What if all the steps we took to help heal our hurting planet and wounded society (including, often, our own financial troubles in this era of inequity) were also steps that made us happier?
Though I’m an optimist, I’m also a pragmatist — so I think it’s highly unlike that all such actions will imbue us with joy. However, I believe that coming from a place of greater personal happiness and positivity will enable us to much more frequently find creative solutions that add to the general well being and our own sense of contentment and pleasure. Barbara Fredrickson calls this the “broadening” principle — through increased positivity, our minds can take in the big picture and thus we can see more options.
Such is the case with our new bedroom, which is making me so happy! It makes me happy to go to bed at night, to wake up in the morning, to put my clothes away, to sit in the easy chair and read (right now, Martin Seligman’s Flourish).
I am, of course, enjoying the hedonic hit that comes from having something new and clean and pretty and a little bit exciting. If that’s all I felt, I wouldn’t be writing about it. No, what really pleases me is this: my bedroom is a manifestation of our determination to live more sustainably and responsibly — and to do so in a joyful, colorful manner.
Here’s why we have a new bedroom. Our previous bedroom was on the third floor of our house, which is a converted dairy barn. Three large floors, with big rooms, and lots of them, translates to depressingly large heating bills. Last year, our propane bill became a huge burden for us to pay. It also became unconscionable to me that we used so much propane, because I believe we all must wean ourselves off fossil fuels. My happiness in having a cozy warm bedroom on the third floor of a drafty old barn came at a cost in dollars and potential human suffering that was just too high.
But what to do? Often, my house feels like an albatross (I no longer find the idea of living in converted barn romantic). Selling it doesn’t seem feasible right now, and fully insulating this dinosaur would be a mammoth, expensive task. There seemed no good options. Yetl one day last summer, I suddenly had a brilliant, Rube Goldberg plan. Maybe this idea came to me because I’ve been working on my positivity for so long. In any case, I realized that I could move my art studio to the A-frame that had served as the Happiness Paradigm store, rent an office in town and move all my office work there, and then turn the first floor room that for so many years had been both my art studio and my study into our new bedroom. Then, we could shut off the top two floors of the house (except when company comes) AND I can use my new in-town office to build a mediation and coaching practice in a much better location than a rural A-frame. Perfect!
Let me tell you, all that was a lot easier said than done! Clearing out a 12 year-old art studio took a ridiculous amount of time and emotional energy. An old utility sink had to be hauled out, a very extensively “decorated” linoleum had to be ripped up, walls painted for the first time since we moved there, and a new closet put in. Fortunately, my son is also a top-notch carpenter and painter, so we could keep our spending very local! Plus, he sealed the windows so the new room leaks far less heat than it did before. And my amazing husband re-upholstered the frayed, old quilted curtains that pre-dated our arrival — so we “upcycled” what was already there, rather than buying brand new curtains.
Here’s something else that makes me happy now: when I have to run upstairs for something, all the rooms up there are COLD!
We still have a long way to go with this house. We are now talking about replacing one or two of the individual propane heaters with pellet wood stoves. We will have to take money out of our retirement funds to do this, and there’s not all that much there in the first place. But just how expensive will propane be when we’re retired? And how can we enjoy our golden years at the cost of others’ suffering?
Which brings me to Nova Scotia researcher Catherine O’Brien, whose work on Sustainable Happiness I admire so much. She defines sustainable happiness as “happiness that contributes to individual, community and/or global wellbeing and does not exploit other people, the environment, or future generations.” Like O’Brien, I believe deeply that we are all interconnected, and our individual pursuits of happiness must take into consideration our effect on other humans, animals, and the planet. Re-doing my bedroom was not just about choosing paint colors — it was about choosing sustainable happiness.
Plus, it’s so pretty! Meaningful and pleasurable — what a sweet deal.