I was rereading sections of Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, where she discusses how a happiness project is one approach to changing your life. If you want to be happier and develop your own happiness project, there are a few important things to first consider:
- According to Rubin’s research 50% of happiness is genetic, 10-20% is circumstances (income, health, occupation etc) and the rest is a product of how you think and act.
- The opposite of happiness is unhappiness, NOT depression. Depression is a whole other beast.
- It isn’t self-centered to focus on becoming happier. I’ve certainly questioned whether it’s selfish to focus on my pleasure when I lead a privileged life. Am I ungrateful if I’m trying to make myself happier? In a word, no. Happier people are better able to help others, they are more engaged in social problems, do volunteer work, are friendlier, and make better leaders. Putting your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you better equipped and more effective. When your tank is full, you have more to give. As Gretchen says, “one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make others happy and one of the best ways to make others happy is to be happy yourself.”
Ok, now that’s out-of-the-way, there are a few steps to deciding how to craft your own happiness project:
1. Identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement.
2. Identify what brings you anger, guilt, boredom, and remorse.
3. Make resolutions with concrete actions to increase satisfaction and decrease remorse. The resolution might be “get more sleep” but the concrete action is imperative, for example “go to bed by 10 pm on weeknights.” The resolution could be “exercise more” but the concrete action is “go to the gym after work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”
4. Develop ways to keep your resolutions. Don’t be afraid to try new tactics and adapt as your life changes. If going to the gym after work isn’t helping, try before work, or maybe skip the gym and go for a walk outside. Whatever works for you.
I think of my 31×31 list as a happiness project of sorts. But, Gretchen’s strategy is more focused than mine. My list is kind of all over the place whereas she chose a theme for each month. Some examples:
January – Vitality
Excercise better, sleep better (keep room darker, don’t do anything stimulating an hour before bed, toss & organize your things.
June – Friendship
Social bonds are some of the most important aspects of happiness –remember birthdays, be generous, be friendly, don’t gossip.
July – Money
I highly recommend reading this part of the book. Rubin talks about the connection between money and happiness. Money can’t buy happiness, but money is a source of stress if you’re struggling to make ends meet. Two of my biggest take aways were:
- It depends on the kind of person you are – essentially do you have a lot of expenses that are non-negotiables and how expensive are the things that bring you satisfaction (aka organic food or cheap food? antique books or library books? long walks or snowboarding?). Some people love the thrill of spending money and some people love the satisfaction of saving it. Many people fall somewhere between.
- It depends on how much money you have relative to the people around you and your own experience. If you spend a lot of time with people who have more than you do or if you grew up more comfortably than your current lifestyle, money could be a source of dissatisfaction.
All in all, really think about what kind of spending will bring you the most contentment. For example, fine food and drink don’t float my boat, nor do fresh flowers. Some people get a lot of satisfaction out of seasonal decorations. I don’t decorate for holidays or spend much money on seasonal items because they don’t make a huge difference to me. However, traveling and a nice camera bring me immense happiness and are things I always look forward to doing and using. Accordingly that’s where my money goes.
Another thought related to money: if there’s something in your life that’s a constant source of frustration or tension, consider throwing some money at the problem to get it taken care of. Pay extra for grocery delivery. Buy the pre-cut fruit. Pay someone else to walk the dog.
I think it’s also important to consider what makes you happier; abundance or minimalism. I would rather spend more money on one thing that will last a long time and is a classic style. However, I know people who love a good bargain and would rather have a plethora of options than spend a lot on one item. Neither way is right or wrong, they’re just different perspectives.
Anyway, back to the bigger picture. There are some other areas Gretchen focused on each month: eternity, books, mindfulness, attitude, parenthood, leisure, and much more. I recommend any and all of her books, looking through her blog, or listening to her podcast. All are filled with thought-provoking ideas and practical tactics. I hope these ideas get you thinking about what your happiness project might entail. Have a great Thursday 🙂