I bought the book The Happiness Project about a year ago and recently began reading it. However I’m having a bit of a tough time getting through it because it seems little more than checklists and organizational tips with a few inspirational quotes thrown in. I hate the idea of being negative about something that is supposed to be a positive, and generally I think the book is okay, but that’s what I’m feeling; It’s just not delving deep enough for me. I’m only about half way through so I’m going to keep pushing past the boring bits.
But it got me thinking about my own “happiness project” because frankly, aren’t we always coming back to a sort of happiness project throughout our lives? At certain points we question our happiness, our reason for being, our time on this planet. I’ve been on a bit of journey the last few years and especially the last few months of trying to come to the surface of my own being. You know, what the hell am I doing here? Literally and figuratively.
I recently spent three weeks in Ireland which always releases my soul a bit. And I came to a strange but slightly earth shattering sort of realization while there: I’ve been gradually working backwards my whole life. Born in New York to first-generation parents of Irish immigrants, we moved to Florida when I was a baby. I had a wonderful childhood but felt the need to move away for college and once I moved to the Northeast I knew I could never live in Florida again as a young adult. But Boston didn’t feel quite right either and I made my way back to New York.
Anyone who has lived in the city of New York knows the struggles of being a member of this club. You love so many things about it but then you loathe others. And it’s this constant giving up something to have something else: Small space to live here; Ride the disgustingly-packed subway to get around cheaply and quickly; (That’s relative.) Pay through the nose for everything. But seventeen years wears on the toughest spirit and I’ve got the frayed marks to put up for collateral. This is something to discuss in another post but our beloved city has changed A LOT in the last number of years, especially since 9/11, and the face and personality of our citizens has changed. More on that later. But as a result, I’ve been thinking it might be time for a change. And I’m not alone.
Hello Ireland. Three weeks in Ireland was a cleansing experience for me. Something truly remarkable happened and it’s tough to explain but it was like a switch went off. Enough. Enough of the crap. Something has to change and it has to change soon. The wide-reaching vistas and stunningly bright sunshine opened me up to pieces of myself that I had been missing. [One funny note: after more than two weeks in the country we arrived in Dublin. Our room faced the street below and we gladly opened the balcony door for the fresh air when both my husband and I stopped in our tracks: we heard a single car horn. We hadn’t heard a horn in over two weeks!! We looked at each other and cracked up. We certainly didn’t miss that noise. Ah, peace.]
As I sat in the kitchen of my dear friend in the gorgeous county of Mayo, I realized that I felt so very at home there. In Mayo. In Ireland. Something settled my heart just right. Had I spent my life working backward to where I needed to be? Is this where I’m supposed to be? Finally? As it turns out, we became friends through social media through other friends but also because we share the same last name. Coincidence? (She took this photo 🙂
The day before we left for Ireland I found out that an extremely dear friend had died. I cried behind sunglasses as rode the subway back uptown and as I packed my suitcase that night, stopping every so often to sit down and weep for the loss of the amazing Edward Schmall. I met Ed four summers ago at The Cooper-Hewitt Museum during one of their summer “Friday Night Cocktails and Jazz” events held on their lawn across from Central Park. My husband and I were sitting on one of the benches and got to chatting with another woman across from us. She and my husband are great chatters and I smiled as I listened to them banter back and forth about business and such. All of a sudden Ed appeared and interjected, “You didn’t ask me what I do.” From that point on, the four of us were fast and dear friends.
Edward was an incredibly kind soul that appeared like an angel when I needed an ear or a warm word. He took me to lunch, called me on St. Patrick’s Day and gave me a scarf in my favorite shades of blue because he “knew it suited me”. The reason that I bring Ed up in this post about cultivating joy is that I’ve never encountered someone with such a deep longing for joy and especially love. I need to be honest here, my Edward was closing in on the ripe age of 80 at this point and he was still searching for great love. You see, the love of his life died on 9/11 in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Sadly, he never did meet anyone that made that kind of an impact and in fact, he joined a bereavement group shortly before he died. But he never stopped trying to cultivate joy.
Since we’ve returned to the states, I’ve been on a quest to try and cultivate joy. In essence, I’m trying to curate my life by choosing the things that make me happy. Making changes with work and quality of life. Spending more time with people that excite and challenge me. Less time watching television and more time reading and listening to music. Just to start.
I would like to make this a regular column of how I’m cultivating and curating my personal joy: Ups and downs. Wins and losses. Who’s with me?
How do you cultivate joy?