"What do I want from life, anyway?"
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I resisted reading The Happiness Project for some time. It seemed like I was admitting to being unhappy, which I’m not. However, I was intrigued by the concept and finally picked it up an airport. When I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Gretchen Rubin has an engaging style that made this book a joy to read and to consider how some of her experiences could relate to my life.
Gretchen Rubin is a successful writer living in New York City. She reflected one day that she had many things to be happy about in her life, but wasn’t always feeling happy. She concluded that she wanted to change how she felt, without making changes to her life. Or, as she puts it “I wanted to change my life without changing my life.” To achieve this, she embarked on a one-year Happiness Project. Spanning one year, she tracks her progress against monthly resolutions designed to increase her feelings of happiness in her life. Her resolutions include increasing energy by going to sleep earlier, challenging herself by launching a blog and writing a novel just for the fun of it. While researching happiness, she found that she learned more from reading one person’s detailed account than she did from reading research and studies. In this spirit, she shares with us her experiences, opening her life to her readers so that we might be inspired to make some changes too.
The Big Idea
Ask Yourself: What Makes Me Happy Within My Life?
"This is my life, but I never give any thought to it."
What are some of the things that make you feel good in your life? When you’re working, when you’re at home or when you’re someplace else? This is not about the big things, like finding a partner, starting a business or moving to a new country, but the little day-to-day things that make all the difference. Little things like taking a walk at lunch, brainstorming with a colleague instead of working alone, or asking for help when you need it.
The goal here is to actively assess activities and aspects of your life, with the intention of monitoring them for happiness triggers.
What's Bothering You?
"Tackle a Nagging Task."
How are your energy levels? Boosting your energy not only makes you feel good and raises your self-esteem, it also has the positive knock-on effect that you’ll be better able to take more actions that make you feel happy. What are some things in your life that sap your energy levels and what can you do about it?
Gretchen identified resolutions for January that would help her to feel more energized. She realized that lack of sleep, poor exercise and clutter drained her of energy so she took action to improve those areas.
In my work, my file folder of receipts that I had not organized or entered into a spreadsheet was bothering me. I was bothered by it every day, just a little, each time I put another receipt into that file. It was always in the back of my mind and it was sapping my mental energy. I decided to tackle it the lazy way: rather than spend a few more hours in my office one evening, I handed the file and instructions to an assistant that I hired on a casual basis.
The relief that this gave me was unexpected. Having removed this task from the back of mind, I felt creatively free. I found myself with head space to consider my goals and plans for next year. I experienced a lightness that helped me to tackle more interesting work. I felt more productive and happier.
What Makes You Feel Good?
"Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness."
What makes you feel good? Completing a big project, achieving a significant goal, getting promoted? Of course these things make people feel good, but what’s something that you could do differently right now that will make a difference to your happiness?
When I’m working on a project that involves thinking and writing, I used to feel that sitting at my desk, making notes and then typing was the best way to get it done. Recently, I noticed that if I review my notes and remind myself of the outline and deliverables, then immediately take a break and go for a walk, I have better ideas in a shorter space of time and I enjoy the process more. I come back to my desk with a clear picture of what to do and the energy to do it. Challenging my assumptions about what makes me happy in my work led me to make a small change that had a big impact.
Once I finished reading The Happiness Project I realized that I wasn’t interested in the disciplined approach that Gretchen applied to this topic, with charts and resolutions for every month. But, I found that reading about happiness makes me happy. I found that by looking for small things to do differently I increased my feelings of happiness, within my already happy life. How can you do the same?