Wow. I can’t believe it’s February already. Well, I have to be late with this because I can’t travel in time yet. So months later I’ll finally write about my “year of happiness”. To recall, last year I decided to attempt a “happiness project” inspired by Gretchen Rubin. Basically you try to become happier by sticking to some rules of your own devising. So doing a happiness project is a very personal thing, and the rules might be different for each of us.
So I set out to achieve happiness (or at least being happier) by changing small things in my life. Not a sweeping gesture, or major life changes, just small, simple changes. The plan was to add a new rule each month but in the end I only had these rules:
- Go to bed on time. I already knew that this is a big must for me. The instant I get enough sleep I feel like a different person. The minute I’m sleep-deprived I’m all crazy, befuddled, and I never stop eating. Still going to bed early enough isn’t easy because it doesn’t work well with my work-schedule. Again I find myself needing nine hours of uninterrupted sleep. I can go down to eight if I must but anything less than that has me only half-functional. I get up at six because I need a bit of time to myself before getting my son ready to school. That means I would have to turn out the lights at 9 pm. My son’s time for that is 8.30. I would have to put him to bed, get ready for bed and that’s that. There are quite a few days when I work until 7pm. Get off work, make dinner, eat, put son to bed, and then it’s time for me as well. As a compromise right now I’m aiming for 10 pm. Still gives me eight hours of sleep but I can watch something on TV, or read.
- Pick up after myself. Having a tidy, well almost tidy, home not only makes me happy but the rest of the family as well. As an added bonus it’s easier to find things. That bit of kicking myself to not leave my stuff strewn over the house really pays off.
- Write 500 words of fiction at least six times a week. Also, surprisingly happy-making. Even if I don’t like what I’ve written, or feel stuck. There’s a small part of me that thinks when I’ve already been somewhat creative just after breakfast it’s a good day. Regardless of how the rest of the day goes.
- Think about the things I love about my family, students, and friends. Really, really helpful but surprisingly hard. I still have a tendency to find fault and criticize. But when I manage to concentrate on the things I love about the people around me – I et instant happiness.
- Exercise three times a week or more. Also much more mood-boosting than I would have thought. These days when I feel like retreating in a corner with a bag of potato chips and a book under a blanket I try to – again – kick myself, get my running shoes on and run for a bit. Even if it’s only for a few minutes I always feel better afterwards.
- Play the piano every day. This I didn’t manage at all. I remember a time when I did, though, and even forcing myself to do scales made me happy over time. Not always while I was doing it. Today I did play the piano, and I really plan to do it on a regular basis again. (You have to understand that the playing I do while teaching doesn’t really count for this. It has to be fun piano playing, playing for me.)
- Wear clothes that make me feel good. Definitely important. And I definitely need to buy new clothes soon.
- Eat like a sane person who enjoys food. Still working on that one as well. But I can say from experience that eating real food sitting down at a table with loved ones makes way more happier than binge eating while sitting in your bed, hiding your chips under the covers. (Which, by the way, I haven’t done for year and years. I managed to gain all this weight without falling back into my binge eating ways.)
I can tell you that following these rules really made me happier. And even more so when I really did those things and a little less when I only wanted to do those things. I’ll get around to that tomorrow for sure, ahem. And I have to add “act the way you like to feel” to the list as well. Excellent advise, and works astonishingly well.
I already knew it but still, small things make a notable difference in happiness. Happiness is not a state of perfect bliss, one big moment like the kiss after saying yes on your wedding day. Which, by the way, is only a moment of true happiness in movies, at least for me there have been many kisses before and after where I felt happier. Many moments where I could focus on the kiss itself as well, not on the fact that two dozen people were watching me plus a video camera.
So the happiness project definitely works and I can only encourage others to try it as well.
The other thing this project brought home to me was that all my mental adjustments, and rules, and stickers, and behavior changes still didn’t cut to the root of my unhappiness. Throughout that year I found out that a big fat part of my unhappiness is – physical. And this time I don’t mean my weight, though I still think that I’m overweight because I’m unhappy. But I’m also unhappy because there are things wrong with my body. And as a wise online friend reminded me a few days ago, your brain is part of your body.
And that is why this year, 2011, I’m concentrating on getting well not by changing my attitude but by getting to the physical reason for feeling unwell. It might seem a bit mundane but still, those rules that you see above aren’t looking that spiritual either. And I already found out some things but I better make that into another post.
The great thing about all this is that one can indeed become a happier person by following quite mundane rules. You don’t need to find the man of your dreams and ride with him on your pink, sparkly pony into the sunset. You can be happy now, in the life you live right now. Don’t need a million dollars, nothing.