Alpacas are incredible, but I miss the cows. Spanish architecture built on top of Incan stone is a wonder, but I miss the open fields. For as long as I’ve known my wife, Savannah, and I are were moving to Cusco, Peru, I couldn’t wait to leave Texas. I craved newness: language, culture, sport, everything. Now I long for what I left. Woody Allen put it best when he said, “When I am in New York, I want to be in Europe, and when I am in Europe, I want to be in New York.”
I thought happiness might meet me in this new world. Now, I’ve contemplated going home. Leaving my new world. Surely, happiness stayed behind.
Both thoughts are false.
When I am in New York, I want to be in Europe, and when I am in Europe, I want to be in New York.
– Woody Allen
This first month abroad, I’ve learned that the hard way. In her book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky addresses the false idea that when we change our circumstances we improve our happiness.
I’ve been trying to change my circumstances for a few years now. My brightest days came in college. I learned about life, I fell in love, I worked as a missionary in England, I earned a degree, and I laughed more than I ever had before. Friends stayed close and good times ran beside me.
Since graduation, I’ve chased that high. Trying to recapture the moments. Those moments are smoke. I smell them, and they are wonderful. But no matter how hard I try, I fail to hold them firm. I thought a new job might do the trick. The happiness returned for a time, then trailed into thin air.
When I proposed to Savannah, I knew marriage held the answer. That, too, waned. Savannah is the love of my life, the woman of my dreams, and my best friend. I love her with all I am, and she makes me tremendously happy. Yet time peels back the layers. The newness is replaced with monotony; the cold cycle spins.
The problem, I found, is that I’m not creating opportunities for myself to be happy. New cities, far-away countries, expensive cars and houses and clothes, nice jobs and fresh faces, along with tight stomachs and hot dates are false joys. They are all empty.
Lyubomirsky explains that 10 percent of our happiness is determined by our circumstances. That’s nothing. Our genetics make up half. (So, that’s it, right? I’m either happy or I’m not). Don’t count out the other 40 percent: intentional activity.
“As banal and cliched as this might sound, happiness, more than anything, is a state of mind, a way of perceiving and approaching ourselves and the world in which we reside.”
— Sonja Lyubomirsky
Happiness is a daily activity. We make it happen. None of us can change our genes, but we hold enough potential to create joy. For me, the activities I most enjoy are spending time with my wife, writing, reading, and exercising—especially hiking and sports. Happiness takes work. Like a diet, we get out what we put in.
I thought moving to Peru might flip my dour disposition. Truth is, ten percent is chump change. I could live in Peru, or Japan, or Texas and only change my happiness by ten percent. And now, I’m getting used to my new city. So, my happiness level is returning to its base.
The difference will be in what I do, not where I go. Not in what I buy, but how I invest my time. I don’t know many people who would say they do not want to be happy. I know I do. I want many things. If I’m honest, happiness is number one. So, it’s time I invest in my joy. It’s time we all do. It’s not selfish. Happy people aren’t just extroverted, or silly—they’re the people who enjoy who they are, where they are, and those close to them. They treat their spouses and friends well.
We can produce happiness. Right here. Right now. There’s no solution other than to find the things you enjoy most and to do them. Invest and progress.