A Year’s Worth of Happiness

One of the best things I did last year was keep a Happiness Jar. The intent was to capture small moments of joy, as an exercise of appreciation and gratitude. Some people keep a journal, but I liked the idea of filling an empty jar.

Last night, during the final few hours of 2015, I emptied the contents onto the dining room table to see what a year’s worth of happiness meant to me.

Readng Jar

The first thing that struck me, as I unfolded the first few slips of paper, was how many moments I’d already forgotten. Fleeting moments of happiness, flowing past in the stream of life, thankfully captured.

The first one said simply: “Hail!” I smiled wide. Now I remember that day! It was April 1st, I was working in my office, and suddenly the window panes started rattling with a spring storm. A memory reclaimed!

I unfolded the rest of the papers, one by one.

As it turns out, nature brought me an abundance of happiness. Bright stars, beautiful clouds, the luminous moon. Birds singing, gulls crying, hummingbirds zipping past. Cherry blossoms floating down from the trees. Flowers emerging in the garden. In these simple moments of connection with the natural world, I felt joy.

Sometimes, there were whole days of happiness.

image

Sharing life with others brought me great happiness.

Valentine’s Day: “Hubby sent me upstairs to fetch something on the printer he ‘needed right away.’ It was a love poem.” My husband wrote me a poem! How could I have forgotten this? I must go upstairs and find it.

Random strangers also made me happy. There was the day I was flying home, gazing out the window at the snowy Rocky Mountains, when the man sitting in the row in front of me, poked his head between the seat headrests and exclaimed to me, “Isn’t it amazing?”

Yes. The mountains, and chance encounters with strangers, brought opportunities to experience le p’tit bonheur (the little happiness). As did warm visits with friends, family, and unexpected handwritten letters that came swooshing through our 100-year old mail slot.

I couldn’t help but wonder: Would I be inside anyone else’s happiness jar? I hope I created moments of happiness for others, through things I may have said or done last year.

With all my slips of paper unfolded, I thought about the great wealth of happiness that never made it into the jar.

The whole of our family reunion: meeting relatives from Finland, playing the mandolin with my father, visiting art museums, hiking trails along the Potomac River. All high points of the year; none of them captured. I had not written a single entry in either June or November. However, I do remember many times sitting at the kitchen counter, seeing the Happiness Jar in the corner, but not making the effort to write. If only I had overcome my inertia!

Perhaps, during our happiest times in life, we are fully immersed. And those experiences impact us in a more permanent way. They become our life stories, no note required.

Empty Jar

In total, there were 68 little time capsules in the jar: 60 happy memories; 7 contributions by family; and one fortune cookie message: “A windfall is coming for you.”

Indeed. One insightful project delivered this to me. A year’s worth of happiness arrived, exactly as predicted.

A life well lived.

What does it mean to live a life well lived?

I think about this often (especially as I get older).

I know it essentially includes being open and traveling a spectrum of human experiences. To me, a life well lived is a life of expansion.

This morning, I came across a lovely 4-minute video featuring Jim Whittaker, first American to scale Mount Everest. He shares some of his philosophy on risk-taking, and getting outside to learn about yourself:

“Nature is the best teacher in the world …. it is in the wild places, in the damp clean air of an ancient forest, on a heaving ocean in unpredictable wind, on a snowy summit at the top of the world, that I enter my own personal cathedral and know where I fit in the vastness of creation.”

I understand when he says it is “an unconscious spiritual journey to be in the natural world.” I have only ever felt a sense of awe and wonder while outside in nature’s cathedral. I remember the first time I saw the northern lights dancing in ribbons across a dark winter sky … the first time I saw a shooting star, or watched the luminous orange globe of the full moon, rising slowly over the sea … or felt the vastness of the universe while standing under a million bright and brilliant stars.

My own personal cathedral is the night sky. And in this place, witnessing something special, I have felt very small but also connected to something much larger than myself. I have been overjoyed, stilled, filled with gratitude, and somehow reassured of my place in this world. These experiences have been profoundly expansive.

I will continue to think about this, and build my own definition for a life well lived. In the meantime, if you would like a few moments of thoughtful inspiration, here is Jim Whittaker’s perspective.