I read something once about a study on anxiety. A group of student who had a test were measured for anxiety levels. The students who had actually studied, predictably, had lower stress levels than those who hadn’t. But the really interesting thing is, that student who had not yet studied, but made a study plan, also had lower stress levels. So, I came up with a “study plan” for the next year. I’ve mentioned it on Instagram so wanted to explain a little more.
I read Gretchen Reuben’s The Happiness Project while we were in Indonesia (I know, I know, I built up the suspense in my last blog post and then only posted on Instagram about our trip. I haven’t even begun to go through my “big” camera photos!) It was a nice mix of actual studies and her own experience trying to be happier. She had a different focus each month for which she would create “resolutions” to try to follow. The impetus came to her when she was riding the bus with her children and realized one day the kids would be grown and she feared she would look back and realize that amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, she never stopped to just enjoy the unique and precious years. While it can sound a bit selfish to focus on our own happiness so much, Reuben takes the perspective that it really isn’t. Much of happiness is tied to relationships, being generous, and other outward focused aspects of life.
While not everything she said or did resonated with me, I do so often have the experience of wondering where in the world the past few months or years have gone. I always feel busy but am never sure what I’m so busy doing when someone asks what I’ve been up to. Like Reuben, I'm grateful to have a life that is relatively free of major challenges. I am happy or at least have every reason to be, but whether it’s the competitor in me – "She did this project, so I can too." – or just the desire to be more deliberate about areas of my life, I decided to do my own “Happiness Project.” However, I don’t really like calling it a “Happiness” project, because I’m a little less focused on happiness, per se, than she is. It's more that I want to know I’m doing things purposefully and not just reacting to whatever life throws my way. I hate saying that “I want to get more into…whatever” for years on end and not doing anything about it. So I’m calling this my “Purposeful Project.”
(Side note: When I read about how someone else gets their life organized, it stresses me out, because I feel like I need to do it too. I don’t want anyone else to feel like they have to do any of this. One of Gretchen Reuben’s big themes is “Be Gretchen.” In other words, know yourself, and know that it’s OK to do what works for you. Things that make some people happy won’t necessarily make you happy. I think if I had little kids of worked multiple jobs or had some other major happening taking up a lot of my mind and time, I would hopefully have been able to feel the freedom to say, “This project is not something I want to spend my time or mental energy on. I need to cut everything out to focus on my kid/ job/ whatever without distractions.” So I hope you feel that freedom too.)
I know it’s not the beginning of the year, but September always feels full of fresh beginnings with the school and fiscal year just starting up, so I figured this is as good a month as any to start. I sat down over labor day weekend to make my plan for the next nine months (I figured I could take the summer “off”.) I tried to start out by thinking about some “principles” I want to keep in mind for each goal. In asking myself the questions Reuben recommends, what makes me happy and what makes me unhappy? I tried to start out by thinking about what makes me happy and what makes me stressed out.
After writing out the things I want to work on, I realized that what makes me happy is feeling organized in the sense that I narrowed down a few positive things (organization, learning) and negative things (wasting time, nagging tasks) to use as a framework for determining my monthly goals. I really like lists, so found it insightful when Reuben said what helped her most was her resolutions list which she used by to measure her progress each day. Using the template one her blog, I made my own spreadsheet, though must confess, now that I’m partway through the first month, have been horrible at checking it.
So that is the background of my “purposeful project.” I feel a little self-conscious about focusing on myself so much, so quick, let me know about your goals or what you thought of the book or anything!