There is another message in the myth of Sisyphus, though: It takes effort. Not only is rolling a boulder up a hill difficult but maintaining a sense of contentment, let alone happiness, takes work as well. Back to my morning: I had to mentally kick myself out of bed. I had to exert an effort to refuse to be drawn down into a meaning crisis by the idea of my Sisyphean day. It took me a while. It took a lot of mental effort, a conscious choice to make meaning, to refuse to be drawn in by my negative self-talk. One thing that I find helpful in cases like this is to connect with others, including strangers, sometimes willfully faking a cheerful attitude until it takes over. As I was walking to the bus stop, still teetering close to the edge of a meaning crisis, I saw the father and son walking down the street I see on many mornings. I don’t know their names. I suspect that the father drops his toddler son off at day care. This morning, I forced myself to smile at them, to say good morning. Making an effort to smile at the first stranger I passed seemed like pushing a boulder up a mountain. The smile was answered, my effort rewarded, making the boulder just a little bit lighter to roll up the hill. Human connections are very important to me, even the small gestures toward strangers seem to help bring more joy into my life. Deep connections with friends are longer lasting and build a stronger foundation. Yet, even the small gestures help and are essential when friends are busy with other things. We cannot rely on one basket to fill our life with happiness.
Jennifer Michael Hecht writes in her book The Happiness Myth: “Happiness maintenance work is creating things to look forward to on a daily basis; arranging some peak experience for yourself occasionally; and making sure the overall story of your life has some feelings of progress and growth” (135-6). I realized this morning that the things to create daily need to be outside of our routine. The routine numbs our minds and hearts, it closes us to the opportunities to make meaning, to find happiness. We need to do something out of that routine to feel alive, the foundation of happiness. To me that out of the ordinary was a simple “good morning” to someone I had never acknowledge before. A stranger, yet not a stranger, since I see the father-son pair almost every morning. Noticing that I was wearing the same sweater that I wore yesterday because I had forgotten that I worn it just the day before, thus breaking the thou-shalt-not-wear-the-same-thing rule, helped, too. It created another opportunity to go beyond the routine and laugh at myself. Not taking life so serious is another way to get out of my routine. Slowly, the danger of a meaning crisis seems to be fading, though I am still making an effort to notice the small things that can add to my joy, just to make sure I don’t slip and fall into the hole of a crisis.