Friday, June 28, 2013

Year-Long Resolutions

I don't want to get too crazy with my happiness project, but there are a few things that I want to do all year long, not for just one month. I kept them easy and simple so it wouldn't be too difficult to keep up with them.

1. Keep a Happiness Jar. 

This is something I've been wanting to do for a while, ever since I heard of it from Elizabeth Gilbert, an author I admire. Here's all it is: At the end of every day, I write down the happiest moment of my day (or the least bad moment) and stick it in the jar. Then I pull out one from the past and read it, so I can re-live a past happy moment.

I've already started doing this, although I don't have an actual jar yet. (I'm temporarily using a glass Christmas mug--it wasn't getting used for much else, anyway.)

2. Record at least two negative thoughts every day. 

Tracking my negative thoughts on paper is something that I've learned to do (and struggled with doing) earlier this year--and it's truly amazing the kind of results I can get when I do it regularly. I really should be tracking at least 10 negative thoughts every day--I mean, it's impossible to avoid all negative thoughts!--but I wanted to keep it really easy so I would continue to do it. I've started doing this one, too. I write down the negative thoughts at the end of the day (although I try to remember to write more down during the day), and then I put my happy moment in the Happiness Jar, so I end on a good note.

3. Use my vision board. 

I love my vision board. And I want to keep using it! Sometimes I fail, though. I actually forget about it--pretty amazing when you consider that it's on a prominent place on my bedroom wall. Using my vision board is easy and rewarding, and I really want to keep on using it and keeping it current.

4. Read one book each month that has to do with that month's resolutions. 

This is more of a monthly resolution, I suppose, but I didn't want to write "Read a specific book" on each month's resolutions, especially since I don't even know which books I want to read for each month yet. I want to do this because I love to read, and it really helps me in the motivation department. Nothing gets me more excited to keep good resolutions than reading a book that tells me I should!

So there are my year-long resolutions. I'm trying to start keeping them early, so I'll be prepared.

Next Monday is July 1st, when I'll be officially starting my first month of my Year of Joy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My 3rd Commandment

"Joy is a sign of righteousness. Misery is a sign of evil." 

This is a truth I've been learning over the past several months, and it's one of the things that prompted me to start my own happiness project (other than The Happiness Project book itself, of course).

I want to clarify what this means. Let me tell you what it doesn't mean: It doesn't mean that miserable people are evil, or that good people are happy all the time. It doesn't mean that bad things only happen to bad people, or that only good things happen to good people.

What it means is that what we feel shows how we're allowing outside influences to affect us. 

There are millions of influences outside us that can affect us in many different ways. No matter what, there will always be bad things in our lives. We might think other people have perfect lives, but the truth is, nobody does. (And we all know that, at least deep down.) Even if we're doing everything right, there will always be some accident, mishap, misunderstanding, etc, etc, etc. We can't stop bad things from happening! But we can choose whether those negative things will affect us negatively.

This is what I believe (and you may think this is total crackpot theory, but this is my happiness project, after all): I believe that there are forces outside of us that want us to think negative thoughts. (I had a mentor that called those forces "minions," so that's the way I think of them now; forgive the term.) Those minions can make it really hard for us to look at the bad things in life with any kind of serenity. They constantly feed us negative thoughts to think about all the bad stuff.

But what about the things that aren't just regular bad; what about the things in life that are really devastating?

Well, I definitely don't have all the answers, but this is what I think about it: There's a reason I used the words "joy" and "misery" in my commandment instead of the words "happiness" and "unhappiness." "Happiness" and "unhappiness" are just two sides of a coin, two changeable states of being. You're happy and smiley, or you're unhappy and frowny. "Joy" and "misery," on the other hand, mean something very different to me. I think there can be an underlying thread of joy or misery in every person; maybe even a little of both. A joyful person doesn't ignore sadness. It's okay to deal with things that are devastating and heartbreaking in a normal, human way. Jesus Christ mourned, too. But if you've given in to joy instead of misery, then you'll know, even as you're mourning, that everything is going to be okay in the end. You know that God has a plan and He's going to take care of things. You know that sadness is temporary and it won't last forever.

People who give in to misery, on the other hand, curse God when they have to deal with devastating things. They listen to the minions who give them all the worst possible ways to interpret the causes of their heartbreak. They fall apart.

It's easy to give in to misery; don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to condemn anyone. I've given in to misery myself, many times and in many ways, even just in small ways. It's impossible for any of us to be perfectly joyful; then we'd be perfect! The best we can do is just that: our best.

So, to bring things full circle: What does the 3rd Commandment mean? It means that if I'm miserable, then I'm allowing evil minions to teach me to think badly of my circumstances. On the flip side, if I'm joyful, then I'm allowing goodness to lift my spirits, trust in God, and do the right things.

Examining how joyful and/or miserable I am can help me to see, not what my own nature is, but what influences I'm allowing in. And I can choose which ones I want!

This commandment, I knew, is key to my Year of Joy. This next year, I want to choose the good influences!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Ten Commandments

One thing the author of The Happiness Project did when she was preparing to start her project was write a list of Twelve Commandments, which she referred to frequently throughout the book. They included things like "Let it go," "Do it now," and "Act the way I want to feel."

I wasn't sure if I wanted to do this. Was it really necessary? I didn't want to mimic every part of Gretchen Rubin's happiness project.

I had kind of decided not to, but I found that as I was reading the book, I kept thinking of commandments that I would like to have for myself. So, before mapping out each month, I decided to just try and see if I could think of "commandments," and then decide if it was worth it.

Well, I did write some commandments; in fact, I wrote ten (without even trying). And you know what? I can see the point of having commandments now. I might make resolutions that I could go overboard on, and having commandments--"no matter what, do this"--would, I think, help me stay on track with the real purpose of the project. So here are my commandments:

1. When in doubt, pray.
2. Be Me.
3. Joy is a sign of righteousness. Misery is a sign of evil.
4. Change what you can, accept what you can’t.
5. You can’t be perfect; just be better.
6. There is always abundance.
7. Have love, show love.
8. Beauty is everywhere.
9. Enjoy failure.
10. Center on Christ.

The list is flexible. I pretty much wrote these all down in one sitting, and they certainly aren't perfect. But I think they're a good start, at least. I'm planning to post them on the wall next to my Resolutions chart for each month.

If any of these seem confusing or strange (#3 is the one I particularly think people will take the wrong way; I do NOT mean that miserable people are evil), I'm planning to post about each one, eventually, and how I'm doing on keeping it. Hopefully I can clear up their meaning. But they each have a lot of meaning for me, and that's what matters.

What is the Year of Joy?

In a nutshell, the Year of Joy is my version of a Happiness Project, inspired by Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project.

Of course, I immensely enjoyed the book, but there was one thing about it I just couldn't fathom (other than Rubin's love of making lists, which occasionally made me want to gag): Rubin kept defending the viability of her project, as though she had to justify a desire to be happier.

She cited studies so we would know that our being happier would make the world a better place. (That contributed to an interesting paradox; if knowing that we could make the world a better place didn't make us happier, we wouldn't want to do it.) At first, I couldn't imagine what sort of people would need studies to convince them to want to be happier (not to be happier, just to want to be happier). But Rubin proved me wrong by describing some of her conversations with just such people.

I blame it on the fact that she lives in New York.

One thing that I could relate to, when Rubin discussed her reasons for wanting to be happier, is one thing she kept saying: It wasn't that she wasn't happy, she just wanted to be happier.

I'm not starting my own Happiness Project because I'm unhappy. Far from it. Actually, I consider this time of my life the very happiest I've ever experienced. I'm still in my first year of marriage to the love of my life, and I'm getting my dream education at a university I've always wanted to go to. Happy circumstances seem to fill up every corner of my life.

But I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect. And in an effort to continue to strive toward more complete happiness, I've decided to try a Happiness Project of my own.

So, I've planned out my Year of Joy, what each month's focus is going to be, and I've written my ten Personal Commandments. However, I won't force myself to stick strictly to my plan for each month, or even my focus. If I feel that there's something more important for me to work on, I'll free myself to change the plan. This is a period of tremendous change in my life and things are pretty variable. As a newly-married college student, almost anything could happen in the next year. But no matter what happens, I will always be able to work on being happier, and so that's what I'm going to do.