Happiness Projects

Last week, I went into London with my sister to Kings Cross where the audiology hospital is to get my earmoulds done and to attend my 6 week review of my new hearing aids. It was more like a three month review (such is the time discrepancy in the NHS – and with the understaffed Nuffield hospital), but I digress. In typical grateful style, I felt happy that I could have an interpreter at the appointment and that I could have new earmoulds – purely because I love the process of having my earmoulds done! For those who don’t know what it’s like – basically they make up this blue putty, then syringe it into your ear. It feels absolutely bizarre but really good at the same time. To start with, its really cold and then heats up as it changes to the temperature of your ear, and the putty sets. Then the peeling of the mould impression out of your ear feels great too. I imagine if you really wanted to, you could get specialist mould earplugs made, or those ear-pieces that rock stars wear on stage.

Anyway, after my sis and I had our respective appointments (if you’re interested, she had a battered hearing aid that needed replacing…), we hopped over to St Pancras for window shopping and photo taking of the Olympic rings above the Eurostar terminal. Sarah had been reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project for a few days, and since it was also on my book Wish List, I decided to nose around in Foyles and buy it. I found the only copy (in the Self Help section, which always makes me feel a bit furtive), which seems to be the case in most bookshops – maybe its very popular or they always just stock one copy? Anyway, above the self-help and autobiography section, there was a book that caught my eye, called ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ by James Bowen. About three years ago, Sarah and I were exploring Covent Garden and walked down Neal Street and happened to notice a gorgeous ginger striped tabby and his human who was selling the Big Issue. Sarah asked if it would be okay to take a photo of this very well behaved and happy cat, and I think there was just something very special about the bond between the two of them. Another time, we saw them again, and the cat was wrapped around his companions neck, purring contentedly. So, it was absolutely amazing to see that this same cat was called Bob and the guy was called James – and there was a book all about their experiences together. It just made me feel so hopeful. Obviously, I couldn’t leave without buying that book too.

These past couple of weeks have been very strange. I’ve felt a bit in limbo, and haven’t really been enthusiastic about writing. It’s one of those things where I’ve been over-analysing why I don’t feel like putting pen to paper or writing a blog post. Then this past weekend and this week, I’ve slowly come out of the funk I’ve had and have decided to start my own Happiness Project – to take control of my own happiness and do the things that will make me happier both in the short term and in the long term. Reading The Happiness Project has changed the way I see things around me. It made me think about my own behaviour and how it is true that it is harder to be happy than it is to be sad (or angry, or bitter or jaded). It takes real effort to be happy. I think there’s a general feeling that being happy must be easy – when someone is smiling or positive, we think it comes easy to them. When really happiness is about seeing both the good and bad in life and choosing the positive outlook (this comes from Sarah – who is my personal guru!). It is so easy to complain about things – its one of my worst habits, to constantly complain (I’ve got a headache, it’s raining, I’m so tired, I think I’ve got a cold coming on, etc etc). Changing my outlook is taking a whole lot of effort, and sometimes I fail dismally but at least I’m trying.

The Happiness Project has a lot of practical, common sense advice about boosting your own happiness, and thinking of the things about your own behaviour and attitude that you’d like to change. Its very painful sometimes to admit your bad points, but it also helps you appreciate the good points of the people around you. There are things in my life that bother me a lot – the clutter around me (in drawers, on shelves, on table tops), my¬†unnecessary nagging of my partner (which is, sadly, related to housework!), my unfortunate tendency to leave things to the last minute. There are a few things that I need to add to my life that I know will make me happier – going swimming, going for walks, dancing more – and this has made me thoughtful about how to change things. Change is never easy, especially when things have been the same for a while. Deciding I wanted to focus on writing as a career was difficult and scary, but ultimately it has changed my life for the better. Like Gretchen Rubin, I made that change because I knew even though it would be hard work, I love books, I love reading, researching, imagining and creating things. It has boosted my self esteem and happiness to be doing something that fits who I am. Even if sometimes I hit slumps, like the past few weeks. That’s the thing – happiness is not easy.

So, I decided to start a kind of monthly resolution thing. Like the first phase of Gretchen Rubin’s project, I decided to start with boosting my energy. This means doing things that make a big difference to my physical, emotional and mental energy – like de-cluttering, exercising and eating a more varied diet, getting enough sleep, doing important work things before the last minute, doing things when I want them done – rather than nagging others to do it. It seems like a lot, but these are fundamental things that do actually make a difference to how I feel. I’m always thinking to myself…I need to do this…but I never seem to get round to it. So in the next few months I want to make a conscious effort to change. It must seem strange that a book like this has given me the resolution, but I think if you read it, it makes a lot of sense. The Happiness Project came along at the right time for me. Some books do that – they stay on your list for ages and then pop into your life with fireworks.

The year is over, and I really am happier. After all my research, I found out what I knew all along: I could change my life without changing my life. When I made the effort to reach out to them, I found out that the ruby slippers had been on my feet all along; the bluebird was singing outside my kitchen window. ~ Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project.

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