My work on gratitude this month may seem like a 30-day short-term project, but I am laying the foundations for a lifetime of grateful happiness, not a month of it. I may not always begin my day by jotting down a few things that I’m grateful for right alongside my to-do list as I have the previous two weeks, but I can envision myself continuing to cultivate a more grateful and loving attitude daily.
So far this month, I’ve listened to these audiobooks: The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, Living Life as a Thank You. Just this afternoon, I started the audiobook Happier. Gretchen Rubin’s books on happiness have caused me to reflect deeply about the kind of life that I want to live and what could make my day-to-day life happier. As she noted in her afterward in The Happiness Project, her own happiness project gave her a stronger sense of control over her life. For nearly the last two years, I have felt as if little in my life were in my own control as my body has thrown colossal hissy fits and refused to cooperate as it had more or less reliably done the previous 31 years of my life. As part of my endeavor to manage my fibromyalgia and cultivate a sense of gratitude, I will be creating my own happiness project to bolster my felicity and reclaim my life.
I will not be adopting Rubin’s model of the focused monthly resolutions that tackle one aspect of her life, but I have used her first splendid truth to analyze my life and think of what I can manageably undertake to improve it. Her first splendid truth is that “To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.” Rubin asks some guiding questions to help her readers start to conceptualize what these different components might mean to each individual because, as she quite aptly notes, each person’s happiness project is going to look different because the project will reflect the person’s own unique situation.
What makes me feel good? What brings me joy, energy, fun?
- pet cuddles
- finishing tasks or projects
- seeing my husband happy
- helping someone
- positive feedback
- learning something new
- seeing good friends
What makes me feel bad? What brings me anger, guilt, boredom, dread?
- wasting money
- my health / being in pain
- leaving so many tasks that I cannot do to my husband
- losing my temper / being impatient
- wasting time online
- feeling weak / not in control
- a busy calendar
- clutter / disorganization
- needing to ask for help
- stress eating
What makes me feel right? What values do I want my life to reflect?
- tikkun olam
- social justice
How can I build an atmosphere of growth where I can learn, explore, build, teach, help?
- read more Latin / Roman history
- write more in my blog
- write a book?
- find purpose
- help foster children
From these lists, I began trying to formulate possible resolutions as Rubin had done, and I paid careful attention to the things that I had underlined in my journal because they reveal deep-rooted elements that I dislike or need in my life right now. I feel as if I spend entirely too much time on the internet, checking Facebook incessantly, visiting the same daily news websites looking for updates, or otherwise browsing without much intention. The internet can be elucidating and informative; it can also be a giant time and energy drain. Sometimes, I feel as if my free time can be too quickly sucked up by “blah” time, time spent browsing meaninglessly or watching too many shows on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I want to be more discriminating with my time and be more productive and accomplished. (Now, if only I played the piano or drew, I’d be accomplished enough company for Georgiana Darcy).
At the same time, I need to be mindful that my health isn’t what it used to be, nor am I still a fount of tireless energy. Even if I would love to participate more actively in tikkun olam (the Jewish principle of healing the world through acts of kindness or volunteerism), I hate standing commitments on my calendar. Even before my life with fibromyalgia, I never liked having more than an event or two scheduled for each week and found too many social activities draining. Now, too many events on my calendar is utterly exhausting. As I was brainstorming what I could potentially do that would respect both my health and strong tendency toward introversion, I had the idea that I could knit hats for cancer patients or blankets for premature infants. Maybe I could even quilt for an organization. I wouldn’t be locked into a schedule, and I would be doing something I love doing (crafting, helping people) to bring something cozy and handmade to someone who could use a little extra coziness.
As for purpose, I’ll have to reflect more. When I was teaching Latin—something I loved doing—I never felt as if my life lacked purpose. I had a clear and defined goal: teach others to love Latin as I loved Latin. Share knowledge! Learn! Grow! Help! Love! I felt as if I were always learning something new or challenging myself in a novel way, and the connections I made with my students were meaningful to me. I feel as if teaching is one of the most purposeful professions that anyone could undertake. Yet again, I must be mindful of my health, and teaching when you’re healthy can be exhausting. I’m not certain that I could physically return to teaching, and some hope of a future purpose does not help me cultivate a sense of purpose today. Many other themes had coalesced when I evaluated my likes, dislikes, rights, and growth aspects, but purpose seems a touch more elusive.
I’m still tweaking my resolutions, but I think I’m off to a good start on expressing (and adopting!) them. Stay tuned for how I’ve turned these lists into concrete, adoptable resolutions. Which resolutions do you think would make me happier based off these lists? Would your lists be similar to mine? Let’s compare notes soon!