Part 3: The Four Secrets to Happiness – Mom Style

Part 3: Living Junk-Free
The first two of four secrets of happiness were revealed to me by a kind grandmother on an emergency trip to Dollar General.  But, she had forgotten the other two.  I scoured the web for the complete set of secrets, but couldn’t trace the source that had inspired her – and me.  So, the last two secrets are coming directly from me.
The third secret to happiness is removing junk from your life.  I’m not talking about the useless objects packed into your drawers, closets, attics, basements, garages, and underneath the kitchen sink – though that kind of junk is a part of unhappiness that we will address.  For the purposes of this discussion, my definition of junk is anything you willingly possess or utilize that does not positively benefit your environment, body, and mind. 
Let’s start with environmental junk.  This is the clutter that we all have and are afraid to let go of, despite its uselessness to us. It doesn’t serve a practical function or even make us happy.  It’s just there because we all know it’s a sin to be wasteful or we’re just plain too lazy to get rid of it.
It’s true that waste is sinful, but that doesn’t mean we should hold on to things that are broken or are no longer compatible with the way we live.  Our space, no matter how large or small, is a gift, itself, and one which we should not waste by filling every crevice with junk. 
Monks are wise to live a simple existence because it shifts their focus to more spiritual demands.  Stuff can wear us down and consume us emotionally.  The thought of having to clean out a roomful of junk alone is depressing.  But, envisioning a tidy, organized space where an impossible mess exists, then making it a reality is so liberating, so exhilarating that there are entire cable networks dedicated to capturing such transformations. 
We can experience the same joy in our own homes without a big name designer.  All it takes is an objective eye to examine our “junk” as just that, objects.  Letting go of stuff is often scary because we feel we’re letting go of a memory of a particular experience or person. 
(Image via Flickr)
We can remove the guilt that comes with a deep purge by donating items we no longer need, hosting a yard sale, or taking advantage of websites like Craig’s List or Freecycle.  Taking photographs can make it a little easier, too, by preserving the memory without overwhelming our space.  You can even write a little story to go with each photograph.   
William Morris wrote, “Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.”  By moving to that direction in our own environments, we are heading toward happiness.                 
Once we get the area around us under control, we need to think about what kind of junk we are allowing into our bodies.  Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, but if you look around our country, it would seem as though no one got the memo. 
The demand for fast, cheap food has taken us far from the fruits (and vegetables) of the earth, which God intended for us.  The foods we’re choosing to eat in out-of-control quantities are destroying our bodies, causing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a host of other maladies that didn’t exist one hundred years ago.  We think that junk food brings us happiness, but the highs brought on by excessive fat, sugar, and salt are temporary and artificial.  

(Image via Flickr, ejharaldseid)

Think of food as fuel for your body, rather than strictly a source of pleasure.  Consuming appropriate portions of lean proteins, whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water is one of the most recommended methods for eating to live.
As Catholics, we’re used to meatless Fridays during Lent (or all year for some families), but I have chosen to eat a vegan diet for the past three years.  Though I know it’s a bit extreme for most people to imagine life without meat, cheese, milk or eggs, it works for me.  I’m a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at a local farm, which gives me the opportunity to enjoy fresh produce every week from May until October. 
If you’re just beginning to explore a healthy diet, consider trying a new fruit or vegetable every week in the place of a sweet or salty snack.  You’ll find yourself looking and feeling better in no time.
Food is not the only junk that people put into their bodies.  Tobacco, drugs, and excessive alcohol also destroy our bodies.  If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, find help in local organizations and have faith.  It could be the very first step towards your ultimate happiness. 
When we treat our bodies well, generally we feel happy.  But sometimes we let other junk in through our eyes and ears that cripples our well being.
Why do we waste our time watching reality TV shows that exploit the worst side of humanity?  Why do we obsess over the news, which is seldom much better?  Why do we listen to music that makes us feel sad or angry?  Why do we allow ourselves to get caught up in gossip?
When we’re feeling bored, we can pass our time by learning something new, by catching up with friends and family, or by volunteering for a worthy cause.
When the news brings us down, we can feel grateful for what we do have or seek out stories that renew our faith in each other on websites like or, my personal favorite, the Catholic Review
When we’re feeling down, we can talk to someone about it, listen to an inspirational audiobook (try Matthew Kelly) or uplifting music, or pray.
When we feel ourselves tempted to participate in badmouthing someone else, we should remember our Christian obligation to obey the Golden Rule.
Strip your mind of negative thoughts and let the bright side in.
In de-junking your life, you’re allowing God’s light to shine on you.  Remove from your life any barriers between you and Him, and you will see the happiness around you and within you bloom.
And now it’s your turn:  What do you see as being “junk” in our lives, and how can we get rid of it?    

Make sure to also find out Robyn’s first and second secrets to happiness.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.