Happiness, though not always easy to come by, enables people to enjoy better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. To celebrate its 30th anniversary last year, One Community Health started Gorge Happiness Month, 31 days of activities in October, based on the science of happiness, designed to make our community healthier. Now in its second year, here is the story of one person who undertook the Daily Three habits as prescribed by the program: Gratitudes, Acts of Kindness and Moments of Silence.
By Don Campbell
Stress is no stranger to Caitlin Alcott, a young mother with a 3-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter. In her “other life,” as she puts it, she is a geomorphologist, or river scientist, doing work in salmon habitat restoration. “It’s a total dream job,” she says, “But I’m in a completely different universe right now.”
While on maternity leave, she attended a meeting of the La Leche League at Hood River’s Dog River coffee shop. She had seen flyers for Gorge Happiness Month and met coordinator Emily Reed. She was intrigued by it. With the arrival of her second child, she said, “I remember this being an incredible moment in time, reflective and insane. This would provide me an opportunity to write down the moments, to capture big changes, the snapshots.”
Working through the Daily Three – writing down the things for which she feels gratitude, recording her acts of kindness toward other people and remembering her moments of silence – provided her the structure and incentive for capturing this important time in her life.
She was reasonably diligent about writing down her gratitudes, not always daily but regularly. “It was sometimes silly things,” she said, “With a 3-year-old it was so simple.” At one point, her mom helped her make an invitation for her son’s birthday party. “It was 1980s-style,” she said “with glue stick and glitter. I had been trying for days to do this thing, and couldn’t quite get it together. Mom came and helped. I was so grateful. My heart swelled with happiness.”
For Alcott, acts of kindness are a daily occurrence, but she found it “totally impossible” to write them down. For her, there were only two: walking the dog and dashing in to help at the office for mini-crisis, even though she’s on leave and should have said no. “Literally there were only two acts of kindness,” she said. “All the rest I think I do everyday. I love all the things I do, and I think they’re kind, like making cupcakes with my son. It was special, it’s just parenting. But it’s kind.”
Practicing the moments of silence were easy for Alcott. A newborn and a little toddler required her to slow down. “I need to calm myself to get them to sleep,” she said. “It’s really nice to have a moment of silence, and it’s nice to define it as that. I like calling it a gift to myself, a little bit of a reminder to myself.” She added that she’d occasionally listen to an audio book, which may not have been a full-on moment of silence, “But I’d take time to be super present.”
Time was at a premium for Alcott and she wasn’t able to participate in the various “happiness events” around the region, but she felt like the conscious observance of Happiness Month reinforced and made her mindful of all the things she and her wife Emily do on a regular basis.
“It reinforced the good stuff,” she said, “but it added an element.” By its very observance, she felt she improved as a human. “New moms are bitches, your hormones are crazy, and I could be a snappy mom. I reminded myself to speak with kindness, to take a breath, and to express my kindness. And I was slower to be annoyed. It was a really nice add.”