My family thinks I am some kind of happiness nut, like I’ve joined some kind of kumbaya cult and spend my days playing a tambourine in the park. Or the subway. The family that’s in the Midwest shakes their heads. Only in California. The family in California shakes their heads. Only in Berkeley. Of course I’m defensive. This isn’t “hippy Berkeley!” This is U.C. Berkeley! This is empirical science!
Of course I look like some kind of blissed-out wingnut. Last August I started a google group called “Sharing Happiness.” The idea was to create a place where people all over the world could share things that made them happy. I forced family members to sign up (well, I didn’t really force them, I just signed them up myself.) Usually it’s just me writing about some great thing that the twins did, such as smile or burp, or some absolutely fabulous thing Matt did, like take the 5:30 a.m. shift again. I’m aware that it could look more like Janine procured an audience for herself, more like “Blaring Narcissism” rather than “Sharing Happiness.” But that’s not the intent. The intent is to share stuff that makes us happy.
I’m not the only one who posts. My mom posts frequently, as do a couple of my sister-in-laws, a cousin, and every now and again, an aunt. In the beginning there was a discussion on “bragging.” At what point did sharing what made us happy become bragging? The group decided bragging was in the eye of the beholder. If you couldn’t brag to your own family, who could you brag to? And if you couldn’t be proud of your own family or happy for them, then maybe you should work on that. (Sidenote: we also closed the group to outsiders so that it is 100% private and off the radar.) I also pitched the idea to the Greater Good Science Center and it got picked up as a community gratitude journal that posts every Friday.
“What a fabulous idea!” was the initial response.
“Why don’t you be in charge of this?” was the next response.
And with that I was given a username and password and access to the Greater Good Science Center’s website. Every Thursday evening around 11:30 p.m., I format the contributions collected throughout the week (my mother, always hoping for a better grade, can usually be counted on for two or three thankful quips) so that the post is ready for Friday morning.
I always add a gratitude signed with my first and last name as a way to take ownership of my thankfulness. I want to set an example. Many people post anonymously as “grateful mom” or “happy dad.” Sometimes I post anonymously, too. These gratitudes are the ones that I’m really thankful for, but don’t really want to take ownership of, such as: “I’m grateful that our downstairs neighbors are sound sleepers.” Or “I’m grateful that the bank didn’t return that overdrawn check.” Still other gratitudes never get posted anywhere. Such as, “I’m so happy that Wagner’s O.K. after falling down the stairs.”
The impression I give is that I’m just a little too loopy from taking care of all these small children and that I float around like a Stepford Wife or some kind of Forty-year old Pollyanna.
But the real reason I have the community gratitude journal and the sharing happiness group is because when the twins wake up at 5:30, Matt gets up and he changes their diapers and reads them books and then when Chiara wakes up an hour later, he feeds the three of the breakfast and gets them dressed and two hours after that, at the reasonable hour of 8:30, I crawl out of bed, look at my lovely, clean, fed, and dressed family and say to the man who made them so, “Wagner’s wearing the wrong socks.” And then before his head can explode, I usually add something like, “Can you work from home today? I want to go yoga.”
And then it dawns on me that if Matt’s head does explode, I will have to raise three kids by myself. And I will have lost the husband that I love so, so dearly—a wonderfully funny and caring person who makes Mary Poppins look like a cracked-out slacker.
So I thought that maybe, just maybe, if I started consciously thinking about how grateful I am—if I wrote it down and shouted it out—that I might wake up in the morning and see my beautiful, clean, dressed, and fed family and say, “How can I help?” or “Thank you, Matt. Sleeping in until 8:30 makes such a difference.”