I’ve been left unattended on my early morning walks of late. The dogs and I are missing Sandra’s presence since she hurt her knee skiing and had to have surgery. A bit selfish of her to leave me alone all these weeks, really. Pandora’s dubious song choices can only go so far thus I’ve decided to expand my mind with podcasts.
As someone who seems to embrace technological advances about four years after they debut, podcasts are certainly not new. The great thing (again, newsflash to Amy) is that I can subscribe to these shows and every time a new one is produced, it shows up on my phone and I can listen to it if and when I want. This has greatly enhanced both my mind and my time in the dark of post-daylight savings time.
The NPR TED Radio Hour’s podcast Simply Happy episode hooked me. It featured a few speakers at different TED Talks around the concept of happiness. TED stands for Technology, Education and Design but really, it’s just interesting people standing up for about 15 minutes with unique perspectives on subjects. I’m going to generalize some of these talks from the Simply Happy podcast for my own use so hightail it to the website to listen to the whole thing.
One guy opined that simplifying life makes for a happier life. In other words, less stuff equals happy. That goes against everything we consumer-centric Americans believe but apparently it has merit. So it turns out I will not be happier if I buy that really cool six-piece set of patio furniture whether or not I can afford it. Rats.
Then there was the person who spoke of the happiness of being in the moment. When you’re distracted from the task at hand, whether that task is mundane or pleasant and your mind wanders, it pretty much always wanders to negative things. And who among us doesn’t constantly think ahead and look past what you’re doing right then? Wait. Does this only describe me? I’m really trying to be better about living in the moment. What are we having for dinner?
That premise combined with the next speaker really made me sit up and take notice. He mused on the fact that as we cram more and more into our increasingly crowded lives, it’s making us more unhappy instead of the opposite. Not only is it culturally frowned upon to slow down — dare I say saunter — but if you dawdle, you may have to address these nagging thoughts that you’re moving too fast to currently handle. Have you forgotten my mom’s attempt to get me to slow down by giving me the book entitled, “How to Relax”? The one I declared I didn’t have time to read? Perhaps I would be a better problem solver and more creative if I would both slow down and lighten my psychic load.
The speaker who swung it out of the park was a monk speaking on the relationship between gratitude and happiness. Happiness, he says, does not make a person necessarily grateful. But gratefulness does make a person happy. Gratefulness happens when you’re given a gift or experience that you’ve neither worked for nor necessarily deserved and is very valuable to you. You become spontaneously grateful and simultaneously happy.
By becoming aware that every moment in your life is one that you have done nothing to warrant, you become grateful because you have no idea how many more moments you will be given. This is not the doomsday concept that you are one more moment closer to death. It’s that this is the first moment of the rest of your life. The happy monk exhorts his listeners to slow down and stop, look around, then go. This pause allows you to embrace the opportunities the moments will give you.
All this being said, I would like to assert that I am already a pretty darn happy person. And although I wouldn’t have identified it prior to this podcast, I think the root of my attitude is my gratefulness for all the blessings and love that are bestowed upon me. But who couldn’t use more happiness? Being the quick study I am, I’m making the leap that if I focus on the moment, slow down and take in my life right that second, I will be happier than I thought possible. Even if I won’t be lounging on new patio furniture.
Amy Albrecht is the executive director of the Center for a Vital Community.