Changing my DNA: remember more happiness

by Rebecca A. Watson on October 3, 2013

in change, habits, life, optimism

On a warm evening in July, I boarded an overnight Greyhound bus in L.A. headed to Santa Cruz. From what I’d heard, the I-5 was nothing to write home about, so I figured I might as well sleep through it. This was my maiden voyage to the surf town as well as a trek with all my worldly possesions. I was moving there, sight unseen.

What I was most worried about was if it would be as beautiful as Minnesota. Really. I wasn’t all that concerned about finding a job or paying my bills or navigating a completely new area without a car or bike. I was agonizing over the landscape.

For those of you who’ve never been to Minnesota, it’s pretty frickin’ gorgeous. Lakes, of course. And pretty flowers. But what I really loved were the huge trees that grew so tall and wide they would create a canopy over the roads. In my mind, those were some of the most precious creatures on the planet.

trees mn

My trek from L.A. put me in San Jose first, where I would transfer buses and ride another hour to Watsonville. The freeways branched out of San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, much like they do out of any other city. And much like roads do in other cities, the further we got from the center, the smaller the roads and the more dense the flora became.

The sun rose just as we left the city. The bus exited onto the 17, a highway that twisted and turned up through the mountains, giving me glimpses of red, pink and orange through the fog and the trees. Oh yes, the trees. In that moment I shook my head at my naivete.

What an insanely gorgeous place. I’ve moved to the Garden of Eden, I thought. I squealed a little bit and the five college-aged dudes in the front of the bus stopped talking and looked at me for a minute, then resumed their conversation.

sunrise santa cruz mtns

This is one of the happiest days I have ever had. Can you think of five of the happiest moments in your life?

I ask this because I was posed a question today in my Notes from the UniverseDo you think it would be as much fun, Rebecca, if you could trade some of the happiest days of your life for not having to experience some of the saddest? 

What struck me about this wasn’t so much that my answer was no. I’ve often said that I wouldn’t change anything about how I have lived my life up until now because it got me to where I am. I love who I am and work hard to accept the “good” and the “bad.”

Nope, what surprised me about this was how long it took me to think of five of my happiest days. The sad ones were easy.

I can think back to sobbing in bed, staring numbly out of my cubicle window on a particularly soul-sucking day at a terrible job, getting assaulted in broad daylight, wishing a train would roar across the tracks just as my car crossed over them. I could go on.

But picking the happiest days? I sat at my journal just staring at the blank page. What were my happiest moments? A fuzzy memory of driving up the side of a mountain in Big Sur came to me. Sante was sitting across from me so I turned to him. He had some trouble too.

So I started with an easy one: Our wedding day. It was so special and unexpectedly sweet. (We were married at the courthouse.)

And then I started thinking about one of the hikes I took in Utah up to Corona Arch. That was filled with surprises, beauty, stillness and solitude. Thinking about it made me smile immediately.

corona arch

There was the time when Nicole and I saw about 50 dolphins off the coast of Pensacola Beach. Or when Jean and I drove on the left all through Ireland. Or that hockey game I went to at the Winter Olympics. And once I started going, it was hard to stop.

Sante was the same. There was riding in Squamish. The locals’ secret trail in Austria. Going to Whistler and getting paid to ride his bike for the first time. Marrying me.

It got me thinking about this book I just finished, The Happiness Project.  One thing she said really stuck with me: It takes five to seven good things your life to make up for one bad one. No wonder it was so much easier to pull the bad things out of my head. They weighed more heavily in my mind.

Negativity in general weighs more than positivism. “We tend to see people who say negative things as smarter than those who are more positive.” And there’s a reason, evolutionarily speaking: People who were more attuned to threats and negative outcomes were more likely to survive when we were all living in caves.

So now we’re all walking around with our ancestor’s worry-wart DNA. But I truly believe that DNA doesn’t make us who we are. It may set the stage, but we’re the actors. We’ve discovered fire. Hell, we’re living like kings compared to even a few centuries ago, let alone thousands of years past.

It’s time to let go of this negative bias. It’s time to be more conscious of our happiest moments because they happen all the time. We’re just not paying attention, maybe because it didn’t pay off for our ancestors. But I have a feeling it’s going to pay off for me.

For my October 30-Day Challenge, I’m going to make an effort to remember more of my happiest moments and also to create new ones. I’ve already started. Today is Unification Day so Sante had the day off. I let him sleep in while I took a morning hike in the Black Forest. Then we had epic breakfast (veggie scramble and pancakes) and took off for a exploratory bike ride.

A jogger informed us we could eat this mushroom.

A jogger informed us we could eat this mushroom.

What about you? Can you write down five of your happiest moments? I’d love to read them in the comments!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn P October 3, 2013 at 10:46 am

I am doing this challenge with you! I just learned about this negativity bias and it makes sense, but it does not serve us well in this day and age. We have the power to change! Last night I just started a gratitude journal. I’ll continue to to write 10 new things everyday. And oh! I’ve always wanted to go to the Black Forest! That’s on my bucket list for sure. Enjoy your day!

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Ms. Becca October 4, 2013 at 2:43 am

Hey Jenn! Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad I can motivate you to do this challenge as well. It’s not always easy to see the beauty and happiness in the everyday and I really think you’re on the right track with a gratitude journal. Yay!

And the Black Forest is gorgeous. I just moved here and I can’t get enough. You’ll absolutely love it when you get here.

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