What a broad topic! I'll try not to be too long winded.
In Little Women, the March sisters deal a lot with the happiness and its antithesis, envy. Their wise mother Mrs. March has quite a tide to turn in coaching her daughters into a life of gratitude and satisfaction, and I would kinda like to illuminate some of her words here.
This is said of Meg March, in her youth:
"Poor Meg seldom complained... but a sense of injustice
made her feel bitter toward everyone sometimes,
for she had not learned to know how rich she was
in the blessings which alone can make life happy."
Don't you agree? Isn't envy the perfect opponent to happiness? And doesn't envy only breed bitterness? I can't remember where now, but somewhere recently I read that in order to ruin your happiness, you should first ask if you are happy enough. Also, that "comparison is the thief of joy." I am personally very susceptible to this. I see the difference in my heart and in my relationships when I fight this tide, too. Gratitude and satisfaction seem to walk hand-in-hand. Then joy follows closely behind.
Jo March, that girl with whom so many young women seem to identify, said this of their great aunt:
"What a pleasant life she might have if she only chose!
I don't envy her much, in spite of her money,
for after all rich people have about as many worries as poor ones, I think."
Does this resonate with you much? Do you ever think that others view your life in such a way that you should be happier than you are? Do you ever think that maybe happiness is available to you, if you could only choose it? Of course, Jo also touches on a really important topic, which is wealth and its relevance or irrelevance to happiness... That's for another day.
At the risk of just quoting the whole book to you, here is the parable Mrs. March offers her young girls, as an antidote to their persistent envy and dissatisfaction with life:
"Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat and drink and wear,
a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and parents who loved them dearly,
and yet they were not contended.
These girls were anxious to be good and made many excellent resolutions,
but they did not keep them very well, and were constantly saying
'If only we had this' or 'if only we could do that.'
Quite forgetting how much they already had
and how many pleasant things they actually could do.
So they asked an old woman what spell they could use to make them happy,
and she said...
'When you feel discontented,
think over your blessings,
and be grateful."
The happiness spell. What a cool idea.
We all seek one, and we all have opinions of its chemistry.
Just for fun, a couple of days ago I asked my Facebook friends to offer up what makes them happy. The answers they pummeled at me are just as various and touching and fun as the people who offered them!
Handsome said: Chicks, fast cars, money, sunshine, beaches, ocean fish, birds, and "you" (me...) Awww...
Julie said: Route 44 vanilla Coke from Sonic. (Come to think of it, I know lots of people who rely on Sonic ice every day!)
Sunni said: Her kids and sexy shoes on her feet!
Anna Marie said: Family, friends, dogs (who she considers to be family, which I whole heartedly believe!), high heels, red lipstick, and her BED.
Tracy said: Friends, family, nature, babies, chocolate chip cookies, smell of cake batter, seeing others exited!
Charlene said: Family, good honest friends, praying, Thunder basketball, and her honey.
Catherine said: Her babies.
Trisha said: A nice pair of heels, finding greyhounds a home to retire (she and her guy are passionate advocates in OKC, let me know if you're interested!), her husband, and a pair of jeans that make her look and feel 24 again. (But I can vouch for the fact that she ALWAYS looks great! 24 year old girls would be wise to mimic her jeans...)
Melissa said: Book club, dogs, children laughing.
My sweet laughing babies, when they were still babies, at the OKC Zoo loorikeet exhibit
Mysti said: Full creative license with someone's hair!! (Mysti recently graduated from hair styling academy and is embarking a fun new career!)
Cindy said: God, her kids, her grand kids, awesome husband, vacations, honesty, great friends, going to Thunder games, and laughter!
Heather said: Her husband's car coming up the driveway every night.
Halee said: This amazing 75-degree weather in January. OKAY OKAY Halee, we all know San Diego has amaaaaaaazing weather!!! xoxoxo
This is San Diego in January. Notice how NOT freezing it is.
Cora said: Chocolate! Amen, Cora. Amen.
Serena said: Family.
Deb said: Sunshine. Yes! Sunshine makes me happy too, Deb!!
A few observations...
First, let's notice how many people said "Thunder basketball." Apparently it is central to the happiness of lots of salt-of-the-earth folks, and with good reason. The OKC Thunder are just, well, happy-makers.
Next, we tend to feel happy with or because of our mates, and that's just wonderful. I feel incredibly fortunate to be married to my best friend and to feel treasured by him, and I love that so many people in my life enjoy the same blessing. True love is REAL, you guys, and it is deeply, sparklingly satisfying! If you're still looking for it, be happy in your wait and keep believing.
Did you notice how many women feel happy with little things in life that give us a boost? Like high heels, red lipstick, and sexy jeans? Don't undersell this, friends. Let's not pretend that this feeling is unimportant or shallow. It's a huge part of life, and soaking up the things that make you feel vivacious and desirable is smart. It breeds fun and, yes, happiness.
Dogs! Fish, birds, and more dogs! Animals make us all happy!! Of course they do. They are conduits for a life force outside of us, or perhaps one that connects us all. Embrace your animals and enjoy them. Give thanks for the happiness they bring.
What else strikes me is that, overall, we had fun naming the pleasures of life, the stuff that extends beyond basic food and shelter. Nothing terribly exotic, except in my husband's case LOL, but just simple, beautiful, soul nourishing gifts of this life. We can be happy every day just by appreciating our blessings and embracing small pleasures.
Thanks so much to those of you who answered my question on Facebook!! What do you think of the answers as a group? What do the rest of you think? What makes you happy, and have you cracked the happiness spell in your own life? I'd really like to know.
It's still a cold, dry winter here in Oklahoma, but the bluebird of happiness is flittering everywhere! I hope he visits your home too.
"If you want to be happy, be."