On Happiness: A 100 Day Experiment

Some of you may have noticed the sidebar of random pictures that has been up for a while. At the tail end of March I decided to try an experiment where I took a picture of something that made me happy every day for 100 days and posted it on instagram (I actually went three days over because I miscounted. Oh, arithmetic). I ended up with 92 pictures, so just over a week of forgetting (although some days I didn’t forget, I just chose not to take a picture…more on this in a minute). I don’t remember how I found 100 Happy Days, but I felt pretty inspired (background story here) and decided to give it a shot. In review, I’m glad I participated, but noted a few things along the way:

The Power of a Picture

Some days the thing that made me happy wasn’t something I could photograph. Pictures do evoke feelings, but not all feelings can be captured. I know some people make daily or weekly lists of things they are grateful for/make them happy/etc. Perhaps writing is more appropriate in most cases to best capture a feeling.

The Best Moment

If I experienced something worth capturing early on in the day, I found myself waiting to see if there was something that would make me happier later on. I couldn’t celebrate just any moment that made me happy. It had to be the best moment, a moment that was worth sharing on social media. Obviously I couldn’t waste the day’s picture with a sub-par moment, but doesn’t that comparison defeat the purpose of finding and appreciating things–any one thing or multiple things–that make me happy?

#LATERGRAM

I constantly felt torn between putting away my phone and snapping a picture. Yes, having margaritas with a friend after work made me happy, but I couldn’t bring myself to take out my phone, pose our tacos and swirly drinks, and then decide on what filter would best illuminate our Tex-Mex. Even though photos preserve memories, sometimes they interrupt them. In an age of documenting every single moment and instantly reminiscing, we forget that sometimes memories are best kept between the makers.

Look at me

For my last picture–an image of my computer screen while watching a movie with Justin before bed–I posted it because I felt guilty that I had forgotten to post that day. I didn’t feel particularly attached to that movie or moment, nor did I have the compulsion to take that picture and put it online for everyone to see. I have thought many times as I’ve posted pictures of things that may bring me comfort, ‘who cares?’ Some of my friends applauded and even joined the effort, while others I’m sure could care less (or were perhaps even annoyed by the banality of the majority of my pictures). Part of #100HappyDays is about finding community, being inspired by other people finding happiness, but it is–in the end–about you. It is a personal journey that most people probably don’t care about. I recognize the irony of this sentiment coming from a personal blogger, but perhaps things like this are best kept private. This Thought Catalog article succinctly (albeit, a tad bit too forcefully) summarizes my thoughts. The article also touched on another thing I thought about a lot throughout this experiment…the pressure to be happy.

Why weren’t you happy today?

This year has been a wonderful time of growth, acceptance, and peace and I can safely say that I am in one of the happiest and most content periods I have ever been in my life. That said, I did not have 100 happy days in a row. Some days sucked. I was stressed, bored, or sad for no reason. And even on days where I felt perfectly content, I struggled to find any image worth sharing. After a little while, my images started to feel trivial. Did the evening I spent in bed reading a book really compare to the epic sunset boat ride I took on my birthday or the weekend I spent in Minnesota with friends I hadn’t seen in a year? No. The quiet moments were fine and sometimes really meaningful, but more often than not those pictures were because I thought ‘uh-oh, I haven’t posted anything yet today. What do I have laying around?’

And whenever I couldn’t find something exciting/fortuitous/beautiful to take a picture of, I felt like I had failed, like that day wasn’t worth remembering because it wasn’t worth instagramming. Had I not been happy that day? If I was happy, why couldn’t I find a picture of anything to post? I think I ultimately succumbed to the pressure to be happy (rather than simply content) that I told myself I wouldn’t in my original post. Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life, summarizes this pressure well:

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.

There is something so relieving about this. It is unrealistic to expect to be happy–or even content!–every day of your life. Obstacles are always being thrown your way, changes are happening that are out of your control (or worse, in your control. Having to make decisions is sometimes even harder than dealing with what is handed to you), and perhaps all you can do is deal with turmoil on a day-to-day basis. 

I love the idea of finding things that make you happy every day because–for some–it can be life changing. But it also runs the risk of glorifying happiness and making you feel like a failure if you don’t find it. Especially when combined with social media–the origin of most 21st century unhappiness borne from comparing yourself to others.

Participating probably made me more aware of my surroundings and, on a handful of occasions, made me appreciate things that I wouldn’t have otherwise noted. But I mostly felt like I was trying to prove something–prove to the world that I am happy and, in doing so, prove something to myself that I have known all along: some days I am happy and some days I am not. Every day is not exciting, but every day is important because each day gives me the chance to be. Be happy? Not necessarily. Just to be.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] I wrote about this practice a little while ago when I did something similar, but took photos instead of journaled. One of the girls echoed my sentiments exactly: there are days when you aren’t happy, but you can learn and grow in your unhappiness if you try to understand it. […]

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