Happy place! (Thinkstock)
What is a happy place? We all have one. If we’re lucky, we even have a few.
Places that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Where the alarms and deadlines and bills and meetings and “Mommmmmmmyyyy” all melt away. Where we can sit and just be content and in the moment. Where we look around and go, ‘Wow, this is lovely.’
This is a #HappyPlace for @sourpower777 (Instagram)
It’s your #HappyPlace. And if you’re at all connected via social media, you’ve likely Tweeted about it or given it a cool Instagram filter. At last count, I found 585,434 “happy place hashtags”: the edge of a yoga mat. The milk foam design on a latte. The interwoven grooves of a hammock. A palm tree in Mallorca…Mexico…Santorini…[Enter your favorite destination here].
But aside from the aforementioned characteristics that may describe each of these happy places — and the Urban Dictionary’s definition of it being a place that’s “insulated from the sh*theads that make up just about everywhere we encounter” — what, exactly, qualifies? Is it the rocky cliffs in the Algarve, Portugal overlooking the aqua sea that you visited once on holiday? Or, is it the park around the corner from your apartment that you frequent to read the Sunday paper on a regular basis?
Fire Island, N.Y. (Dan DeChiaro/Thinkstock)
Or is it — should it — be whatever you want it to be? I for one, consider a true happy place to be a place you’ve visited before; a place you go to often; a place that when you close your eyes you smile because you knew it was going to make you happy before you even got there. I have three: Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park at the tip of Manhattan overlooking Lady Liberty, Jefferson Market Garden in the West Village near my apartment, and Fire Island where I summered as a child and sold seashells by the seashore.
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Oddly enough, for someone who loves to travel so much, who loves getting lost in the maze of a foreign city’s metro and attempting to speak its native language, each of these places have one thing in common: They’re close to home and offer a sense of familiarity. Could this be the true definition of a Happy Place?
“Nothing can replace returning to a place you went to as a child. It has special significance, always,” says happiness guru, Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling books The Happiness Project and Happier At Home, and a forthcoming tome about habits.
“It’s a touchstone.” Happiness expert Dr. Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness agrees, but offers a more scientific explanation: “Our shaken up nervous system finds comfort in the predictable,” she says. “It doesn’t have to literally be familiar; just feel familiar. Like the Four Seasons can be your Happy Place anywhere in the world because there’s enough that’s predictable for you. Or Kimpton, which I love, because it’s predictably quirky.”
You bring your sunshine. (Thinkstock)
On the other hand, though, Rubin adds that some people have a fear of the return so freedom from association would make them happy, which is why she believes a true happy place is only as happy as the person in it. “Author Harlan Cobin once said to me, ‘You bring your own weather to the picnic.’ It’s true. You can’t go to a happy place. You have to bring the happiness there. The hammock alone won’t make yo happy. It’s only as happy or calm or as loving as [you are] when [you are in] it. It’s also what you associate with it,” she says.
Okay, so maybe laying in a hammock reminds you of the time you did so and touched elbows with your first summer crush. But there’s got to be something more to it; something more tangible. “The thing about the happy place,” says Carter, “is that [when you’re there] it’s a moment of mindfulness and being really present, and the best way to access the present is through the five senses.”
Enter the coffee mugs and beach scenes. “Looking at the ocean or listening to the waves or taking a sip of that delicious coffee while holding it in your hand because it’s warm,” says Carter, are all justifiable explanations for deeming a place a happy one.
There are other, more scientific factors to explain a happy place, too, she says: “Sunshine can create positive emotions and being near water or anything green helps reset our attentional system to create pleasant feelings.
Disney World (Barry Lewis/Flickr)
So what about the so-called “happiest place on earth” — Disney? For Julie Mahan, a 32-year-old from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Disney World is her happy place. She and her husband have been to Disney World a combined total of 32 times in both of their lifetimes and claim it’s their ultimate Happy Place.“There is just something about being in a place that not only allows, but indeed does demand you unleash your inner child,” she says. “There is nothing like walking down Main Street in Magic Kingdom during the Very Merry Christmas Party, listening to holiday music pumping through the park, holding a cup of hot chocolate while eating a fresh baked cookie given to you by a cast member with a smile, as ‘snow’ falls from the sky—in Florida.”
Hmm. Familiarity? Reminiscence? Check and Check. And she did mention use of all five senses right there. But according to Carter, “We feel best when we have lots of low-level, pleasant emotions.” Not exactly what you feel at Disney. “Happiness comes more in the form of contentment and peace and a sense of freedom from manic, extreme joy. It can be described as bliss. It’s a state of meditation and there’s no adrenaline involved.”
At the end of the day, one person’s happy place is another’s person’s miserable place. But it’s doubtful #MiserablePlace will be trending anytime soon. After all, we are lucky to live in a world without a “dislike button.”
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