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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What I Wish I’d Known Before Traveling Sri Lanka

I’ve only spent one whirlwind week in Sri Lanka so by no means can I claim to be an exper but these are some of the tips I’ve picked up during my short stay and things I wish I had known before coming to Sri Lanka.

Do Sigiriya as a day trip from Kandy
– Sigiriya and the Cave Temples are located in Dambulla, about a 2 1/2 hour drive out of Kandy but it’s not as tricky as you might think to get there. There’s lots of advice out there for getting buses or, if you can afford it/get a group together to split the cost then having a personal driver for the long route is worth it. We paid 1600 SLR per person in the end, around £8 for the whole day. Dambulla seems pretty rural and speaking to others along the way there isn’t much to do there other than these two main attractions. Unless you want to get up super early and see the sunrise from the top, basing yourself in Kandy and doing a day trip is entirely possible.



Budget travelling? Hike Pidurangala Mountain instead
– This mountain is right next to Sigiriya and although you won’t get to see the ruins or the impressive lion paws that give Sigiriya its name as Lion Rock, you will get a great view of the site as a whole. The main plus is that while Sigiriya entrance fee will set you back just over 4000 SLR, its little cousin will only set you back 500 SLR. Although it’s over priced I was still glad I did Sigiriya as there is more to see whereas the other one is just a nice hike, that said, if you’re on a budget this is the perfect alternative as you’ll still get to see the Lion Rock and pay a fraction of the price.


Get a bus to Rawana Falls in Ella
– After hiking Ella Rock we were going to attempt Little Adam’s Peak but it was too misty. We heard Rawana Falls were nice and so set off on aching legs down the winding road. Although it was a great way to see the countryside, an hour later we arrived at the falls only to be fairly disappointed. They are pretty but not worth an hours walk and I especially wouldn’t recommend trudging back up the hilly road! We got a bus back for 20 SLR and wished we had got one there as well.


Follow Nomadic Boys advice on climbing Ella Rock – I read all about the supposedly helpful locals who will point you in the “right” direction when you inevitably get lost looking for the turn off for the hike, only to lead you round in circles until another “helpful” local will take you to the right place for a small fee. Despite knowing about this tourist trap we were still suckered in and had to pay a “farmer” a few hundred rupees just to walk us five minutes down a path onto the right track. We came back the way the bloggers suggested so their advice is sound, just don’t be persuaded otherwise! Sri Lankan’s are friendly people always willing to help, which can make it tricky to spot things like this, but stick to your guns and continue up the track a little further and you’ll find the right place all by yourself.



Have tea at the top of Ella Rock
– I wish I’d had my own cup but I snuck a sip of a friend’s and the sweet brew instantly revived me. An old man with a wrought iron kettle bubbling over a small fire will happily serve you up a cup and trust me you’ll need it after the steep rocky climb near the top..

Get out of Colombo – Ok so I didn’t have the greatest of experiences here but still, quite frankly, there are much prettier and more interesting places to visit. Don’t waste time like I did and just hop on the next train out of there!

Check when festivals and celebrations are on – I might have had a much better time in Colombo if I’d checked and really thought about what was going on there. On the one hand I might have been able to see more of the religious celebrations and on the other I might have been able to go to temples when they were open rather than looking forlornly up at beautiful exteriors with locked and chained doors. 

Get a guesthouse in Ella and go to Chill Bar – Originally myself and a guy I was travelling with were going to stay in the Spice Hut Hostel, the only hostel in Ella but to be honest its pretty grim. When the main thing to do in Ella is hike you really want a decent bed for the night and there are good deals to be had so don’t feel like you’ll have to blow your budget to stay somewhere nice. In the evening everyone goes to Chill bar, the food is pretty decent, though mostly Western options, but relaxing with a few drinks and meeting other travellers is the best part about this bar, which is brimming with backpackers. Oh and the fact that it plays a remix of the Game of Thrones theme tune on loop just tops it off!

Try local food – It’s not as scary as you might think. Maybe this is already a natural part of travel for you but I know I was nervous after a few horror stories of food poisoning and bad stomachs. There are some real gems in store though as the dishes in sri Lanka are simple and tasty. Be sensible about where you eat but remember that no where (apart from maybe some very upmarket tourist places) will have the same standards or look the same as what you would expect back home. Try Dosa, especially a cheese one, which is much like a pancake and served with mild curry sauce and chillis for dipping into. Roti makes a great snack for long journeys. They come with different fillings depending where you buy from and in different shapes too but are essentially a kind of wrap/pancake with some kind of vegetable/meat/potato cooked in curry flavours. My favourite dish was Kotthu though, vegetable and meat or egg if you want chopped up with another kind of roti. It looks likenothing special but has great flavours and is surprisingly filling.


I wish I had known some of these things before I planned my trip to Sri Lanka so I hope they are useful to you. If you want some more specifics on things I did and places I ate and stayed at in Sri Lanka then check out my postcard and tag album for more ideas.