Today I was going through my daughter's art projects from school. There were some cute ones - like a torch and crown for the olympics. Some super weird ones - like a picture of her face on the head of a snail. And some thought provoking ones - like stickers placed in two columns: 'makes me happy', 'makes me sad'. Apparently, Mommy and Daddy make her happy (win), and dogs and leaves make her sad. Go figure.
Unfortunately, life's not that simple. You cant say - this goes in the happy box, this goes in the sad, close the lid and walk away smiling.
And what's with the phrase - 'makes me happy'?
Recent events in my life have gotten me thinking a lot about what this really means. Are people, objects and places really what make me happy? All these things we work for, devote our lives to, collect and achieve? The more I thought about it, the more I realized - yes, but no.
I feel a love for my children and my family that is spectacular and even overwhelming at times. But this love is not what really makes me happy. Sometimes it is a burden, or even the source of sadness and grief. This love is there unconditionally. I am happy to give it and lucky to feel it, but it would be a false sense of purpose to say that this is what makes me happy.
A field of sunflowers will almost always brighten my mood. Maybe it makes me more open to thinking through an issue, or gaining perspective on something thats bothering me. But if I'm feeling rough one day and run to the store to buy a bouquet, staring at it isn't going to solve my problem.
My happiness is not made by any "one" or any "thing".
I make it. Literally.
I get up each day and need to actively work at my own happiness. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, but either way I am the one that makes it. My family, my home, my experiences, my body, my mind - all of these are things that I am happy about. Things that I love being able to have and feel gratitude daily for - but would I be able to enjoy them and love them as much as I do if I didn't know how to make myself happy?
Happiness is not something we are given, or that simply shows up when we need it most. It is not a collection of items acquired, plaques and awards, travels, conquests or triumphs. It is a choice. It is work. And we need to make that choice, do the work, every day.