Musings: On Happiness Projects, Life and Mental Health

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Last night, in the small hours of the night, I cracked open my Work Flowy to-do lists to see what lists I wrote last year and the year before that. The lists held all the promise of abandoned projects, things I put on the backburner, habits that I have yet to take up. One of my weaknesses is that I like planning things – I like the initial flush of excitement, the burst of possibility – but then I allow myself to get stuck in a rut. Why am I sharing such failures on my blog, in public? Simply because I’m waking up from a deep sleep, and have realised that I need to take more initiative and do things if I want movement in my life.

One of the projects I started planning and got excited about was undertaking my own Happiness Project, a la Gretchen Rubin. I read her book in 2012 and it inspired me so much that I thought I would embark on my own 12 months of Happiness. Rather than being a self-help book, The Happiness Project is actually more of an inspiration book – it looks at the nature of happiness, what leads to contentment, and how people can do any number of things to shape their own lives, within reason. Some of these changes can be big and difficult, others are smaller and connected to appreciating the small things in life.

Rather than advocating that everyone needs to do this or that to be constantly happy – she just advocates for looking at the things that matter to you and putting them at the centre of your life. Sometimes they won’t make you happy in an obvious way – just a little more contented. To me, contentment and laughter mean happiness – being happy with what I have, and not striving to want more all the time (especially in light of possessions – I’m always striving to appreciate and use what I already have).

Doing a Happiness Project sounds corny and a bit new-agey but at the same time it is you who guides the content, aims and values at the heart of it. It doesn’t always need to be about self improvement but perhaps there is something that you’d like to change about your life, and doing a project like this gives you the opportunity to zero-in and give it a go.

So, I made a plan for it last night and thought about the things that I’d like to try and that are important to me that I don’t do enough of. My life needs shaking up and my priorities need cementing. Especially since there are things in the past two years that have changed the way I see the world, and the black fog of depression is finally lifting from my head. I’m still scared to try new things, I still lack confidence and those are things I want to work on. I need focus and to concentrate on those goals that matter to me, and I need to do a health MOT, because I know I need more energy and that will only come from injecting more dancing, swimming and walking into my life. Basically – do more of what I love and be more mindful about it.

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The last year has seen me dip in and out of a strange kind of depression – one where I haven’t felt enthusiastic about the things that normally matter to me. Where my life has been in survival mode. It’s been like that for my family too, and when the wedding came round, I was so grateful and overjoyed to have such a wonderful day, something we had put so much effort into, and it showed me that when I really work hard at something, it bears wonderful fruit.

I’ve taken that feeling away with me, and despite the post-wedding slump, I’m now beginning to understand that you have to constantly work at things, things that matter to you, to bring about a feeling of contentment and love. To be in love with life, you have to create an environment of creativity, growth and learning. It might be different for you, but for me – creativity, growth and learning are those three things that I need to have at the centre of my life. The other essential ingredient is love.

I’m a thinker, and often over-think things to an extreme. With my over-thinking sometimes comes negative and paralysing thoughts that go round and round in circles – self criticism that infects my feelings about the world. There is a point when you realise these thoughts are just your brain’s way of trying to protect you from challenging yourself, something that might take a lot of effort to do and despite the rewards, might be very hard indeed. I also often feel overwhelmed with the amount of pain and suffering in the world, but have come to realise that this is a state of the world and there is also much good and happiness in the world too.

When you recognise that, it’s easier to understand that challenges are the way we grow and break out of those critical thoughts – to silence the inner critic, to grow new neural pathways that boost self esteem and confidence. Sometimes I look back over the things that I’ve achieved and wonder who that person was – but that person was me, in another time, who worked hard and has shown me that it’s possible to work hard and overcome inner fear. So perhaps a Happiness Project is a way to put that back into the middle of my thinking – that I need challenges and new things to boost my contentment.

My project starts in April, with a month of ‘Energy Boost’ – something I sorely need after battling a cold for a week and a half!

โ€œWhen I find myself focusing overmuch on the anticipated future happiness of arriving at a certain goal, I remind myself to ‘Enjoy now’. If I can enjoy the present, I don’t need to count on the happiness that is (or isn’t) waiting for me in the future.โ€ – Gretchen Rubin.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Sammy D. says:

    Well said and healthy intentions. It is work to care for your emotional health, but worth the effort. Don’t get discouraged along the way; it’s always a cycle; we just need to be as conscious of the contented times as we are the rough dats.

    Like

    1. Liz Ward says:

      Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll try not to – I know that some days will be harder than others.

      Like

  2. cardamone5 says:

    I can relate to starting projects with enthusiasm and then losing steam quickly.

    Not to self promote, but coincidentally the theme of my A to Z Challenge is 26 Ways to be Happy (I write 26 posts in April, one for each letter of the alphabet.) So, look out for those. It sounds like we’re on the same wavelength.

    Cheers!

    Like

    1. Liz Ward says:

      That’s great! We’re both starting happiness projects ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s difficult, maybe that’s the payoff of creativity – finding a way to keep going even when we lose enthusiasm.

      Like

      1. cardamone5 says:

        Agreed. I like what you said about needing creativity, growth and learning to be happy. That is true for me as well.

        Like

  3. It sounds like April is going to be an interesting and challenging month. Looking forward to seeing it and hopefully getting into the swing ( mine’s broken st the moment ๐Ÿ˜‰)
    Susanโค

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeannine says:

    I can definitely relate to your post! A happiness project sounds like a great motivation to keep life exciting and new, I’ll look forward to reading more. I remind myself to practice gratitude and happiness daily with mini things that bring joy in my life like my cup of tea, sometimes I get a peaceful morning, or making someone happy a work ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. beefyisfeebz says:

    You write with such depth and authenticity. I love reading your posts. ๐Ÿ™‚ Phoebe

    Liked by 1 person

  6. swo8 says:

    Only he who does nothing, never makes a mistake. I played the flute for my grandson’s wedding today. The organist and I both made a few mistakes but no one even noticed, in fact they loved it – mistakes and all!
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  7. auburnlangley says:

    Just want to say thank you for writing this; it’s so insightful and strikes many chords! โค

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bee says:

    It’s almost two months later, and I find myself coming back to this post for the same reasons that you’ve decided to start your happiness project. Reading everything above, I can completely sympathize, since my recent experiences have been so similar that I almost feel like I’d written this post myself. Here’s one stranger who is cheering you on and taking the same steps, and wishing you all of the little successes. โค

    Liked by 1 person

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