When I was at Casa Bonita in the Dominican Republic, I was certain I couldn’t get any happier. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and blue. I was with someone I love and who makes me laugh, in a partnership where we could endure two hours of detours in an unfamiliar land and three flat tires without raising our voices at each other. The wifi was broken, so I honestly had nothing to do but read my book, go for a swim, drink coconuts full of rum, go for hikes, get a massage.
The next weekend, I went to a silent yoga retreat in the Berkshires. The circumstances couldn’t have been more different. There was snow on the ground, gray skies ahead, a deep chill in the air. I was alone with my thoughts. I didn’t drink any alcohol or eat any meat; the only indulgences were a square of dark chocolate in the afternoon, a cup of black tea in the morning. I meditated, practiced yoga, read my book, sat quietly and warmed my feet around a fire. And I was unbelievably, undeniably happy.
In a funny little twist of fate, I was also able to read the journal entry I had written in the exact same place, exactly a year before. I wrote that I was happy with where I am, that I had “more good luck than I knew what to do with.” I was grateful for my friends, my job, the little joy of hot tea, a stack of magazines and a warm bed. Rereading my gratitude journal over the last year, the same themes continually popped up: the support of my family, a group of hilarious and successful girlfriends in New York City and scattered across the world, a relationship without any drama, a job that appreciated me. My yoga practice, the chance to live in New York City, the courage to make travel a priority and the joy of a good book, a delicious meal, a relaxing glass of wine.
I’m constantly intrigued by the nature of happiness, how relative it is and how much we control it. The other weekend in New York City, we had a break from a quite relentless winter. A group of Californians gathered on a Saturday afternoon, determined to enjoy a beer and a laugh with our dog friends in the sunshine. It was 50 degrees; we threw off our jackets and relished in the sunshine–and laughed at how back in California, 50 degrees likely would have been the coldest winter day we encountered, a reason for jackets and scarves and boots. Soon, there will come a day in the city where the chill of 50 degrees is cause for complaint, where we ache for the days of light jackets and mild sunshine.
The past few weeks have been a good reminder of our power to choose joy. We can choose joy when we’re on vacation in a tropical paradise (or choose to focus on all that has gone wrong), when we make the time to care for ourselves in a deep and meaningful way, when we’re simply appreciating our daily routine–the cup of hot coffee in the morning, leaving work the moment a glorious sunset breaks out over the sky. We can delight in the magic of waking up to the city covered in fresh snow, marvel at the sheer convenience of being able to go from coast to coast in a mere six hours (with the added bonus of ginger ale and chips), grant a smile (at the very least) to the person busking on the corner–or we can complain, criticize, accuse.
It’s all a choice. Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right; whether you want to be happy or want to be miserable, you can be. No matter where I am, I’d like to think I’d be able to rise above and choose joy.
In case you missed it: I also wrote about my happiness project this summer.
Note: the winner of the snail mail giveaway is Shannon Peterson! Thanks for entering–and send some mail this week!