The Secret to Happiness

I feel a tug on the bottom of my sweater and look up from my work at the computer to see my two-year-old. “Apple Blessing, Mom” she says. I can’t even count the number of times I have heard these words in the last month. She asks me to sing this song, one that I also learned when I was her age, at least 100 times per day. I know that she will ask until I sing it.“Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need like the sun, and the rain, and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me.” Sometimes for variety, instead of the final “me” I say all of our names.

In fact, I say the Johnny Appleseed Blessing so often it has become like a mantra. Around day 20 of singing the song about 55 times per day, I realized something. I was singing the song for my daughter, but it was me who needed to hear the words.

I think we get so used to our surroundings and the blessings that we do have, that we no longer notice them. Have you ever gotten into a hot tub in the middle of winter? At first, you dip your toe in and the glorious heat is such a shock but once your whole body is submerged, a dull warmth remains, but it is nothing like the original jolt. You get used to it. I think we operate like this in life.

When something good (or bad) happens, our happiness (or sadness) spikes for a short period of time, but then quickly we return to our normal baseline state. This coping mechanism is useful when it keeps us from being overwhelmed by sadness for too long, but too often it keeps us from being surrounded by happiness as well. We are programmed to normalize.

When we return to this “normal” state, we often seek out new possessions or want more, craving the initial spike of happiness they bring. We fail to notice what we already have and spend time thinking instead about what we lack. We look around at others and compare our insides (how we feel about ourselves) to their outsides (how they look to us). This has become even easier with social media. We forget that we are intimately familiar with our lives and just seeing a snapshot of theirs.

We convince ourselves that we would be happier if we just had more: a bigger house, a new car, or nicer clothes for example. We think that if we can acquire these things, we will someday “have it all”, and that we will achieve this if we just work hard enough. But what if we already have what we need to be happy and we are missing it?

We spend each minute planning out the next. We think about coffee when we are taking our shower, we dread our morning commute when we are drinking our coffee, and we debate whether we are really prepared for our work day when we are making our morning commute. By constantly focusing on the future and acquiring what we think we don’t have, we miss the journey and fail to appreciate the moment and the joy that is in front of us right now.

Although there is something to be said for ambition; this is its downside. Wanting more is both a blessing and a curse. It makes you a goal-oriented achiever, but it can also leave you never satisfied, if you are not careful. This made me wonder, is there a way that happiness and ambition can work together?

I think that depends on how you define happiness and how you define success. If you believe that happiness will be found by acquiring more, it will be hard to ever be happy. There will always be something new that you don’t have or someone with more. What if instead happiness is having a purpose that aligns with our values. In other words, finding meaning. This would mean that happiness could be found in the things that currently surround us. Most of us have a lot to appreciate that we never even notice on a daily basis: running water, people who love and support us, refrigeration, a car, air conditioning, or coffee, for example. What if we started enjoying what we already have, stopped to say our blessings out loud, and then wrote them down?

Working towards a purpose is also where achievement and happiness intersect. This defines happiness not by what you have (possessions) but by the difference that you make (your journey). Success becomes not about getting to a certain place but instead about making a positive impact- something that can only be acquired through a balance of enjoying the everyday and looking toward the future.

You may say, but right now I am trying to work from home while looking at a sink full of dishes and a pile of laundry that needs to be folded as my kid pulls on me and asks me to sing the same song 100 times. Believe me, I hear you. But as I sing the Appleseed blessing to my daughter for approximately the 48th time today, I watch her wave her tiny hands in the air, tipping her head back to look at me with delight, her golden curls fall almost to her shoulders. When I finish she smiles and says, “Apple Blessing! Again, Mommy.” Turning away from my computer, I actually hear the words and see the little person in front of me. One day, I will wake up, and I will be the same, but she will have moved on to something new. She won’t ask me to sing to her anymore. So, today I will enjoy these moments. I smile back at her, as I start the song again from the beginning.


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC

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