a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Mar, 2010

thinking aloud about happiness

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Yaktivism

Ms.D has had me thinking a lot about happiness. Specifically; how we find it, increase it, and hold on to it.

Can increasing one’s sense of happiness be as simple as finding something one loves to do, and doing it?  It seems like happy people are (1) actively seeking out the things they love, and (2) doing them.

Take me for example. I love to write. And so I carve out the time to write every day. If I’m not writing I am thinking about writing. Writing makes me happy. I’m not happy when I’m not writing.

I also love the outdoors, new experiences, and photography. I am working on incorporating more of those things into my life.

This was harder when I was a new mom. Crushing fatigue affected every aspect of my life. I had no energy to actively pursue the things that made me happy. And so I did less of those things. And I got unhappier. And ate more. And did less. And became less happy. (See what I’m getting at?)

I’d really like to talk about this. What’s the thing that you love doing? And how are you incorporating it into your life? If you’re not doing that thing that you love most, can you find a way to do more of it?

17 Responses to "thinking aloud about happiness"

1 | Betsy Mae

March 8th, 2010 at 2:49 pm


I have no idea what makes me happy anymore. I’m definitely spinning my wheels. Don’t get me wrong I know that I have a great life and I have happiness in my life, I love being a mother, my kids are joys in my life yadda yadda yadda, but if you are asking about the one thing or the few things that truly make me happy I can’t tell you right now. It’s not an easy question for everyone.

2 | andrea

March 8th, 2010 at 3:06 pm


It’s definitely not an easy question. Finding the thing that makes you happy is half the battle.

3 | Jennifer

March 8th, 2010 at 4:34 pm


I can’t say there’s one thing (or any number of things…). I just am.

4 | milkfacemama

March 8th, 2010 at 5:25 pm


Yep, yep, yep – totally agree with you Andrea. I would say I’ve always been quite happy but having my kids and, through them, finding my life’s work has made me incredibly happy. I love what I do and am often thinking about it when I’m not doing it (and sometimes stressing about it, too!). I know that if I won the lottery or some other unlikely thing, I would keep working because I love it that much.

5 | Annie Scherz

March 8th, 2010 at 5:47 pm


Strange that you should post this at this point… I am really really struggling with happiness (or the lack thereof…). I am terribly unhappy in my job (primary classroom teacher) and this is affecting the rest of my life. To top it off, I am a mom to a toddler and just went through a miscarriage at 12 weeks – these are tough times!!

I have been working very consciously to focus on happiness… Whether it is changing my job (or some aspects of my job) and getting back closer to what really made me happy (being an environmental educator, spending more time outside), and making a concerted effort to be more active (those exercise endorphins are free happiness!!).

Overall, I have a fabulous life (amazing family, phenomenal colleagues, a stable, well-paying job, a lovely house, etc…) so I need to remind myself that I AM HAPPY…

Thank you for posting this and thereby getting me thinking about this…

6 | Carrie C

March 8th, 2010 at 7:05 pm


I know what I love to do, but right now, I can’t put myself first to do that.

My creativity is stifled for the same reasons you stated in your post. Mom-ness prevents us from being able to do a lot of things.

Like you, I love to write. To find the time to do it is one thing, I often have time to write. The problem is the emotional commitment to write what is sitting in my head right now is so big that I’m afraid I won’t have anything left for my family.

My husband has a year left of school, and then my daughter starts school, and then we want another child. I don’t know when I will be able to put myself first. It makes me sad.

7 | Debbie

March 8th, 2010 at 8:46 pm


Great discussion…I think happiness is something that is always there in my life, but it ebbs and flows. Some days I’m feeling more optimistic and happy about “life”, other days, I’m just dragging my heels to make it to bedtime. Being a mom of young children really tests my limits of my happiness, but I also think happiness is a choice. I can choose to be happy/content about my present situation or I can choose to wish it away. In my line of work (pediatric healthcare), I see the sickest of the sick, so that helps to put my life in perspective. I’ve got two healthy, developing kids, and that is something to definitely be happy about.

8 | Jacqueline Johns - Your Happy Life Mentor

March 8th, 2010 at 8:54 pm


Good for you!

Finding something you love to do, and DOING IT is paramount to your happiness.

I feel many people feel that “carving out the time” for themselves is selfish. Many women in particular have been brought up to put everyone else’s needs before their own. I want to shake these people!!

Only YOU are living your life! It’s up to YOU, and ONLY you to make sure you’re happy.

Live Life Happy!

9 | Betsy Mae

March 8th, 2010 at 10:08 pm


I came back (twice) to read the other comments. I hope this discussion continues because this is a very interesting topic (to me).

Do you ever wonder if we look too hard for happiness? Previous generations didn’t spend so much time focusing on whether or not they were happy or their children were happy etc.

10 | Hilary

March 9th, 2010 at 6:16 am


I feel lucky because I have found the thing I love, and it’s baking. I also know that it makes me happy to have autonomy over my own work. So I’m leaving my job at the end of this month (I’d be doing that anyway since I’m moving) and starting some sort of baking business. But I know I’m lucky to be in a position where I can pursue this happiness – I don’t have kids yet so I have time galore and my partner can support me while I do this.

Betsy Mae makes a good point, though. Happiness is probably quite a modern, new fangled notion – and it’s hard for a lot of people. I wonder if ‘contentment’ or ‘general satisfaction’ is more attainable over the long run.

You always bring up such interesting topics on your blog!

11 | andrea

March 9th, 2010 at 8:52 am


Thanks for your comments so far! Definitely some food for thought here.

Does this generation look too hard for happiness? Yes and no. I’m sure that all mothers, whether they lived in pioneer days or in modern times sought out those things that made them happy – or to use another word – content with their lives. Is it not human nature to want to be happy? On the flip side, I also think that we’re prone to more self-analysis. Perhaps this came with the advent of psychology/therapy? Not sure.

Happiness definitely ebbs and flows. For me this ebb and flow is often hormonal. :) But I still think that we have to spend some time and energy finding out what makes us happy.

So much of this ties into health and fitness too, doesn’t it? It’s SO HARD to get motivated and get off the couch, but we need to do it. Even if it’s just taking baby steps and changing a few simple things about our lives: getting more sleep, getting some fresh air and sunshine, getting a bit more exercise, eating better. Small changes can make big differences in our energy levels AND result in increase happiness/sense of contentment.

Must think on this more… !

12 | Rebecca

March 9th, 2010 at 1:18 pm


I am happy. Oh, I feel happy. There are days when I am more stressed, or over tired, or anxious, but overall I’m very happy. Why? I think because I have finally surrounded myself with only excellent people, I want for little, I feel loved and love back, and am at a place where I’m content with myself (most of the time)

But happiness is so subjective. Someone else’s definition and discovery of it may be completely different than mine.

I do know when I’m at my full happiness and that’s when the four of us (dh, 2 kids, myself) are together. So, I would be much happier if dh could quit his job – ha! ;)

13 | Downtime

March 9th, 2010 at 2:18 pm


I think happiness is linked to being in control. If you feel overwhelmed with stuff you could/should deal with, you are likely to feel stressed or sad. I know folks whose lives stress ME out and yet they don’t appear to let it get to them i.e. they seem quite content. I envy these folks. Free / leisure time where we could be doing “happy” stuff should be at an all-time high but for some reason (have you noticed?), it seems like no one has any free time. We pack on stuff to fill every nook and cranny. For example, folks who have booked all of their kids’ free time with organized activities and courses which results in them driving their kids around every night of the week (and they complain about no free time). This is going to irk some folks but email, blackberry, twitter, cellphones, facebook, tv, blog reading…it’s all filler that end up making folks feel lousy about not being able to keep up. To be fair, some folks (not many) make this technology work FOR them. I think brains need unplugged downtime to think, assess, smell-the-roses, observe, ponder, fantasise, think-of-the-big-picture, dream, miss someone. And for some reason, we are choosing to remove this from our lives. Is it because we are trying desperately to get control? Trying to keep up with technology? Or because we don’t like what starts to happen in our noggin when we sit back and stare at the clouds? Or maybe it’s guilt (I could be doing so much more)? An old wise woman once told me that the secret of life is sitting down in a rocking chair and rocking quietly on your front porch for 30 minutes a day. If you can’t do that, she said, there’s something wrong with your life. I ride the bus and watch folks listening to (next song, next song, next song) or watching their iPods, anxiously reading their Blackberries, texting or talking on their cells. Most of them seem stressed. Once in a while I catch the eye of someone who like me is observing these folks. I crack a little smile and they smile back. At that moment, I feel happy. I am not alone.

14 | Laura Daub

March 9th, 2010 at 5:30 pm


What a great discussion and one that I feel has been my quest for many years… and something I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on and thinking about. I do believe it has a lot to do with actively seeking out what we love to do and doing them as you mentioned.

I am a creative person who was always taking on management-type jobs, but always felt unhappy, constantly stressed out and busy, crazy busy, busy. (I agree with Downtime’s comments, btw) I finally had enough and ended up resigning from my full-time job and was luckily hired to work part time for the same organization. Since then I’ve had much more time to pursue my creative interests (art) and do the things I’ve always wanted to. Although times are much tougher financially and I work just as hard… I absolutely love my work days now and actually look forward to waking up each and every day… I am definitely much happier and hope my family benefits from having a happy mom and wife.

15 | coffeewithjulie

March 9th, 2010 at 6:07 pm


Hi Andrea – This is my second time coming back to your post. I find the topic endlessly fascinating … is happiness actually attainable? and what is happiness, anyways?

I don’t have any answers, but I loved reading the comments.

I thought you and your commentors might also enjoy how Penelope Trunk makes a distinction between living a happy life and living an interesting life:

I don’t know if I agree with her notion or not, but it is thought-provoking.

16 | Littlehouse

March 9th, 2010 at 9:30 pm


I have always considered myself a generally happy person, until suddenly, after the birth of my second child I wasn’t. Just like that. And now, a year or so after the worst is over, as more of an equilibrium has been found happiness has become a vastly more complex commodity!

Now I’m in a position to look at developing something I always thought would make me happy into something I *really do*, I am terrified! What if, in fact, it doesn’t live up to my expectations? Should I settle for general well being, with a slight unfulfilled sense melancholy (so common, I think, amongst 30+ women) or risk the possible failure of the dream, thus the loss of the lifeline, the quantifiable promise of happiness…?

Yikes. What a minefield!

It is possible that I am over thinking all of this, and by not doing so maybe I would be……happier?

Thanks for the topic starter :)

17 | Pearl

March 9th, 2010 at 10:00 pm


A useful question for this can be to see what elements are there or missing in those times when you feel blocked or feel more relaxed? is there a common dynamic that maps to when you feel most happy?

can you isolate how your mind and body feels in those times?

also useful can a journal nearby to track each hour or two a jot of phrase of the first thought of what’s good right now? what’s not working? It can help pull out patterns and get under what is throwing you off. data for reconciling what you want and what you’re getting and data for mapping solutions.

comment form:


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


Connect with me at these places too!

On the nightstand

All hail the mighty Twitter