on free time and your vacation is over? (You can listen for yourself here…)
Unfortunately, the TED talks they highlighted on this episode didn’t offer the enlightenment we are all seeking (as one speaker kept saying…no matter how many times he gives his speech or talks about his research into happiness there is almost always a pause and then the same question: “ok…but what is the SECRET to happiness?”). But there IS research that suggests things we do every day may detract from our overall happiness.
To name a few:
Daydreaming…plans for what you would do with a lottery win or some uncle you never knew you had leaving you a massive inheritance apparently don’t help to make you happy in the present. Neither does dwelling on what you would prefer to be doing (rather than being at work, for example) or things you are coveting. My husband strongly disagreed with this one: he argued that the reason he loves to hike or surf or run is to be alone with his thoughts and let his imagination run wild. Is this the same thing I wondered? I too can get very lost in my own head or make-believe world and have to admit I feel “happier” there then when I am running to an internal grocery list or thoughts of everything I should be doing instead of exercising. And that is how we decided what was meant in the TED talk – it isn’t just daydreaming, per se, but not being present to the action you are doing that is more the problem.
Thinking we need MORE to be happy. Turns out, money can buy you happiness in the form of a tiny house according to Graham Hill. When Graham Hill became successful he did what everyone with millions of dollars does: bought a big house, filled it with fancy things, and cars, etc. etc. etc. He realized the stress of having to fill this house, or have the latest gadget was not making him happy. So he decided to downsize and had some architects design him a 430 sq. foot incredibly functional oasis. And he is much happier. So things won’t make you happy…but you will still need the money to hire the architects to create this dream apartment. Once again, I have to say this one made sense to me in theory. While you don’t need a tiny house to accomplish what he is talking about, being content with what you have and how much you have goes a long way.
And speeding up won’t get you to your happy place faster. SLOW DOWN ALREADY. Figure out a way to stop racing through life. Breath. Take time for yourself. As someone who gets easily irritated with traffic (even when I am not technically late or in a rush) this one goes hand in hand with stress. If you can figure out a way to help manage your stress (hello meditation and being present instead of checking your phone while your loved one fills you in on their day), you may just find you have a lot to be happy about right in front of your face.
And….vacations don’t hurt. I mean just look at some of these beautiful pictures from our hikes near Mount Ranier and Portland!!