Being in the happiness business, I have devoted a fairly large chunk of my life to the task of decoding how to be happy. In career, in relationships, in one's heart, wherever. Whence cometh happiness, after all? Does happiness come from working through tough issues in your primary relationships? Or does it come from doing 45 minutes of cardio each day? Does happiness come from letting go of career expectations and flowing along with the universe? Or does it come from sticking to goals long enough for them to bear fruit? It's an exhausting optimization problem. Does happiness come from starting sentences with "I" (as in "I feel") rather than "you" (as in "you suck")? Or does it come from finding new friends?
There's happiness that you attempt to lure into your life. And then there's the happiness that shows up unexpected, a loud, upbeat out-of-towner who drops an overstuffed duffle bag in your front hallway, slaps you hard on the back, and bellows, "Let's go to Ollie's! I'm starving. And don't forget to set the DVR for 'Lost'." This is what I experienced last week, when my personal happiness index ZOOMED up significantly.
It seems clear there were two specific reasons for this:
(1) I started using my "GoLight" for 30 minutes each morning
(2) The Democrats won the elections.
Reason one: my GoLight.
A year ago, I ordered a so-called "light box" from an online company. I have not slept all that well for years (not badly, but just not all that well, I know, it's kind of sad). I bought my GoLight having tried somewhat more mainstream approaches to improving sleep, such as exercise, therapy and cutting down on caffeine. I put on my GoLight around 7 pm, mood improved and I seemed to get a second wind in the evenings. It worked, sort of but not hugely, and then I stopped using it. Recently, I gave the GoLight another go after a fit of astounding irritability that I experienced following my return from a business trip to Raleigh/Durham, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Only this time I changed some of my answers to the online test and was instructed to use the GoLight in the morning, not the evening. Within a day or two I started falling asleep with ease. And sleeping better. This has continued for a solid two weeks now. Plus it's cheery to look into a blue light as I eat my breakfast.
Reason two: the elections
Did half the country just have a huge exhale of relief? It sure feels like it, judging from the letters to the New York Times. There's just something about not feeling that your country is sliding endlessly downward into insanity, intolerance and environmental collapse that cheers one up. For the first time in years, I don't feel a sense of dread when I pass a blaring television at the gym or at the airport. Apparently, this persistent low-level unease I've experienced for years was based on something--I was depressed about the state of the world! And now I have hope. Elation would not be too strong a word.
I compare these instant improvements to the thousands of hours I've spent over the years pondering, basically, what kinds of adjustments I should make in my thinking or behavior to be happier.
Sometimes, it seems, happiness just happens.