Last week Friday marked the end of my participation in the “100 Days of Happiness” challenge on Facebook. If you don’t know about the challenge, here’s how it works. Each day, for 100 days, you post a photo of something that made you happy during the day. You tag it with the “100happydays” hashtag so everyone else on social media can share in your happiness.
The rationale for this challenge, as described on the website www.100happydays.com, is to help people make time to be happy. The premise is when you are present and grateful in the here and now, you will build long term happiness. According to the website, 71% of people who start this challenge don’t complete it – citing lack of time as their main obstacle. Who doesn’t have time to be happy?!
I have never been one to back down from a challenge. In fact, the best way to get me to do something is to tell me that I CAN’T do it! So, on May 28, I started posting daily photos about things that made me happy. Many days it was a photo of a friend. One day it was a photo of my bed covered in red satin sheets. More days than I would like to admit, I posted photos of alcohol.
When I started this challenge, people asked me why I was participating. I would explain how the challenge was designed to help find positive in every day, a reason to be grateful when we may not otherwise take the time to do so, gratitude breeds happiness, etc. Most of them responded with the same answer, “But you don’t need a challenge for that – you do that anyway!”
The truth is I did need reasons. Two weeks after starting the challenge the man I was dating broke up with me. The very next day, I came down with the worst intestinal bug I’ve ever had and spent a week out of work in misery. If ever there was a time when I was not happy, this was certainly it! However I had committed and I was definitely not going to fail.
Taking my “happy day” photo became a goal, something I could accomplish when all I really wanted to do was go back to bed and cry. I did my best to seek unique reasons to be happy every day. I would tell people, “This will be my happy photo today!” While it didn’t always make me happy to take these photos, posting them every day filled my Facebook feed with comments of love, positivity and support from others. When you are nursing a broken heart and a mutinous digestive tract, positive energy is helpful in healing. I never realized how many of my Facebook connections were following my progress until a friend told me on day 76 how happy he was my “happy day” posts had not been sappy, emotional “look how lucky I am” in nature. Having coffee with a friend on day 83, she encouraged me to remain positive in my daily posts, telling me how much she enjoyed them.
The Happy Days website has a list of claims made by those who have successfully completed the challenge. These testimonies tell of people who received more compliments from other people, became more optimistic, and were in a better mood every day – even fell in love! My results were a bit different. I did receive more compliments, but the mood improvement and falling in love, not so much.
I began my 100 days just after Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer here in the United States. When the break up happened, I contemplated how I would make it through the summer and if I would find something to be happy about each day until Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer. Well, Labor Day has come and gone and I’m still here, with many reasons to be happy. I don’t think I need a challenge anymore to remind myself of the many reasons for my happiness.
But maybe the challenge wasn’t about me. Maybe the challenge was about helping others see happiness through me. Strangers who don’t know me may see the woman with a disability using a wheelchair, dependent on others for physical assistance and may not realize how happy and blessed my life truly is. Maybe the challenge is meant to remind us recognizing happiness is a choice we can make even in moments of profound sadness.
Happiness doesn’t come from money, a better job, faster cars, or the most recent technological gizmos. Yes, those can help make life easier, but I am not the first to say those things don’t bring happiness. Happiness comes from admiring beauty in nature and those around us. It comes from the feeling we get when we perform kind deeds for others. Happiness can be furthered by recognizing there is always someone else in the world with a struggle more difficult than mine or yours. Schadenfreude? Perhaps, but taking comfort that you are not the only one facing troubles can be helpful when despair is threatening to creep in. Don’t believe me? When you are getting ready to sleep in your bed tonight, think about the homeless man who is curled up on a sidewalk in the rain. When you are listening to your children scream in the other room, think about the mother who buried her daughter yesterday after watching her live with cancer for a year.
No one is happy all of the time, but even when our hearts are breaking and we struggle to find a reason to stay out of bed, there is always a small reason to be thankful. Gratitude helps grow happiness. Our reasons for gratitude may be different and it would be boring if they were the same. Whatever the reason is for you, never stop making gratitude for that reason a part of your life. You owe it to yourself and those around you to share the resulting happiness.