Wow, can you believe it's the last week of 2011?
Around this time of year, people begin planning resolutions for the new year and reflecting on whether they kept their resolutions for the year that's ending. For 2011, though, I undertook a happiness project modeled after Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project, so I had new resolutions every month, and my posts at the beginning of every month weighed in on how I'd done with the previous month's resolutions. You can see December's post for the resolutions that made it to the end of the year and hopefully will be carried into the new year.
This leaves me with something bigger to reflect on as the year comes to a close, which is what this yearlong happiness project has done for my life.
A lot of what I said in the middle of the year is still true. The project has helped me to focus on the big ideas that are most important to me, like my faith and my relationships. It's helped me greatly reduce those tiny irritations of life such as forgetting to bring things to work, letting myself go too long without eating, or having the nagging guilt of not exercising regularly. It has given me the boost I need to "just do it now" so chores get done sooner and I have more time to focus on what I want to be doing.
But what about the big question? The whole point of a happiness project is to be happier, right? So... am I? Am I happier?
The trick to answering that is this: I don't think it's possible to say that my life is happier now than a year ago. What I call happiness isn't so much a feeling that pervades my whole life as one that is attached to specific positive events. I mean, right now, sitting at my computer typing, I wouldn't say that I'm particularly "happy" -- more of a baseline neutral, and that's totally fine with me.
So if my happiness project hasn't made me happier, what has it made me?
1) It's made me more peaceful, more patient, and more easygoing. What I've noticed is that things don't ruffle me as easily as they have in the past. That's not to say that things don't upset me still, but when they do, they're more likely to be related to those big things that really matter to me, like if I think I've caused a rift in a relationship. If Mike is upset about something, it's a lot easier for me to completely forget any concerns I had about myself and just focus on being supportive for him; before I was more likely to get all, "Ugh, why is he dumping this on me when I'm already cranky?"
2) It's made me get my priorities straight. I think my ability to be more easygoing is because I've placed more focus on taking care of myself. When I'm well-rested, fed, watered, not too cold or too hot or in pain, and I haven't let stress overwhelm me (the hardest part of all!), I'm in a much better place to address the needs of others. And because I'm putting effort into making sure the things important to me get taken care of, when something else goes wrong it's not as likely to faze me, because I know it's not that important.
3) It's made me worry less. Part of my project was devoted to what I called "preparedness." In addition to putting together an emergency plan and emergency kits, I compiled step-by-step directions for the evaluation system I manage at work, and then last month started working on power of attorney paperwork for me and Mike. I set up Prey Project for my laptop and Find My iPhone for my iPad and iPod Touch. I did most of this because I felt like I "should," but I'm surprised at how much stress it has relieved that I didn't even know I had. Case in point: I used to have dreams all the time about my purse getting stolen, and now I can't remember the last time I had that dream.
4) It's made me more vocal and quicker to act when something is wrong. Because I've spent so much time thinking about what's important to me and what's not, I can better determine what's actually worth making a big deal of. If Mike does something that upsets me, I've gotten better at figuring out what I can just shrug off and what I need to talk to him about right away so I don't end up stewing for several hours. At work, rather than saying yes to every project, I've gotten a lot better about listening to my body's reaction; if something makes me feel panicky, I'm better at identifying that and then responding accordingly. ("Thank you for asking me, but actually making cold calls is not a strong suit of mine. Is there someone else you could ask?") I've discovered that even if I can't come up with a good alternative myself, just voicing my concerns about or discomfort with a situation will often cause the other person to suggest a better solution.
So, was it worth it? Absolutely! I would definitely recommend trying out your own happiness project, if only for a month. You don't necessarily need to follow the blog or read the book. I used this framework, but yours might look different:
- Come up with your happiness commandments -- guiding principles for your life.
- Each month, pick a theme, like relationships, health, or faith.
- Come up with 1-5 resolutions you'd like to accomplish in that area, either habits you'd like to build or a one-time project you want to complete. Often I'd review my commandments to find ways to apply them to that month's theme.
- Figure out how you're going to track your progress. I used a monthly calendar template and added checkboxes for each of my resolutions, then printed it off and kept it on my nightstand to check off each night. Send me an e-mail if you'd like a copy of the chart I used.
On Sunday, I'll share my goals for 2012. I'm going in a very different direction than I did for this year!
What do you think about the idea of a happiness project? Is it something you've done or would consider trying?