A little over a year ago, I started a happiness project.
I started my project because I was realizing that, while there were a lot of good things happening in my life, I wasn’t feeling good about the ways I was spending my time. I was feeling a lack of emotional engagement in the world around me–a combination of mental/emotional burnout from the work I was doing and the world around me, and my own mental health causing me to disengage. Even though I was surrounded by blessings, in my family life, my friends, my clients, I just found myself feeling unhappy more often than not.
My decision to try a happiness project came from reading Gretchen Rubin’s book by the same name. I wasn’t as focused in my approach as she was–I didn’t try to set a new habit or goal each month, or anything like that. But I did–kind of without really thinking about it–follow the basic outline: identifying what brings joy, satisfaction and engagement (and, on the flip side, what brings guilt, anger, and remorse); identifying concrete actions that will boost happiness; and then, the tricky part, following through on those actions.
This year ended up being a lot more of a roller coaster than I expected when I started my project last summer. I got a new job and changed career paths. I moved to a new state. I took up yoga. I struggled a lot with my physical and mental health. There was a lot of change–and we all know how much I love change.
But there were parts of my happiness projects that stuck. I found things that brought me joy: creating things, sharing things with others, spending quality time with people I love, experiencing media in a comfortable way. And I found ways to bring those into my life as habits: I set myself writing goals. I spent more time with friends. I kept a journal. I got a pen pal. I got a library card, and read more books.
I’m going to do a few more posts to be more in-depth about the different habits that have actually stuck with me about my happiness project, but I know the biggest question I have to ask myself after a year of this is: am I happier?
And the answer is:
I don’t know.
It’s hard to measure happiness when you have depression, and harder still when that depression comes in waves that sometimes overshadow everything else. The last few weeks have been especially depressive, and even though I’ve been engaging in a lot of my “happiness practices”–journalling, writing, yoga–I don’t feel as much connection to them, and it’s been difficult to feel my usual warmth. But I still feel a sense of achievement, and that’s a step on the ladder toward happiness–and a sense of achievement is a hard thing to come by in a depressive episode.
But I think that there’s more to it than just being happier. Because I know now what kinds of things move me toward feelings of happiness. Creating something. Writing out what I’m feeling. Quality time with my husband or a friend. Snuggling on the couch with my dog. Doing something that moves my body, whether it’s yoga or going for a walk. Taking the car for a drive so that I can sing at the top of my lungs and not bother anyone else.
The hard thing for me now is to make myself take those steps toward those actions.
Right now we’re in the Jewish month of Elul, and I’m in the middle of participating in a program through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (because I have the best job ever) focusing on reflective journalling in preparation for the New Year. It’s combining reflection, poetry, introspection, and future-focused thinking–all sorts of things I actually really need right now, as I work through a combination of depression, stress, and trying to sort out how to merge my own happiness goals with my goal for the coming year, which is to focus on strengthening the primary relationships in my life. And that’s a happiness project in and of itself.
So: a year of happiness projects. Am I happier?
I’m working on it.