Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Small steps toward my dream cultivate happiness

By Carey Denman

For as long as I can remember, I have loved old, white farmhouses. I moon over their clapboard siding and steeply pitched roofs, their mullioned windows and gracious front porches. I love them even more when they are surrounded by white picket fences, with red barns nearby.

Fueled by my farm infatuation, I have spent many hours trolling real estate sites looking for my own little white house with a big red barn. I have also been known to endlessly blather to my very patient husband about apple orchards and milking goats.

However, I began to realize that the more time I spent imagining my life in a white house, tending to my Nubian goats, the more restless and discontented I became. In fact, focusing on what I didn’t have was making me noticeably unhappy.

When I look closer at the situation, I recognize that I’d unconsciously gotten caught up in the “I’ll be happy when” mentality. I’d made my happiness conditional, believing that somehow being there—wherever there might be—was better than being here. What’s more, my conditional happiness was based more on romantic fantasies than the gritty realities of farm life.

Unfortunately, getting caught in the trap of conditional happiness is easy. What isn’t so easy is learning how to quiet the “I’ll be happy when” messages we send ourselves. These are the messages that say, “I’ll be happy when I get a promotion.” Or, “I’ll be happy when I get a new car.” The fact is that if you were unhappy before you got the promotion or the new car, you’ll very likely feel the same way after the initial buzz of achieving these things wears off.

For me, acknowledging that I was postponing happiness for a pipe dream was essential. (Again, enter my very patient husband, who helped me realize this.) Once I did this, I was better able to appreciate what I have right now, which includes a small acreage with a creek running through it, a neighborhood filled with people willing to help one another, and a sizeable garden that produces hundreds of pounds of produce every summer. I’m continuing to expand this list in a gratitude journal I have been keeping.

Although I may not be able to have a full-blown farm right now, I recognize that there are some intermediary steps I can take in the meantime. Building a small chicken coop out of reclaimed cedar and getting a few laying hens was one of those steps. We’ve been collecting over a dozen of our own farm- fresh eggs every week, and we have enjoyed watching our hens strut around the yard – a pastime we have dubbed “chicken TV.”

Other plans include ordering some dwarf fruit trees for our existing garden and expanding the variety of other produce we grow. (One of those new varieties we’ll be planting is stevia, an herb known for being a potent sweetener.) We also bought a bundle of posts that we plan to use on the back portion of our property to build a fence for some animals (which are yet to be determined).

Instead of feeling stuck because I am waiting on happiness in my white farmhouse, I’m focusing my energy on creating a farm-like atmosphere for myself and my family right now. I’ll take satisfaction in the flowers and vegetables that emerge from my garden this year, and in delicious eggs from my own hens. This kind of happiness costs me very little. It only takes determination to look for the good in what I have now.

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