Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Choice of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is universal. Indeed, it is written into the Constitution of the United States as an inalienable right. We link it to our careers, our localities, the things we buy and people we surround ourselves with (or, in explorations of minimalism, the things we do not). We spend endless money and countless hours trying to construct what we believe will bring us happiness.

The problem? The happiness we’ve been taught to pursue is conditional. It depends on other people not only to create, but to validate it. It exists outside of us and is often short-lived because we can always be happier. Just think of all of the people, businesses and enterprises that profit from this desperate, endless search ... If the idea is to find satisfaction in a happy heart, shouldn’t we be reaping the benefits? 

When I'm engaged, I’ll be happy; I’ll be happy when I have a daughter; If I leave you for someone else, I’ll be happy; I’ll be happy when you clean the dishes; I just need to find another office and my career will make me happy; if I lose weight I will be happy ... 

This kind of happiness places the pressure of something largely left to choice on the words, actions and intentions of others. And because humans are unpredictable and ‘burdened’ by free will, our expectations stay largely unmet. 

It’s a cycle we pass onto our children, who spend their lives searching for happiness in the attainment and distribution of approval. And before we know it, happiness is a business exchange – just sign on the dotted line. 

The thing is, it’s all a lie.

We already possess happiness. It exists within us, without the help or hindrance of any external force. It is a choice and a perspective. And each time we make our happiness dependent upon anything or anyone else, we freely and willingly give up the power over our lives. 

Sure, there are circumstances that make the choice of happiness a heavier one, but it always lives within your heart just waiting to be plucked. You are the driving force.  

My advice? The same as always – start small, be patient. Things like this take time.

Notice the good in each day; one tiny good thing. Hold onto it tight and plant it in your mind. With each new day find more tiny good things. Focus on them, water and nurture them. Take what you can inch by inch. Explore it like a garden; encourage it to grow. Free yourself of the burden of finding happiness and give yourself permission to be it. Think of it as a hobby, a habit of will. Take the time to practice, just as you might for a marathon, concert or test, and before you know it happiness will become second-nature.

If happiness is the key to a life well-lived, it's time take back your life.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Key to Choosing Minimalism: Starting Small

2016 seems like it’s going to be a good year, which is good news because I’d be lying if said I didn’t need one. You’d think I’d be over it, but readjusting from the Peace Corps continues to be an on-going experience. One that I’m not entirely sure will ever end.

Twenty-four access to the news, Netflix and social media hasn’t exactly done me any favors. It’s like an obsessive impulse that both entraps and embarrasses me - I am as aware of the world’s suffering as I am the activity on my Pinterest boards. The more I browse, the more I crave and with so much clutter in my life (and mind), it becomes harder to express gratitude, stay present and remain satisfied. 

I started with a sabbatical from Facebook. I realized that the internet has the tendency to create two habits - the projection of perfection (which can only be reaffirmed by others) and an unchecked meanness toward that which is different.  So I dug a hole and buried my head in it, spending the month of December focusing on myself and the things things I love.

Why? Because I want to be more mindful of the choices I make. Whether that be gaining control over my admittedly rampant consumerism (I love shoes) or being more aware of the source of my food and clothing (I love the environment), I think I have reached a truly important impasse.

Life isn’t about filling up my closet or collecting Instagram followers or proving, through likes, that I have an amazing, enviable existence. Life is about the friends who lift me up and love me for exactly who I am (especially the boring, joyful, miserable masterpiece that is my day-to-day). It’s about memories being the only proof of an experience because I was so present I forgot to take a photo. It's about actively engaging in the things I love and being inspired by the beauty of each moment.

Emma’s Ridiculously Simple List of Minimalist Goals (#1)
1.) Do the dishes by hand (every time) & make it a communal activity. 
2.) No phones after 6 p.m. 
3.) Read at least one chapter every night.
4.) Buy responsibly (socially & environmentally).
5.) Always eat dinner as a family.

None of these things are particularly difficult, but they do take an adjustment. They are the first small step into what I hope will become a lifestyle. 

America changed while I was gone. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly left me feeling very alone. My goal is to connect again, to actively create the life I want exactly where I am. And truthfully, whatever your motive may be, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that the lives we think we want - ruled by Wi-Fi, filters and an endless supply of binge-worthy shows, sales and time-stealing apps - can sometimes be ironically empty. 

So start simple.