Monday, June 30, 2014

100 Happy Days

This morning I finished Kurt Vonnegut’s book, A Man Without A Country. I’m fascinated by Vonnegut, a man others have said was either the world’s most pessimistic optimist or most optimistic pessimist. I like Mr. Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron, a title I have my students read each year. I admire his wit, his honesty, his ferocious determination to work through the complexity of our human condition. In A Man Without a Country, I reread a passage I had heard the author speak of before in an interview I’d watched with my teens. Mr. Vonnegut spoke of his Uncle Alex whose principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. Vonnegut said that “one day when Uncle Alex and he were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, talking lazily about this and that, Uncle Alex suddenly interrupted and exclaimed, ‘If this isn’t nice. I don’t know what is’”. Vonnegut said he continued to do the same, to think that phrase from time to time, and got his kids and grandkids to do the same--to notice when they were happy and “to explain or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is’”. 

One hundred and one days ago I began a challenge I had learned about from Josh, a former student of mine. I’d scrolled through various pictures Josh had posted, pictures of delicious meals, projects accomplished, and places he’d explored. I loved his pictures for each one was capturing a positive reflection of his day. The photographs each had the same hashtag, #100happydays. Curious, I decided to Google this and I stumbled across the website,, which boldly asked on its home page, “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?” and then cleverly asked in a subtitle, “You don’t have time for this, right?”  The challenge issued was to snap a picture every day of something--a meet-up with a friend, a tasty meal, etc--that had made you happy. 

The webpage continues its hook by reminding that we live in times when “super-busy schedules have become something to boast about”. It suggests that we don’t stop to appreciate where we’re at in any particular moment and thus, we don’t recognize when we are happy. I was shocked at the site’s statistic that 71% of the people who tried to complete the challenge they were promoting would fail, quoting “lack of time as the main reason”. Do so many people truly believe they do not have time to be happy? I read of the benefits of successfully completing the challenge. People claimed to start noticing what makes them happy every day, were in better moods every day, were feeling lucky to have the life they have, and were becoming more optimistic. Some even claimed to have fallen in love during the challenge. So, yes. I was hooked. I chose two platforms to display my pictures--Instagram and Facebook--as was suggested by the web page to inspire others, and I began. 

On the first day of the challenge I snapped a picture of our dining room table, a maple shaker-style table which had been one of the first major purchases Eric and I had made back in 1992 when we moved into our new home. The table is full of scratches from twenty-two years of family dinners, school projects, the making of Valentine’s, pumpkin carvings, and Christmas present wrappings. The second day I posted a picture of my Dad’s Maine Maritime jacket that Paul had begun wearing. As the fourteen weeks passed, my pictures continued to document items, meals, people, experiences, books, unexpected gifts, notes, quotes, pets, memories, pictures, name it. 

Some days I found it hard to decide upon a particular picture to post. Either I’d had a rough day at school, a mundane day at home, or else I was feeling less than my best. But luckily, these days were far and few between. As the challenge continued, I often felt torn between various possibilities for the day’s post. There was an abundance of happy moments and reflections in my days! Was I just lucky or was this the result of my newly refreshed perspective? Either way, whether the day was blah or full of joy, the challenge accomplished its mission for me. I selected a particular moment and declared it as my days’ happy moments. 

As the 100 days came to an end, I received an unexpected surprise. Several people who had been following my posts over the last three and a half months wrote to me to express their appreciation of my “positive posts”. It seems that my daily pictures have been an inspiration for my friends and family. I’d begun the challenge thinking it was a good way to keep me focused on the joys of life, and it certainly was, but little did I think it would help others in their own perspectives of their days. I am humbled and yes, I am happy that this has been the result. 

Of course, even though the #100happydaysforanne challenge has come to an end, I am not so foolish as to believe that yesterday’s post was truly my last happy picture, or my last happy day. That’s ridiculous. But I do thank Josh for inspiring me to complete this challenge by sharing with me his own 100 happy days, and I thank those who have continued the rippling effect by beginning their own 100 happy days challenge, and I thank all the optimistic, hopeful, kind people in my life who continue to lift me up when my own wings get a little heavy and who will no doubt continue to inspire me to stand in the sun with great joy, peace, and love.

I told myself on the last day of the challenge, on the day I would post a picture of “Day 100”, that I would let the day come without any expectation of what I might have as my day’s post. As with any Sunday, we began the day getting up early, piling the three kids in the car, heading to St. Joseph’s Church, and singing with the choir. Sidenote: I had entered my pew unable to control my laughter after Emma and Paul and I had had a funny experience in the stairwell. So out of control, with tears rolling down my face, I actually had to whisper to my choir director that I was not crying but rather laughing! The Mass was beautiful with our choir singing an African song to honor our two priests from Nigeria, but as the final hymn began, I found myself getting choked up remembering my father singing “How Great Thou Art” in his signature voice. Emma touched my arm, fully aware of why I’d been unable to continue singing for a minute or two.  After church Eric and I drove over to visit with my beautiful Mom and I sat in the chair next to her, talking and giggling with her. After an hour or so, Eric and I drove to the ocean and spent a couple of hours at the beach. I started a book, Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, and I stopped to share several passages of the book with my husband. We then took in a movie, enjoying popcorn and MilkDuds, before driving home. I watched some tv with my daughter, waved to my other daughter as she left to meet a friend, and kissed my son goodnight before heading upstairs to read. My dog joined me in bed and after pausing to pull off my glasses, I fell asleep to the hum of the window fan.  The 100 happy days for Anne? These weren’t the first 100 days of their kind. They certainly won’t be the last. And so...

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is”.

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