Discovering The Happiness Project

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

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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/

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How to Motivate Yourself

Like most people, the version of me I like to portray online is the parts of me I like the best, and that means I like to write about all the things I’m doing and not the days I spend in my pyjamas. BUT there are pyjama days and after there has been one another one usually follows until it’s been a week and I’m finding stray bits of popcorn in my hair and I can’t remember whether I fell asleep watching Netflix at one in the morning or one in the afternoon. So how do you get out of the pyjama-popcorn-netflix cycle? As a currently (hopefully temporarily) unemployed person I am becoming a bit of an expert in this struggle so I thought I would share my tips on how to get out of a lazy slump.

 

Set An Alarm

As a non-morning person, don’t worry, I know, I can hear you screaming “An ALARM?!” but hear me out. Routine is key. I know from personal experience that if I sleep in, if I press that snooze button one too many times then my day is screwed. It might suck and you might need an afternoon nap but rather than waking up late, spending ages getting ready, a couple of hour doing something productive, then giving yourself a nice long break until its time to have to dinner and after dinner your sleepy again and you may as well turn in for the night. You see the problem? Getting up early doesn’t mean 6am, you’ll work best after a good nights sleep after all so 8am is a perfectly acceptable time. It doesn’t quite count as a lie in but it’s not as early as you would probably get up for work. It also doesn’t mean you have to get up and get dressed. My most productive mornings are usually spent sitting in bed with my laptop until 11am but the point is I’ve been up and working for a good few hours. That being said, sometimes making the effort to get out of those pj’s and dress for the day can be motivational in itself. Decide what works best for you.

Get Out of The House

At home there are all sorts of naughty temptations like the TV, snacks, a cosy blanket on the sofa, games and lying around sighing, basically whatever is better than what you’re supposed to be doing. Getting out gets you in the mindset to do things. It’s as simple as that. Find a lovely little cafe, get yourself your favourite beverage and get working. Obviously this is assuming the work you have to do is portable but if its not then maybe use this as a treat. Do what you need to do at home but tell yourself that once you’ve done your tasks or spent a couple of hours at them then you can go out somewhere you enjoy. The point remains the same, it’s easier to get on with things without a distraction, as much as possible remove these from your reach and all you’ve got left is what’s in front of you.

Get Moving!

Exercise is all round good for you. The TV told me the other day that people don’t move as much as they should. Getting up and doing some exercise is similar to getting out of the house for a bit. It gives you energy and puts you in the right mindset for the day. In the words of Legally Blonde “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy and happy people just don’t kill their husbands”. Ok we might need to adapt that a bit but it’s still true. Your mind will be happy and your body will be happy. Your body might not be happy when you’re doing it, or even the day after when you’re aching everywhere but long term it will do you good. I’m not asking you to go run a marathon everyday, a fifteen minute walk will do. Fresh air will clear your mind and get you ready to work. Not to mention you’ll sleep better and that will aid with the whole getting up with your alarm.

Make Lists

I’m a big list maker. I love lists! I’m a total list nerd! I make lists of things I need to do. I have a whiteboard calendar with my plans for the month. I have a weekly planner I constantly scribble on. I’ll be honest I don’t always stick to it but seeing what I need to do and dividing it up into the time I have to do it. I also have a system where I tick off what I’ve achieved and underline anything I didn’t get to in red. I have a rule that the red line can’t remain there for longer than a day. If it’s still there two days later then that’s the priority no matter what else is on the list. Setting yourself rules like this will keep you motivated – so long as you stick to them! Be strict with yourself; that’s the whole point of the red line, it makes the list more than just words on the board, it gives me deadlines.

Make Other Lists

Sometimes the list isn’t enough. Sometimes the red lines are too many and they become big scary, fall off the edge of them kind of red lines and you just feel like a failure for not keeping up with it all. In this case, reverse the system. At the end of the day make a list of all the productive things you’ve achieved. When I did National Novel Writing Month the thing that really motivated me was writing my word count on sticky notes and putting them on my wall. Seeing those words increase everyday was proof that I could do it and I was doing it! This is a more positive way around it. It takes away the guilt (which is sometimes what you need but sometimes not) and instead it empowers you. At the end of the day you see everything you have achieved and when you wake up the next day you know just what you are capable of!

How Sweet is Home Sweet Home?

The most exciting part of travelling is, obviously, the travelling itself. The tales you have to tell, the adventures you’ve had and the people you’ve met – it’s all you want to talk about. Except as every good writer knows there is a beginning, a middle and an end to every story and coming home is the end of the travelling story. Or at the very least the end of a chapter.

Usually there’s this big thing about feeling different after travelling and coming home to find that nothing has changed except you, but I didn’t find this. For the most part things had ticked along relatively the same and normal but there were subtle differences in everybody’s lives that I had to get used to. Even coming home I found I had a sense of the uncanny in my own home; things I didn’t notice straight away but had a sense that something was off when I saw them. New taps in the bathroom. Mum’s bedroom redecorated. The trees along the back wall in the garden have come down. Everything the same but slightly different. The same thing with my friends. One moved in with her boyfriend. Another had all her wedding plans coming together. Almost all of them had either got promotions or were in line for them. Their lives were moving forward, they were on their set paths and skipping along whistling a tune. Meanwhile I had strayed to pick the wild flowers and ended up exploring the woods. It wasn’t a bad thing for either them or me, we had just chosen different routes, but it did make me feel like my life had simply been on pause this whole time.

What didn’t help this feeling was the fact it’s so hard to talk about my trip. How do I begin to sum up five months of travel? Even the things that had happened most recently to me were so different from life back home it was difficult to segue them into conversation. And what about something that happened in the first few weeks of my trip? Forget about it. I mean that literally. By this stage so many events have already been pushed to the back of my mind that it was difficult to recall every detail of the past five months from beginning to end to try and explain what a fantastic time I’d had! You realise very quickly that your experiences just don’t fit into everyday life. I mean, that’s why we travel isn’t it? To break away from the mundane, the monotony of routine, the everyday but just be prepared to know that it doesn’t slot back in so neatly when you come back.

That being said, I’m not trying to be negative. What I’m writing might not sound great but I don’t mean it that way. When you do tell friends about swimming with whale sharks or the time you got rat-arsed on rice whiskey, they’ll love it! You’re guaranteed to have the best stories at any party and you’ll get to see people’s faces light up as they say “Wow, I wish I could do that”. At the end of the day you’ve not only lived your dream but many other people’s and getting to share that with them is amazing. Of course you’ve got to be careful not to do it in a ‘I’m so much more cultured and interesting than you because I’ve travelled’ sort of way because obviously that’s not true, and that’s the whole point I’m trying to make. They might be jealous of me swimming with whale sharks but equally I’m a little jealous of their promotion.

Jobs, the next hard hit of reality you have to face back home. Currently I’m hunting for my first proper full-time adult graduate job and I’m feeling restless. As much as I love staying in my pyjamas all day (I mean come on, we all know that’s the real reason I want to be a writer) and catching up on five months worth of TV, my eyes might literally turn into squares if I don’t find something more productive to do. Because, let’s be honest, whenever we have free time to do all the chores we’ve been meaning to do for ages what we’ll actually do is find a hundred reasons to put them off until tomorrow. And the next day. Then the next day. And the next day. And the next… you get the picture. While travelling I found I had the opposite problem, if I wanted to stay in my hostel and watch Netflix (because for the first time in two months I had found wifi decent enough to stream on) then I had to battle the feeling of guilt that I was in some amazing place and not going out to explore it. I had to learn when to give myself days off, which is important because travelling is tiring, and when to ignore the hangover or the sleep deprived headache and make the most of where I was.

Not everyone gets this though, people will assume you have just been on an extended holiday. Luckily most of my friends and family have done enough travelling themselves that they know it’s not all sunning yourself on a beach. A lot of the time it’s early starts, long bus journeys, organising flights, figuring out where you are going to sleep that night and what transport will get you to the next place or the activity you’re doing that day. That’s all part of travelling and it’s great, it’s worth it for the experiences but it’s also exhausting after a while. I found I had barely been back over a week or so before people were asking me whether I had got a job yet. When I explained that I was taking some time to enjoy being at home first there was the inevitable “a holiday from your holiday” joke but, seriously, when in the time between flying home, getting over the jet lag and meeting up with people I hadn’t seen in months was I supposed to have written CV’s and applications, had an interview and secured a job. I appreciate that I was in a fortunate enough position that I didn’t have to do all that straightaway but it still surprised me how keen everyone else seemed to see me employed the second I got home.

I’m glad I’ve taken some time to readjust though. Instead of feeling rushed off my feet I feel more relaxed and content than I have in a long time. Something I tried to take away from travelling was to not try to be perfect all the time. To know when to give myself a break and when to give myself a kick up the backside. I feel like a lot of young people struggle with this. We see the seemingly perfect lives of others on social media and constantly berate ourselves for not being prettier, smarter, richer or more successful. The simple fact of the matter is that these things take time. The more I take one day as it comes, applying for jobs as I see them, ones I think I’d be well suited for rather than mass panic applying, the less stressed I am. The moment I start wishing over a specific job or worrying they will all reject me is when I can’t sleep at night. It will come. I know myself, I know I work hard and that I won’t give up at the first hurdle. So what if a job rejects me? So what if ten jobs reject me! It’s just an experience to learn from and adapt. I’m not perfect and I probably won’t get my dream job overnight (is there even such a thing as professional slob?) but I remind myself every day that travelling wasn’t always perfect. Flights were delayed, opportunities were missed and things were lost (including myself… many times) but when I look back it’s not all the failures I remember but all the successes.

As sweet as home is, it’s may be sickly sweet at times. I think the best way to describe it is like running for a train that’s already pulled out of the station. You know you can run fast enough to catch it up, you know that your hand will clamp around the railing and pull yourself up into the plush carriage awaiting you but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be out of breath when you get there and it certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look back down the tracks to where you’ve come from. Home will quickly pull you back into it’s folds and as cosy as that is, don’t forget why you went travelling in the first place or what you learnt from being there and definitely don’t feel like your experiences should be left on the road.

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p.s. Speaking of being on the road, I have a little announcement. I’ve only been back just over a month and I already have itchy feet so, this weekend, I’m off to Edinburgh! It’s just a long weekend with my boyfriend but I’m so excited to be out and about and exploring again. Keep an eye out for the article next week!

Lets Turn the Mirror Inwards

I know it’s been a little while since my last post but something has inspired me today and made me want to take a break from the travel post I’m working on. Today I read Jennifer Aniston’s statement in response to the pregnancy rumours and it has brought up an important issue I think we need to keep talking about: the pressures on men and women to look “attractive”. It’s an issue that I think is personal to a lot of us and I’ve tried to be open and honest in this post so please go easy on me.

“For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up. I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of “journalism,” the “First Amendment” and “celebrity news.”” – Jennifer Aniston

I think young people put enough pressure on themselves without the added pressure from society as well. All you need to do is browse the covers of magazines to see the impossible standards set out for us. Photoshopped images, tabloids that slate celebrities for putting on weight and the next week shame them for being too skinny, buff six-packs from rigorous workouts and ‘love yourself’ articles two pages away from ‘how to lose a stone in a week’. I know this has all been said before but seeing as the message doesn’t seem to be getting through, we need to keep saying it until it does.

Like everyone else, I’m stuck in the same dull cycle of berating myself for not working out more to have that perfect body to then accepting that this is how I am and I like it. One week I’ll tell myself off for not eating healthy all the time and the next I’ll be realising that  treating myself sometimes (ok all the time) is completely acceptable. I hate myself for being lazy and unproductive and then I remind myself that I can’t do everything at once. I blame this on the millions of images and expectations that pass in front of me everyday from the media.

“Sometimes cultural standards just need a different perspective so we can see them for what they really are — a collective acceptance… a subconscious agreement. We are in charge of our agreement. Little girls everywhere are absorbing our agreement, passive or otherwise.” – J.A.

Jennifer Aniston makes a good point about the messages we pass on to young girls but her words apply as much to boys and men too. Young people in general are being bombarded by so many confusing messages and every single one is telling them how they should look but never asking what is great about the way they look now and – god forbid – what they are like as a person. The celebrities I admire – Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, Keanu Reeves – are all people who have as little to do with the media (in relation to their personal lives) as they can. And, surprise surprise, they are also some of the celebrities most well known for the charity work and good deeds they do.

I should want to workout because its healthy, it makes me feel good and feel energised not to make me look a certain way. I should want to eat healthily because I like the taste not because it’s the latest superfood trend. I should be proud of what I have accomplished and not measure myself against other people. I’m working on this everyday through my Jar of Joy, by Challenging Myself Happy (which I will explain in more detail in a future post) and other techniques but it’s an uphill battle in todays society. According to Young Minds the rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers has risen by 70% in the last 25 years and based on my personal experience with friends, this figure does not surprise me.

My theory is that we are spending too much time looking outwards and not enough time facing the mirror inwards. We need to stop judging ourselves based on other people. Ask yourself how you feel about yourself. If you are not happy with your body because it makes you feel uncomfortable or for health reasons then sure, gain weight, lose weight, tone up, do whatever you need to do to feel good about yourself. If you don’t like your body because it doesn’t match up to those Instagram profiles you follow then you need to stop and reassess.

“Here’s where I come out on this topic: we are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone.”- J.A.

If we stopped comparing ourselves to others we might have time to actually consider others instead. If we took pride in our achievements rather than constantly feeling inadequate we might take the time to find ways to help others find happiness. Lets stop worrying about what we look like and start thinking about what we want to be like. As Jennifer says, we’ve warped the way in which we calculate a woman’s worth because she’s held up against what she should achieve not what she has achieved. I believe the same applies to men too. I think both sexes are expected to do it all these days, to have the successful career, the children, the non-stop social life, money to jet off to interesting places and to still find the time to go the gym every night.

” In this last boring news cycle about my personal life there have been mass shootings, wildfires, major decisions by the Supreme Court, an upcoming election, and any number of more newsworthy issues that “journalists” could dedicate their resources towards.”-J.A.

So lets stop buying the bullshit. Lets ask ourselves how we feel about our lives and what we can do to help ourselves and others feel happier in them. Lets stop letting the media hold up a mirror that only reflects a confused and contradictory message about what we should do, what we should have and what we should look like. Lets instead see a reflection of what we have done, what we will achieve and who we are.

 

 

Welcome to the Blog

Hello and welcome to Jess’ Journal of Joy! As the name of the blog suggests, I am Jess, and this will be my journal for all my travel adventures. You can learn more about me on my about page but to really understand why I’m starting this blog I thought I’d start by telling you what it’s all going to be about, my three main passions in life: Travel, writing and charity.

 

Travel

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to go to some amazing places, from visiting family friends in South Africa to backpacking (minus the backpack…but that’s another story) around Australia and New Zealand. I’ve swum with dolphins, ridden camels, done the Nevis swing, got my PADI Open Water certificate and have so far seen 3 of the 7 Wonders of the World but I’m still greedy for more. Travel is addictive, the more you see the more you want to see and I’m an addict.

Every step of the way I’ve kept journals of my travels and now this blog is my journal. It’s my way of sharing my adventures with friends and family. It’s something cool to look back on for me. And if you’re a fellow travel addict then maybe you’ll find some useful tips and inspiration for your own travels! This is the section where I’ll tell you all about the places I’ve been, let you know my travel preparations for the future and keep you updated while I’m on the road.
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Swim-throughs in Cozumel

 

Writing

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s only been through studying Creative Writing over the past four years that I have come to realise I don’t want to be a writer – I am one and I always have been.

Whether it has been writing my travel journal, scribbling poems, trying my hand at novels, telling stories or  creating imaginary worlds I am never happier than when a pen is in my hand.

I love it because I love sharing stories. I am in awe of how words can change a person. It can be as simple as reading a line that makes you laugh or cry, or as epic as reading a book that changes your life. I can’t claim that this blog will change anyone’s life but it is a chance to share my stories, so I hope you enjoy!

 

Charity

In my second year at university I started writing for my friend’s online magazine, Pie Magazine and in 2014 he asked me if I would be interested in managing the charity section, Give Pie. I’d always wanted to do some charity work but had never known how to get started and thought this was the perfect opportunity. What I didn’t realise is that it would open up a whole new passion I didn’t know I had.

Now I’ve worked with Teenage Cancer Trust and continue to work with Macmillan, both charities I have huge respect and admiration for. I’ve also entered a swimathon for Sport Relief twice and donned a fake moustache for Movember, raising awareness and money for Prostate Cancer UK.

The charities I’ve supported and continue to support are amazing at what they do. The funds I’ve helped raise will make a difference in people’s lives. They were fun! But best of all, each of these experiences challenged me as a person. I think an important and frequently overlooked part of charity work and volunteering is how it can make you grow, teach you to push your limits and discover new aspects of yourself.

I’ll continue to do charity work in the UK but I hope that with my travels I can take these experiences global, sharing them with you here, and maybe inspiring you to get involved and volunteer too.

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Team Pie about to run the Glow in the Park 5k for Teenage Cancer Trust
Jar of Joy

The Jar of Joy is something I started at the beginning of 2016 after a really tough year (you can read the full story here). I needed to change my outlook on life and bring back my positive view of the world. I’m a big believer that positive thinking can have a huge effect on your emotional wellbeing and so far this year my Jar of Joy has made a big difference.

Of course keeping a jar full of good memories is not the only way to be happy in this complicated and messy world so this is a little extra section of my blog where I hope to share my thoughts on mental and emotional wellbeing.

So that’s my journal and why I’ve started it! Stay tuned for some posts about my past travels and my plans for the future and finally I hope this journal lives up to it’s name!