Happiness and the Multi-multi-multi-tasking Brain

I think it’s safe to say that everyone wants to be happy. If there is such a thing as a universal goal in the context of humanity, happiness must be it, right?

Keeping that in mind, it seems a bit sad that so many people still feel themselves to be in pursuit of happiness. Folks are always trying to figure out, whether deliberately or not, “how to be happy”, as though they aren’t there yet.

I came across an image today on Facebook that really got me thinking.

12 things happy people do differently

I like this list. I like the way it doesn’t claim to be the answer to happiness; I like the way it uses words like develop, practice, cultivate, learn – words that address the process, the fact that you can’t just flip a switch to change yourself.

I also agree with most of the points. I consider myself a very happy person, overall, and I think a lot of that is due to things like consciously appreciating what I have, tending towards optimism, and so on.

The thing to remember is, there are certain other factors that allow me to do that – and most of those factors have to do with luck.

I am lucky that my body’s chemicals are balanced, rather than working to sabotage my happiness, as is the case for so many people, and that my health has always been good.

I am lucky that I wasn’t the victim of neglect or abuse when I was too little to defend myself, because in that case I would most likely have issues that would obstruct my well-being.

I am lucky to live in a part of the world where my happiness is not being undermined by war, famine, or disease, and to have been born into a family where we have always had a stable home, lots of love, enough to eat, and good education.

I’d say the above list assumes that “happy people” have the basics covered. People who manage to be happy in spite of those things have, in my opinion, really accomplished something.

It occurs to me that happiness, like unhappiness, compounds itself. Being kind leads to better social relationships, which makes it easier to avoid over-thinking and social comparisons, which in turn facilitates commitment to one’s goals. Furthermore, in spite of the truism that riches and material goods don’t make people happy, IF you already have the fundamentals of happiness covered, I think it’s possible – and reasonable – to feel happy about excellence in more materialistic things (such as my smart phone, my smooth-edge can opener, and my super-comfy shoes). I think it’s valuable to relish stuff that’s good.

Perhaps the best thing about this compounding phenomenon is related to #6: if you’ve worked to hone your “happiness skills”, shall we say, it’s much more feasible to cope with adversity. I think that’s how Anne Frank was able to write beautiful words while hiding from the Nazis, and how the Gaza Doctor was inspired to a hopeful project by the deaths of his daughters. I know it’s how I was able to draw a certain kind of joy from my son’s memorial service.

I want to make sure I include a sort of inverse to that idea, something I’ve learned (with some difficulty): even when you’re a ridiculously fortunate person, with every reason to be happy, it’s okay to get down sometimes. When you’re having a crap time, for whatever reason, it does not help to say to yourself, “But look! You’re so lucky! No excuse to be sad!” Your reasons are your reasons. Even for happy people, feeling like shit occasionally is valid. I’ve been struggling with that for these last two months, but I’ve decided it’s my prerogative to get frustrated when my baby girl is crying instead of sleeping – even though she’s she’s my rainbow baby, and the most precious blessing I could ever have hoped for. It’s okay. I can be filled with gratitude AND want to tear my hair out once in a while. In fact, maybe I appreciate the ups more when there are downs for comparison.

There is one thing from the list of “things happy people do differently” that I immediately zeroed in on – the thing that I need to work on most: #8. These days, I do not put enough time or effort into having “flow experiences.” (I didn’t know that’s what they were called, but I’ll go with it.) Most of the things I do are concurrent in some way, and therefore not awesomely done: nursing A + catching up on email, racing dinky cars + making a to-do list, doing dishes + helping E make playdough shapes, etc. It makes me feel like everything I do is half-assed, which is, frankly, not a happy feeling.

Two things come to mind that can centre my focus completely: 1) studying the scrumptious contours of my children’s faces, and 2) blogging when those children are asleep. Maybe that’s why blogging is so therapeutic for me – letting my mind really chew on a single idea for a significant chunk of time is incredibly satisfying, probably because it’s a “flow experience.” Makes my brain happy.

And, of course, the times I’m able to let go and get completely absorbed in my children… well, there’s no question that those moments are well worth it.

This is happiness.

ev and ar
Such yummy kids.

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18 thoughts on “Happiness and the Multi-multi-multi-tasking Brain

  1. IASoupMama says:

    Your wee ones are just gorgeous! No wonder you can get so absorbed in them.

    Last night, one of my twins was refusing to sleep, so we brought her into bed with us. My hubby was watching TV, so the soft glow on her little face was so mesmerizing all I did was watch her fall asleep. Most wonderful moment of my day…
    IASoupMama recently posted..Ten Thousand StepsMy Profile

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Thanks, Courtenay! I love that story about the falling-asleep moment – is there anything more beautiful? How old are your twins?

  2. Mama says:

    This is just beautiful. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and believe me, I’ve thought about it a lot. Of the posted list, I especially like “express gratitude” and “learn to forgive” – the first makes you focus on what’s good (my mom was particularly adept at this) and the second makes you give up focusing on what isn’t. I have to say, it definitely increases a mother’s happiness quotient to read something like this written by one of her children!

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Thanks, Mama! I’m glad this could make you happy. 🙂 I liked “learn to forgive” also, but my musings on forgiveness would be a whole other blog post. I’m not sure you can just decide to forgive someone, although you could probably learn, as this suggests, given time.

  3. Stacie @ Snaps and Bits says:

    Such beautiful kids! I, like you, have been lucky to have an easier starting place for happiness. It’s still easy to get caught up in the rat race. It’s easier for me now, since I stopped working 2 years ago (at least when the kids are in school – otherwise I’m an on call taxi!).
    Stacie @ Snaps and Bits recently posted..Kick-backMy Profile

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Thank you, Stacie. I can remember my mom doing the taxi thing, too – there were four of us, all with at least two activities outside of school… it was an incredible amount of organizing and ferrying. We still owe her for that, as far as I’m concerned.

  4. Andee Flynn says:

    Love this post. I am one of those people who, through the journey of my experience did not get all the bases covered as you put it. I’m blessed to have found such peace and joy after working hard to overcome.. And i too agree with these simple tools that happy people do. I’m all about those twelve tips. I love that you shared them. And your sweet little ones are simply precious. Isn’t it amazing what the gift of blogging gives us?
    Andee Flynn recently posted..choose loveMy Profile

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Andee, you’re right – blogging is a pretty amazing world unto itself. And good for you – I’m sure it was hard work overcoming, and I’m glad you kept at it. Your own blog is so full of love, you are a great example!

  5. Azara says:

    I got lost in your back posts about your son. I’m so sorry – I can’t imagine. It hit me even harder when I realized we’re probably in the same city (I live in Kitchener, Ontario) – sometimes the geographical distance of blogging helps me put emotional space between someone’s words and my feelings as well.

    And because of that loss history (although mine was nothing like yours), these words really spoke to me:

    “I’ve decided it’s my prerogative to get frustrated when my baby girl is crying instead of sleeping – even though she’s she’s my rainbow baby, and the most precious blessing I could ever have hoped for. It’s okay. I can be filled with gratitude AND want to tear my hair out once in a while.”

    Thank you for saying this – I found it so encouraging. It makes me feel crazy to be so thankful for my new, healthy baby who I didn’t believe would really make it until he did, yet tired and frustrated when he’s fussy.
    Azara recently posted..The crazy train is ready to rollMy Profile

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Azara, thank you so much for reading… it means a lot that you read those back posts. You’re right, we’re neighbours (I live in Guelph).

      Another thing I’ve learned: loss is loss, pain is pain. Especially when it comes to babies and baby-making. It’s all relative… and it’s also not relative at all. Am I making sense? I’m just trying to say that whatever we’ve been through, whatever pain we’ve felt, it has to be valid, whether or not it seems smaller or bigger than someone else’s.

      I’m glad you found those words encouraging. I did too, when I finally gave in to them. It must be true if so many of us feel it, right?

      I’m also so glad your baby is good. 🙂

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      SoupMama, that does sound rather insane. Especially since, in my mind, twins are a crazy undertaking to begin with! Kudos!

  6. Bill Dameron says:

    Those children are beautiful, makes me happy just looking at their picture. I have a friend who was much like me several years ago, couldn’t seem to motivate himself to get out of a bad situation. I took one step, one more and then kept on walking until eventually, I don’t think I could be happier. He is still in the same situation. Sometimes, just taking one step can give you more happiness than you ever realized. Great post and great list.
    Bill Dameron recently posted..List-O-ManiaMy Profile

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