Arranging the Pieces: Crafting happiness where you can

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By Tabitha Bozeman

I began to suspect when I was fairly young that each of us is responsible for crafting the life we want. My sister likes to remind me that “happiness is homemade”, and the older I get the more I agree. I’ve also learned that happiness isn’t always what we think it will be or should be, but crafting it is most decidedly a job.

The very first “real” job I had was when I was 15. I was hired at McRae’s in the Gadsden Mall to spray a new cologne on people when they entered the store, (I was actually supposed to be spritzing little cards and handing them out, but most customers who were interested in the fragrance wanted to try it on — so I had an absolute blast accosting people with an inordinate amount of cheer and clouds of CK One.) Soon after, I was selling shoes in McRae’s. From there, I moved to “Moderate Sportswear.” Over the next few years, I worked in a total of 5 stores in the mall, often working a shift at one place, and then walking to another store to pick up a shift when I got off. I sold jewelry, shoes, clothes, watches and makeup. I pierced ears, waited tables, seated customers, cleared dressing rooms, helped customers choose birthday and Christmas and anniversary gifts and probably walked many miles around the mall. I learned how to smile when I was having a bad day, how to be an advocate for myself and others, why it is important to show up even when you don’t feel like it and many other life skills. I also learned that I really do not appreciate my personal space being invaded. In fact, that is one reason I tend to avoid big sales (looking at you, Black Friday!), prefer small social gatherings, and love a solitary saunter through the woods.

Nowadays, I have the luxury of plenty of personal space most of the time at work; as my children have gotten older, I have more personal space at home, too. Although I enjoy the opportunity for deep thinking, reading, resting and crafting this space allows, I notice and appreciate more and more the moments when my personal space is invaded: when I am driving and one of my girls is chatting about her day; when one of the dogs lays a head on my lap while I’m trying to grade; when I get the chance to read a bedtime story out loud; when a student stops by my office just to chat — I enjoy and appreciate these moments more because they seem to happen less often these days as kids are growing up and technology is keeping us all occupied.

I started listening to a new podcast this week based on the popular Harvard class about happiness, and the science behind what it means to be happy. It will come as no shock to anyone that what can initially feel like an invasion of personal space is often the human connection we need to produce the happiness chemicals our brains need to make connections with others, which in turn makes it less uncomfortable to lose a little personal space. “Build the Life You Want” is a fun and relatable podcast with Oprah and Arthur Brooks (Harvard’s “Happiness” professor). One comment they made that resonated with me is that there is no one magic answer or action you can take to suddenly be happy. Instead, there are many small actions you can take every day to work toward being happier. These actions include in-person connection, and intentionally trying to make someone else’s day better. I am intrigued by the personal space/connection duality: we crave autonomy and personal space, but we also unequivocally need connection with others to experience joy. Like most things in life, we need both to truly appreciate both.

November 30 was National Personal Space Day. I made sure I got at least an hour of solid personal space, and it was glorious. Then, I looked around and breathed a thanks for the opportunities to connect — even the opportunities that feel an awful lot like personal space invasions — and got on with the business of crafting a life I love.

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