A year ago I decided I was going to do my Happiness Project. Inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project (which I’d accidentally, fortuitously, stumbled upon in the Chelsea Market bookshop in NYC), I would spend the year of 2017 working on improving my happiness levels. And that’s what I’ve done.
How to even begin unraveling and concluding a year that’s brought so much change, growth and learning?
I began the year with a freshly free-ed up schedule and a plan, sort of. A sort of plan to take control of my life and my actions within it; to move in the direction I wanted, carve out my own path and figure out even what direction it was going in. Guiding me along through the often thorny paths of this year was my Happiness Project. My set of themes and resolutions for each month set out a map to explore my behaviours and habits, with the aim of improving my level of happiness.
I didn’t plan all the themes in advance, wanting to leave some space to trust my intuition (trust coincidentally being my word of 2017) and go with what felt necessary at the time.
Over the first few months as I was settling in to being newly released from my day job I poured lots of effort into researching each theme. I read books on economics, slow living, minimalism and I’m glad that I did. The content I’ve consumed this year both on paper and online (in writing and podcast form) has helped me grow in my mindset, approach to living and helped me move closer to the core of how I want to live my life and inhabit the world.
But this Happiness Project hasn’t always been a frolic through fields of new information (although I have enjoyed my resolution from January of ‘spend more time in nature’ immensely).
No, because life began to take over somewhat (as it’s prone to do) and as I got busy with my yoga teacher training, working on two new theatre projects and planning a move to a new city I found I didn’t have so much time to plan and research my Happiness Project themes and resolutions.
I accepted it though, as I might not have before, and perhaps this is an indication of the impact this project has had on me over the year. The resolutions I’ve found easiest to keep have been the little seemingly innocuous ones that slot into each day relatively easily. Things like ‘spend more time in nature’; ‘exercise right’; ‘three item to-do list’; and ‘5 minutes or more daily meditation’ have had the most impact. The only time I don’t go out for a daily walk now is if I’m really ill, and this rhythm has hugely benefited my days.
Often, I think we let ourselves believe that to make ourselves happier requires huge change. Whilst I don’t deny sometimes big change is needed, what reading The Happiness Project and then doing my own has taught me is it’s often the smallest of changes to our daily lives and routines that can have a huge impact on our happiness (Alexandra Franzen has a lovely post that perfectly sums this up).
The big question, I suppose, is ‘am I happier at the end of the year than at the start?’
As Gretchen Rubin notes there’s no scientific measurement, the answer is just based on my own perception (but perhaps that’s all happiness is anyway). But by my own perception I would have to say yes, I am happier. Some situations in my life have changed – some big ones (location, work) – but I don’t think they’re the major contributors. Because I think the biggest change that’s occurred has been inside myself.
Over the course of this year I’ve changed the way I look at things, my approach to life has shifted and it’s enabled me to experience more joy and as a result feel happier. It’s not that this joy wasn’t there before, but I wasn’t allowing myself to see it. My resolutions have been more than just tick boxes of achievement (in fact I had to scrap the resolution chart because it was playing to my perfectionist tendencies). They’ve been reminders to be more mindful as I move through my days – mindful of my thoughts, behaviours and interactions with others (and myself!)
I’m still on this journey of discovery, play and change. There are still areas I want to explore, more resolutions I might set. It’s certainly not been a year of perfectly sticking to my resolutions, but I’ve learnt even more by not always keeping them than I would have by keeping them. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says “Forgetting or neglecting to be mindful can teach you a lot more than just being mindful all the time” (Wherever You Go, There You Are). I have decided not to set any new resolutions for this month, but to be mindful of all the past resolutions as I moved towards the end of the year. Not aiming for ‘Bootcamp Perfect’ (the title of Gretchen’s final chapter in The Happiness Project) but trying my best to do the things I know will help to make me happier, even when it’s hard.