One of the things that led me to back to blogging was engaging in a new happiness project. The first month (January, and yes, I'm behind on things) was about self-knowledge, and I found it so rewarding to spend some time sitting with and thinking about myself. Now, four months later, I'm still gaining from the insight of the work I did back then, and honestly, even if I ended the project now, it would have been worth it for the experience of that first month.
The month fit in well with a resolution I made for my 41st birthday the previous September (ever celebrated a birthday in quarantine during a pandemic while wildfires raged not far from your home? There wasn't much celebrating). In the quiet of the days surrounding my birthday—apocalyptic hellscape that it was—I vowed to connect with myself over the next year. I know, I know, the least interesting thing a middle-aged, middle-class white woman can vow to do. But after years mothering young children and a year of rebellion from it, it was time to settle into something...else. Something closer to me.
When the month of self-knowledge rolled around, here's what happened.
Resolution 1: Journal or freewrite for 10 minutes every morning(ish).
I started with a list of 3 things I was grateful for, 3 things that had gone well the day before, 3 things that would make that day go well, and then moved my pen over the rest of the page for about 8 more minutes. It was nice to start the day off with a small anchor point, a short routine to settle into the day that didn't involve email. It was helpful to think over the previous day and review what worked or went well, and to think forward over the coming day and anticipate what needed to happen to make the day go well. Which is to say, it was nice to be intentional about the coming day.
Honestly, on most days the freewriting felt laborious and forced, and while I hoped it would unleash some creativity or something, it didn't seem to. There were other eras of life when I'd written three pages longhead, a la Julia Cameron's morning pages, and loved the practice; those were years of being single and having whole days—weeks—in front of me to do whatever I wanted, so 15 minutes of writing was easy. That is not my life now, and ~8 minutes of writing felt like the eternity preventing me from being a productive member of society, so I stopped doing it as soon as the month was over (and possibly a bit before).
Go for a walk or do yoga for (at least) 10 minutes every day.
I don't think I did yoga even once that month. I did take a short walk around the neighborhood almost every single day, a fantastic practice for getting centered and getting the mind moving and connecting with my body and the world outside myself. Going for a walk itself didn't necessarily give me any unexpected insight into myself, but it did put me in a great frame of mind no matter what time I set out or for how long I walked.
No TV, movies, Netflix, HBO, etc. at night.
Surprisingly, this was probably the single most important resolution I made all month and the only daily resolution that I kept for the entire month.
We all know how easy/tempting/rewarding it is during the golden age of TV it is to watch something, but I was so into that rut that I needed to break out to try to remember some other things I like to do in the world and some ways I like to be with myself. I flashed back to the years I spent in LA with nary a TV in sight, and how deeply fulfilled I was then, and wanted to recapture something about who I was in that time.
Another resolution I made in January was to create a space to be, separate from our communal living areas. At the beginning of the month, instead of opening my computer as soon as the kids were abed, I went down to our basement study and turned on my favorite playlist. I cleared my desk, cleared the floor, organized all the bits and pieces that landed in the room-without-a-purpose, adjusted the lighting, and started pinning images and words to a bulletin board. I filled the area with things that made me feel good, like rocks and gems and volumes of poetry, and began to enjoy the experience of carving out time and space to sit with myself.
Also, because it was still winter and we'd split a cord of wood with neighbors, many evenings passed with a drink by the fire, reading poetry (much of which was scavenged from the comments section here) or essays or any book I'd drunkenly reserved from the library (drinking and reserving is a thing, y'all), listening to the crackle of the fire while stuffing Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups in my maw.
All of these things connected me to myself and to the world beyond myself—and if that isn't the world's best contradiction, I don't know what is. It was nice to remember that I like poetry, and to remember the place in myself where I can be touched by it. (For most of my life as a mother, I haven't had the necessary receptivity to be able to read poems). It was nice to revel in moments of being rather than doing—moments that I certainly don't allow myself during normal waking hours.
Check out this post on the Girls' Night In Instagram, in which they shared what I (drunkenly) wrote to them on a Friday night by the fire.
Write a list every day
When I bothered to do it, this one was fun. In some ways, lists can be less wordy ways of journaling or thinking through something. I wrote lists of: nearby national parks & national parks in the Southwest & national parks I've been to; recent experiences that have brought happiness (trips to Bend, doing yoga again, margaritas with my tennis friends); non-fiction books that have been transformative in my life; values I want to embody in 2021; core competencies to instill in children; and, of course, to-do lists.
Interesting, when I posted this resolution (simply "write a list") in an online community for folks doing happiness projects, everyone assumed that I meant writing a to-do list to be more productive every day. Not a single person understood that I meant a list, any list, just a list. But each list that wasn't a to-do list was so interesting and valuable to me, to look long and hard at formative books in my life and to spend some minutes reminiscing over every trip through some unspeakably beautiful fragment of land and to consider the small, regular things in my life that bring me the tiniest specks of pleasure (sleeping in with snuggly kiddos, reading poetry by a fire). And it's always a fascinating intellectual exercise to rank experiences, books, influences, or anything at all.
The simple act of writing a list brought me to reflection, introspection, and also intentionality. Unfortunately, I only bothered to do this about half of the days, but I am so grateful to look back at my journal and reread those lists.
Take all the major personality quizzes recommended by Gretchen
I am not into personality tests, but I'll admit that they can be mildly interesting. I did Myers-Briggs (I'm The Entertainer, an ESFP-A (I don't remember what those letters stand for)); Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies (months of not being able to ascertain whether I was an Upholder or an Obliger eventually led to the realization that I’m a Questioner, a realization that only four months’ worth of self-reflection in my forties could reveal); the Love Languages test (Acts of Service or Gifts, I can't figure out which); the Big 5 (I did not even bother to learn a thing about this, I just took some quiz).
I thought it was fun answering questions about myself and revealing all the ways I don't actually know myself (how many times did I pause before answering and think, I like to think of myself as answer b, but if I'm honest, I'm probably answer a but my ego isn't ready to claim that yet?). I read about the various types and thought it was all a pleasant affair.
And then I took the Enneagram. After which I did some drinking-and-reserving (see above) and some reading, and got fairly into it. Am still fairly into it, with a great Enneagram book on my nightstand and a whole lot of aha moments behind me (can I just call them oh shit moments, because that's so much more accurate for me?). I still don't really understand the Enneagram and it might have some weird spiritual stuff behind it, but thinking about myself in the framework it presents has been massively illuminating and thought-provoking and has helped set me on whatever path to self-discovery and self-recovery this is.
If you're interested, I took this test. It identified me as a 3, the Achiever.
My last resolution was to Go on a guided psilocybin journey, and I did, and I'll have more on that in a future post. The one thing I will say about it now is that going on the journey eventually led me to a nondual psychedelic integration counselor (because my experience was so disappointing), and I've been doing therapy/counseling every other week since and it has been amazing. The guy I'm seeing has been, without a doubt, the teacher I was seeking, even though I didn't know I was seeking a teacher.
Almost every single one of these resolutions has echoed through to today, and left me with something that has enhanced my life.
I want to reiterate that I'm not writing this post because I think anyone is all that interested in me or wants to think all that much about my little projects; my hope is that someone reads it and finds something useful that resonates with them that they can take into their own life. And if that happens—if there's anything useful in here for you—will you tell me? I'd love to know.