I live in New York City with my husband and our three children. When people find this out (friends from outside the city) they usually respond in one of two ways:

Option1, “You are so lucky. Do you love it? That’s awesome.”

Option 2, “How long do you have to stay there? I don’t know how you do it!”

The people from camp 2 also often say things like, “I could never live without a car. I can’t imagine having to do my laundry at the laundromat. How do you survive in that tiny apartment with THREE kids?”

When camp 2 reacts with shock that we choose this life, that we stay here because we want to, not because we have some kind of contractual obligation, I often feel the need to defend our decision. I try to explain that we are happy. To believe me though, they’ll have to get rid of the notion that happiness comes from mobility (a car), convenience (a washer and dryer), or comfort (living space).

They don’t have to take my word for it; there’s science to back me up. The featured article in our current issue Harvesting Happiness by Wendy Ulrich, PhD introduces us to the research behind how to be happy. Ulrich explains that the field of positive psychology “has developed on the premise that the pursuit of happiness deserves at least as much scientific attention as learning how not to be miserable.” She goes on to say, “We are learning that people are more apt to stop drinking, cope with bipolar illness, get out of depression, or improve dysfunctional relationships if they directly pursue happiness in its own right.”

Read the full article here. There are definitely times I’m convinced that a washer and dryer would make me even happier, but maybe I’m only kidding myself. Hauling the laundry down the block is part of my regular exercise, and that’s top on the list of things they’ve found that make people happy. Huh, maybe I should just count it a blessing. What do you know? That’s number two on the list.

Click over to see the rest of the how to be happy list in the article “Harvesting Happiness”. At the beginning of last month many of us talked about our resolutions for this year. There were declarations from you to be happier, enjoy life more, smile more, laugh more, play more. I think we all want to be happier. I already do a couple of things off the list, but I’ve chosen a couple more to work on this week. Happiness is a choice, and apparently it’s a choice we have to work at. Which happiness research will you choose to believe and . . .follow?

February 24, 2009

29 Comments

  1. cheryl

    February 23, 2009

    The one thing that I have learned over and over in the last decade or so is that happiness has absolutely nothing to do with material wealth, and usually, our circumstances (there are always extreme examples of circumstances, though).

    I love how she lists the things that can make us happier, but in the same breath talks about how those same things can actually make us miserable if we use them in the wrong way. Awesome! Great article –I think I’m going to work on the goal part (and exercising? Maybe?). I tend to want things, but drift and then wonder why I don’t have what I want…

  2. Kay

    February 23, 2009

    I always knew that I had to work hard to get what I wanted. Moving myself away from my upbringing was a choice and something that I fought for. I wanted a better life even as a child, I wanted to be happy.

    As an adult though I seem to have lost some of that drive and find myself bogged down more with day to day existence. I know I can choose to be happy and that I must make more of an effort in that direction. I am going to work harder to distance myself from the humdrum and look for the positive, i.e. count my blessings. Also to try to do more kind things for others. If all else fails I will bake brownies and read a good book!

  3. Kay

    February 23, 2009

    I forget to say that you are so lucky to live in New York City!!!!!!!! Being a city girl at heart and living in a small town that is good for the children I crave city life. My idea of the celestial kingdom is all of the best bits of London put together with wonderful bits of other worldwide cities. Enjoy it for me.

  4. Justine

    February 23, 2009

    My happiness is absolutely a choice. Sometimes I have to choose it multiple times a day. But I don’t like the alternative, so I keep coming back to it.

    Smiling has been the best thing for my body and spirit. And I somehow get through all the yucky stuff with giggles rather than tears. (well, ok, a few tears).

  5. Jo

    February 23, 2009

    I feel people have a tendency to want others to want what they have. It’s hard for us to accept that others may not want the kind of life we are living and are actually happy with the life they have.

  6. Jane

    February 23, 2009

    I’ve lived in enough places to know what you’re saying is mostly true. For awhile I worried that my husband and I suffered from incurable grass-is-greener syndrome, but now we’re back in Utah, with a backyard, and quite happy.

    While I don’t want to say the author is wrong, if comfort (in the form of space and backyard and less density of people and physical safety) is really important to you, then I think obtaining it WILL contribute to your happiness.

    I say that having lived in Harlem, The Bronx (1 1/2 years each while Tom was at Columbia) and Japan, Cairo, and Florida. We’re now back in Utah, and even though I miss the multicultural experiences that used to be part of our daily lives, I don’t miss our small apartment in NYC. Or the drug dealers next door in Florida.

    That said, can we come visit you sometime? I miss Central Park and the Met and just walking down Broadway btw 66th and 116th.

  7. Jane

    February 23, 2009

    Oh, and the five years we spent car-less (3 in NYC, 2 in Cairo) were awesome. But both of those cities have great subway/taxi systems, AND we had only one kid. Now with three, a minivan is super-convenient.

    My point (I don’t know if I made it clear) is that I think happiness is really a matter of knowing yourself and examining what really does make you happy. You might think that having what everyone else has (or doing the exact opposite of others) will make you happy, but the wise person tries hard to evaluate things without comparing to others, and instead is not afraid to try a lot of different lifestyles (I mean within the church) and seeing which fits you best.

  8. Michelle L.

    February 23, 2009

    Ooh, I’d LOVE to live in NYC too. I loved this article– happiness IS a choice. My natural proclivity it more somber and I appreciate her advice on cultivating cheerfulness.

    And my ultimate happiness hero? Marjorie Hinckley. Love her.

  9. chanson

    February 23, 2009

    I completely agree that there’s a lot of room for re-thinking our ideas about what leads to happiness.

    That said, I have to add my two cents on how urban living affects one’s “mobility”. I’ve been living downtown and car-free for more than eight years, and I chose this lifestyle specifically for the convenience of it. I have two little kids, and convenient transportation (on the train, the tram, the bus, and on foot in a walkable neighborhood) is a convenience I would never trade in for the annoyance of having to take a couple tons of vehicle with me wherever I go. Not to mention the fact that when my kids hit their teens, I won’t have to spend a couple hours a day as their chauffeur, nor hand them the keys and hope they drive safely…

  10. martha

    February 23, 2009

    I am always jealous of your situation Heather, I think your life is exciting.
    I know that I have expressed to you(on more then one occasion)that I am in awe of how you do it. Not because living in small quarters and not having a car would make one unhappy, but because, like I said, I am in awe.
    Even though there is room enough in my home and an extra large car for my grocery store visits, I have had to choose happiness in the face of difficulties repeatedly(isn’t that life).
    I think always choosing love lays the pavement for happiness. I have to remind myself that I choose to love when someone is offensive, or when I am exhausted, or when pride boils up, and when I would rather be selfish. Love seems to stifle the sprouts of unhappiness that poke through now and then.

  11. Tiffany W.

    February 23, 2009

    I know this post is about happiness, but I wanted to comment on your experience living in NYC with three children in a small apartment. I lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years. We moved there with two children and had two more children during our stay. We lived in a tiny apartment and didn’t have a car for 3 1/2 years of our stay. Now, I know that Sweden is not NYC, but I really appreciated the experience of living a simpler life. We couldn’t go crazy with toys for the kids because we didn’t have the space. Getting around by own steam (whether it be bicycle, bus, train or walking) was tremendously liberating. The only part I hated about the experience was laundry. Anyhow, I learned that happiness doesn’t have anything to do with things or even circumstances. It comes about entirely by appreciating the gifts and blessings you do have on a daily basis.

  12. Tiffany W.

    February 23, 2009

    Oh, and I can relate to peoples’ reactions about living without a car. My father was appalled, completely appalled that we functioned without a car. I didn’t even tell my parents that we took Baby #3 home from the hospital on a bus. I don’t think he would have recovered from the shock. Never mind that the bus was convenient, clean and easy to use. (And it was a mercedes-benz!)Many people told me they didn’t have the courage to do what we did. I don’t think it required courage per se, just a sense of adventure and willingness to be flexible.

  13. she-bop

    February 23, 2009

    Happiness is totally a frame of mind. I know that. I agree with that. And yet, sometimes, I forget that.

    I think one of our earthly tests is learning how to be truly happy with what we have, and what we do with it. Be it where we live, car or no car, stuff or no stuff. A good attitude is our most important asset.

    Many have come to my home, and noticed no dishwasher…it really used to irritate me that I didn’t have one. Then one day I decided that it was a dumb thing to be bugged about. I sold most of my dishes, and we mostly use paper plates. I know it may not be the best for the environment, but my brain is happy.

    Find joy in the journey – I’m trying to have that be my motto this year.

  14. m&m

    February 23, 2009

    This post to me correlates with the post on ‘normalcy’ — and learning to accept life with its bumps and hills and valleys and struggles along with all that is good.

    And while I do think that we have a lot of power over the road to happiness, I like Dr. Ulrich’s article because her ideas, imo, reflect that happiness is an all-around journey, not just a decision about attitude alone, or just something that happens because you I way so.

    So I like to think of happiness as a journey, a process, a gift to be cultivated with lots of conscious choices to not just be acted upon by the vicissitudes of life. For me, recognizing that it IS a journey, not just a destination, allows me to be more accepting of times that are hard in my life, and more willing to try to find ways to be happy in the midst of difficulty.

    I often am not happy when I think my life or I “should” be somewhere else, rather than accepting another maxim of Dr. Ulrich’s that I quote a lot: “mortality is messy.”

    I’m learning to really accept that messiness — in my life and also in myself.

    But for me, this is more than just a goal toward more positive attitude. I find the whole notion of PMA to be a bit simplistic at best and humanistic at worst. For me, I have to deliberately tell myself that it isn’t just about me choosing a different attitude; it’s about really striving to choose faith and to develop that gift along with hope.

    It’s not that I don’t realize that my attitude and thoughts are part of that. But I know from experience that ultimately I can’t find true lasting happiness on my own. I need the Savior and His truths to really help me face life with strength and hope, to find that peace that surpasses the stuff of life.

  15. Sue

    February 23, 2009

    I’ve always liked the saying, “Happiness isn’t having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.”

  16. wendy

    February 23, 2009

    I am happy to see a more “technical” article in Segullah! Of course I love the essays and poetry. I also love this sort of stuff. I went to a training recently on the studies this woman wrote about–good stuff!

  17. dalene

    February 23, 2009

    What Justine said. Really. Almost word for word.

  18. Roxie

    February 23, 2009

    I think more about how people choose to be miserable than I do about how they choose to be happy. But if you can choose one, you can certainly choose the other.

    One of my favorite examples is in the Book of Mormon at the end of one of the long wars. Some of the people chose to let the experience turn them towards Christ and humility and peace while others used the exact same experience to choose to be miserable and wicked. It wasn’t the experience that was different, it was their choice in how to respond to it.

    But I still think it’s easier to choose to be happy when there is some kind of chocolate involved.

  19. Lucy

    February 23, 2009

    I would love to live in NYC for a while to see and feel it all.

  20. Justine

    February 23, 2009

    Roxie, chocolate goes without saying…

  21. FoxyJ

    February 23, 2009

    One thing I’ve discovered over the last few years is that my physical well-being really affects my ability to “choose happiness”. Like she mentions in the article, my family history has a strong strain of depression/mental-illness prone genes running through it. I can often feel how that affects me and my outlook; but genes are not everything and I’ve been working hard to over come some of the negative thinking patterns I’ve picked up. Plus I’ve learned that if I get a good night’s sleep and wake up and exercise in the morning, it really resets my body and changes my outlook. My hubby and I have never been very active people, but we recently moved to a town with a lot of bike paths and we’re learning that it’s lots of fun to get out and exercise together as a family.

    And Jane, after eight years of apartment living I think I really will be happier when we live in a house with a yard. I’d love some private space to enjoy the outdoors and let my kids run around. Hopefully my expectations will live up to the reality.

  22. Heather O.

    February 23, 2009

    I love this. Thanks. The idea that happiness is something to actively pursue is simple, yet profound. I also love Seligman’s stuff, and was glad to see it quoted. He has a great book about raising optimistic children which is well worth every parent’s time.

    But I’m going to try this active pursuit of happiness that is not tied to material or temporal things. Thanks.

  23. Heather O.

    February 23, 2009

    Oh, and we did city living for 3 years, and it was tons of fun. My in laws were appalled. In a lot of ways, it’s simpler. For example, we had 4 parks within walking distance of my house. It’s nice to have things within walking distance–we don’t get that where we are now. Of course, I love our backyard, our cul-de-sac, and our washer and dryer. There are trade-offs to everything, I guess πŸ™‚

  24. jendoop

    February 23, 2009

    Often I find happiness in the simple things of life- When FHE actually goes well, the sun shining when I go for a walk, a happy child. Those things make me happy on a daily basis, the big things of life can overwhelm me and distract me to the point that I don’t enjoy those good things the way I should.

  25. Heather H.

    February 23, 2009

    I had such a crazy day and wasn’t able to get back on here to read all your reactions and talk until now. But a few things:

    Some of you have remarked at how you really are happier with some of your “things” and “chocolate”. I think you’re right Jane, knowing ourselves and what we enjoy are definitely contributing factors. However, as many of the rest of you have said, it’s nice to know, liberating even to realize that we get to choose happiness in the face of any circumstance.

    Also, “m&m” the shoulds are killers for me and for many women I think. We’ve had enough blog discussions and prose essays written about guilt and the feelings of inadequacy women experience to know we’re not going out on a limb with that assumption. I like how Ulrich adresses that.

    Thanks Martha. I’m in awe of you and all your babies πŸ˜‰

    Tiffany W. & Chanson there are some conveniences to urban living for sure. And it simplifies life in many ways. But being inconvenienced often because there is a lot out of your control is a good catalyst for choosing either gratitude or crankiness.

    So glad I could share this article with ya’ll and thanks for reading and thinking and sharing with me.

  26. Claudia

    February 24, 2009

    What a great article. I’m so glad I read it.

  27. C. L. Hanson

    February 24, 2009

    Re: I don’t think it required courage per se, just a sense of adventure and willingness to be flexible.

    Exactly.

    That’s my attitude towards city living. There are a lot of people who don’t like it, but many others who think they’ll hate it, and discover otherwise. I say: try it, and see what happens! πŸ˜€

  28. Leslie

    February 24, 2009

    I thought this piece was excellent and timely- an oft overlooked part of the churches provident living program is actually emotional health, coping, &resiliency. As someone who did my grad research on stress and coping I can appreciate how much framing your experience and a chosen perspective influences your ability to find happiness.

  29. Heidi

    February 27, 2009

    Thank you, Heather! I’m glad I read this (finally) because it’s just reconfirmed to me that it’s totally ok and RIGHT for me to be happy, despite circumstances some would call unhappy.

    Thank you. πŸ™‚

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