Objective: Happiness

Before I launch into this, I want to share a disclaimer. I am part of that less than 20% to be fortunate enough to work from home. Really, to have a job, and to remain safe while doing it. Because I have this basic and vital security, I am safely able to divert my attention to this project. 

Ahh, 2020. How painfully unforgettable you are… it seems as if everything awful that could have happened did. This endless pandemic from hell is bad enough to blur the rest of the past four, tortuous years on its own. I won’t rant much more on the subject– we all know how it’s been.

As 2020 neared its end, I began to regret the time I wasted. Why didn’t I invest when the market dropped in March? Or why hadn’t I saved more– in fact, where were my savings? These and other questions swirled in my head, making me feel worse each time. I shared my distress with a friend who tried to comfort me:  “It’s okay. It was a difficult and unusual year. You needed to cope and take care of yourself to the best of your ability.” She was right, of course. I had to stop being so hard on myself. It’s not like I could reverse time (not to mention that going back to March 2020 sounds like a complete nightmare).

April 2020, looking happy, but feeling a tad too overwhelmed.

So, bit by bit, I accepted my decisions, or lack thereof, and instead began to look forward to planning my 2021.  So far, so good. But with every new year comes the risk of falling into the same old trap of making and breaking resolutions, promising myself that this time will be different. In the end, I never find enough motivation and eventually fall off the bandwagon. We all know the cycle. In fact, research shows that as many as 50 percent of adults in the US make New Year’s resolutions, but fewer than 10 percent keep them for more than a few months. How to become part of that 10 percent? I had to devise a plan to keep myself accountable, motivated, and optimistic.

Books, books, and more books

Sometime in December, I found myself sifting through forgotten scrap books and tattered journals, settling on a rustic leather journal my mom had gifted me ages ago. It was the kind of journal you’re sure you’ll write a best-selling novel in but end up never getting down more than the first page. As chance would have it, the one solitary page in this particular journal happened to contain my New Year’s resolutions from 2015. At the top of the list: Read more books. 

Ahh, reading. How I love the feeling of being transported to different worlds in the blink of an eye, but such little time I seem to have for it. Why was I so bad at making time for reading? I’d always opt for an easier form of entertainment offering instant gratification with no mental exertion. I wanted that to change.

A few weeks after finding the journal, on the way home from a friend’s place, I popped on NPR (NPR I love you) and stumbled upon a short Life Kit episode on how to read more. In it, they shared three tips: Read in the morning, read wherever, whenever, and tailor the book to the situation. The best advice I decided to apply was to listen to more books. I’d had this pointless, long-standing grudge against audiobooks (you’re not really reading them, after all) but chose to set it aside for practicality’s sake. If I don’t take advantage of audiobooks, when will I ever find the motivation to read about business or self-care? The answer is never.

Herein, The Happiness Project.

The year was 2010. I was sixteen and feeling extremely accomplished, as I’d just miraculously scored a gig at the best place on earth, aka Barnes & Noble. It was my first job and, frankly, the only job I could ever imagine doing happily forever. Every other evening after school, I’d hitch a ride from parents and rummage through my bag for my sharp-looking name tag. 

That bookstore, smelling of cedarwood and aged book pages, feels just as magical to me today as it did back then… trust me, I could write an entire post about my many years working at Barnes & Noble, but back to the matter at hand. 

That year, the bestsellers list glowed, with several entrees on th moving on to become cult classics: The Hunger Games and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to name a few. But what of The Happiness Project? This book, I swore, followed me everywhere, begging to be read. I found it on tables, stands, shelfs, and even  in the register section. And honestly, it must have been brilliant, because it sold like hot cakes. But as a sixteen year old, I could’ve given a rat’s ass about improving myself in some sort of spiritual way. I was more concerned about attracting the attention of my latest crush. Life went on, I got older, but the memory of this bright blue book stuck around.

It wasn’t until I decided this year to start keeping my resolutions that the memory of this still-popular book resurfaced.

Now 26, armed with my recent knowledge of audiobooks, I decided I would start this encouraging self-help book that would guide me in the right direction and fill me with enthusiasm. I’d never read or listened to a self-help book before, owing to a deep-set belief  that they all had some fallacious metaphysical explanation at their center. So, with an open mind, I tuned in to the first chapter. 

Just like the book’s author, Gretchen Rubin, I was seeking to be happier. I wasn’t necessarily feeling unhappy or feeling depressed, but I always believed that I could be more grateful, especially given that most of my family and loved ones were safe and healthy during a deadly pandemic. I hadn’t lost a significant number of people, and that was all I could ask for right now. Still, I felt a great desire to change aspects of my life to improve my overall well-being. 

It’s as if all our lives have been put on pause and we’re all caught in a loop of saying “when this is all over…”.  But the truth is that it’s already been a year and the end remains distant. So, when it comes to being happier, why wait when I could start now?

I won’t gush to you about the book as I did for weeks to anyone that would listen, but I will share the biggest takeaway: Write down your commandments. In the book, Rubin shares the many ways she considered organizing her goals, from writing them all out to condensing them. She eventually developed the idea of having a list of commandments and, within each commandment, an example of a behavior or habit she wanted to change. While listening to the book, I began to think up my own commandments and of what I truly wanted to change or do. I would jot down ideas in my journal throughout weeks, writing until I finally settled on my 12 commandments.

In no particular order of preference:

  • Have more patience with those closest to me
  • Be more preventative, especially with health
  • Make time for creativity
  • Stop procrastinating
  • Expand my knowledge
  • Be and feel more energized
  • Stop buying unnecessary items
  • Be happier, now
  • Learn to know when to let go
  • Practice mindfulness

It’s been a month since I began my happiness project and already I have plenty to share. I’ve challenged myself to share in more detail through multiple blog posts all year round, with the hope that I can look back and acknowledge my progress. Furthermore, I have created a plan that interlaces all of my commandments in one way or the other and in this way I expect to hold myself accountable and remain on track.

See you next month!

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