“However much we resist acknowledging it, we humans are not static. We’re either on a positive trajectory or a negative one. Either we’re growing in goodness, becoming more creative and resilient, or we’re solidifying our bad habits, becoming more stagnant and rigid. [Our] life trajectory is leading [us] to languish or flourish…. People who flourish function at extraordinarily high levels – both psychologically and socially. They’re not simply people who feel good. Flourishing goes beyond happiness, or satisfaction with life. True, people who flourish are happy. But that’s not the half of it. Beyond feeling good, they’re also doing good – adding value to the world. People who flourish are highly engaged with their families, work, and communities. They’re driven by a sense of purpose: they know why they get up in the morning. Striving to flourish, then, is a noble goal. It’s not just about making yourself happy. It’s about doing something valuable with your day and with your life… Flourishing represents your best possible future.” – Barbara Fredrickson, Positivity
Nearly a month ago already I reached the end of my official Happiness Project (I say official because of course I hope and intend to keep up many of the positive habits, resolutions, and strategies that I have cultivated over the past 12 months). And although I feel a bit self-conscious saying it, it would not be hyperbolic to argue that this was one of the most impactful undertakings of my life to date. It was originally inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s best-selling book The Happiness Project which I read last spring. At the time, I was intrigued by the concept, looking for a passion project, and ready to commit to changing my life for the better. Like Rubin, it wasn’t so much that anything was wrong or not good about it, but I did feel that so many of the days were blur and time was passing me by. Using her framework as a jumping off point, I set out to spend a year diving deep into the world of positive psychology and habit research, learning and identifying the factors and activities which actually contribute to higher levels of subjective wellbeing (as well as those which we tend to overestimate, but really aren’t all that important), and learning about myself. As leading positive psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson, wrote “there’s so much to discover about being human. The more we know, the better equipped we are to build the lives we want.” And I’ve found that the overwhelmingly good news is that we can actually increase our happiness, wellbeing, or life satisfaction because we can learn to flourish.
There is so much I could say on the topic and what I have learned that I’ll need to break it into a mini series of blog posts, but I think the first point to clarify is WHY someone might want to do a Happiness Project, which for me was all about learning how to flourish and to live a life that goes beyond just existing. And thus, even the term “Happiness Project,” may be somewhat of a misnomer. From the onset, but especially as time went on, I understood more fully why Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology and author of the bestselling Authentic Happiness, outlining the discipline’s aim, was less than enthusiastic about using the word “happiness.” My project, nor the field of positive psychology ,was not simply about smiling faces, laughter, being more cheerful or even just feeling good. It was exactly as Barbara Fredrickson wrote about flourishing and learning how to not only feel good, but to do good; it was an attempt to learn to flourish.
Flourishing, according to Seligman is the gold standard for measuring wellbeing and it is the goal of positive psychology (and a Happiness Project) to increase flourishing. This is accomplished by focusing our efforts on the five elements which have been demonstrated to contribute to our well-being: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, accomplishments, and positive relationships. The first, positive emotion, is what we feel – “pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, etc.” It’s probably what most immediately comes to mind when you think of happiness, but it’s far from comprehensive. The next is engagement, or flow, which I have written about several times in the past, describing it as probably the number one reason that I love barre. Flow is complete engagement, a total absorption in an activity, even to the exclusion of any emotion while actually in the act. And as has been demonstrated time and time again by people who seemingly had it all, those two elements are not enough – we all need meaning, a belonging and serving of something bigger than the self. Then, there is achievement or accomplishment which is pursued for its own sake although it can and often does include some attributes of the previous three elements. And finally, wellbeing is impacted by the presence (or absence) of positive relationships and other people. As Seligman asserts, “other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.” Wellbeing and flourishing involve a “combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishments” and thus the purpose of positive psychology is to actively identify and outline ways to maximize all five of these elements. And that was also the objective of my Happiness Project – to learn to flourish.
And so, each month I choose a particular facet of my life – faith, marriage, friends and family, money, health, hobbies, and so on to focus on and then outlined 3 or 4 specific new resolutions for each which positively contributed to at least one of the five elements of flourishing. And the overall effect has been actually transformative. I learned a lot about who I am, what I like and how to build my life around those things. I launched this blog. I obtained my Whole30 coaching certification and led my first group. I made far more time for reading, writing, and barre since these are flow activities for me. I got more serious about designing and strategizing my future plans. I have a much deeper appreciation for the fact that my husband is probably the best that there is out there and I learned a lot more about what really matters and those things that don’t. When I stopped to do my personal mid year review recently, I was shocked by how much my Happiness Project had positively impacted the rest in terms of both big picture and the day-to-day.
Not every resolution was necessarily fun and some were more effective than others, but it was an invaluable learning experience. And I have a long way to go, but as always, the small things done with consistency add up. Rather than just maintaining, stagnating, or languishing, little tweaks and focused effort have proven to make a big difference although we often tend to overestimate the impact of major life events and circumstances. It’s kind of like focusing only on the macronutrients when it comes to food. Yes, of course balancing the big categories of macros does matter, but so do those little and often neglected micronutrients. Finding ways to incorporate foods which help your body to flourish is also vitally important, so this week I’m including one of the most nutritious ingredients out there in this week’s frittata. A single tablespoon of spirulina includes 4 grams of protein, is chockfull of vitamins and minerals, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been linked with reducing cholesterol, blood pressure, anemia, allergies symptoms and a whole host of other benefits. Just a little goes a long way and so as I learn to flourish in as many aspects as I can, I’m mixing it in with my Whole30 Broccoli “Cheese” Frittata. Delicious and nutritious!
- Eggs 8 each
- Full Fat Coconut Milk .5 cup (120 ml)
- Broccoli Florets, Chopped about ½" x ½" 2 cups (350 g)
- Garlic Cloves, Minced 2 each
- Onion, Diced .33 cup (50 g)
- Nutritional Yeast .25 cup (15 g)
- Red Pepper Flakes 1 TSP
- Sea Salt .5 TSP
- Black Pepper .25 TSP
- Spirulina 1 TBSP
- Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C and then lightly grease an oven safe baking dish with melted coconut oil.
- In a large bowl whisk the eggs and the coconut milk to combine well.
- Add the remaining ingredients, stirring to mix and then pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
- Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes or until cooked through in the center.
- Slice and enjoy!
- This is a good one to make in advance and enjoy on the go throughout the week. It'll definitely keep for up to 5 days, reheats well or tastes good cold/room temperature. It's an easy meal prep option!