Everybody’s talking about happiness, even doing research on it. The New York Times jumped onto the happywagon today, looking at studies over four decades. Duh. Faith, family, community and work matter most. Believing in something such as the magical beauty of trees. Knowing that my two amazing children have taught me so much about life. And still, after being away from Mt. Desert Island for 11 years, my attachment to that community is intact.
Fifty percent of our ability to be happy stems from genetics. I can’t remember the other 38 percent that’s super-important. Gratefully, there’s 12 percent left over that we can mess with that contributes to happiness. The big “surprise” in the NYT study is how great an effect work has on our lives. I like my job where I mostly interview interesting people. I write. I edit. I’m known as the “ruthless cutter.” It’s fun.
But what I’ve always known about myself: Messing with my own ideas brings the greatest happiness. I suppose that’s creativity. Or independence, being in charge of my own work. Fighting wimpyness. I’ve always believed that I’m capable of doing anything (I can’t imagine it has anything to do with my genetics).
“We can do it!” says Rosie the Riveter. My good friend Phyl sent me these socks last week.
But there’s anxiety (definitely genetic) that comes with wanting a project to be perfect. I need to take care of everything. A motherly attachment, perhaps. Haven’t felt such anxiety in a long time. I’m about to birth to “A Certain Slant of Light: Emerging from the Shadows of Mental Illness” with the Our Place Clubhouse Thursday Writing Group. It’s thrilling. And I love the group’s kindness, appreciation and friendship.
I’ve been waking at 5:32 a.m. most mornings this past month. I worry about having everything done in time for publication, or I decide to change or include a citation on the title page. What about the acknowledgements, have I left anyone out?
Back to happiness and my current dilemma balancing creativity/work and anxiety/worry. It’s been nice having a job where for the first time in my life I’m not in charge. Yet there’s nothing as satisfying as working on my own creative project. I’ve been able to reduce my anxiety as I’ve gotten older. Makes me happy.
So here’s how I would extend today’s NYT happiness article:
Fight the good fight. Find someone you love to grow old with — even if it’s for 20-year increments. Speak up to change the world. Gaze at your children’s beautiful faces as often as possible. Learn how to relax. Check out history, preferably in real places.
Take on creative projects only intermittently or learn how to reduce my anxiety more. First step: Take a walk in sunny Tucson.