Do you ever wonder if what you’re doing in life is making someone else’s life better? When I find out that someone is inspired by my books or my blog, John (the Zen Papa) calls this my “Paycheck”.
Last October, I received a paycheck. I went to read Vidya Sury’s blog called Going A Musing and I was astounded at what I read! It was October 13, 2010. I called John and Oliver (my youngest) over to read because I couldn’t believe what I saw! The title of the post was “My Happiness Project”.
What I’d seen was this: a picture of a jar with a little note attached to it for all to see! The small jar had a smiley sticker stuck on it. Under the smiley, there’s a little strip that says “Thank you, Betsy at The Zen Mama, for the inspiration”.
Vidya wrote: “Each time something makes us happy, we’ll write it down in a slip of paper and put it in this jar. This means we will consciously appreciate every little thing. We’ll watch the jar fill up. At some point, it may not even be necessary to open the jar and read each slip, though we’ll do that too. Just seeing it fill up will be motivating, inspiring.” I was quite humbled at the thought that my blog and posts were the inspiration for a jar that an Indian family was using to write down what made them happy that day.
I wrote to Vidya and we struck up a great blogging friendship. She also has a 14 year old son. He is very much a part of the Zen Mama Happiness Jar. I really wanted to share the whole thing with everyone who reads Zen Mama so I asked Vidya if she would let me interview her. Here it is!
What made you come up with the idea of a Zen Mama Happiness Jar?
My mother has always encouraged me to take stock of the good things that happened during the day before bed-time every night. “Sleep with a smile on your face” she would say. We also have a penchant for lists and wish lists. I’ve learned valuable lessons from my Mom about setting goals and savoring the accomplishment.
It all began with the awareness that World Smile Day is celebrated on the first Friday of every October. I wrote a post about this. In fact, laughter is one of my favorite topics to write about (besides temples) and quite a staple.
Immediately thereafter I read your post titled “Take Two Smiles and Call Me In the Morning” which, I think, is a must read for everyone. Besides the superb title and some beautiful quotes about smiling and laughter, you explained the benefits of smiling. I made a print version of this post.
Vidur, my son also enjoyed reading it. While clearing up his shelf a little later, I found large smileys we had received some time back. I also happened to have my arm around a large empty jar at the time and when I placed the smiley on it, the idea of “Collecting Smiles” came to me. This was October 15, 2011.
We decided that each time something makes us happy, we’ll write it down on a slip of paper and put it in this jar. This meant we would consciously appreciate every little thing. We watched the jar fill up. We did not deem it necessary to open the jar and read each slip, though we did decide to do that in the end of Dec 2011 just for fun. Just seeing it fill up was motivating, inspiring.
Of course, when we have a problem or are upset about something, we discuss it, disperse the sadness, find solutions and take action to feel better.
I am thrilled to say Vidur grabbed the idea and before I knew it, the jar (which is over a foot tall) was a quarter full, then half full, then – full! The funny thing is, he’d open it quietly and slip in his chit of paper. Initially he would keep asking me if I read what he wrote. I think he liked it that we didn’t attempt to see what we wrote. I also encouraged him to note his achievements and put them in the jar. This motivated him to take an initiative to do things.
So it was great fun for all three of us!
What did you write and put in it?
When we felt happy about something, we just picked up a slip of paper, made a note and dropped it in the jar. Here are some examples (and yes, I made sure the paper was readily available near the jar). The jar is located in a prominent place where we can see it most of the time.
Tell me how it affected your relationship with your son, Vidur? Your husband?
I am happy to say the three of us have always enjoyed a wonderful closeness. My husband Sury usually keeps us in splits with his take on things (don’t ever believe anyone who says mathematicians are socially dull). We enjoy a lot of shared activity and quality time. The Happiness Jar added a fun dimension to our lives because rather than just enjoy our happiness, we recorded it. As I said, just seeing the jar becoming fuller was enough to put a smile on our face.
When did you open it? How did you all feel about what you had written?
We returned from our trip on December 31 and decided to open it on Jan 1 – what better way to begin the New Year than with things that made us happy in the previous one! We felt terrific. Had lots of laughter over some of the stuff written there. Imagine Vidur: “Visited Lakshmi athai and spent time with her”. Athai is aunt. She’s elderly and in bad health. I found it sweet that Vidur thought to write that down, with the date – because it helped me figure something else out.
Overall, I think it has helped us all appreciate everything more. More important, this exercise has helped Vidur plan better, become more focused, more understanding and helpful towards others and more generous about giving. He also understands the value of affirmations. He has always been a great kid – but I am seeing him growing up with this “happiness project”. A positive attitude is so important when one turns 14! There is nothing like the pressure within to make us work hard. And it is wonderful to look at all the little things that can make us happy!
Now that you opened the jar, are you still going to have another one?
Definitely, yes. I am even thinking of variations of it. Imagine adopting this in schools! Maybe even work out a fun reward system for Vidur – for any major accomplishment. He takes these things very seriously. A huge jar with a smile on its face is visual motivation. I like how we smile at the jar each time we pass it. I only wish my Mom had been around to see this! She would have loved it.
I do believe that happiness is a DIY project!
“A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you’re at home.” ~Author Unknown
I’m making a Zen Mama Happiness Jar tonight before my college kids go back. I want them to add their happiness thoughts.
Will you make a Zen Mama Jar? It’s perfect way to stick to your New Year’s resolution of “Be Positive”! I’m going to make one and make sure to have paper and pencil nearby. Let me know in the comments if you’re going to make one. Or maybe you have another idea. Let me know! And please go and visit Vidya! You’ll feel like you’ve made a new friend!