What if “happy” comes first?
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The pursuit of happiness.
What about just “life, liberty, and happiness?”
There is a cultural misconception that happiness is a conditional state that depends on external factors.
- I’ll be happy when I get the right job.
- I’ll be happy when I meet my true love.
- I’ll be happy when I can fit into a size six.
- I’ll be happy when I’m published.
We mistakenly assume that we must jump through all kinds of hoops in order to “earn” happiness, and we routinely trade in-the-moment happiness for a maybe-sometime-in-the-future happiness that may or may not ever materialize.
We turn “being happy” into an If-Then statement to which there is no resolution, because each time we meet the conditions we’ve set, we immediately set new conditions. We move the goal line another ten yards out (to use an uncharacteristic sports metaphor).
I invite you to watch this excellent (and brief – only twelve minutes long) TedX talk by Shawn Achor, author of several books including The Happiness Factor. He shares some really intriguing revelations about how happiness affects our productivity and success … rather than productivity and success affecting (or creating) our happiness. I invite you to give him a listen, let it sink in, and think about how your assumptions about happiness might actually be handicapping your ability to be happy.
I’m also curious: how do you define happiness in relation to your writing?
What I’m Writing:
As this post goes live on Saturday morning, I will be prepping for an all-day writing session to work on a the piece I’ll be submitting for class critique next Tuesday. I’m unreasonably anxious about this.
I’ve had pieces “workshopped” before. I’m not really nervous about being on the proverbial hot seat. I welcome the opportunity to hear some honest feedback about my writing. I think what I’m finding most unsettling is that I haven’t (yet) got a strong story idea. As I mentioned in last week’s weekend edition, I have a number of story ideas milling around in my head, but none of them have stepped up to demand my full attention. The countdown is nearing zero, and I’m still waffling about which story I want to tell.
To help me get over this paralyzing indecision, I am going to treat this exercise as an experiment. I’m going to try to “play.” We did just such an exercise at the end of last week’s class and it was great fun. After spending some time analyzing all the ways that dialogue can “go awry,” we were tasked with writing a scene that included as many dialogue faux pas as possible. The results were not only hysterical, they were very informative. By forcing ourselves to do it wrong, we saw more clearly how to do it right. Pretty neat trick.
While I’m off figuring out what the hell I’m going to write, I thought I’d share a few pictures of the beautiful and oh-so-bookish Salem Athenaeum. I hope they put you in a writing kind of mood.
What I’m Reading:
First, I listened to Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree evocatively read by Bronson Pinchot. Other than the books required by my high school language arts curriculum, I have not read much of Bradbury’s work. This story, however, will certainly be one that I listen to again. It also has me curious to read more of Bradbury’s short works.
The Halloween Tree is a sort of tour through the ages with a focus on the origins of and different incarnations of our modern-day Halloween celebrations. Traveling through time and across continents, Bradbury weaves together the folklore of many different cultures. The language is beautiful. My favorite line described headstones in a graveyard as being “frosted by old moonlight.” Bradbury is also a master of creating tension and I often found myself almost holding my breath at different points in the story (and especially at the end).
I have recommended this story to my ten year-old daughter and hope that she will give it a listen before the 31st. Much more than a history lesson, The Halloween Tree is a story about embracing the darkness even as we flee towards the light. It’s just perfect for this time of year as the seasons draw us into the long, shadowed rest of winter.
The second piece I read was Flying Lessons by Kelly Link. I searched this one out because our class instructor, KL Pereira, said in an online interview that it is one of her favorites . I was delighted to discover that the full story is available for free on Link’s website.
I haven’t read any other of Link’s work (yet), but I enjoyed this piece and will definitely give it a few re-reads in order to study it’s craft and structure. The story plays out in a series of short scenes, each with its own title. I would guess that the genre would be magical realism/fantasy (my favorite). Though the story takes place in a seemingly ordinary, fairly contemporary setting, there are strange things afoot and fantastical characters lurking just behind carefully constructed masks.
The opening is wonderful and was one of the “great beginnings” examples Pereira used in class:
1. Going to hell. Instructions and advice.
Listen, because I’m only going to do this once. You’ll have to get there by way of London. Take the overnight train from Waverly. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.
When you arrive at Kings Cross, go down into the Underground. Get on the Northern line. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.
The Northern line stops at Angel, at London Bridge, at Elephant and Castle, Tooting Broadway. The last marked station is Morden: stay in your seat. Other passengers will remain with you in the car. Speak to no one.
These are some of the unlisted stations you will pass: Howling Green. Duke’s Pit. Sparrowkill. Stay in your seat. Don’t fall asleep.
How can you resist reading on?
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Survivorship Bias & Hungry, Hungry Hippos by @pjrvs
- The cover of this week’s New Yorker, starring… printed books! by @chrisrobley
- The Long-Term View:3 Exciting Mind Shifts for Author Entrepreneurs by @thecreativepenn via @Janefriedman
- Please Don’t Bother to Like Me by @GuerillaMemoir via @BrevityMag
- Writing Fiction: 3 Ways to Build a Stronger Story by @willb_sullivan via @thewritelife
- Your only engine is yourself” : on Writing, Working, and Getting the First Book Out by James Scott via The Writer’s Job
- How Everything Truly Great Is Inspired by @bernadettejiwa
- Find Your Rat People by @pjrvs
Finally, a quote for the week:
Wishing you happiness today – in your writing, your reading, and your living. Enjoy!
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.