Where is your happiness barometer set point? Or, rather, what is your natural state of gratitude? And are we born with a
natural “happiness” disposition or do we develop it?
As a writer, anthropology is second nature to me. I study people. I watch movements and nuances. I listen for tones and inflections, and then I write them into my work. I’m happy to say that I find 97% of people interesting! I don’t know whether the page or song is simply a place for these observations of humankind or if I’ve developed an eye and ear because I’m a writer. Regardless, I think these are fascinating questions posed in the New York Times article, “Happiness, Inc.” by Elizabeth Weil (4/19/13).
If I remember back as far as I can into my head and heart, I know I was a happy child. My mother said I used to crawl up onto people’s laps (apparently uninvited) and start asking questions. I was a hugger too, though I’ve learned the art of reading the body language of non-huggers. I remember the first time I had my picture taken in kindergarten when the photographer said, “You have a great smile!” My parents often mentioned my teeth (no braces required, sorry, bro) when I was biting off something that might break them. So I thought for a long time that my smile was about having nice teeth. Well, I know better now. For me, it’s about unleashing gratitude or joy. About offering a “come hither, I wanna be your friend” to the shy or quiet one in the corner. I didn’t learn this, trust me. It just was–and is, now.
I remember being happy and abandoned until I was about 14, after which I unfortunately became aware of myself and all of my faults thanks to peer pressure and my changing body. I felt unnaturally grumpy inside after that, but apparently not 100% of the time, because as a teenager I started hearing, “I didn’t like you at first, but I do now.” This astonished me because it usually came out of the mouth of a new friend.
“Why not?” I would ask, wondering what in the world I’d done because I’m a pretty effusive friend.
“You smiled too much. I thought you were fake.”
“Oh…” I controlled my smiling for years after that.
That repeated statement led to years of confusion. Happily, I’ve rediscovered my 10-year-old natural self through my fiction writing. In my stories, I return again and again to that state of wonder and innocent happiness. I believe that I came hard-wired at this set point, and I consider it a blessing. I do my best to share the wealth that happiness brings me. I believe my stories reflect who I am, though strangely enough, many of my stories and songs are not “happy.” That’s another subject though!
On a recent book tour I attended in Nashville, Elizabeth Strout, author of “The Burgess Boys” and Pulitzer Prize winning “Olive Kitteridge,” said, when asked about how she chooses to write a happy or sad ending, “(We) deliver a truthful emotion or experience. My beginnings and endings will reflect who I am. And hopefully, the reader will see something differently.”
Writing my stories, real and imagined, helps me to reconnect with who and how and why I am “knit together.” This alone is enough to inspire me to sweat over the page. By listening to the cadence and language of the inner voice, a writer finds himself or herself over and over again in the stories. And, I believe we should embrace this, rather than search for a neutral tone–that’s news journalism, not storytelling. Writing our stories and not “averting our eyes from the truth” unveils our state of gratitude. These are the gifts of reflection and creative exploration in art.
So, I’m wondering, are you wondering what is your natural state of happiness or gratitude? And if you’ve strayed from your natural set point, can you find it in your writing?
Read your work or write something new today. Reflect on how you felt, how you saw the world around you, as a child. Some of us have to go back farther than others to find that innocence and wonder we are born with, but I believe it’s worth the trip.
This article is a great eye-opener that we just might have a natural Happy Place hard-wired inside.