Lately, I’ve been thinking about happiness and wondering what makes up this sometimes elusive emotion. Perhaps if I figure out its components, I’d more easily identify when I am happy. Why bother, you ask? I have a gut feeling I may be a whole lot more happy than I know. 

Admittedly, happiness feels like some old trope from a high school yearbook, when one’s goal wasn’t a tangible degree and instead a feeling. I used to scoff as if being happy were a lame ambition. Now, I think it’s brilliant, because what is the quality of life other than your experience of it? One could be a doctor, accountant or tuba player and be miserable. Or, one could be a doctor, accountant or tuba player and be happy. Therefore, having happiness as a goal seems reasonable and worthy. Anyway, it sure beats the heck out of what I wrote in my yearbook, some sad poem about my aspirations being far away and unreachable. Thanks a lot, Louisa May Alcott.

I’ve heard people describe themselves as happy as clams. This makes no sense at all. Clams spend most of their time buried in sand, either that or in chowder. Neither seem a laudable endeavor. Sand chafes and, let’s face it, roiling around in soup made from heavy cream might be enticing, but not if you’re lactose intolerant. Maybe these mollusks are happy because they have no brains. After all, thinking too much is what makes a lot of us unhappy. 

Forbes has an article with nine steps that will make us happier now. I decided to test their hypothesis with a sample size of me. 

The first step is “When you put toothpaste on your toothbrush, think of one thing that makes you feel grateful.” I tried but got distracted by how splayed out the bristles were, which made me feel bad for over-brushing my teeth like I’m scrubbing the bathroom floor of a truck stop.

Next was this pearl, “Choose your friends wisely. Got some who sap your energy? Replace them with optimistic people!” This just seemed mean. Besides, I love my cranky friends. They make me seem downright cheery by comparison.

The next step was a doozy, “Embed the motto ‘good enough is great’ in your mind.” Even though the article claimed mediocrity would save time and effort, I was lost at how that would make a control-freak like me happy. Warning bells went off in my head as I realized doing a job well IS what makes me happy. Ah-ha! I found a component of happiness. Good enough. I quit the list and moved on.

There are many books about happiness. Some I’ve even read. I recommend the author Shawn Achor and his original Ted Talk viewed by millions. I won’t spout a lot of positive psychology here as Achor says it better than anyone. However, I do suggest that it’s up to each one of us to define our own happiness. I know. That sounds like homework, which might make you unhappy. 

As echoes of the children’s song “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” rings through my mind, I remember that sometimes it’s what we learned as kids that’s the most helpful. I will use that song as a prompt, reminding myself to regularly identify my components of happiness. You know, things that light me up, like maple creemees, people saying “hello” and red sunsets. So, if you see me around town, clapping randomly, just know I’m happy and feel free to join in.

Carole Vasta Folley is an award-winning Vermont playwright and columnist. Visit carolevf.com.

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