My boss gave me a $50 Target gift card for my birthday. So, of course, I immediately went to Target and spent more than $50. I’ll talk more about my over-shopping impulses in a minute. On that shopping trip, I bought a book I’d heard about a while ago, “The Happiness Project,” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve been thinking (or I should have been thinking) about what I need to do to be a happier person. I think for the most part, I’m fairly happy, but there’s a lot of things in my life that I’m disappointed in and this causes me to be grumpy, rude, and a buzzkill at times. The point of The Happiness Project is not to change who you are, but to appreciate who you are and what you have, and this will lead to being happier.
Gretchen divided her happiness project into 11 parts and spent one month focusing on each goal, then the last month evaluating her total progress. She started out by doing a lot of research on happiness and what philosophers, experts, and pop culture personalities believed about happiness. She encourages her readers to take on Happiness Projects of their own and that every individual’s happiness project would be different.
As Gretchen developed her plans for each month, she discovered that (in her words) “some overarching principles started to emerge.” She used these principles to develop her “Twelve Commandments,” or basically the rules she’d let guide her throughout her project.
I probably don’t have the time needed right now to fully develop my own happiness project, but I do want to be happier. I love the idea and so I want to start small, even if I can’t start big. I created my own 12 Commandments and I’m hoping they will help me as I go about my daily life to make better decisions- decisions that will lead to a happier self.
(1) Be Rachel. The first of Gretchen’s commandments was “Be Gretchen,” by which she meant, there’s no point trying to change who you are or what you like, so instead, embrace it! “You can’t choose what you like, but you can choose what you do.” I’m going to follow her example, and Be Rachel. One of my favorite things about myself is the ability to be passionate- about my favorite tv show, amusement parks, orange soda, etc. The essence of “Being Rachel” is being passionate about really random things, so I plan to continue to explore that.
(2) Ask- Do I Need This? I cause myself a lot of unhappiness by spending money on things I want, but don’t really need. I end up broke, struggling to figure out how I’m going to pay rent, or my car payment, or my student loan. It’s okay to splurge on little things every once and a while, but too often, I take that to the extreme. I splurge on one thing, then another, then another, until all of my money’s gone and I’m not even using the things I splurged on. I taped the mantra “Do I need this?” onto my debit card to encourage me to be mindful about every purchase.
(3) Pause. Breathe. I have a bad tendency to roll my eyes and to snap at people. Luckily, I’m not alone in this. Snapping was one of the faults Gretchen most wanted to control in her happiness project, too. From now on, when I get annoyed or find myself losing patience, I’m going to think, “Pause. Breathe.” and hopefully that will save me from doing something I’ll regret later on.
(4) Fake It til you Make It. Gretchen spends a lot of time talking about the concept that if you act happy, you will be happy. I definitely know first hand that this works. I often have to wear a fake smile at work, or use a fake cherry voice, but usually, those fake things fade out and I actually feel happy. Now, whenever I’m having a bad day, I’ll just fake it til I make it.
(5) Move on from mistakes. This is another huge source of unhappiness in my life. I hold on to mistakes for weeks, months. I dwell on them. I feel guilty, I loathe myself. And Gretchen points out that in her research she discovered that other people tend to forget your mistakes rather quickly. So why am I dwelling on them if no one else is? What’s the point? Learn, and move on.
(6) Trust my gut. I recently spent a few weeks texting with a guy who I didn’t really like, but who seemed to really like me. My gut told me that he wasn’t a person I wanted in my life, and he was constantly pressuring me and making me feel guilty about not wanting to do things he wanted me to do. I should have stopped the conversation at the first indication that I didn’t want to be talking to him, but I was flattered by his declarations that I was beautiful and sexy and that he couldn’t stop thinking about me. Now I know, it was also kind of creepy. I deleted his number from my phone.
(7) Think Friends before Finances. This may contradict my earlier commandment to think “Do I Need This?” but actually, it really piggybacks off it. In twenty years, I’ll remember the times I spent with my friends, having fun, experiencing new things, not the fact that I was struggling to pay my bills. Friends are more important than stuff. If I have the opportunity to go out to dinner or to the movies or to a concert, I can spend my money on it, guilt free.
(8) Don’t fritter- Do It Now. “Do It Now” is another of Gretchen’s commandments. I am terrible at “doing it now.” I fritter my time away constantly and then complain that I have no time. I always feel better (and so does Gretchen) when I do something right away, rather than putting it off. For example, I’ve started ironing my work uniforms for the week on Sunday nights. It gives me a few extra minutes in the morning on workdays, which, as I’m not a morning person, is a huge thing. Another example, I’ve left two loads of clean laundry just sitting in my apartment without putting them away. Every time I say, “I’m going to fold and hang my clothes,” I find myself playing on pinterest, or watching TV instead. And the sight of those baskets is a definite source of displeasure in my life. I need to just put the clothes away already!
(9) Say Yes! Obviously this is something I’ve been trying to do for a while now. You can look back at past posts on the blog to see my attempts at “saying yes.” It also ties in with “Think Friends before Finances.”
(10) Food will never make me feel better. I use food as a reward and a source of comfort. But I never feel rewarded or comforted when I eat something bad for me. So I should stop that using food as therapy.
(11) Laugh more. Cry Less. I want to spend more time enjoying life than lamenting it. I love to laugh, but I really don’t do it enough. It’s enough to take pleasure in little things.
(12) Celebrate. It’s important to celebrate even small victories. Life putting away the clothes finally! Or typing a blog post I’ve been putting off for a while. Or actually losing a pound. When I take the time to pat myself on the back for something I’ve achieved, it makes me focus less on things I haven’t achieved. In a strange twist, it also pushes me to do more. “Celebrate” is the capstone of my 12 commandments because when I accomplish any one of them I should celebrate. And celebrations don’t have to be big. They can be as much as doing a little dance, or sharing with a friend that I hit a goal, or taking time to do something that I really enjoy but have been putting off doing because of money (like a massage or a pedicure).
I’m excited to see if these commandments will actually help me lead a happier, more fulfilling life. I’ll let you know.