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


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 –



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.