My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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“When I Compare Myself with Others, My Happiness Takes a Shot in the Back.”

Happiness interview: Kelle Hampton.

Writer and photographer Kelle Hampton has a longtime blog, Enjoying the Small Things, where she writes about the simple things, with gorgeous photos alongside.

She just published her first book, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected, about the first year of her daughter Nella’s life. When Nella was born, they discovered that she has Down syndrome, and Bloom recounts Kelle’s changing perspectives and expectations. The book is riveting, and is also accompanied with hundreds of beautiful photographs.

Kelle writes a lot about happiness, so I was eager to interview her and hear more about her thoughts on the subject.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Kelle: Bubble baths.

 What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old? 

I know now that I am 100% responsible for my own happiness.  It is a state of mind that is cultivated by my own choices and habits, not things or people.  Yes, my children make me happy.  Yes, sitting at the beach and watching a sunset makes me happy.  But I cannot rely on other people and my environment to make me happy.  I don’t ever want to make the mistake of thinking my happiness is dependent on something–a different job, more money, another child, wood floors, a remodeled bathroom, etc.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

Whenever I compare myself with others, my happiness takes a shot in the back.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

I choose one-word mantras that I say out loud to myself.  Sometimes they last a year, sometimes only a couple months, and I choose them based on the events in my life and what I need to remember.  When Nella turned one and I looked back and marveled at how much I had grown that year, I went in to the new year with “capable” as my word.  I learned just how capable I was to face challenges, take care of my family, love my children and grow and, from that, I felt empowered to embrace a new year, knowing that when I struggled, I could whisper to myself, “You are capable” and believe it.  This year, I use the word “compassion” a lot.  I think compassion, whether it’s intended for others or ourselves, is kryptonite to so many negative emotions–doubt, self-analyzing, comparing ourselves to others, frustration, anger, sadness, stress, fear.  When I feel any of these emotions creeping up, I practice a quick meditation exercise, focusing on embracing these emotions but transforming them into compassion–breathing out kindness and love both for myself and those around me.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (mine is reading children’s books).

Music and walks.  It is a fool-proof way for me to center myself into a state of calm and gratitude.  I have an “Inspired” playlist on my iPod–songs that move me, make me happy, make me think, make me want to run twirling through the streets like Fraulein Maria in the grassy hills.  When I’m feeling down, I like to take a walk with my music.  I focus on my steps, my breathing, the sky, the sunlight and, without fail, by the time I’ve walked a couple blocks, there is an undeniable presence of more peace and more awareness of what really matters.  I like to take these walks alone, but if my husband isn’t home to watch the kids, I don’t let that stop me.  I’ve strapped my girls into the stroller many times and have told them we’re going on a “quiet walk.”

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy? 

There are three things in my home I can’t live without–quilts, candles and photographs.  The combination of these elements tells the story of our family.  No matter how many toys are scattered on the floor or how many laundry baskets are piled up, it feels homey to me when there’s a stack of quilts on the trunk in the corner, when I can smell fig and citrus and see a little flame flickering from the bookshelf, and when I can look around and see our favorite moments and my favorite people framed on my walls.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?

When I was eighteen, I signed up to be a summer camp counselor at a pediatric cancer camp.  I expected it would be nothing but heartbreaking–that I would be overwhelmed with pity and sadness, but I thought it would be good for me and I wanted to help.  At orientation, I was given my counselor pack which included my camp t-shirt.  The screen print on the back read, “Camp Catch-a-Rainbow: The Happiest Place on Earth.” And it was. There was an indescribable freedom at that camp to “just be.”  In the midst of everything these kids had gone through–sickness, hospital stays, hair loss, etc.–they came to camp because they wanted to have fun.  They talked about their illness with such honesty and courage, it made me evaluate my own life and what I had to learn.

I returned every summer for four years not just because those kids needed volunteers to help run their camp but because I craved the happiness, the laughter, the dancing, the stories, and the way each summer, I left camp feeling empowered.

Ten years later, my own personal experience of welcoming my second daughter mirrored those first camp feelings.  Certainly, raising a child with Down syndrome was something I thought would be nothing but devastating.  How wrong I was.  Sometimes, happiness can be found in the most unlikely experiences and, once again, I am reminded that happiness is not determined by things or people but by our choices and habits.  I choose to be happy.