Have you heard of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin? I stumbled across the book, and then Rubin's website, a few years ago. I was really taken by how clear and, well, smart her writing was. I tend to shy away from anything overly self-help-y and anything that relies on positive thinking to make life changes, but I felt that Rubin's approach to seeking happiness was down-to-earth and accessible to me.
The basic idea of creating your own happiness project is to identify the general areas in your life that you'd like to find more meaning and happiness in. For example, you might want to work on marriage, health, spirituality, and your home. Once you've chosen the themes or areas that you want to focus on, you write resolutions or actions that you can take to improve your life in each area. Then, each month, you focus on just one area, trying every day to follow all of the resolutions you've set for that area.
The great thing about a happiness project is that the areas of your life and the actions you choose to take are entirely up to you: maybe you're feeling fantastic in your marriage and don't feel the need to work on it; maybe you think finding a community of like-minded people would improve your life; maybe you want to spend more time around dogs. It doesn't matter to anyone else what you do--it only matters that you identify the things that bring meaning to your life, and you spend time developing and cultivating them.
A common misconception is that striving for happiness means trying to be gloriously, luminously, (annoyingly!) happy all day, every day. But so often happiness comes from things that don't look so happy, like learning to write workflows in a database (you'll have to trust me on that one), going to bed an hour early so that you wake feeling rested and ready in the morning, or setting more consistent limits for your kids so that you can avoid the constant negotiating and whining that come when they want "one more". For me, none of those things create instant, giddy happiness, but they all contribute to making me feel better and increasing my baseline happiness.
Putting together a happiness project can feel like giving yourself a monthly boot camp in different areas of your life. For me it's not realistic or sustainable to try to make a dozen changes at once and attempt to magically become the self-fulfilled person I want to be (an energetic, creative, professionally successful and madly-in-love mother of two small kids); however, it is manageable to focus on one area of my life at a time and put deep, sustained effort into improving that one area for a month. I can jump-start any projects or efforts there and, at the end of the month, evaluate what ideas, habits, and resolutions brought meaning and happiness when practised every day. I can take with me what worked and incorporate the changes into my everyday life; the things that didn't work or wouldn't fit into my daily life can be released.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to work toward starting a happiness project of my own (I did one for several months in 2014, but then we bought an apartment and moved house and my project got derailed). Want to join me? I'll work through the steps of getting started on this blog, and I'd love to hear from anyone who wants to play along.
Photo by Brigitte Tohm
I love this: "and anything that relies on positive thinking to make life changes". There seems to be so much pressure in the self help area for people to be happy though sheer force of will. Ultimately, I think this just makes people feel worse because not only are they having a hard time, but it is their fault. I like this pragmatic approach! I'd love to join in with you! Carving out the time is my biggest obstacle right now, but I'm game to try!
That's great, KP! I'd love to do this with you. I'm trying to gear up to get started in September, and prepare some posts about it. Stay tuned!