As I am sure we have all experienced firsthand, being inspired to do something or thinking that a certain thing is worth doing can still be quite a distance from knowing exactly how to do it or getting started. Although I am full of good intentions, one constant struggle for me is taking the first step to get things moving. I am often paralyzed by the desire for perfection or afraid of making a mistake I’ll later regret, but I am continuing to learn that that it is often better to do it now and to get things going, rather than to get them perfect. And now that I described the ultimate purpose or WHY one might choose to do so, you might now be wondering how to do your own Happiness Project. As I mentioned, my inspiration came from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and throughout it she provides some the research and rationale which supported the resolutions and “happiness activities” that she took on. Although your own happiness project needs not be anywhere near as robust as hers or even mine, I strongly believe that anyone would benefit from adopting at least some of the principles or ideas in order to increase the extent to which he or she is flourishing. And in case you are interested, here are my recommendations for how to do your own Happiness Project.
If we’ve talked or you’ve followed my blog over the past year, you probably know that I have read just about everything I can get my hands on related to the topic of happiness and positive psychology, with ever-increasing fascination and not the slightest fatigue. For me personally, this works well because of some of my own strengths and interests which I’ll discuss here shortly, but if you’re not interested in going ten miles deep into the topic yourself, I would recommend highly a few valuable reading resources at least to get started (and if you want more suggestions, just ask – I have a LONG list 🙂 ). Firstly, I’d recommend reading The Happiness Project to better understand the concept as a whole. I did follow Rubin’s structure – a year long project with a few new habits or goals per month in a particular area of focus and even copied exactly a few of her resolutions along with many of my own which were specifically relevant for me. Another extremely practical and informative book was Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, which provides a brief primer on the constructs of happiness and subjective wellbeing along with a diagnostic to determine general activities which might fit your own personality and preferences. It’s a good guidebook which includes specific, detailed activities and suggestions for implementing them, which might be translated in some of your own resolutions. I’d also recommend reading Flourish and Authentic Happiness, both by Martin Seligman, which are excellent and engaging books on the ideas and science behind positive psychology and how to build a truly flourishing life. Flourish outlines the PERMA model, or the five elements which contribute to our overall wellbeing (positive emotion, engagement, meaning, accomplishment, and positive relationships) and effective happiness project resolutions will boost at least one of those categories. Authentic Happiness includes an introduction to the field of positive psychology and the 24 character strengths it has identified, which is instructive in determining good activities for YOU specifically. As I said there are many excellent resources, but I think these will be the most helpful in determining exactly how to do your own happiness project.
As you research the topic, it’s interesting and often surprising to learn what factors and activities actually contribute to higher levels of wellbeing versus those which are really not that important or long-lasting. There are a few basics which seem to be true for everyone or at least most, so I’d recommend resolving to adopt some of those strategies. But one of the important ideas that I have learned throughout my research and experimentation over the past year is that in order to live your happiest life, you have to know yourself. It was critical for me to learn who I am, what I like and how to build my life around more of those things as opposed to what other people think or what I “should” like (plus it helped me to give me better appreciation for others and the ways that they might be different – something which has helped me to be less judgmental and thus happier!). Therefore, my next recommendation as to how to do your own happiness project would be to spend some time in self-discovery, considering ways to know yourself better. Take some personality tests: Lyubomirsky’s Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic, the VIA Survey of Character Strengths or many of the others included on the University of Pennsylvania positive psychology website are good ones to start. When you determine your own strengths and preferences, you get insight into what types of activities will help you to flourish and where you should focus your efforts. I also found exercises like building a List of 100 Dreams, considering what I liked to do when I was 10 years old, what I’d do with an unexpected free afternoon, and others to help me formulate exactly what it was that I liked to do. And then I did my own time-use study to determine opportunities for freeing up time to do more of those things I enjoy or which add value on some dimension of that PERMA model.
After getting a basic understanding on what actually constitutes and contributes to wellbeing and what is likely to be relevant for you in particular, I’d recommend determining how long you want your project to be (I did one year) and then picking a different category or theme for each month. Once you map out the big areas of focus, you’ll be able to choose 2-4 specific actions to take in each. From there, I made a spreadsheet/chart for the month to monitor my progress. For example, when I decided to work on my money situation, I said I’d set and stick to a budget, abstain from purchases, use up what I had or get rid of what I don’t use, and find ways to be generous. At the end of each day for that month, I reviewed those resolutions, reflected on the days events and rewarded myself with a gold star if deserved. Some of the resolutions I set were less fun or more challenging than others and as I’ve shared previously, I excelled at those things which could either be done or not be done, like keeping a gratitude journal, reading my Bible, brainstorming for 5 minutes, and even finding some way to “be generous” everyday became natural and much less effortful. But there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to some of the more transcendent and pervasive aspects like my attitude, emotional composure, mindset, and other ways of being. Something that I did find helpful was that for each particular month I tried to read books related to the area of life I was working on which helped to provide motivation, perspective, and ideas for further refinement. Probably the most impactful in this case was my month dedicated to my marriage – as I’ve said reading about common struggles and issues in the happily ever after was reassuring/normalizing and I was also flooded with appreciation and gratitude for how blessed I am to have the husband and the relationship that I do. Thus, my raising my awareness and making me happier.
There have been so many positive outcomes of my Happiness Project and I have to say that it did “work.” There are of course different approaches and ideas as to how to do your own happiness project which might work better for you, which is why I also recommend taking Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz, which will help you to understand how you personally respond to both internal and external expectations and help you to find ways to actually stick to your resolutions once you determine what they should be. But as Barbara Fredrickson, one of the most highly regarded experts in the field of positive psychology wrote, “if you want to reshape your life for the better, the secret is not to grasp positivity too firmly, denying its transient nature. Rather, it’s to seed more of it into your life – to increase your quantity of positivity over time.” By finding small ways of building healthier and happier habits into our daily life we increase our positivity ratio and the extent to which we flourish.
When deciding how to do your own happiness project, I urge you to consider what Rubin outlines as the first of her “Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness: To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.” And one simple and often underestimated way that I have found to influence my feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right is in eating foods which are delicious, satiating, and also support good health. Like this simple dinner option – Whole30 Pistachio Crusted Chicken which I served with some oven baked sweet potato “fries.”
- Chicken Breasts 4 each
- Coconut Flour 1 cup (115 g)
- Paleo Mayo 8 TBSP (recipe HERE)
- Pistachios 1 cup (150 g)
- Desiccated Coconut 1 cup (90 g)
- Paprika 1 TBSP
- Sea Salt .5 TSP
- Black Pepper .5 TSP
- Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly oiled foil
- Place the pistachios in food processor and pulse until coarsely ground or place in a plastic bag and break into very small bits using a meat pounder
- In a small bowl, mix the pistachios, desiccated coconut, paprika, salt and pepper
- Place the coconut flour on a small plate for dredging the chicken
- Begin by dredging the chicken in the coconut flour and shaking any excess off
- Place the chicken on a separate plate and using a pastry brush, spread approximately 1 TBSP of Paleo Mayo per side
- Then place the chicken into the bowl with the mixture, pressing gently to coat both sides
- Continue for all chicken, placing on the baking sheet
- Bake the chicken for approximately 15 - 20 minutes or until done. Serve with oven baked sweet potato fries/chips (recipe HERE) or side of your choice.