We call ourselves the Happy Camper Wives because part of this journey is to have a dialogue about what makes up happiness. Initially, on this trip we wanted to interview people about how they found happiness, but we realized we were finding happiness on our own! We are learning our own recipe for being happy when we realized we are the happiest we’ve ever been in our short 30 years of life. So here are our 5 ways living tiny teaches happiness.
What is happiness?
What we are gathering is happiness is not a state of being. Nor is it an accomplishment that you can achieve once. There is no milestone or mountain summit you can sit on and look out and say “Ah! that’s the path to happiness now I can be endlessly happy!”
It seems that humans in general have a very hard time admitting they are not happy. We want to feel happy all the time and therefore, when we don’t feel happy we think we’re doing something wrong.
Or maybe that’s just us? For years, we worked hard to accomplish our goals, and never got “happier.”
Happiness is just a feeling
Happiness is just a feeling. Like the weather, it comes and it goes.
Happiness isn’t something that can be captured and stuffed in a bottle to be enjoyed forever. But there are things that can help us feel happier. And there are things that help us feel terrible. So we are trying to do less of the things that drain our happiness and more of the things that increase it.
We know what makes us unhappy
We realize we can decrease the things that bring us sadness, stress, and pressure. Commuting everyday stresses us out, so we’re making a choice to not do that any longer. Owning a lot of things took away from our mental energy, so we own less. Being in relationships with toxic people brings us down, so we limit our contact with those people. Office jobs in windowless rooms drained our souls, so we decided to try something different.
We Now know when we feel happy
On the other hand, we can increase the things that bring us joy. Walking in nature on a sunny day brings us a lot of joy, so we walk a lot! Sunshine also brings us joy, so we are choosing to stay in places that are warm. Meditating helps us feel calm, so we try to do that more often. And no, we are not happy every minute of the day but we’ve been slowly finding the things that bring us joy and slowly we’ve been happy more often. Funny how that works.
What increases happiness?
1. FUN increases HAPPINESS
Life isn’t just about having good times, but having fun can make you happier!
The first five years together we were so focused on accomplishing goals, starting our careers, and becoming financially savvy that we completely forgot how to have fun. Monday – Friday we would work/commute and on the weekends we would create more work for ourselves by remodeling a house or starting a nonprofit “for fun.” Work was really the only thing we understood. There was a sense of purpose and passion that we poured into our work–which can also be ingredients for happiness–but we were so focused on working, we were forgetting to build fun into our lifestyle. Having fun is important for stress relief, improves our romance, and it’s even good for your health.
Now we’re not saying work is a bad thing. This blog we consider “passion work” and Jessi still works a full-time job. But working 40-60 hours a week is a huge improvement for us. We used to easily work 75+ hours a week. Not because our jobs required it, it’s because we thought that was what you did- work, work, and work some more.
With all this free time, we’ve been rocking the fun train lately and trust us, fun is always…fun!
2. Too Much STRESS decreases Happiness
We grew up under the assumption that if you were not stressed out you were not working hard enough. If you couldn’t function with 5-6 hours of sleep then you clearly were a failure. Jessi had anxiety attacks in 6th grade worrying about school projects, and Valerie was working after school since she was 14. And the work just built on itself for 20 years. The stress had become so constant that the only way to feel less stress was to work harder, and create more stress. The weirdest thing is we didn’t even realize we were stressed…until we felt unstressed for the first time.
We no longer run on a constant level of anxiety, and so when stress comes up we actually notice it more. Turns out, we don’t like the feeling of anxiety. But today, instead of dealing with our stress by more hard work, we now have to sit with our emotions…and deal with them. As fun as this isn’t, it makes those unhappy feelings last less time.
We have no where to be, no one to impress, and for the first time in our lives: we are free. With less stress, we are actually more creative and productive…and yes: happier.
3. LIVING Tiny WITH LESS STUFF increases Happiness
This was something we didn’t expect and we’ve talked about this a lot on our blog. We have so little and yet feel so free.
We used to watch “Tiny House Hunters” and other tiny house shows and think “There is no way we could ever do that.” But yet the tiny house movement fascinated us. “What would it be like? Could we live in such a small space? Could we get rid of all our stuff?” The curiosity always loomed but we didn’t realize a few years later we would be living in a space a quarter of the size of those “tiny homes.”
People on these shows always talked about “being free from stuff” and we didn’t quite understand that feeling until experiencing it ourselves. And we guess that’s the case with everything, right? We are still so surprised. We feel like there has been a weight lifted from us. We are no longer responsible for so many things. We no longer have to dust those 100 things, sweep a 1,300 square foot house, manage stains on the furniture, or whatever! The very few things we do have take minimal time to clean and manage. This clears up both time and mental space for other things-who knew! For more on how we downsized, check out 7 Tips to Live Simply with Less Stuff.
This shift has changed us, potentially, forever. We may never go back to a large home. And certainly not back to owning so much meaningless stuff. We may just live tiny forever…but we’ll see. As with everything, we reserve the right to change our minds.
4. Happy Wife, Happy Life
Have you ever lived in a space that’s 15′ X 6′? No? Well, if you’re struggling with relationship communication skills we highly recommend…not doing this.
Just kidding. Sort of.
Living in such a small space requires A LOT of work on our relationship. It practically guarantees a need for marriage therapy. In the past, we could leave the room after an argument to cool off. We no longer have that option, there is no other room! If it’s raining out, and neither of us wants to “take a walk,” we have to figure it out. We have to sit with our emotions, and try to talk to each other nicely. “I feel” statements all the way. If something comes up that upsets us, we are learning not to bicker about what happened, and instead try to be curious about what the other person was feeling and experiencing. We are continually learning to listen and try to understand each other more and more.
The one thing we’ve noticed most, is when we’re happier, it is so much easier to communicate. Instead of blaming each other when things go wrong, it’s easier to laugh it off! Laughter! We used to take every disagreement to mean that our marriage was clearly doomed. We theorize that our marriage wasn’t actually the issue- the issue was we were in a constant state of stress, pressure, and anxiety. Take away a majority of the stress in our lives and all of a sudden we’re left with the person we love most in this world: each other. And we sure do love each other.
Lessoned learned: communicating well increases happiness.
5. Be nice to each other
Finally, a key ingredient to make us happier is to simply be nicer: nicer to each other, strangers, the dogs, and to ourselves. We used to get upset and take it out on each other or beat ourselves up about it. We are learning over and over again to believe in each other. Believe in each other’s dreams, believe in each other’s good intentions, believe each other when we are talking about our feelings. If we make mistakes or are having bad days, have compassion on ourselves and each other.
While positivity can help increase happiness, we also know that that’s not the end-all-be-all. Depression, other mood disorders, and a lot of factors can be huge hurtles to feeling good. These ideas are not cure-alls, but merely some action steps to improve the frequency of happy feelings.
For us, we are doing more of what gives us joy, and less of what makes us sad. This alone has increased the feeling of happiness in our life.
Happy travels everyone!