What does Happiness look like to you?
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To me, it's this ever evolving flavour, distinguished by my current priorities, past lessons, curiosities and limitations. It's that personal sense of safety, contentment and joy that's unique to everyone. Happiness to you may be quiet, private and grounding. Or you might grin from ear to ear and laugh frequently from the pit of your stomach.
For instance, for me, right now, Happiness is hanging our Christmas tree with snow falling outside, framed by a window adorned in fairy lights- a moment that wouldn't automatically come to mind as something that I would label as 'happiness', but which certainly ticked those boxes last weekend when it actually happened. A moment I could acknowledge and say 'Yes, this is what happiness feels like'. The sense of community. The magic of being in the right place at the right time. The sound of contentment (i.e. comfortable silence). The wonder of nature. The beauty of lights and ornaments and the flicker of fire. The sense of impending joy. The smugness of knowing I'd perfectly organised the decorations the year before thanks to Konmari. All those elements contributed to creating the feeling I know as Happiness.
But Happiness is a mysterious beast
It's an elusive emotion for some of us. It can even be difficult to define. It certainly varies from person to person and how it makes us behave. What's the opposite of Happiness? And where does it fit in with mental health and depression? What does 'I'm happy' even mean? Can we be more happy? What if you haven't been happy in a long time... or ever?
It's a subject eloquently discussed in Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, a book I read and cherished a few years ago and have decided to revisit and apply to my current life by beginning a new Happiness Project for 2018. A project that will help focus, heal and encourage my personal and creative growth in the same ways it did the last time I did a Happiness Project.
So what IS a Happiness Project?
The book itself actually details Rubin's experiences during her own Happiness Project rather then provides a strict workbook as such, but within the book is a clear framework for creating your own version of the project.
Inspired by the 13 Virtues of Benjamin Franklin, Rubin took a modern approach to personal happiness development by setting herself a monthly theme over the course of a year, with daily actionable tasks that explored what made her happy and to see if it improved her mood overall long term- and it worked. The Happiness Project ended up being a New York Times Bestseller and even Oprah took note.
You only have to look at how worn my copy of the book is to see how valuable it was.
For me, the books biggest strength is Rubin herself and the way her rampant curiosity leads her to dissect and analyse the subject of Happiness in such a way that you feel like nothing has been left out. She really knows her stuff, and without ever sounding too academic or too wishy-washy... I like facts. I like science. I like evidence. Rubin provides that with a wonderful wit and friendliness. From the Philosophical to the Psychological, to Science and Statistics, Happiness is broken down from lofty spiritual heights into something tangible and approachable, without it losing it's magic.
You begin to think, wow... maybe I could be happier. Happiness is something that can happen to me and not just other people.
I started my first project soon after completing The Artist's Way and it proved itself to be a huge catalyst for change and self improvement along with Morning Pages which were useful for evaluating what I was doing and feeling.
Giving myself a full month to explore a theme that I felt would contribute to my well-being meant I had enough time to learn something new without feeling pressured, but at the same time a deadline to keep me accountable and structure my time. If I missed a day or a couple of days, it wasn't the end of the world- I could still stay on track and keep exploring the theme that month.
One of my favourite years was setting myself a Creativity Happiness Project where each month had a creative theme that I wanted to explore. One month I would focus entirely on Crochet. The next, Acrylics. It was an incredibly productive year and made me reassess the role of goal making and New Year's Resolutions permanently.
How to Get Started on your own Happiness Project
There are various free tools and resources on Rubin's website which can give you more information but actually the Happiness Project is very much a self prescribed situation inspired by the book. Everyone has a different experience. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You simply pick the themes, settle on some tasks, create a way to keep track (a spreadsheet is all most people use) and away you go. The book explains everything with Rubin's journey as an example so I recommend reading that first to get an idea of how it works and what can be done. You can buy that below:
For me I will we picking my themes this week and writing up my tracking sheet for the new year. I wanted to start with something very gentle for January, like Self Care (since I'll be a new mum again) and then work up to more difficult themes like Socialising or Making Money. I also have an idea about designing my own calendar, announcing each month's theme with a pretty picture, and then regularly reporting back here on what I learn and achieve each month- but we'll see. Whatever makes me happy.
I'm feeling hopeful about 2018.
Not only will there be a new addition to our family but after some difficult years I finally feel ready to pick up where I left off after serious health issues, depression and anxiety and I think a Happiness Project is a wonderful way to heal and jump start that positive feeling.
I'm so ready for good things to happen.