Are we too busy to be happy?
I recently completed the 100 Happy Days Challenge, during which I was challenged to post a picture every day for 100 days of something that made me happy. I’ve known about this challenge for a while, and although it appealed to me, I put it off for at least a year. When I finally visited their website, I was greeted by the statement, “71% of people tried to complete this challenge, but failed, quoting lack of time as the main reason. These people simply did not have time to be happy. Do you?”
I’ve spent A LOT of time in the past year learning more about happiness. I’ve learned about Positivity Ratios, the Happiness Advantage, and the role of joy and gratitude in living a wholehearted life. I know too much to feel justified in the excuse that I’m too busy to be happy. True, I can argue that perhaps the 71% weren’t necessarily too busy to be happy, but instead that they were too busy to post about happiness for 100 days on social media. But I also know (from those same resources above) that happiness is a practice that needs to be exercised deliberately. So I signed up with the hope that this challenge would hold me accountable for the daily practice of being happy.
From the very beginning, I bent the rules. My objective for this endeavor was to cultivate happiness within my life. I wanted to hold myself accountable for the practice of looking for happiness. It didn’t matter to me if I had a picture to post (although most of my posts did) and if I missed a day, I forgave myself and made it up the next day. I can’t tell you how many times I crawled into bed only to realize, “Dang it, I forgot to be happy today.” But then, I mentally scrolled through my day, recounting what I did, what I saw, whom I met, and I looked for something happy until I found it. And then, I was happy, whereas I hadn’t been before. This was by far the most powerful advantage of this experience – I improved my happiness by looking for happiness.
I also found myself “planning out” my happiness. While this sounds like it could have sucked the fun right out of the experience, it didn’t. My inner dialogue sounded something like this:
8am – Today’s 100HappyDays moment is going to be when I go running after class.
6pm – I told myself I would go running today, but I’m so tired. Maybe I won’t go. But if I don’t go, what’s my 100HappyDays moment? Ugh, I should just go.
7pm – Yay, I love running! The sunset is pretty and I love this lake and I’m so glad I did this for myself!
Instead of sucking the fun out of the experience, it forced me to look for opportunities to be happy and then held me accountable for actually doing them. This was especially useful for those things that are “good for me” or for which “my future self will thank me.”
But I would be lying if I told you that the entire challenge was easy and fun. Hence why the title of this post isn’t “100 Days of Easy, Fun, Rewarding Happiness.” From the very beginning, gremlins lurked, taunting me relentlessly with the splintered barbs they twisted from my shadowy fear of inadequacy. No one cares about what makes you happy, they said. You are SO egotistical, why would you think anyone cares about this? You’re just one more of those “damn millennials,” aren’t you? Wasting people’s time with your self infatuation. The gremlins are the reason that I didn’t undertake this challenge a year ago. They told me that recognizing small things that make me happy would be a waste of the world’s bandwidth, and wasting the world’s bandwidth was most assuredly going to make everyone disregard me as a vapid, useless waste of time. Better to stay silent. Better to effectively not exist than to risk being seen as a waste.
Even now, writing this post , the gremlins haven’t left. But I’m writing this anyway because I know it isn’t just me. I know you have your own gremlins, and our collective mental health is too important for you to believe that you’re all alone. Here are a few of the most common protests from the gremlins, as well as my responses:
Why not just keep a private journal? If you aren’t trying to flaunt your happiness, why would you share it so publicly? You’re clogging up people’s newsfeeds.
- I’ve tried keeping private journals, and, in fact, I’m currently maintaining a gratitude journal that isn’t being shared anywhere publicly. However, making a journal public adds a level of accountability that you cannot get from a private journal. Making something like the 100HappyDays Challenge public shares my story, enabling me to connect with my support system, and encouraging others to do the same. Besides, with all the garbage showing up on my Facebook newsfeed these days, is it really so terrible to intersperse posts about happiness?
You missed a day. You’re a failure. You might as well give up now. People are going to notice that you missed a day, and then they’re going to know that you’re a lying phony fake. You aren’t fooling anyone.
- Forgiveness starts with forgiveness of myself. The post I make 12 hours late is better than the on-time post that never happened. We’re all trying our best, and sometimes my best means one more photo of my dog sleeping on my bed.
People are probably blocking you as we speak.
- That’s ok. If my posts irritate them, it’s completely justifiable for them to build the newsfeed they want to see by blocking me. After all, I do the same thing. This challenge is for me, not them.
If you’ve ever considered participating in the 100HappyDays Challenge, but decided against it for lack of grand, fantastic adventures to share, I would encourage you to consider it again. There were plenty of days where my 100HappyDays moment was a picture of my dog, or a picture of what I made for dinner, or no picture at all but a reflection on a peaceful moment. This challenge isn’t about showing off or lying to make your life seem more glamorous than it is, but instead it’s about taking a moment to reflect on what you already have. So much of our society says that we should be happy “then” – when we graduate, when we find a job, when we get a promotion, when we lose 10 pounds, etc. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to rebel against society’s stifling expectations by accepting the challenge to embrace happiness today and every day.