Column: I’m happy to share this idea with you

by Father Mark Goldasich

Awag once said, “We know that money can’t buy happiness, but it will allow you to be miserable in lots of really nice places!”

“Happy New Year” is something that we wish one another in this season. But what really makes us happy? While the answer to that will vary from person to person, I’ll bet that most people have never even taken the time to think about it. Well, in 2014, I decided to do something that I’d intended for a long time: Start a “happiness project.”

The idea comes from a 2009 book by that name, written by Gretchen Rubin. Its subtitle outlines the reason for the book: “Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.” I’m right with her when she writes:
“I had much to be happy about. . . . But too often . . .
I felt dejected after even a minor professional setback. I drifted out of touch with old friends. I lost my temper easily. I suffered bouts of melancholy, insecurity, listlessness and free-floating guilt.” Her conclusion? “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change.”

So, she wrote this book about her experiences and as an incentive for other folks, like me, to not waste life, but live it to the full. Her approach is simple: Designate 12 areas that you’d like to grow in, assign one “project” to each month and then formulate some practical actions to move that project from dream to reality. Ideally, what you make into a habit each month will continue into the succeeding months.

For example, some of Rubin’s projects were: Boost energy in January, by going to sleep earlier; exercising better; tossing, restoring and organizing; and tackling a nagging task. August saw her contemplating the heavens, by keeping a gratitude notebook and imitating various spiritual masters. The author laughed out loud, used good manners and was encouraging and enthusiastic as part of her November goal of “keeping a contented heart.”

Now, if Ruben’s book wasn’t enough of an encouragement for me to grow happier, Pope Francis put the icing on the cake in his homily on May 10, saying: “When Christians have more of a sourpuss than a face that communicates the joy of being loved by God, they harm the witness of the church.”

So, I’m using the days until Jan. 1 to compile 12 areas for my own happiness project. I’m still polishing up the list, but here are a few that I intend to tackle . . . in no particular order.

• Keep in touch with friends: Send birthday cards; pay more attention to Facebook postings and send messages of encouragement or consolation; make time for getting together.

• Tune up the body: Walk more consistently; dust off the bicycle and helmet; use the Wii to get in some cardio when the weather outside is frightful;

• Have a song in my heart: Download wish list items from iTunes; break out the tamburitza again (see page 6 to find out what this is); learn to play the ukulele.

• Use things: Don’t let gift cards languish; wear new items of clothing; don’t waste food.

• Pray better: I read about a great retreat house that I’d like to visit, but I’ve got to find where I read about it, what the place is, and make time for it.

• Be “hobbyer”: Read more; jigsaw puzzle more; TV less.

I’ll let the author close with a final observation: “Contemporary research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likeable, more creative, more resilient, more interested in others, friendlier, and healthier. Happy people make better friends, colleagues and citizens. I wanted to be one of those people.”

Me, too! How about you?

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