There is a line in one of Michael Jackson’s songs that goes, let sadness see what happy does, let happy be where sadness was. Indeed, the world would be a better place if most of the people, if not all, are happy! Gretchen Rubin in his book The Happiness Project posits that we can be happy, and we can create events that will make us happy. She embarked on a one-year experiment and the book chronicled her initiatives at making herself happy. The concept is simple: do the things that make you happy and avoid the things or events that make you sad or angry. It is an approach to change our life by making the choices on things that will bring us happiness.
The first step is identifying areas that make you happy. The author made a long list and clustered all the items in the list into twelve main topics. She assigned one topic each month and focus on it for the month. After making the list, the next is make resolutions. This is a simple as making a new year’s resolution. Identify activities that you will do or you will change that will result to a feeling of happiness and satisfaction. Finally, the last thing is do the action, observe the results. Does it make you happy and satisfied? Is there a change that occurred to you in the process?
As the author was implementing the resolutions, she also set commandments that guided her in decision-making. In case of conflict or confusion, she will decide based on a commandment or a combination of commandments. Of the ten commandments she set, I can relate to at least three, simply because I have personal struggles in doing them myself. The first is Let it go. Letting go is hard, but most of the time, we are unhappy because we cannot let go of some things, some people, some memories, some attitudes and so many other things. The second is Do it now. One of the attitudes that rob us of our happiness is procrastinating. This is maybe the reason why sloth is one of the seven deadly sins! Cramming, working overnight and at the last minute and sometimes even bothering other people to help us is a consequence of procrastination. The third commandment is Enjoy the process. Whatever the outcome, the journey in itself should be appreciated as it gives us a different kind of happiness. We discover things along the way, meet people that change our lives.
Ms. Rubin shares a lot of resolutions and activities that gave her real happiness. I selected what I considered as the top five and these included the following:
1. Go to sleep early. One of the things that I learned in the elementary school is the maxim early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise. As much as possible, I sleep early. Sometimes I overindulge and stay very late, but I make sure that will have enough rest afterwards.
2. De-clutter. This is one of the resolutions I love most. The reason our life is a mess is because of clutters, not only emotionally but physical as well. She described some of the clutters that we are reluctant to throw away: nostalgic – the things with sentimental value to us; bargain – things we bought in a sale even if we have no use of it; freebies – gifts and give-aways without real value; crutch – things we can’t do without as a habit; outgrown – things we love but has outgrown its purposes; buyer’s remorse – results of impulse buying. If we de-clutter our house, our working table and even our emotion, we will be surprised to see that life is simple and there is more than enough space.
3. Give proofs of love. Some say time is equated to love. Giving quality time is more than anything else in the world. But giving proofs – an act, a compliment, or something physical enhances the time that we give to the people we love. Chocolate? Flowers? Diamond? It may be all of the above! The good thing is that giver is not the only one who will feel happy but the receiver as well.
4. Start a collection. I love to collect; this comes with my love for travel. I have a small box with souvenirs from various places I have been to. Every time I look at the items in the box, it gives me vivid memories of the place where it came from. I collect books, and despite my oldest collection was destroyed by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, that did not stop me from collecting. I still have my bills and coin collection, and my art collection. No, I am not buying expensive work of arts, but I keep e-copies of the works of Amorsolo, Goya, Van Gogh, Rockwell and my favorite visual artists.
5. Keep a gratitude notebook. If we keep a list of all the good things that happened to us, we will be more grateful. For me, I have a prayer book where I list my prayers for petitions and the thanksgiving for answered prayers and unexpected things that comes to my life.
I can feel the highs and lows of the author as she did the resolutions one by one. She gained many lessons, and I want to share the top five that I can relate to:
1. I had everything I could possibly want – yet I was failing to appreciate it. This is true most of the time. We only value things and people when they are gone.
2. I couldn’t change anyone. This means to be happy, we have to change ourselves and not others. We feel miserable because we are bent on changing others instead of ourselves.
3. This is one of the paradoxes of happiness: we seek to control our lives but the unfamiliar and the unexpected are important sources of happiness. Surprise is one great source of happiness. Have you observed that ordinary and routine things become boring over time? It is the unexpected that gives unexplainable happiness.
4. The things that go wrong often make the best memories. This explains why wacky and candid pictures generate more interest than selfie and firing squad poses.
5. Kindness in everyday life takes the form of good manners. Nothing is better said than this lesson.
The challenge: do your own Happiness Project, now!