Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, is super trendy right now with her two-step, radical approach to tidying up.  In the first step, she asks her followers to lay hands on everything they own and ask themselves if the item sparks joy. If there isn’t joy, then it doesn’t stay. As we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Happiness on March 20, Kondo’s question lingers in my mind. What “sparks joy” (and happiness) in my life and how do I get more of it?

While years of research has confirmed that some people are more predisposed to happiness, studies continue in order to discover how a less happy person, even one living through undesirable circumstances, can increase their experience of happiness. As I’ve read and thought, happiness appears to be directly related to experience and effort. A happy person both experiences the full gamut of emotions and makes an effort toward happiness.

A few years back, I came across a long list of feeling words to describe various emotions and I found myself gravitating toward all of the happiness words. I love delight, fun, wonder, joy, pleasure and, well, happiness. Unfortunately, my tendency to pursue only pleasure emotions inhibits the very thing I desire, as heightened experiences of happiness are dependent upon experiencing a wide range of emotions.

I love how children’s animation expert, Pixar creativity, explored the reality of living with complex and often competing, emotions in their 2015 movie “Inside Out.” Initially, the script appears to favor Joy as the prized emotion. However, as the main character’s cherished memories come into review, the viewer soon comes to realize that Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust are essential emotions as well. Unfortunately, my attempts to block out undesirable emotions also limits my ability to experience pleasurable ones. I’m finding that the true nature of happiness is its relationship within the honest expression of all the other emotions.

It also appears that happy people make an effort toward happiness. This is tricky because, consciously or not, I have this sense that a lot of life should be happening naturally. Maybe like you, I spend an inordinate amount of time musing over raw talent and organic expressions. But what if “natural expression” really only happens because of the work that preceded it?  Much like the sweet flow of a concert pianist or the fluid movements of a well-rehearsed athlete, maybe the outpouring of happiness in our lives comes according to the degree in which we invest into it.

As awkward as it is to admit, I struggled to adjust to having a girl after three boys. While my love for her came naturally, a comfortable connection did not. It confounded me because it didn’t make sense that connecting with my fourth child would be difficult. I thought it would (and should) come naturally.  It took me over four years and a great deal of intentional thought, prayer, and pursuit to delight in the relationship that we now share. I was convinced that my connection with my daughter would be a natural overflow of a mother’s love, but I was wrong. It took effort.

Among the plethora of resources available on the subject, I’ve recently enjoyed two particular books in my pursuit of happiness. “The Happiness Dare” by Jennifer Dukes Lee – suggests that we each have different “happiness styles” and that knowing our style and intentionally investing our efforts will pay high rewards in the happiness realm. If you’re interested in discovering your style, do a web search of “The Happiness Dare” and follow the link to take a free online evaluation of yourself. Taking her test and subsequent “dare” has been unexpectedly empowering and a great insight into myself. Another book in my current pile is “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Reuben. It’s a wealth of insight into the world of happiness as well as a chronicle of her progress in finding happiness by intentionally changing her personal habits over the course of a year.  Gretchen’s well-researched insights and personal accounts have been wildly helpful to me as I learn to embrace feeling “all the feels” while also choosing habits that cultivate a happy life.