In celebration of International Happiness Day, I am recycling an old article I wrote in 2010 about recognizing what we take for granted. It’s an easy way to start practicing happiness and build confidence every day.
During our renovation, we were very fortunate to have been able to rent a friend’s vacant apartment close by. Moreover, we’re enjoying extra amenities that I had been coveting ever since we moved to New York City: an extra bedroom, an extra bathroom, a washer, and a dryer. Close friends who have seen our temporary digs have responded, “Uh-oh, you’re going to get spoiled by this.”
When we first moved in, the same thoughts ran through my head. I loved having the extra space. I could spread out my work and not have to worry about tidying up before the kids got home. I could just close the door! I loved that I could do laundry any time I wanted to. I even indulged my younger daughter’s wardrobe whims (“Mommy, I want to wear my red twirly skirt, my lucky red tights, and my red shirt again tomorrow!”). I enjoyed it all, but in the back of my mind I was fearful of enjoying it too much.
Yesterday, though, when my contractor said he would be done not only on time but earlier than expected, I told him I could kiss him. I realized that in the past couple of weeks, I had been missing my home. Small as it may be, it is mine. While it is certainly not perfect, it suits me. That is, over the course of our eight years there, my apartment’s form has shaped my functioning and I have shaped my apartment to fit my movements.
Over time, my actions and movements within my home had become so ingrained that I took them for granted. It was only when we moved temporarily to a different apartment, and my habitual movements were disrupted, did I realize this. For example:
- In my home, I have placed hooks strategically so that when I walk in I hang up my keys before I shut the door. In my temporary apartment, however, I am always looking for my keys. I’ve locked myself out and have been late for school drop off numerous times.
- In my temporary apartment, I miss most of my phone calls. Poor cell coverage is only part of the story. Despite owning three cordless landline handsets, I don’t hear the phones ring because the apartment is larger. Even after turning up the handset volume, I find I can’t get to them fast enough to answer in time. In addition, because there is no “usual” place where I keep the handsets, I am always searching for them.
- In my temporary apartment, I am surrounded by laundry… both dirty and clean. With two small children, if I don’t do a load a day, the laundry gets totally backed up. Even when I keep up with it, there are piles of unfolded clothes everywhere. I can’t seem to find a laundry rhythm. After many years of missing a washer and dryer, I now miss having someone else doing my laundry once a week and returning it to me folded and ready to be put away.
- In my temporary apartment, cooking has become a noisy, frustrating activity. The cabinets and drawers are positioned and sized in ways that match neither the way I cook nor what I cook. I feel like I’m doing an odd dance just to get a meal on the table; I’m twisting and turning, scooting from one end of the kitchen to the other and banging cabinet doors and drawers in the process.
- In my temporary apartment, I’m constantly picking up things, and it takes longer to tidy up. My kids’ messes seem to have grown to fill the large apartment; it’s as if they are marking their new territory.
The message behind this article is not “careful what you wish for.” I don’t think it makes sense to feel guilty about wanting things. We all want things, and we all wish for a better life—it’s natural to do so. If someone were to give me an extra bedroom, I certainly would not turn it down!
In sharing this story, I am pointing out how easy it is to take for granted what “works” in our lives. Similarly, we are often unaware of what we do well because we do it out of habit or can do it “in our sleep.” Because we don’t notice our routines and natural rhythms, we take them for granted. It’s far easier, on the other hand, to see what we think is going wrong because our brains are wired to do that. For example, when we get from point A to point B, we don’t stop to say, “The subway got me here on time” or, “My car is in working condition.” We only notice the times we get stuck in traffic or transportation breaks down.
As a coach, I get to talk to many talented, caring women. It is so striking how, overall, they must make a conscious effort to see what is “working” in their lives because they don’t seem attuned to it. As a result, they often take their own strengths for granted. Perhaps we would all feel a bit more satisfied and happy with our lives if we were to go against the grain and simply try to notice what works rather than what is wrong. It may not be easy or feel natural, but it is certainly not impossible. To get started, try asking yourself:
- What can I do in my sleep or without thinking?
- What gives me energy?
- What activities make me lose track of time?
- What are other people amazed that I can do?
- What activities make me feel strong or add lightness to my step?
Now that I’ve planted the seed in your mind, perhaps it will be easier for you to notice your strengths. When you do notice them, also take note of how that feels.
So, what’s working for you?