I’ve been fighting off (and, if I say so myself, coping fairly well against) deep-rooted unhappiness since I was 6 years old. It manifests itself most-strongly around the winter holiday season when I struggle with a bit of depression. So last Christmas I got myself a book about happiness to combat the annual slump: “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.
Rubin took a year to research and experiment with happiness, and then she wrote about her progress. She gave each month its own theme and set of goals, like rekindling love in February with her husband, challenging herself to grow professionally in March, and pursuing something she’s passionate about in September. She set small goals each month, and she marked her victories and failures. I like how forthcoming she is about her life which makes her very relatable even if you don’t share her experiences or perspective. And I loved reading about all the research she did for each month’s theme, the different viewpoints she encountered along the way, and the myths about happiness that she dispelled.
I started off the year following the monthly themes Rubin set forth for her own experiment, but I soon found that I needed to come up with my own themes. Some of her’s would be more appropriate for me in a different month than she chose, some were irrelevant to my life, and some of my own themes needed to be added. I carried on with my new monthly goals for some time and stopped when the unpredictability of my life threw everything off, but I’m looking forward to carrying on again when things settle down.
Reading The Happiness Project has inspired me to invest more of myself in the things that bring happiness and, if I can, to adjust the things that don’t. I know that life doesn’t give any of us everything we could ever want, and I know that having everything I want and how I want it ultimately isn’t what will make me (and keep me) happy. But I think that there are some baseline needs and desires and values that, if continually unmet over a long period of time, will erode the kind of internal harmony that contributes to deep-seated happiness (some might call this joy). Some of those baseline things, for me, are:
- Financial stability–having more money in the bank than credit card debt.
- Purpose–knowing that what I spend my days on has a positive impact in the world.
- Physical health–all systems working well and no unusual pain.
- Friends–one or two close female friends nearby to hang out with regularly.
- Reliable transportation.
- Alone time–having a clean, tidy, aesthetically pleasing room (bonus points if there’s a big window with a beautiful view) to sit and think, rest, journal, or read.
- Cuddling with my husband.
- Regular, small meals to keep the hungry away.
- Feeling productive–checking things off my to-do list.
Most days I reach at least half of them. Not bad, but that still leaves lots of room for more base-line happiness to develop. Working on the ones I lack can be a lot of work, exhausting, and sometimes discouraging. But I will keep striving for them. And even if I discover that some are beyond my reach, I know that true happiness is not dependent on external factors. They help, definitely, but I will not allow them to control my ability to find happiness within.