Happiness Project: Two Months Down, Four to Go?

Let me tell you, it’s a whole lot easier to feel happy during a month when Murphy’s Law is not ruling the day.

Nevertheless, I continued to work on my Happiness Project last month and found more success than failure – no matter how hard the fates conspired against me in the guises of constant illness for all three boys in my house; unforeseen household expenses; interpersonal drama (I’ve been an innocent bystander, but still…); and my recent gestational diabetes diagnosis.*  I’ll also say that my Type A nature found the simple act of keeping a list of resolutions centering and cathartic, especially on those really-not-so-great days.  And maybe a sense of calm isn’t the same as happiness, but it works for me.

Last month, in addition to my original eight happiness resolutions (based, of course, on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project), I tried to incorporate eight new resolutions around the theme, “Cultivate your mind”:

  1. Make time to read.
  2. Make time to study writing.
  3. Practice writing.
  4. Take notes.
  5. Think big…
  6. …but appreciate this stop on the journey.
  7. Avoid time wasters.
  8. Only watch good TV.

The two resolutions that I was most successful in upholding were #1 – making time to read – and #8 – only watching good TV.  With the exception of a whirlwind trip to attend a wedding in Florida during which Tiny Baby needed every minute of my attention, I spent a good chunk of time reading everyday.  Reading nourishes my soul like nothing else.  When I’m able to cap each day with quiet time with a book, I feel like I’ve at least done one thing right in organizing my time.  And that’s no mean feat these days.

Cutting out quite a bit of television was surprisingly easy to do and helped free up even more time for reading.  At the beginning of the month, I went through my beloved DVR and deleted any show I didn’t genuinely look forward to watching.  I’m now left with a handful of programs that I really enjoy (latest obsession = The Good Wife).  I don’t imagine that I’ll ever cut out TV altogether, but it feels good to be approaching what I watch more mindfully.

I’m sorry to report that the areas where I felt short of my goals most often were in studying and practicing writing.  More often than not, I didn’t motivate myself to sit down and write and/or read about the craft of writing.  I did read and appreciate Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, but felt overwhelmed by the demands of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

The thing is: I know that I want writing to be a more regular part of my life, but I’m not making room for it.  I have to think more about what that means.

As for this month, in addition to keeping up with my first 16 resolutions, I’m pushing on with my next set of resolutions, all of which fall under the heading, “Get your house in order.”  And so far, so good.  (I’m always better at small, specific tasks than at more lofty ones.)

  1. Get your financial house in order.
  2. Empty your inbox.  (Have at least one moment each day where there is nothing that needs attention in my email inbox.  Hat tip to Leo Babauta at Zen Habits for some helpful advice on how to achieve this.)
  3. Practice the evening tidy-up.  (Right before the boys’ bedtime, spend a few minutes together cleaning up the “hot spots” (a la Fly Lady) in the living room, playroom, and kitchen.)
  4. Use up what we have.
  5. Get rid of things you don’t want.
  6. Don’t buy things you don’t need.  (Especially tricky this time of year, no?)
  7. Hang things on the walls.  (We’ve lived in this house for 3 1/2 years and our walls are still bare.)
  8. Take time for projects.

Wish me luck, comrades.  And please let me know any tips you might have for meeting your goals even when life isn’t exactly going according to plan.

* Thanks for the wonderful combination of commiseration and pep talk that you gave me on my last post.  I met with a dietitian after writing the post and learned that limiting carbohydrates in general – and not just sweets – will be the key for me in keeping my blood sugar in check.  I’ll be checking my blood glucose four times a day and have been batting 1000 so far – even after allowing myself a very modest, dietitian-approved amount of dessert on Thanksgiving.

Image: Burnt Toast by The Treacys via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
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34 responses to “Happiness Project: Two Months Down, Four to Go?

  1. Good for you! I would imagine that as much as I enjoy writing, I might find it tedious to study it, especially from a book. So more power to you for trying, but you are making headway in other areas.

    So happy that you went to see a dietician. It makes all the difference in the world to educate yourself about your health, especially when things don’t go as planned!

  2. Thank goodness someone else found Cameron’s book daunting…I couldn’t finish it, actually.

    I am in awe of the “get your house in order” goal this month–I desperately need to do that but feel overwhelmed. Can’t wait to hear about it!

  3. I like following you on your journey. That way I don’t actually have to read these books. 🙂 (Though I really do think Gretchen Rubin is onto something. I enjoy her blog.)

  4. I am so impressed with your discipline! (You’ve had your hands full for months, months, months.)

    And since I realize you aren’t watching any Reality TV or (Sur)Reality TV, I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on anything critical that you miss since I”m sure you secretly adore those Housewives.

    Reading. That is a treat. That’s the item on your list(s) I most miss in my heart of hearts. There’s so little time for it. (I’m hoping to give 30 minutes/day of that to myself once my kid’s college application process is all done – but that’s another 6 weeks!) So read read read for all of us, please!

    And may Murphy get the hell outta town!

    • Murphy, be gone! Amen to that. (I’ll try not to send him your way, okay?)

      And you can definitely count on me to do some extra reading for you. Last night I had terrible insomnia. After tossing and turning for awhile, I just picked up a book and started reading. I’m extra tired today, but at least I didn’t spend the night thinking about how tired I was going to be in the morning!

  5. Oh Kristen, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this post so we could commiserate. I finished The Happiness Project last week and I am SO GLAD I read it. There is so much I have to say about it and have to hold myself back from taking over your comments. I’m quite looking forward to discussing it at my book club. We have a group of very different personalities so I expect there will be at least a couple of skeptics among us.
    Like you, I am so TYPE A it almost hurts. And that’s the funny thing I learned from this book, to not deny it. It works for me, so why do I let the ridicule of others (who laugh when I put lists on my fridge, or a calendar that outlines which chores are for which day) dictate how I live my life. Because I should just BE GRETCHEN, or Christine as it were. That’s my major take home, to accept and just be myself. To some it may seem obvious, but I think many of us deny ourselves more than we think. This book made it so clear to me, I was quite shocked.
    I want to start my own Happiness Project. I’ve started to really consider it. I think the impending New Year makes obvious sense, literally and figuratively. And I’m itching to write about it too! Soon 🙂

    • I am so glad that The Happiness Project resonated with you as it did with me. And you point out one of the parts that I liked best about the book. Rubin doesn’t try to paint a picture of what happiness looks like and doesn’t promise a be-all-and-end-all road map to finding it. The idea that I can Be Kristen and find happiness within that held – and continues – to hold such promise to me.

      I’d love to know more about your happiness project if and when you decide to start one. And I’m always glad to know the ways in which we are so alike!

  6. I loved Writing Down to the Bones! And I am very impressed with your systematic approach to all these worthy resolutions. Gretchen would be very proud! Best of luck with the GD. I just had an ultrasound yesterday and everything was fantastic but the baby is measuring BIG. Doc wasn’t concerned in the slightest, but I have a hunch I might be joining your low-carb lifesytle in the weeks to come. We will see!

  7. Wow–these are great lists. Do you find the books inspiringness outweighs its overwhelmingness? I have the same problem of not making time/space for writing…I think it means that we have 800 million other things we need to do and writing feels selfish and falls to the bottom of the pile.

    • I think I read the book at exactly the right moment: just as I was finishing the non-stop nausea of my first trimester+ and finding a sudden surge of energy thanks to those pregnancy hormones. I do wonder if I’d find the whole undertaking more overwhelming if I’d tried to start it now rather than a couple of months ago.

  8. After years and years of “trying” to write (even for a stretch needing a writing partner simply because I could not sit alone and face the beast) I’m now of the opinion that if you don’t have to write you won’t. I find it’s much more like appeasing something that demands whatever it demands, five minutes, weeks, whatever. Discipline helps give us an illusion of control, but whenever you don’t have to write, enjoy whatever it is you are tasked with, including napping.

    Play with not writing, then you might get clearer on what the muse is saying (which often has been misheard by the ego-mind that thinks in terms of results and what others might think). Writing must be like acting if it’s to be good, it has to have interiority and not indicate what it wants us to believe its feeling… it has to actually feel it.

    The key take-away from Cameron’s book, for me anyway, was “morning pages.” Just allowing space to heed the chatter in the head and note it was effective, for me, in getting through blockage. However, you can’t really make a brand and feed the beast of publishing with a simple sentence, can you?

    Think Thoreau—best to truly live at Walden Pond before you write about it. And where I might differ with our great Trancendentalist predecessors is in the formerly naive urge to change the world rather than truly harmonize all our selves with it (our ego, soul and collective soul Selves). This, I believe, will turn out to be true happiness.

    In developmental terms, perhaps we write our way to the place of Whitmanesque (or Joni Mitchell, or Harper Lee, or whoever moves us) writing… and at some point we simply are what we say, we are the writing, the TV, the happiness, the struggle and strife.

    Either way, when I read your posts I notice that you are not “trying” to write blog posts, you are most certainly writing them—sharing from an honest place with a clear voice and entirely human journey. That works for me, and I love to read you.

    • Once again, Bruce, your words conjure up for me an image of our diminutive green Jedi friend. (“There is only do or do not; there is no try.”)

      You’ve also got me thinking about the idea of “flow” – this idea that the purest sense of satisfaction comes when we’re really in the groove, not thinking, not trying, not striving. Maybe some of my issues are connected to the fact that we had “low flow” faucets installed in our house? 😉

  9. I think I mentioned before that I gave up watching TV altogether in May and really don’t miss it. I do sometimes wonder what’s happening in Glee and The Good Wife but really most of what I used to watch I can live without. My next big goal is to cut down on blogging – I have some tough decisions to make, because I really want to free up time to focus on writing, photography and reading, as well as just simply “being” with my family.

    Good luck with all your goals.

  10. Two out of four of my sisters are diabetic and so is my father. The point being what you already know, life can easily be lived with a few minor adjustments.

    I blog daily..without fail. It provides reason, format and structure for writing. Sometimes life gets in the way of doing it for as long as I would like, but I figure that it is better to get some time in than none.

  11. These are great lists.

    Since you are spending more time reading, I have a book recommendation called The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. His approach to happiness is different from Gretchen Rubin’s, in that he goes to ten different countries to determine how they define happiness. It is a fascinating read.

    As far as writing is concerned, I am with you. I’ve got several projects brewing in my head, but have yet to really execute them. Maybe next month…

    • That looks like a great read, Rudri. (I especially like the subtitle: “One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World.”) I love book recommendations and I just added that one to my Amazon wishlist. Thank you!

  12. Happiness for me is sometimes sleeping more which means less gets done, but I do it more cheerfully and what doesn’t get done bothers me less. Sometimes I don’t need sleep. Then I’m a doing machine. The thing is…I can’t really find the CONTROL switch. I just have to accept the mode of operation that seems to be running.

    Surrending to what IS feels best. Some day I’ll get this figured out. And stop looking for that damned control switch.

  13. Best of luck – you are doing really great, I think!

    My tip for the inbox: I’ve unsubscribed to a lot of things and set up rules to automate the “processing” of many emails that dont need my action, just reference.

    As for buying/getting less stuff – I asked my inlaws to respect our desire for less (they can go overboard) in a politely written email with suggestions for family “time” gifts Luke park passes etc, rather than more toys & clothes.

    I also buy less stuff which is easier now that hubby only works part time (less $) and I parked my car – less chance of me running out to buy something just because it’s no longer easy! I have to plan my trips, so that’s easier!

  14. “The thing is: I know that I want writing to be a more regular part of my life, but I’m not making room for it. I have to think more about what that means.”

    Umm… yes. To all of that.
    Good luck with your new resolutions, and kudos to you for doing so well with the older ones!! 🙂

  15. I still have so many things that need to be hung on my walls! Somehow getting out the drill and all of that is just too overwhelming…so there they sit. So sorry about all those blood checks and low calorie diet. At christmas time no less! Glad you are having success with your project despite the setbacks. 🙂

  16. Kristen, my type A friend,
    You have two young children and are pregnant (and write a fantastic blog). I think if you manage to brush everyone’s teeth you are amazing. If you brush your own too, 40 bonus points. There will be time for studying writing.
    Take care. I celebrate all you do,
    Rachel

  17. You know what I love most about your resolution check-ins? That you don’t beat yourself up for the places where you’ve fallen short. I believe it’s important to set goals so that we have something to strive for. But I also believe that we need to forgive ourselves and keep on trying when we miss the mark. It’s so much easier to take that approach when we have an example to follow.

  18. I took so much from the book, too, as you know. I haven’t made my own resolutions chart yet and instead am running on the memory Gretchen’s resolutions because so many of them are things I’d like to do, too.

    I really should sit down and make a list for myself so I can harness what I took away from the book before it escapes me. Yes, yes, I will “complete that nagging task” today! If the baby ever decides to nap …

    • The fact that you read the book at all given all you’ve got on your plate is impressive. When my own Bun-in-the-oven joins us in February, I have a sneaking suspicion that my list of goals is either going to fall by the wayside or undergo some major revision!

  19. Okay. I feel like an idiot. I knew the happiness project thing was familiar…and now I remember why. I hope you don’t think I’m being all sneaky and what not, doing my Project Happiness. It was unintentional. LoL Love you!

  20. I’m catching up on your blog and so excited to see this Happiness Project! I’m about half-way through the book and I’m finding it really insightful – in ways I didn’t expect. I’m not ultra-organized like Gretchen, so it’s hard to relate. But her personal stories and honesty are a refreshing read.

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