One hundred days ago, more or less (okay, really just more), I decided to participate in the 100 happy days challenge via Instagram. And what a hundred days it has been: I was offered my first job as a psychologist, my sweet nephew was born, I got a tattoo, and I moved halfway across the country, just to name a few of the changes that have occurred. Not that all of the changes were pleasant ones; I experienced loss and grief in the past 100 days, as well. The 100 happy days challenge coincided with a time of significant change in my life and I am grateful that this time was documented in a unique way. In choosing to participate in this exercise of gratitude, I knew I would probably learn a few things, and I did. So, of course I am sharing.
Although this was not surprising, I noticed that at times I felt self-indulgent documenting my happiness. I knew that the intent behind a picture was not for me to say “Look at how awesome my life is.” First, because that is not necessarily true (as those who know me well can attest, this past year has not been an easy one) and secondly because I was genuinely focused on documenting things for which I was grateful or that made me happy and had no intention of being in any way boastful. However, I worried that it could be perceived that way. But then I reminded myself that everyone interprets others’ behaviors through their own lens and the conclusions they draw often have more to do with that lens than with others’ behavior. So, I shared my daily bits of gratitude and sometimes overflowing happiness hoping for the best interpretation from others, but also accepting that I had no control over the way anyone else perceived it. This is something I need to continue to remember. Relatedly, I think that we could benefit from having more conversations about gratitude, so that we are more comfortable having those conversations without feeling that verbal (or otherwise shared) gratitude is the same as bragging or being prideful. And please do not ask me to define who “we” is in this scenario. Use your own lens 😉
As I mentioned in the original post, I was already in the habit of jotting down a daily gratitude in my planner. However, when documenting gratitude via photographs, I had to put more effort into noticing what made me happy. The need to be more effortfully aware led me to look at the world differently. Like any other pattern of thinking, this became more habitual over time. By the end of the 100 days, I noticed that I was almost by default looking for the good in my world, rather than focusing on the negative. For me, that was a powerful change.
There were some common themes in my pictures: family, friends, Sydney, being outdoors, and (towards the end) my move to Oregon. Oh, and good food. This tells me that these are the things that should be priorities in my life (well, maybe not the food, although I will not complain if I enjoy a nice meal now and then). Too often, we let things that do not matter crowd out the things that do. It may be easier to sit on the couch watching TV than to go out and hike with my dog or to call one of my friends, but the latter activities will actually make my life better. Often, if not always, the most meaningful things in life take intentional effort. Happiness does not just happen – it is a daily choice to choose the meaningful over the easy.
If I am being entirely honest, some days I did not share the things that made me the happiest. This could be for a number of reasons. Sometimes it was too personal to share in such a public way, sometimes it was someone else’s happiness I was joining in and I did not want to take away from that in any way, and sometimes I was just enjoying the moment and did not want to interrupt it in order to take a photograph. I documented some pretty amazing things on Instagram over the previous 3+ months, but some of the best things were never captured, or could not be captured, in a photograph. In some moments, pictures, and even words, are totally inadequate. There exist different kinds of happiness – sometimes it is the kind you share with the world at large, sometimes just with a few close friends, and sometimes maybe with no one. Regardless, each type of moment is important to notice.
I was reminded of the complexity of emotion. In some moments, I was both completely happy and completely sad. For instance, at the farewell party thrown by my friends in Texas, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love and friendship, thankful to have such amazing friends, amazed that we all managed to get together, excited about the future, and extremely sad that I would soon be moving so far away. The picture I posted of the party with #100happydays in no way captured the complexity of what I was feeling. It only captured the smiles on the faces of my friends and me as we posed for a (quite fabulous) picture. I can think of so many other examples of times when the picture only showed a fraction of the emotion behind a particular happening and almost always neglected to show the sometimes negative emotions underlying the happiness or gratitude. In other words, life cannot truly be simplified into a series of photographs reflecting a single feeling… and we should not expect that of ourselves or of other human beings. Embrace the complexity!
I noticed that there is truly a lot of good in the world. I just had to look for it. It is so much easier to notice the negative, but choosing to notice the positive will completely change your perspective. It is amazing how one shift in your thinking can change your life. During the 100 days, I had some difficult days and heartbreaking moments, but there was always, always, always something for which to be grateful. I began to look for the good in situations when I previously would have complained or seen only negativity. One moment I might have felt that my heart was being torn in two, but all I had to do was reach out to a friend for comfort. Yes, I might have had a difficult day at work, but when I get home, my dog was literally shaking with excitement to see me. Perhaps I was feeling worried about the future, but I chose to go for a hike and noticed that as I did I felt a sense of peace. In the recent loss of my grandmother, there was, and is, grief, but there was also a celebration of her life and of the wonderful woman she was. There was always good. And I was reminded of my own ability to be that goodness for someone else. I can be kind to the frazzled sales person, I can send a friend a quick text message just to say I’m thinking about her, I can be helpful to a co-worker. Look for the good, but perhaps even more importantly, choose to be the good to someone else.
At the end of the 100 days, I know I am happier and more content with my life. I realize part of that is probably due to the fact that I have actively pursued a different kind of life that fits better with my personal goals and desired lifestyle (less commuting! more hiking!). Moreover, I have been fortunate enough to experience the fruition of some of those desires, namely having the opportunity to move to Oregon. At the same time, I have noticed a change in how I think about things that I can only assume has impacted my overall mood and outlook on life. I realize committing to taking a picture for 100 days in a row is not for everyone, but I would encourage you to find someway to document and share daily gratitude, whether that is in a journal, with a “gratitude buddy,” or in some other way. Life is too short to overlook the blessings.