It’s all too easy to believe that happiness is fixed. Unchangeable. Set in place by internal or external factors that feel beyond our control.
We may not control all of the strings on the marionette of our lives, but we do have the ability to manipulate the ones that produce a grin.
And all it takes is a calendar. Some intention. And some follow through.
Studies consistently show that our happiness increases when we are anticipating a trip or other exciting, planned event. We experience this. We revel in its gleeful power and, then, we all too often face a symmetrical slump on the far side of the vacation.
I used to see this pattern – up echoed by down – as inevitable.
Until my divorce.
He left days before an anticipated trip to the coast. That trip was my motivator and smile generator all summer.
And then it disappeared, a mirage replaced by hell.
For those first several weeks, I simply struggled to survive. Any smiles were spontaneous, fleeting whispers of joy teasing my lips.
One night, I opened a calendar. The only entries were for legal proceedings and work related deadlines. I knew I was looking at a tough year ahead and the calendar certainly confirmed it.
And then I got angry. I felt like he stole the one little vacation from my year.
Yet I was the one that had allowed him to erase all of the entries of happiness.
Over the next few weeks, I got busy.
I started with the big things – scheduling a trip to San Antonio over Christmas and to Seattle over spring break. I also planned one more big-ticket item – a 3 day meditation and yoga retreat for that fall.
My wallet was empty at that point, but my heart felt a little more full as I saw those plans printed on the page.
But I wasn’t done.
I penciled in hikes for weekends that should have good weather. I looked up festivals and wrote them down. I visited the websites of local bands and marked down their concert dates. I followed with release dates for books and movies and museum openings. I researched gluten free friendly restaurants and marked them down on the page as well. No event was too small.
Related: Goal Post
The timing of some of the events was dictated by necessity, but others I intentionally placed just before or after events I was dreading.
Sometimes, we chaff at the idea of having to schedule pleasantries. Think of the advice for busy couples to schedule a regular date night or regular sex. We feel like we shouldn’t have to plan it, that it should just happen.
But then we get busy.
And it doesn’t happen.
If it’s important, plan it.
Of course, I still enjoyed the unexpected smiles. I made a commitment that year to say yes to every invitation, to every query of, “Do you want to…?” I loved those spontaneous smiles. They created some of my best memories. But they lack the guiding power of anticipation.
Even though I am no longer in hell, I still make sure my calendar is heavy with scheduled smiles. Instead of feeling let down at the end of the wedding week, I am looking forward to meeting a blog buddy for the first time, going to see Lewis Black, an annual Octoberfest weekend with friends and an upcoming visit with a childhood friend that I haven’t seen in 15 years. I don’t have time to be morose.
My life used to be cluttered with to-do lists. Notations of what tasks needed to be accomplished and what responsibilities needed tending.
They’re still there. After all, stuff still needs to get done.
But now, I make sure that two more important lists are more prominent:
The gratitude list that reminds me of all that I have to be thankful for (I love that I had to shrink the font on this one to get it to fit on the page!) and
The calendar that lists the upcoming smiles.
And that makes me happy:)
My challenge to you today – open up that calendar. Find a week with nothing fun planned and find something to add that you can anticipate. Bonus points if it also involves bringing anticipation to another.
And then enjoy the little happiness boost that comes from scheduling a smile.