The other day, while I was sitting with a group of friends, a question about what made each of us truly happy came up. As we went around the group, I was shocked by how honest everyone’s answers were (“When I feel fulfilled” “When I make my family smile” “When I help other people” “When I receive praise for my work”).
The conversation spurred me to do a fair amount of thinking about what makes me truly happy.
I think a lot of people assume they know what makes them happy, but never do any deeper introspection after that. Without knowing what truly, truly makes us happy, how can we design/plan our lives in a way that leaves us as fulfilled as possible?
So as I go through this wild and crazy journey to becoming a published (and hopefully bestselling!) novelist, I wanted to share what truly makes me happy, and how that plays into my dream of being a full-time author.
And since people seem to love lists, like my How Not To Be A Writer post, I thought I’d do this blog in that form.
Luckily, I was able to come up with my 5 things fairly quickly. Writing full time gives a person a lot of time to think. After all, that’s pretty much all I’m supposed to do for 10 hours a day – daydream and call it a job (maybe that’s simplifying things a bit but whatever – let me live my life!).
I’m thinking when I’m outlining, developing characters, turning plot points into prose, revising… I’m definitely thinking when I’m procrastinating, or taking a 5 minute break between chapters. It gives me a lot of time to ruminate on things other than writing – like life, the ending of Game of Thrones, other books I’ve read, why Firefly was ever cancelled, why you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway, and (most importantly) myself. There’s much time for introspection it’s uncomfortable.
So without further ado, here we go: 5 Things That Make Me Truly Happy.
- When I receive praise for something I’ve worked hard at – Any kind of praise is great. From the most minor compliment to an expansive explanation of our positive qualities, praise makes us feel good, that’s just a fact. We don’t have to look any further than the photography collections of people before and after they’ve been told they are beautiful, or the ones of dogs before and after they’re told they are a good boy or girl.
- For me, the best praise, the praise that makes me feel exceptionally happy, is praise that comes in for my writing and storytelling. I think the reason is this means so much to me is that I work on longer forms of fiction, putting in hundreds of hours of work on something that only takes 5-10 hours to read. That’s really daunting, because I’m slaving away with nothing to show for all my work for weeks and months, and when I finally show it to someone they can’t possibly know how long it took me to get there. They can’t know that the first draft looked nothing like the second, which looked nothing like the third, or that the minor twist in the middle took me months to perfect, or that a secondary character is only likable because I spent countless hours trying to flesh them out and make them feel real, reworking the scenes a half-dozen times. But then, when it’s all said and done, and a reader tells me that they like it, that they can tell I poured all my effort into it, that my time was well spent – that makes me really happy.
- When I spend time with my family – This one is kind of a no brainer to throw in here for many people. Family is very important to me, and I’ve been lucky enough to grow up being very close to my mother and sister. We see each other often, if not all the time, and it always leaves me with a nice feeling knowing I just spent meaningful time with the people who have been there (literally) since day one.
- When I spend time with my friends – Am I just checking the boxes here? I don’t think so. Spending time with friends, old or new, always brings a smile to my face. There are those friends that I have true connections with, who know who I really am, who share who they really are with me, and getting to be with them is always a happy occasion. Whether we’re out at 2am dancing to Blink-182 in a grungy bar or just sitting outside somewhere doing nothing but talking and joking around, these are some of my favorite moments.
- When I help someone and it makes a difference – Ok, not to be cliché, but this one really does make me happy. I don’t mean this as “When I do good in my community,” I mean it as something more down to earth and personal to me. Maybe a coworker is having trouble with something and I take time out of my day to help them, or a friend has a choice to make and doesn’t know what to do, or a neighbor is struggling to take all of his/her bags up the steps and through the door – helping with any and all of these things, when I get the chance to do so, makes me happy. Part of me always thinks that my altruism is selfish – am I only helping this person because it will make me feel good? – but that’s probably a whole other post for another time. For now, I’ll let myself feel good and run with it.
- When I have a very productive day – This one is probably the most dear to me because it happens often, but the joy it brings me is not at all diminished by its frequency. There are very few things that make me feel as happy and accomplished as knowing I’ve taken a step forward in life. In a previous post I talked about how we need to enjoy the moment and stop thinking about the future so much, but it’s great when the moment we are enjoying also sets us up well for the future goals we want so badly to achieve. For me this can be a great day of writing where I get 6 hours of quality work in, or a really strong day at the gym, or a day I finally publish a blog post I’ve been working on for a while (*cough* this blog post *cough*). When all of the above happen together and I feel I’ve really taken a big leap toward what I want out of life and what fulfills me, that is a great day. It leaves me feeling beyond content. Jokes are funnier, conversation is more appealing and easy to engage in, and I want so badly to go out and do anything just to enjoy it. It’s a feeling like no other.
- This last part is inextricably tied to my dream of becoming an author. Central to feeling productive is my writing – Do I feel the scene I just wrote is going to blow people away? Did that major rewrite take the story to another level? Did I finally figure out the perfect ending to this character’s narrative arc? Accomplishing any of these seemingly small things is just another step toward success as a storyteller, which is a thought that makes me happier than almost anything else.
Whew! Okay, that was a lot. Next up, 5 things that make me angry… ‘When people are rude,’ ‘When I have to do laundry,’ ‘When it’s raining and I forget to check the weather,’ ‘When I’m full but still want more pasta,’ and ‘When I stub my toe.’ Done.
Now I do really want to hear from you! Both because it’s great to know something so central to who a person is, and also so I can then steal your happiness triggers to use for my characters (Just kidding… maybe…).
What makes you Truly Happy?