The Road to Happiness

If one thing is for certain, we are all different. From the people you live with, work with, pass on the street, interact with on social media, view on television, we are all so vastly different. However, I am convinced that we all have the desire to be happy. I can’t imagine anyone waking up wishing to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It’s what gets us to that definition of a good day that I find intriguing.

words-about-happinessA couple years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to a happiness session by Kim Strobel, happiness coach, at a literacy conference. She shared the following research on happiness and it’s pretty powerful. (Find out even more at She shared that we all have a baseline happiness measure. Of course, life’s ups and downs can raise and lower this baseline temporarily at any given time. We all have this standard baseline happiness and about fifty percent of this comes from our genetics. That’s right—it’s out of our control. Your parents gifted you with fifty percent of your baseline happiness. So maybe you have your parents to thank for your positive attitude, your calm demeanor, your generosity, or your ability to smile no matter what is thrown at you. Perhaps, you inherited some anxiety, depression, anger, guilt or feelings of shame from your parents. Either way, this chunk of the pie we need to know we can’t change. Ten percent of our overall happiness comes from external factors in our life—our lifestyle, our career, the home we live in, the friendships we have or don’t have, etc. Kim teaches that this leaves forty percent up for grabs in terms of our happiness. That’s a pretty big chunk of pie that we have been given and if we act accordingly, hopefully we can raise our happiness level and improve our lives. I am forever grateful that I got to experience this coaching session and learn this.

What this made me begin to ponder even further is, what does each person do with that forty percent that’s up for grabs? Surely, the same things don’t make each of us happy so we can’t all move forward doing the same things or we’re doomed for sure. This is where I wanted to do some further personality digging within myself. If I am in control of almost half of the happiness in my life, then it is my responsibility to dig deep and find out what makes me happy. And it needs to be genuine. Just because your neighbor has six kids and seems happy, or appears happy on social media, or maybe your friend drives a luxurious sports car–it doesn’t mean that either of these will lead you to happiness. You need to dig deep and decide what truly gets your happiness meter flowing.

happinessA few months ago, our principal sent out an Enneagram personality test to take to help each of us with some self-discovery to grow in our roles. My pastor at church has also been using the Enneagram in his sermons and has been discussing the importance of using tools like this to truly get to know ourselves. We need to know our triggers, what causes us to fret and worry, as well as what brings us joy in life. Of course, it’s never going to be black and white and a definitive answer, but how powerful to learn more about what brings satisfaction to your life and what causes you pain. Upon taking this quiz, I learned that I am Type 1: A Perfectionist. While I wouldn’t say I am a perfectionist in every facet of life, as I read on, I noticed more and more “ah-ha’s” and “oh, yes!” feelings than I would’ve thought. Type 1’s like a lot of order in their lives. I do tend to get stressed and anxious when my calendar is a frazzled mess of appointments and places to be. I get a lot of joy from organizing and having a clean house. I continued reading to discover that most 1’s are tireless advocates for fairness and justice. Yes! I do feel a huge amount of frustration when things don’t feel fair or just. Discovering more about our own personalities is only fair to our spouses, our loved ones, our employers, so that we can help each other be the best we can be.

This self-discovery also led me to revisit the Gary Chapman book, The 5 Love Languages that I read a few years ago in a book study. This book helps you discover the way you receive and feel loved. The five languages in the book are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. When you’re trying to raise your happiness level, this is important for you to know. If your love language is quality time (like mine is) and your partner thinks that you need to receive lavish gifts on the daily, you might be in for some trouble. Clearly, if spending quality time with those I love makes me feel happy and loved, this is important for those around me to know. I need to make life decisions based on this trait. And if you want to be happier, so do you.

when it comes to teachingWhen it comes to teaching—the career I have chosen—there are a couple of things I need to make myself aware of to prevent heading down the path of unhappiness. If I am a type 1 and I strive for order and organization, I need to make sure I leave time in my days to organize and prepare for my week so that I don’t crash midweek feeling unorganized, unprepared, and stressed. While it’s great to seek out fairness and justice, I need to remind myself that life is not always fair. Situations might not always feel fair, especially when you work in a field like teaching that deals with real events that affect children’s lives each day.  I must trust that the people in my life have everyone’s best interests in mind and continue forward on my path towards my goals. Any mishaps or crummy days are just going to have to be tucked away in the “try again tomorrow” drawer.

When thinking about your love language, I don’t take this as just an important thing between you and your spouse or significant other. I think it’s important for you to be aware of this in all areas of your life so you can adjust accordingly. With my love language being Quality Time, it’s important for me to make decisions accordingly. I try to stay organized and on top of things so that I can leave work on time, spend time with the ones I love, and finish tasks later, when my loved ones are sound asleep. If something annoys me, like my spouse or children playing on technology while I am talking to them about something important, I need to share this with them. (I read this is a common annoyance of quality time lovers like me!) If their love language is different, they might not recognize how bothersome this can be.  

youre responsible for your own happinessIf the career you have chosen is teaching, like I have, you might need to take a deep breath, recognize that you have chosen a difficult and time-consuming, yet arguably the most important profession there is. You are going to be stretched for time and energy and sometimes, that forty percent of your happiness-meter might feel out of reach, especially during these dog days of winter. I encourage you to do some crucial soul-searching and self-reflection, and perhaps even take some of the personality quizzes mentioned above to give you the upper-hand in your learning. Remind yourself that each day has just 24 hours and what you decide to do in those 24 hours is hopefully something that is going to raise your happiness level. Always keep in mind the importance of being true to yourself and recognizing that what makes one person happy might be the furthest from what is going to make you happy, and that is okay. What’s important is taking time to self-reflect, sharing your reflections with those closest to you, and making life decisions accordingly. 

Jessica McMahan, Leader, RTA Teacher, Taylor Mill Elementary



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