Happiness Project

Some background: My sister was reading this book last May 2011 when we were in DC for a wedding. I read the back cover and thought it sounded really interesting, as I imagined the author moving through each month experimenting with little happiness ideas like singing in the car or shower, keeping a gratitude journal, and other items of that ilk. So when the time came this fall for my book club up here in Alaska to choose a book, I suggested The Happiness Project for our first read. How perfect, I thought to myself, to read before winter sets in and life literally turns freezing cold and incredibly dark. But when I told my sister that everyone in the group had agreed to read it, I learned the truth: She never finished reading it because she thought the author was completely neurotic. Beware, she told me, of anyone in the group who actually liked the book, because she might be as cuckoo for cocoa nuts as the author.

Did I finish reading it? No. I really tried, out of some innate need to do my homework as assigned, but it didn’t happen. And I happen to agree with my sister: the unbelievably clinical, overly-researched ways she attempts to define happiness and then go out and experience it were a bit… intense? I didn’t actually disagree with everything she said, did, or tried, but the tone of her self-analysis raised my stress level a bit instead of inspiring happiness in me.

Nevertheless, one of my inspirations for blogging is because of the author of the book. In one month of her happiness goals, she decides to start a blog, and her goal is to post every single day without fail. I have tried to follow suit, for the practical reason of forming a good habit, and for the social-emotional reason of giving myself space in the day to air out my thoughts. So, Gretchen Rubin, I thank you for that.

As for my own “Happiness Project,” I will say this: Ever since I have tried to stop doing what I think I “should” do and doing what I want to do, I have been so much happier and calmer in my life. Perhaps that is a “duh” statement for most people, but I don’t actually think so. I have a Master’s in Teaching, so I “should” be a teacher, right? I have two degrees from Stanford, so I “should” be earning a solid salary and/or be on a career path that will lead there, right? Now that I’m 30, I “should” be having kids already, right? All my life I have had a plan: do well in school and go to college of my dreams. Graduate and get a job. Work hard, and then….???? Up until quitting my teaching job in 2010, I always — literally — knew what the next part of my life would be. In fact, during my exit interview, I remember telling our HR Director that I wanted to take better care of my self and that I had nothing lined up for the future, not even for summer. Since then, now almost two years ago, I have felt more and more like myself and that much more open to Life’s possibilities.

Since June 2010, I have: 1) mentored new teachers; 2) re-connected and worked as a colleague alongside my grad school mentors and my grad school professors; 3) worked at and for Stanford consistently, as a direct employee and now a consultant for various centers in the School of Ed; 4) started a new adventure in Alaska with Husband; 5) become a Level 1 certified Crossfit coach; 6) started working as a Student Success Coach in an elementary school here in AK; 7) learned a new sport — curling; 8) started collaboration on a potentially Crossfit project; 9) started participating in my first book club as an adult; 10) begun planning our college a cappella group’s 25th Reunion for this coming fall with an amazing group of fellow alums; and then some. I look at this list and I am grinning, because doing every single thing on this list has made or continues to make me happy. And why not?  I know better now that no one should have to choose between “working hard” and enjoying life today, in order to allow us that much more time to take care of ourselves and let our hearts and minds wander into new spaces. Too often I think we equate keeping our noses to the proverbial grindstone to be the only viable definition of “hard work,” that we will rest and be happy (magically!) in retirement or after our years of “working hard” at our respective jobs or after raising kids or after (fill in the blank).

It is highly likely that I will never be on the list of alums who donates multiple thousands or millions of dollars to school. I probably won’t be world-famous or show up on a Forbes list of “The Top [#] under [age].” Perhaps it is not even in God’s plans that Husband and I will have kiddos. But in the meantime, I will be embracing the life that is mine right now. It requires too much energy to be unhappy, at least in my experience.

In college I used to have the poem Desiderata as a poster on my wall; it is not a coincidence that I can feel its sentiment throughout all of my writings these past two weeks.

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