There's a phrase Sloan's kindergarten teacher uses often and, despite it being intended for six-year-olds, I've found myself applying it to my own life: She instructs her class of students over Zoom to imagine a bucket. Every morning, you start out with an empty bucket, but each time you give someone a compliment, take care of something you've been meaning to do, or practice self-love, you contribute to your bucket. The goal is to fill your bucket every day.
There was a Sunday afternoon recently when I was moving around the house and thought, "My bucket is so full." All of the doors were open, with fresh air moving through the screens and around each room. G and I had meticulously cleaned that morning, so the house was looking beautiful, and Sloan and I had made Lego castles and rainbow watercolors. The two of them were headed to the park and I was tasked with setting up dinner. In that moment, I truly felt like I couldn't have been happier.
It isn't to say that I'm not normally happy, but those moments when I truly feel like my bucket is not only filled, but brimming, are fleeting. By the time I went to bed that night, I was already struck by a case of Sunday Scaries and concerned about the dishes, piled high in the sink from dinner, the projects I hadn't gotten around to, and the overall dread I've felt ever since the pandemic began. I wondered what it even was that could have made me so content earlier in the day, which now felt so far away.
My answer came on a call with my friend Marta, a few days later. As a natural skeptic with pessimistic-leaning tendencies (I blame my anxiety!), I almost always feel better after talking to Marta, who consistently has a great attitude, no matter what challenges she's facing. She shared with me a mantra she's been using: "Choose happiness." Just like Sloan's teacher's metaphor about the bucket, her mantra invokes an active choice. Adding to your bucket and choosing happiness is a muscle and, just like practicing gratitude, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
At Marta's advice, I began to look more critically at what had made that Sunday so special, and was able to pick out something of a formula that I've since drawn from, like a check list:
That Sunday, I had talked to my parents earlier in the morning, spent a lot of time with both Sloan and G, but also had some alone time scheduled. Having the whole house immaculate, and taking advantage of the beautiful weather helped too. I'd gone out for a hike, talked to friends, and had pizza with a good bottle of wine to look forward to for dinner.
When I think about it, everything that fills my bucket was squeezed into that one day—being with my family, getting outside in nature, having a clean house, (moderate) exercise, talking with friends, feeling productive, eating good food, and having some alone time. And making sure my day is filled with as many of those elements as possible is a conscious choice I have to make for myself. Of course, I'm not going to be able to check off each item every day, but knowing what to strive for, and the elements that contribute to me feeling my best, has helped me actively seek out happiness, sometimes simply in the form of pizza.
P.S. If you're in need of them, here are our favorite tips for when we're feeling blah.