For My 25th Birthday, the Gift of Happy

The Happiness Project, a book based on a year-long quest to cultivate happiness in simple, attainable ways that fit into one’s current day-to-day (because we can’t all backpack across Europe in search for self-discovery) was published by Gretchen Rubin in 2008. I am a huge fan of Rubin’s podcast and have implemented many of her happiness hacks and habit strategies since discovering her work a few years ago.

For my 25th birthday this April, I decided to embark on a Happiness Project upon realizing:

I view a Happiness Project as a fun, low-stakes way to learn about oneself and develop positive habits that enhance life for ourselves (and for those forced to interact with us) It’s ultimately whatever you want it to be, but I really enjoy the structure Rubin developed.

Following Rubin’s outline, a Happiness Project is comprised of 12 months of resolutions designed to increase happiness by narrowing in on different areas of life. For example, in January, Rubin focused on energy and cleared her closets (clutter clearing = increased energy speaks my language) In February, she focused on marriage and resolved to quit nagging.

I’ll be condensing my project into 9 months:

Before working through her project, Rubin identified 12 happiness personal commandments: A creative way of distilling core values. These commandments act as one’s happiness North Star, a guide mapped by your principles and inherent nature (I so appreciate the mixture of imagination and structure that Rubin’s ideas capture)

To flesh out my personal happiness commandments, I thought about what I like most about myself when I feel my best, what I admire in others who I identify with, and areas I hold myself back in. Rubin’s first commandment is to “Be Gretchen,” – a reminder to focus on her true self and not the shoulds. Spoiler, my first is to “Be KP.” The shoulds are my one true enemy.

After outlining my happiness personal commandments, I set some goals for my project (and if you want one sentence to summarize who I am as a person, it’s that one) I reflected again on the things causing irritation within myself- feeling “stuck,” perfectionism and negative moods- to shape the results I hope to achieve from the project.

  • First, I’m aiming to identify what I truly desire out of life – not what I think would be “impressive” to achieve. In Rubin terminology, what feels right?

  • Next, I want to hone in on my constant feelings of stress, overwhelm and guilt. How do I learn to focus on less, to be okay with not doing it all? How do I escape the all-or-nothing mentality I’ve built around good habits? (Too real example: “I just impulsively stress-ate a brownie, guess my nutrition isn’t a concern any more today! Ben & Jerry’s for dinner!”)

  • Using what I learn, I want to set focus for my next phase of life. I’m extremely goal-oriented. Not having a clear vision is driving me crazy.

  • Finally- and I have a feeling that if I’m on any sort of pre-determined lifelong quest assigned by a higher being, it’s this one- I strive to learn how to be happy even when things don’t feel “perfect.” After all, it’s about the journey, right? (I don’t believe that for a second! But I want to!)

Even after all of this thought and planning, I hesitate (if you’d like a second, less positive sentence to summarize who I am as a person, there you go)

Like Rubin discusses at the beginning of The Happiness Project novel, the notion of spending a big chunk of my time thinking about my happiness feels selfish, trivial and privileged. I’m trying my hardest to remember that the happiest, best version of myself is the version who can add the most positivity to the world. That is the me who is there for others, who gives back and who is energized to contribute in meaningful ways. These rationalizations don’t make me feel selfless in my pursuit, but they help.

Now, I’d like to call upon Pamela Halpert, one of my favorite characters from my all-time favorite television show to help me close (as a perfectionist, you see, wrapping up and finishing is the hardest part)

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And so it goes, “It took me so long to do so many important things. It’s just hard to accept that I spent so many years being less happy than I could have been. It would just make my heart soar if someone out there saw this and she said to herself: “be strong, trust yourself, love yourself, conquer your fears.” Just go after what you want. And act fast, because life just isn’t that long.”

I can’t listen to Pam’s final monologue in The Office without tearing up. My re-watches of that finale are always emotional experiences (I’m sure many can relate) but Pam’s reflection particularly tugs on my heart. It’s easy for me to be season 1 Pam: Safe, secure, rational, content… bored, lackluster. Constantly daydreaming of an escape, but too afraid to jump.

During my Happiness Project, and for the rest of life, I hope, I want to jump, and jump, and jump again.

If you’ve embarked upon a happiness project before, I’d love to hear about it! What led to you to do it? Which month or theme was your favorite? What did you learn about yourself?