My Happiness Project, part one

Since this is a project, this will probably be part one of many posts about it.  I started it after spending a considerable amount of time reading The Happiness Project blog, so if you're interested in doing one of your own, you may want to start there rather than here.  I'm just derivative.

Nevertheless, my project is underway.  I started by trying to think about how to be happier, which meant that I had to try to determine whether I was happy overall, if I felt I should be happier, what things were making me unhappy and many other such circular thoughts.  Since I LOVE lists (I sometimes make them just for the joy of organizing my thoughts and then never look at them again), I began making lists of my goals, divided into subcategories like Marital goals, Parental goals, Career goals, etc.

At this point you are probably thinking about how freakish I am and how it's no wonder I needed a project in order to be happier.  Or as a teacher friend of mine put it:  "Wow, you are SO a teacher on leave right now."  This is very true, but it is also true that doing this project made me do a lot of hard work at analyzing my life and what I wanted from it. 

Before I get to the goals or resolutions, I wanted to write about my Guiding Principles (or "commandments" as Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project calls them).  These are statements that I'm using to guide my thoughts, behaviors, and creation of resolutions.  They are a work in progress, so I welcome feedback.

Guiding Principles (so far):

1.  Accept the things I cannot change.

Since you're at this site, you can see where I got this one.  I have a tendency to relive past events, conversations, etc. and think about them obsessively.  I have rationalized this in many ways, such as that it helps me make future choices.  This is true but only to a point.  There comes a time when I have to move on.

2.  Change the things I can (Solve the Problem).

I am a complainer.  I admit it.  I used to believe that venting was good for me, helping me to blow off steam.  I blamed it on my bad temper and excused it because usually my bad mood didn't last long.  But I've learned that this is often a surefire way to ruin my day (or keep from improving it).

My "Solve the Problem" mantra has changed my teaching and my life.  If I can't solve the problem, it goes in category one.  Complaining is pointless.  If I can solve it, complaining is also pointless.  It's time to think and talk about solutions and action.

3.  Do what ought to be done.  (a.k.a. You always have time for what you do first.)

This one I borrowed from the original Happiness Project.  I am a reigning Queen of the land of Distraction and Procrastination.  I often find that I get to the end of a day (or week or month) and realize that all the things I was sure I would get done haven't even been touched.  I would make my lists, start off with great intentions, keep to my good habits for a short period of time, then slack off.  The more "free time" I have, the worse I am about this.  You can imagine how worried I was about having an entire year off work.  I made a zillion plans for how I would fill the time, but would I actually do it?  With this mantra in place, the answer is yes.  Even when taking into account the time I'm using to work on these sites!  More about my Effective Habits resolution in another post. 

4.  Listen First & Give the benefit of the doubt.

I have a tendency to be just a little...tiny...bit judgmental.  Ok, a lot.  Mostly of myself, but of others, too.  This guiding principle is intended to force me to ask questions, listen, try to understand, and in the absence of information to give the benefit of the doubt.  My sister is particularly good at this.  She'll be behind someone in (very annoying) BC traffic and instead of getting angry, she'll say, "Maybe he's on his way to the hospital because his wife is in labor, so that's why he's driving like an idiot."  This not only makes me laugh, it helps put behaviors into a perspective of knowing that you don't know the full story.  Probably the driver really was just using poor judgment, but you can't be sure, and it makes me happier to err on the side of believing the best about people.

Back to Listen First.  I am finding that this works in many small and large ways.  When I get an upset email from a student's parent, I try to think, "What is this parent really upset about?  Why is he or she emailing me?"  Starting from that point, rather than being defensive about whatever was specifically said, has smoothed over many a ruffled feather.  I also find that asking my husband about his day before I launch into talking about my own helps keep me from falling back into Compulsive Complaining.

5.  Don't throw the first stone.

This goes along with trying not to be as critical of others.  I have (many, obvious) character flaws, and I decided that until I am perfect in a given area, I shouldn't get to criticize others about it.  For example, until I can keep every item of my own in place, I shouldn't get irritated with my husband for leaving things out on the kitchen counter.  {Confession: I did just blow up one morning when he left the Cheerios out and open for the three hundred and forty-seventh time.  I did mention this was a work in progress, right??}

This one has been a struggle for me, as I also don't want to just accept behavior that should be unacceptable (more about The Sink Trap in a later post).  I finally decided that there is a difference between throwing a stone - being critical - and giving constructive criticism or trying to solve a problem together.

6.  Stand up straight or Be my Best Self.

This one started out as just a continuation of the constant reminders from my mom and big sister when I was younger, but has evolved into something more.  Yes, it still means I should stand up straight, which is just ridiculous for a former dancer to have to remind herself.  As soon as I step onto the dance floor, I put my shoulders down and back, stand up straight and tall, and move more or less gracefully.  When I walk off the floor, I slouch like a thirteen-year-old uncomfortable in her skin.  Every time I see pictures of myself, I grimace at my hunched shoulders.  So yes, it is a reminder to look my best.

This has turned into something more than that, though.  I not only am trying to look like the person I want to be, I am clearly trying to act like that person.  I'm trying to behave as though my mom or my Grandpa can see me, and if they would be proud, I can be proud.  If they can't, then I have probably strayed from being my Best Self.  It is also a reminder to stand up for what I believe in.  Many of those who know me would say that I speak my mind regularly.  What they don't know is how often I bite my tongue and am sorry later that I didn't say what I wanted to (or how often I wished I'd just followed principle number 4 and listened first instead of talking so much). 

So that's what I have so far.  I'm still trying to narrow down the titles, as you can see from the fact that many have two names.  They all go hand in hand, but having the labels for the behaviors I want to have is helping me to get there.  In small steps. I don't like doing things in small stages, usually - I'm a huge fan of Major Overhauls - but my toddler has taught me that you can go pretty far with those tiny steps if you have a goal in mind.  No reason why "Get crackers now!" can't be as motivating as "Be happier," right?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for many reminders of things I have let slip in my own life. ily