A few weeks ago I wrote about starting a happiness project. I'm putting together a mini-project to begin next week (I would have preferred September 1, but after our recent transatlantic trip I'm a bit behind). For reasons I'll share later, a six-month project fits my life better than a year-long one, so I'm going to start by figuring out the six areas I want to focus on improving, month-by-month.
I got the idea of doing a happiness project from Gretchen Rubin. Here is her definition of what it is, from her book The Happiness Project (which I highly recommend reading if you're at all interested in the idea):
A "happiness" project is an approach to changing your life. First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions.
So, the first step is essentially to figure out what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. This might be easy for you, if you've spent a lot of time introspecting; it might be difficult if you're in a rut, or if you haven't spent much time reflecting on your life and interests. Rubin has posted some helpful questions to get you started thinking here.
I came up with a few more questions to help in thinking about focus areas:
- What might make you happy, but you don't know because you haven't tried it yet? Have you always wanted to play the harmonica, learn to paint with watercolors, or kayak?
- When was the last time you felt proud for figuring out a difficult task? This may be a task at work that you didn't particularly enjoy, but that made you feel great after it was accomplished.
- How do you spend your evenings, versus how do you wish you spent your evenings? Do you spend an hour pinning on Pinterest, while a stack of books lies unread on your bedside table? Do you flip through TV channels when you wish you had the motivation to go for a walk?
Another way to locate your focus areas is to think about any resolutions or habits you've wanted to start and try to find commonalities between them. For example, maybe you've been thinking about starting to exercise, you've also been curious about meditation, and you want to give up your daily habit of drinking four cups of coffee. You could group these together in a month focused on health and wellness. Or maybe you've noticed that you nag your spouse more than you'd like, and you're tired of always doing the same thing on Friday nights with your partner, or you just want to liven things up a bit in your relationship: you could spend a month focusing on your marriage or partnership.
It's so important to be honest with yourself while thinking about these questions. It can be easy to write up a list of things that you think you should do because everyone, everywhere is recommending them. But if you know they won't make you truly happy, that you would only do them to check off a box and tell others you'd done them, I don't think that's a good use of your energy. If you love meat and can't imagine dinner without it, don't try to go vegetarian! Maybe meditation just isn't for you at this point in your life. Be honest: does sitting alone on a mountaintop genuinely excite you? If it does, great! Do it! And if it doesn't, don't bother. Save your time and energy for something you find truly fulfilling.
If you're looking for inspiration to start your own happiness project, or even just to make a few positive changes in your life, look to science. A few weeks ago I read this great article from the New Yorker. Researchers are finding that there may be long-lasting health benefits to living the "good life," a life spent pursuing purpose (which can include pursuing excellence and social connection). I found the article a fascinating read, especially the bit about personal projects. More impetus to start your own happiness project!
I'm still sorting out exactly what I want my six focus areas to be, but here is my preliminary list:
- Health and wellness: exercise, get enough sleep, eat well
- Marriage: be more proactive about our relationship, improve our connection outside of the kids, take care of each other
- Home: finish moving in! Hang photos and art on the walls, decorate the kids' room,managing clutter, create a haven
- Work: be professional and disciplined about my work; put together a one-year and five-year plan
- Attitude: stop complaining and stop snapping
- Community and connectedness: work to nestle ourselves in a community for support and celebration, host social events with friends, be available to help others.
At the beginning of each month, I'll discuss why I've chosen that focus area and the exact resolutions I've chosen to follow.
I would LOVE to know if you are considering doing a happiness project yourself. Will you join me? What focus areas do you want to work on? Do you like the idea but don't feel it's something you can manage right now? Do you think it's a silly idea? Let me know!
Photo by Ian Schneider.