Saturday, January 26, 2013

Overthinking Happiness: Mashed Parsnips

The other day, a very kind person gave me a happiness jar.  Maybe you've seen these on Pinterest, or on some crafty friend's blog, or on Facebook; the idea is that you use the jar to store scraps of paper with notes or pictures of happy memories, moments that make you laugh out loud, surprise gifts, successes, acts of kindness, etc.  At the end of the year, on December 31 (or on whatever arbitrary date you decide, I guess), you empty the jar, and marvel at all of the happiness in your life.  The idea seems to be Elizabeth Gilbert's, originally: back in October, she posted her own happiness jar -- which is several years old -- to her Facebook page, and invited followers to participate in the project with her, and like many things do in social media, the idea took on a life of its own.

I follow Liz Gilbert's page, partly because I think that she's a pretty fabulous, thoughtful, intelligent human being, and partly because she's a local celebrity where I live, even showing up occasionally to take a yoga class at the studio where I practice.  So I saw the happiness jar when it made its first appearance and thought "wow, that's cool.  I should make one of those."  Except I never did.

And when I ask myself why, I don't know the answer: is it because I was afraid I wouldn't fill it?  Because I wasn't feeling crafty enough?  I don't know.

In any case, this lovely little specimen found its way to my house and took up residence on my dining room table.

Where, as I do over pretty much everything, I agonized over it.

I wondered how I would judge if something was important enough to be included in the happiness jar.  What were the jar-worthy criteria?  What if I didn't do enough happy things?  Or what if I didn't fill it?  Or what if I didn't choose well, and put in things that weren't really the happiest after all, and ran out of room?  It was too much pressure.

S. watched the happiness jar stay empty for several days and then commented one day at dinner that he had some money that said the jar would stay empty all year.  Indignantly, I denied this.  After all, I'd already had two things happen that I was going to put into the happiness jar.

So why hadn't I put them in the happiness jar?

Performance anxiety.  The drive to perfection.  These things prevent me from experiencing happiness, or perhaps from acknowledging happiness when I do experience it.  When really, all I need to do is breathe it in, pure and simple.  It's not as if you'll run out of happy if you celebrate it as often as it happens.  Happiness doesn't come in limited supply per customer.

So I took a deep breath, and I started.  I dropped the first two pieces into the jar yesterday.  Because happiness is something you really shouldn't overthink.

Do you have a "happiness jar," real or virtual?

(Updated to add: Do yourself a favor and go read Mel's response to the Happiness Jar phenomenon ... because it will make you laugh out loud.  I totally need both of her jars, too.)

Mashed Parsnips
This is a decidedly un-fancy side.  But really lovely in their simplicity.  Because there are some things you just don't need to overthink.

1 1/2 lbs. parsnips, cut in 1/2" cubes
water to cover
2 to 3 T. butter from happy cows, or margarine, or oil of your choice (flaxseed oil might be a nice nutty option here)
A dash of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Place parsnips in a large pot and just cover with water.  Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium; continue cooking until almost all of the water has evaporated, about 20 minutes.  (You should test the parsnips after about 20 minutes anyway; if they begin to fall apart on your fork, you have my permission to drain them.)  Transfer the parsnips to a large bowl and mash to your hearts' content.  Add the butter and mash some more.

Add nutmeg, salt and pepper, and continue to mash and stir until smooth.  Serve immediately.
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  1. "The perfect is the enemy of the good." (Or something like that. Quote from somebody or other.) I hope that your jar overflows!

  2. S. chiming in here -- I'm glad for this post. My mental label for the jar isn't a "Happiness jar", but a "Happiness-Guilt Jar".

  3. This is the first I've heard of the happiness jar, and I LOVE the idea. I am going to make one for myself and put it at least one thing a day, so in a couple of months I can store them all somewhere and revisit them when I need to. I think at this point in my life. It's just what I need at this difficult time in my life. Thanks for sharing this. I hope that, with a little practice, your jar runnerth over with happiness.

  4. Oh, J, if the jar causes anxiety then put it away.

    Alternatively, be promiscuous with your happiness. If you're happy, put it in the jar. No one moment of happiness needs to be the best, perfect moment in order to be good and sacred. It just needs to be happy.


  5. I love mashed parsnips!

    And the idea of something being jar-worthy makes me think of the baby book. I often wonder if something is baby book worthy.

  6. This is exactly the sort of thing I would bookmark and then never make, but as I read this post, I think I realized why. I was taking over your comment space with a longer comment, but I think I need to turn it into its own post tonight.

  7. OK - this is the second post on the happiness jar I've seen in the past week - I really wanted to make one right away - but I didn't because guess why? I was over thinking it. Maybe it's time to try again - or even better - just "do."

  8. I really love this idea. I think that all happiness doesn't have to be equal - so surely one day it can be a big thing that is "worthy" of the happiness jar, and the next it can be something small that made you smile. I therefore love the suggestion that you should be promiscuous with your happiness. What wonderful advice!

  9. This will probably sound negative, but my first thought was that the very idea of "a happiness jar" constituted overthinking happiness.
    But since you have one...I say go nuts---put every thing in there until its running over!

  10. Abby and I actually each made one for Ian as one of his Christmas gifts. Hers is just scribbles on slips of paper, but mine is full of reasons I love him and things I appreciate.

  11. OMG: I so relate to this. The Happiness Jar is the sort of project I would want to start, then never actually do, for the same reasons you say: perfectionism and over thinking. I'd agonize over what photos were special enough (which is the reason I haven't framed any photos for years), which memories were the best, and feel guilty about the whole project.


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