Dec 28, 2012

Recap: The Happiness Project

Remember back in January when I started a Happiness Project based on Gretchen Rubin's book? I outlined categories of my life and goals that I thought might boost my happiness in 2012.  Because making check marks makes me happy, I used my favorite Excel spreadsheets to keep track of everything.  At the end of the year,  I think I am significantly happier than I was at the beginning.  Here's a brief rundown on how my project went, and what I learned along the way.

Meeting the goals I set for this month definitely increased my happiness. After a year of very poor health, making healthy choices made me feel fantastic. I loved exercising (no pun intended) control over one area of my life. The physical activity was a great boost to my mood. Eating better helped clear my mind. Having incremental success in the Couch-to-5k program strengthened my confidence as well.

During this month, I set out to develop more meaningful relationships with my kids. I don't naturally gravitate to board games and dress-ups and soccer, but in February I really tried harder to do those things. However, I achieved the most happiness as I prayed for each of my children every night. February was an especially hard month for me; depression had a wicked hold on me and I wasn't functioning very well. My January goals fell completely fell by the wayside, apart from keeping up with the 5k training a few days a week. But the times I did spend focusing outside of myself was very good for everyone in my family.

March was a task-oriented month.  Instead of focusing on ideals and feelings, I put my energy into changing the silly little behaviors that bugged me.  I strove to floss and read church magazines and put away my laundry and tidy up the house every night.  It might speak to my shallow personality, but fixing those things (except flossing...not sure why I can't conquer that) really contributed to my happiness.  I also got back on the January bandwagon and continued to make conscious efforts to connect with my kids.  One March event that contributed to my happiness was rearranging the furniture upstairs.  That turned out to be a refreshing, functional change that continues to make me happy every day.

I threw out my original plan for April and focused on a recent read from Brene Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection.  Through her books and a depression seminar given by a lady in my stake, I was learning a lot about being more open and vulnerable, being kind to myself, and redirecting my thoughts and behaviors to positive things.  So in April I tried to implement some specific things that added to my happiness.  I also decided that I wasn't going to blog about my Happiness Project anymore.

During these months I focused a lot on reaching out to people, strengthening friendships, going outside my comfort zone, and trying new things.  I tried really hard to make a nice summer for my kids.  I took the Ordinary Courage online class and LOVED IT.  The things I was learning from Brene Brown and Jen Lemen about shame and vulnerability caused a paradigm shift that really helped me better understand myself and my relationships.  I spent a lot of time serving friends during the summer.  That made me feel good.  These things, combined with counseling and medication, really helped me feel like I was mentally turning a corner. That definitely contributed to my happiness.

These months were less goal oriented and more survival oriented.  My mental health nose-dived after school started, so much of my limited energy was thrown into correcting my deviating course.  The fall months were a challenge.  But I did continue to exercise nearly every day and make better food choices.  People started noticing my weight loss, and of course that was an emotional boost.  I reached my goal of completing a 10K. I really enjoyed my church callings as newsletter editor and choir pianist.  Both played to my strengths and brought great satisfaction. I still struggled socially but worked hard to continue implementing my goals to reach out and let people in.

So now, at the end of the year, I look back and see lots of growth and change.  The transformation is mostly in my brain.  My physical surroundings haven't changed much, my family structure is the same, finances are the same, friends are the same.  I still live far away from my family, I still have five crazy and busy kids, and my house is still perpetually messy.  But I think that viewing those things differently has been a huge part of my increased happiness this year.  I also learned that exercising is extremely beneficial for my mental health,which, in turn, makes our home climate much happier.  Three other things that greatly contribute to my happiness on an ongoing basis are scripture study, prayer, and temple attendance.  Those are pretty private, personal things, but a discussion about my happiness is not complete without at least mentioning them.

My Happiness Project didn't turn out exactly as I planned.  It wasn't as structured and organized as I imagined it would be in January.  But I'm very glad I started the process and became more mindful of the things that make me happier because, as we all know, if the mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!
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