If I asked you to make a list of the things that make you happy in life, what would be on your list?
Chances are, your favorite things in life pop into your head right away. My list would definitely include family and friends, teaching and my students, cooking and healthy eating, and all things fitness! And much more – but those are some of the things that I think of right off the bat. It’s not hard to be thankful for the things that come easy in life, the things, people, and places that we love. However, it’s also easy to say statements like, “This makes me happy, but if I just had ____________, I would be so much happier.”
So what if I asked you to make a list of all the things that would make you happy? What would need to change in your life for your happiness to increase?
Author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin, dedicated an entire year to this question. She tackled these questions and more as she dove deep into her own quest for happiness. It wasn’t that Gretchen was unhappy in life; she simply realized one day that she could be happier.
Every month Gretchen focused on a different goal in hopes of making her life that much happier. The catch? Each month, she had to complete that month’s goals, as well as all of the previous ones. By the time December rolled around, she would hopefully be meeting all of her resolutions, and be noticeably happier. Her monthly categories included boosting energy, loving others, lightening up, pursuing a passion, staying contented, spending money, and several more. Within those categories, she set several goals for how she planned on on being successful in that area.
I loved reading her account, from the first page to the last! She was very honest in her retellings, and this is something I really appreciated. If her goal was to speak kindly to others, she was honest about how she did with that goal. If she lost her temper and yelled at her husband, she included that story. I like her honesty because it reminded me that just because you set a goal doesn’t guarantee it will be easy to achieve it.
- “Be Gretchen” – One of the things she realized through the year was to just “Be Gretchen.” This simple lesson has resonated with me over and over again in the last few weeks. She talked about her feelings to want to love or do what everyone else is doing, because it seemed exciting or fun. This idea of just “Being Gretchen” tied in with another lesson I realized I need in my own life, and that is to not worry so much about what others think. I don’t really like sports, I’m not loud and outgoing right away, and sometimes I would rather spend a quiet night at home. And that’s okay; those are all things that make me who I am and embracing that will only cultivate more happiness in my life. More often than not, in the last few weeks, I have found myself repeating “Be Amanda” in many situations.
- Make small changes – She focused on little things around her for the most part. Her approach made the notion of a happiness project truly attainable; she didn’t pack up and move, she focused on making ordinary changes in her daily life.
- Enjoy the moment – Instead of constantly thinking about the next thing on your to-do list, or what is coming up next, take time to stop and appreciate life as it is happening.
- Your happiness is based on YOU– your reactions, your virtues in life, your actions. We might think that happiness comes from other people or things, and while it can for a short time, it is fleeting. You can’t change other people, so instead focus on you. How you respond to other people and situations determines your attitude in life.
- “Spend Out” – It can be challenging to decide what to spend your money on each month. Do you want more TV channels, or do you want to eat out every weekend? Certain things can be more expensive, yes, but if it’s something you really love, then spending a little more might be worth it. Spend money on the things that are really important to you, and then cut corners where you can in other areas. She also mentioned in this category her desire to cling to things, saving them for later or another time. Once I read this part I realized that I do this far too frequently. “Let me save this fancy stationary for another time.” What other time? Live in the moment and enjoy life now.
- Don’t expect praise or gratitude from others. Life isn’t about keeping score. Instead, love without limits, give without expectations.
This post was much harder to write than I anticipated. I wanted to include so much that I learned and realized after reading this book; I seriously loved everything she said!
I think her happiness project is a notable goal. While you are setting goals, be careful not to be so hard on yourself that you adopt the mindset: “I won’t be happy unless I do x,y, and z.” You can make small changes and complete a happiness project right where you are! I loved Gretchen’s style of writing and her approach to the project itself for that very reason. She zeroed in on the small things in her life, the things she had control over and had the potential to change in a positive way.
So what can you do now? Ten ways to be happier today:
1. Smile at someone as you pass by! It could be someone in the grocery store, someone that slowed down to let you cross the street, or the cashier at the store. While we’re at it, don’t just pick one of those people, smile at all three!
2. Do something that you’ve been putting off. You’ll feel so much better when you finally just do it! Maybe it’s calling Verizon or an insurance company, even though you know you’ll be on hold forever. Maybe it’s tackling that junk drawer you’ve been shoving old bills and notes into. Maybe it’s calling an older relative or neighbor to check in on them, and see how you can help. Whatever it is that you’ve been hesitant to do lately, take the first step in completing that task. I guarantee you will feel better afterwards!
3. Exercise. Ok, so we all knew this one was coming It’s a proven fact, though – studies show that even 10 minutes of exercise can increase your mood.
4. Carve out time in your schedule to do something you love.
5. Do what I did today and go buy a new dress!
6. Help someone else out. Gretchen took this idea and ran with it, ready to help everyone she knew clean out and organize their closets. Her husband finally advised her that she stop offering to clean everyone’s houses and wait for them to mention it so she didn’t offend too many people! But in all seriousness, helping others out will instantly boost your mood. Run off extra copies for the teacher down the hall, tackle that chore you know your spouse hates doing, or make dinner for an elderly neighbor or new mom. Whenever I feel like I have been helpful to someone else, I feel better about myself and am truly in a positive mood.
7. Set goals for yourself. What do you want to accomplish today? In the next month? Setting goals is important, but even more important is the how. Writing down specific ways for how you can achieve those goals will keep you accountable and greatly increase your chances of reaching your goals.
8. Act the way you want to feel. I should have followed this advice earlier today! I was in such a bad mood and couldn’t seem to shake it. Acting the way you want to feel will help you reach a positive attitude a whole lot faster.
9.Lighten up! So many times, the little things I obsess over and worry about really aren’t worth more than 10 seconds of my time. Don’t worry about the little things so much, and you’ll find that you feel much more relaxed in life.
10. Definitely follow Gretchen’s advice- “Spend Out” and go buy this book today!
- What would be on your happiness list?
- Have you ever read a book that changed your life?