The Happiness Project

Until recently, I couldn’t ever really recall a time in life when I had ever felt “happy”. Sure, there were happy moments. Time spent with friends. Holidays. Maybe a special event that had happened at school. However beyond a handful of isolated events, I couldn’t really recall an extended period of happiness. Extended periods of depression, embarrassment, misery and anxiety I could recall.

Happiness? Not so much.

But I wanted to be happy.

Prior to weight loss I assumed that all of my unhappy feelings stemmed directly from my weight. Therefore, I was shocked and dismayed to lose a significant amount of weight and still not be happy. Sure, I was much happIER, but was I really happy? I still was nervous about my appearance, sad I wasn’t making any moves to change the direction of my career and I felt like I never had time to do anything. Then again, since losing weight I had more confidence, was able to do more things that I enjoyed and had moved out on my own.

I wasn’t happy, nor was I unhappy. I was just sort of there.

I shouldn’t really be using the past tense for that last part…as that’s how I’ve been feeling over the last few months. This is why I started trying to get my Spark back, organize my inbox and set up a calendar. I didn’t exactly realize it when I started, but I was in fact initializing my own version of a “happiness project”.

When these ideas started floating around in my head, I had only heard of this book in passing and frankly, I had no idea what it was about. The title, however, stuck in my head and when I was facing the question, “What should I do with this Barnes and Noble Groupon?”, I decided to pick it up.

And I am really glad I did.

As it turns out, author Gretchen Rubin was having similar thoughts about happiness several years ago. She decided to spend a year trying to make herself happier within her own parameters, if you will. She didn’t want to completely change who she was to be happy, but rather she wanted to figure out what would make the person she already is happier. She wanted to “Be Gretchen”.

She broke the project up, each month tackling a new subject that she thought was fundamental to her own happiness. Some of the particular subjects she chose didn’t exactly pertain to my life, yet I found them all equally interesting and insightful. Sure, I’m not married, nor do I have children, but reading about how she wanted to change the way she interacted with her husband and children provided ideas that could be used in any relationship. The entire book just really made me understand how the way I choose to perceive certain happenings in my life have a direct effect on my happiness:

Am I choosing to be pissed off all day because my co-worker does something annoying at work? I mean, I’m the one sitting in a huff all day…who’s fault is it really?

Obviously, it’s my fault! I can’t control what other people do, but I can control what I do. And I should.

One of the big areas where I am really at fault was something that Rubin touched on during the month of November, during which she was trying to “Keep a Contented Heart”. One way she decided to do such is to focus on cultivating good manners. One set of manners she realized needed to be refined was her manners of conversation:

I was a ‘topper’: ‘You think you had a crazy morning, let me tell you about my morning.’ I was a ‘deflater‘: ‘You liked that movie? I thought it was kind of boring.’ (Rubin, p 266)

Cough. Sputter. Look away.

This is one of my most unattractive behaviors. I actually have tried to curb it somewhat, and I’ve gotten much better at holding my tongue, except in two situations:

1) The other party is otherwise getting on my nerves and I am having a difficult time keeping up appearances.

2) The other party is also a supreme topper and/or deflater.  (Hello competitive streak!)

God help us both if the other party is a combination of 1 AND 2.

Thing is, when I go into these conversations, I never actually mean to be so caustic. Often times I did think the movie was boring…or I really did think my morning was worse. I feel like I’m lying to the other party if I’m not honest about it, and therefore can’t think of any reason why I should say otherwise or bite my tongue. But then, I see how upset I make the other person and the reason becomes painfully obvious. It goes all the way back to childhood and things your mother probably told you:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Amen, sister.

The book also gives you tips on how you might go about your own “happiness project”, reminding you that everyone’s project will look different, but nearly everyone can benefit from one. I don’t know if I will ultimately start an official happiness project, but I really do feel better and more conscious since I read the book. There is food for thought and I’m going to keep chewing away at it.

Starting with how I plan on reacting to this:

       

“OMG! COSIE! STOP IT!!!! ARGHHHH!”

*deep breath*

You’re a silly cat. Go ahead. Enjoy my chilled Brita filtered water, you deserve it.

Additional Reading:

The Happiness Project Blog

Have you ever attempted a “Happiness Project”?

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4 Responses to The Happiness Project

  1. elaine! says:

    Alexa, you are so amazing! It took me forever to figure out that happiness is something you create yourself. Sadly, it’s something that some of us have to train ourselves how to do, because it doesn’t always come naturally. I’d like to take a survey of chronically happy people and ask how many of them were always that way, and whether or not they’d say that it takes work to be happy. I think a lot of people assume that happiness is some sort of ethereal, external quality that we don’t have much control over.

    I started to come around to the “learn to be happy” camp when I was trying to beat recurring bouts of mild depression. That’s a big reason I try to live healthfully, because studies show that exercise and good nutrition alleviate mild depression. Then I started reading about cognitive behavioral therapy — which is just a fancy term for teaching yourself to replace negative thought habits and behaviors with positive ones.

    One of my favorite “happy project” techniques actually comes from a book called The Artist’s Way. The author suggests scheduling a once-weekly date with your inner child. It’s just you and something fun and silly you want to do, whether it’s shopping for scratch-n-sniff stickers, going to an art museum, or blowing bubbles in the park.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to how your project goes. And yes, my cat does the same thing, lol.

    • girlinchucks says:

      Aw, thanks. I didn’t realize all of this until recently. I really did think, like the people you describe, that happiness was something you either had, or didn’t have and it wasn’t something I could work to cultivate. So now I am trying to work on it.

      Truth is…it doesn’t come easily to me either! I’ve already reacted negatively to small things today and spent the majority of my morning in a huff! That is what I liked about the book though…the author didn’t take to these behaviors either! She struggled, some days being successful, others not. Reading that we had a lot of the same ill behaviors and that she had a hard time with the project really allowed me to relate.

      Your inner child date sounds like a great idea. In the book, there was an entire section about having more fun and another about laughing more. All important aspects to happiness!

      I wish my cat wouldn’t do that though. I might drink after another person, but I see where she’s put her face and I’m not interested! 😉

  2. Susan says:

    And THIS is why I always drink out of cups with lids on them…well, this and trying to avoid having cat hair in the water I keep beside my bed at night. Nothing like waking up thirsty in the night, taking a big drink of water and feeling cat hair in your mouth – bleaaahh!

    Good luck with your informal happiness project. Despite Cosie drinking your chilled, filtered water, I know she contributes a lot to your happiness. There is nothing like a lap full of warm, purring cat to make your day a little brighter! 🙂

  3. Hahaha, I’m pretty sure my dog does that when I’m not looking.

    I’ve heard of that book and thought it would be an interesting read. Thanks for the suggestion! Might be good timing for me, I need some happy 🙂

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