My Happiness Project

I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin several weeks ago, and have been planning my own happiness project ever since. It's that kind of book - the kind that you can't put down, that gets you thinking, that's really worth a read.

What is a happiness project? Basically, it's reflecting on what makes you happy, joyful, anxious, and sad, then making concrete resolutions to make yourself more happy and less sad/mad/etc., then following through on those resolutions.  It sounds simple, but if you really want to see some big changes, it takes a lot of work. As Rubin repeats throughout the book, "Happiness doesn't always make you happy."

Maybe this book spoke to me because I feel like I'm a lot like Rubin. Like her, I went to law school. Like her, I'm not sure that practicing law will make me happy. (Unlike her, I haven't decided to give it up yet.) Like her, I have this weird compulsion to take notes on every book I read (even those I read for fun). And like her, I tend to get worried and overwhelmed by big tasks and events.  So almost as soon as I picked this book up, I decided that I needed to embark on my own happiness project.

Starting a happiness project doesn't mean I'm unhappy. It just means that I'd like to be happy more, and that I'd like to be more aware of what does (and does not) make me happy, so that when I'm down in the dumps I know what to do about it.

Anyways, here's my happiness project - I have six categories of goals:

  • Health (mental and physical)
  • Connect with others
  • Organize
  • Learn
  • Create
  • Relax
Each category has a list of concrete things I can do to help me achieve that goal (sell jewelry I don't like, clean up, etc.). I've made rough schedule for the next six weeks, and will continue creating a schedule as I move forward. But this is where I'm starting. I'm taking this in week-long chunks, because that seems to work well for me, but in the long run, each main goal will probably get several weeks, or as long as they need for me to accomplish them. They just might not come in order.

Week One was about Health - Physical, with a a touch of Mental health thrown in. It went like a dream. Of the nightmare variety. 

My first goal was "get 8+ hours of sleep." I worked every day to get in bed by 9:30 (to wake up by 5:30), and most nights I was in bed for eight hours. But I was not sleeping for eight hours. So much for that one.

My second goal, "eat less sugar," went o.k. I learned to deal with less sugar in my coffee (it's now half a teaspoon, working towards zero), but the goal almost got destroyed when I ate a whole bag of gluten-free cookies and slathered them with homemade icing. And for some reason, I wanted to make up for less sugar with more wine. (I'd blame PMS, but my last goal was "be positive." Somehow that wouldn't jive.)

My third goal, "eat more veggies," was solved by packing crunchy veggies I could mindlessly munch on at work. Now, I know that's something you're not supposed to do - mindlessly munch, that is - but if it's a way to eat more veggies, who am I to judge? 

My fourth goal, "get at least 15 minutes sun," was designed to get me outside and absorbing vitamin D and boosting my mood. It was almost a complete failure. I did get outside every day, but almost every day was cloudy, rainy, snowy. So much for that one.

My fifth goal, "exercise and walk," meant I had to do 15 minutes of exercise (weights, crunches, yoga, dance) plus at least 20 minutes of walking the dog. That mostly worked, but by Thursday I was exhausted...maybe not so much by the exercise routine, but exhausted still.

My sixth and last goal, "be positive," was the hardest one. (Just look at how I'm evaluating my previous goals...not so positively.) All week, I reframed negative thoughts into positive ones. But there was one big thing that couldn't be reframed. The son of a dear friend, mentor, boss, teacher passed away. I felt guilty for trying to achieve happiness when his world was crumbling around him, sad for his loss, suddenly aware of how precious life is. There aren't words, and yet there aren't enough words.

It would be easy to drop this project right now. To say it didn't work. But if there's anything I learned from The Happiness Project, it's that happiness doesn't always make you happy. There is a time for everything, including grief. And perhaps appropriately, next week's goals are concrete, check-the-box tasks that center around organization.

George Eliot wrote, "our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them." Let us not forget.

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