Happiness Sits on an Empty Shelf

A little over a year ago, my friend Rebecca introduced me to  Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. Since then, I have been focusing much of my energy on recognizing things that make me happy and trying to reframe negative emotions. It is an uphill struggle, especially for someone like me who feels much more comfortable being morose than upbeat.

The goal of my happiness project was not to change my personality, but to identify little things that I could do to boost my daily happiness. Counting one's blessings seems like such bad advice. Whenever someone says that to me, I feel like they are telling me I am being ungrateful and petulant. But I decided to do that consciously. When I am stuck in traffic and frustrated enough to cry, I try to remember the time when I didn't have a car. I try to recall the feeling of running after the train as it left the platform, the sting of tears, my thoughts berating me for hitting the snooze button. I take a deep breath. I am in my car. I will get there soon. I am listening to Jane Austen. It's really the best way to be stuck in traffic. This gives me the opportunity to acknowledge my negative feelings - so that I am not just shoving them deep inside without addressing them - and choose to focus on the positive aspects of the situation.

I should admit now that more often than not, I fail at being positive and resort to cursing like a sailor in the safety and silence of my car - but I promise I am getting better.

I started small. My first resolution for happiness was to wear earrings to work every day. It was a very tiny change. It worked. And it became bigger. Gradually, I expended this resolution to wearing make-up, carrying a nice bag, styling my hair. After Jahan, when I went back to work, I really didn't want to be there. I wanted to be home, cuddling with my baby and reading Bon Appetit all the time. On such days, when I fully resented my work desk, wearing earrings - and later styling my hair, choosing the right shade of blush, et cetera - put me in a good mood.

One of the best things I decided to change was to have breakfast every day. I know, I know, we've heard that a LOT, but it is the most important meal of the day. I keep a loaf of whole wheat bread and a pack of eggs at work now. I get there really early and am usually the first person in the office. I poach my eggs, heat up some toast, and brew a cup of Newman's Own with half and half and two Splendas - and then open my email. Nothing, absolutely nothing can dampen my spirit while having my morning cup of coffee.

These were small changes, but they made a big difference for my mood. When I saw how well my resolutions were working, I decided to change some things around the house, too. Gretchen Rubin tackled clutter in her home as one way of boosting happiness. She says in her book that she keeps one shelf of her closet empty to consciously stay clutter-free. A few weeks ago, when Jahan started to walk, she broke two dishes that were in my kitchen cabinets. This prompted me to try Rubin's strategy. I donated items I hadn't used in a while and moved others to the top-most shelves (so what if I'll need a footstool to reach them?). I have two completely empty cabinets now, and I am extremely pleased with my achievement. There is so much possibility in these empty shelves - they are benevolent and generous. Just the other day, I had an unexpected visitor with very little notice. These kind empty cabinets hid all signs of bad housekeeping in a flash. All of Jahan's little toys, books on toddler discipline, old magazines, a bag of recyclable items that I was too lazy to carry downstairs, unsorted mail, Usman's coat, my apron, everything went in there. I was a great host. My guest marveled at the lack of clutter in my house despite having a very active toddler. We had tea and biscuits while I resolutely kept Jahan away from my charitable cabinets.

If I have learned one thing in the past year, it is that happiness can come in unexpected ways and in all kinds of packages. I have my earrings for tomorrow morning picked out, my makeup is safely stowed in my handbag, and even though I don't want to go to work tomorrow, I know I will be ready to start my day when I smell fresh coffee. And now it's time to get some sleep (something else that makes me happy) - right after I clean out my two miracle cabinets. You never know when you might need an empty shelf.