Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Happiness Jar

It's always easy to focus on the negative, or the frustrations and disappointments in daily life. No doubt they are always around the corner. It takes character and self-direction to focus on the little moments of personal joy and hold on to them. You can even replay happy or joyful moments through your mind when you need them and change your feelings and body chemistry. Sometimes we all need to do that.

I've heard these happy moments referred to by different names: bliss hits or the petite happiness. We have to consciously refocus ourselves to catch them or they can slip by unnoticed. Often small joys are little things: noticing the colors in the sunrise or a sunset, observing a child, a butterfly, or a family pet, a brisk walk, the fresh smell of a blooming narcissus, an intentional hug, time with a friend, the creamy taste of ice cream, the softness of your favorite jeans after work, the warmth of hot tea, or the amber glow of a roaring fire. These small things and others can bring unexpected joy to a regular day.

Recently, I noticed that one of my favorite writers and speakers, Elizabeth Gilbert, wrote about her own little project of keeping a happiness jar for a year. Gilbert wrote her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love in 2006. She posted pictures on-line of herself with her own huge jar, with a number of little slips of paper inside on which she writes one thing that brought her joy that day. She saves them for a year, so it takes a big jar. What a lovely tool to have on a day when you might be feeling sad or downbeat, to be able to spill out your happiness jar and reread the things that have given you joy in past weeks and months.

Often my patients who are trying to work through depression or grief and loss forget to add in liberal amounts of these petite happinesses. They do help. One of the signs that you are healing from the journey of loss is that you can begin to experience joy again.

Gilbert invited her readers to send her photographs of their own, home-crafted happiness jars, and they were inspiring and decorative. This is a fun idea for adults, or to share with the young people in your life who might enjoy this positive refocus.

Happiness jars? I'd like a really large one that holds lots of joy, and I recommend the same for you.

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