Hacking Happiness

I’ve heard plenty of people say happiness is a journey, but I think it’s just a blink-of-an-eye moment in time. So, like much of what happens to me, I’ve started to document it. When you start to gather up happiness, to quantify it, it feels more plentiful, and more accessible. You can’t really hack happiness, but you can learn to give it the attention it deserves.

The goal of recording your happiness is pretty practical: to establish what happiness looks like to you so you can find it more easily. It’s sort of like–you keep your keys in a special place, so do the same with your happiness.

The other day I went to a meditation session at New York City’s MNDFL (give your first class a try for $10) that helped me articulate this further. In the class, the instructor compared intentions with the act of lighting a candle for the first time. The goal with a candle is to create a smooth, even burn that runs to the edges of the candle the first time you burn it, so that the candle will burn evenly each time you use it.

She said this is like the imprint you want to make in your mind with an intention. Every time you return to an intention, the imprint gets a little deeper. You’re not starting from scratch. This psychological trick makes it that much easier to access your intention, and the state of mind you’re aiming for with that intention.

My happiness intention takes the form of a list in Evernote, not a place in my mind, but the idea is basically the same. I look at it and add to it every day, whether I’m feeling great or feeling crappy. Just looking it makes me laugh, because my friends’ and family’s humor, and the act of us making each other laugh, is probably tops in terms of what makes me happy.

Looking at this list I’m reminded of something pretty obvious: happiness is inside, around, and adjacent to pain and its attendant “negative” emotions. I don’t write down painful moments, but they’re there, in between the lines, and they make the happy moments shine bright.

After relationships and laughter, another theme in my list is freedom. I’ll write something like, “Lying on the sofa for 4 hours reading Elizabeth Strout’s first novel,” or “running in a thunderstorm in Prospect Park.” Plenty of happy moments happen at work too, but it’s those moments of being truly unharnessed that dominate the list.

It’s just as important to note what doesn’t make the list. For me, that’s anything that involved spending money, unless it was food, or something with creative (or immeasurable) benefits, like travel, a film or a meditation class. Quantifiable personal wins don’t really make the list either. For example, if I won a pitch at work, or I ran a particularly fast time on a run. It’s not the pace that made me happy, it was being outside and feeling physically free (and, OK, a little invincible–grateful for the power of the human body). And it wasn’t winning the pitch that made me happy, it was the process of working through something challenging with my team. Those moments–making each other laugh, cracking something that seemed impossible to crack–do make the list.

On that note, it’s interesting how many times the word “with” appears in my list. Most of my happy moments don’t happen alone.

How do you “hack” happiness? Share the things that make you happy in the comments!

Image via Taylor Sterling

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