I recently finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s marvellous book The Happiness Project and I really can’t believe I didn’t find this sooner. I’m someone who is often quite preoccupied with my happiness and sense of self and what I can do to improve these things so I was easily drawn in when I saw the bright cover of The Happiness Project while browsing books in an airport.
Over the course of a year Gretchen sets herself resolutions, that centre around a new theme each month, designed to make her ordinary everyday life happier; “To change her life without changing it” as she puts it. And she has a point. Crash diets work in the short term but you have to change your eating habits altogether if you want the weight to stay off. She begins with energy and sleeping well (something I can definitely relate to), and moves through topics such as friendship, money, parenthood, leisure, marriage and work, each time adding a new set of resolutions to keep up. Alongside this she also has her Secrets of Adulthood that include such gems as “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good” and “Nothing stays in Vegas”.
It turns out that some of the best advise in the book is what appears to be the simplest concept but is actually at the core of everything. Throughout the book she reminds herself to “Be Gretchen”. She proves that to make valuable changes and growth in your life you can’t magically wish that you were a different person with different interests, different strengths and different priorities. It sounds obvious but it is easy to forget to do what actually makes you happy not what you think should make you happy. As much as I would like to be super toned, protein shake drinking gym bunny just signing up to a gym membership isn’t going to make it happen. I might drag my feet at the idea of running on the treadmill but stepping onto my yoga mat instantly makes me feel energised and I love the way swimming laps clears my mind. The point is to use what you know you enjoy and makes you happy to motivate yourself.
This way of think doesn’t just work as a way to motivate yourself to do activities that make you happy but also to think of your life in a broader sense. I found myself looking back at times I considered to be happy periods of my life and questioning why they were happy, the real greater reason why they were happy periods. During my final two years of university I had lots of friends around me, I felt productive, I was enjoying my course and my work, there were sad times and hard times too but overall I look back at this time in a positive light. But why? I was productive because I was surrounded by fellow students who were all engaged in their subjects and various university projects. I had an active social life, balancing friends from uni, friends from work and friends from home. I was writing most days and inspired to write by my peers. Today I am in a different situation, living at home with a new job, but that doesn’t mean I can’t replicate the things I enjoyed most in my life at that time. Making time for friends even though they now live further away. Finding ways to bring writing into my routine and considering joining a local creative writing group. Things aren’t the same now but that doesn’t change the core of what makes me happy: family, friends and being productive.
I found that “Be Jess” is also a way to focus your goals and make them actually work for you. Though Gretchen accurately points out that “resolutions” are better than “goals” as you achieve goals; you keep resolutions. Again I look back at what I’ve achieved and paid attention to how I did it. From completing National Novel Writing Month, Comic Relief Swimathons and working in a commission based job, I know that I work well when I have targets to hit and I can see incremental increases towards this target everyday. In the same way I used post-it notes to track my daily word count for NANOWriMo, I decided I needed something physical to represent this so now my To Do list isn’t static bullet points but sticky notes on my whiteboard I can move from the “To Do” column to the “Done” column once they are completed. Because I get overwhelmed easily if there are too many tasks to do I have boiled everything down to five tasks or less. Using my bullet journal (click here to find out more) to help with this too I have broad resolutions month by month then more precise weekly ones that will help me achieve the monthly aims. I’ve also got a tracker in my journal to colour in to keep track of my good habits (reading, writing, exercise and blog posts) meaning I can see how well I’m doing and get a sense of satisfaction everytime I colour in another square and complete a little more.
Gretchen tells us that Happiness Projects come in all shapes and sizes and mine is definitely my Jar of Joy. This was something I started in 2016 after coming to the end of a difficult year of my life and not being able to remember a single good thing from it despite having several achievements and many happy moments despite the bad times. Every time I noticed a happy moment I would write it down and put it
in my jar. I lost track of keeping up with my Jar of Joy in 2017 as my travels disrupted it and when I came back it was difficult to pick it up again halfway through the year. 2018 has brought it back into focus. It really can make an enormous difference to actively be on the look out for happy moments. That peaceful moment looking out across the frosty garden in the morning light might easily slip by without notice but when you are keeping an eye out for moments that bring a smile to your lips, you find you are more grateful for even simple pleasures. It helps me mark achievements too, something I’m proud of will always make me happy and it’s good to celebrate those times, big or small. I appreciate my friends and family more as I note the treasured time I spend with them. At the end of the year I gather my moments and see the full 12 months spread out in front of me. It brings back memories I had otherwise forgotten and conjures up beautiful images, such as that frosty sun drenched garden.
With a hectic job it’s easy to get caught up in routine and stop appreciating all I have. My Jar of Joy definitely makes me happier by being aware of what brings me joy and keeping memories alive. My bullet journal keeps me on track to achieve everything I want to achieve and reading books such as The Happiness Project bring more awareness to ways I can continue to improve and find joy in my beautiful ordinary and yet extraordinary life.
For more on The Happiness Project check out Gretchen Ruben’s blog and the inspiring book itself – https://gretchenrubin.com/books/the-happiness-project/about-the-book/