My Happiness Project: Back on track with a good PMA!

I think I can!

At the beginning of 2014, I was full of conviction about improving myself, my life and having some goals. I spent most of January and February feeling pretty good really, pretty happy, acting on all the advice I had read. Pharell’s ‘Happy’ was topping the charts and filling my morning drives to work with a carefree, uplifting vibe.

But as the next couple of months played out I seem to have lost a little bit of that conviction and forgotten a few key rules and pieces of advice about attaining and holding on tight to happiness. I had been filled with ideas about all the things I would achieve and all the new crafts and hobbies I could take up come April when I began dropping one day of work and gaining a few precious hours of ‘me’ time.

It transpires that 5 hours a week just isn’t long enough to do a full weekly house clean, a couple of cooking projects, learn crochet, visit the cinema, go for a cycle, have a haircut, get a cervical smear, organise your wardrobe, organise the kids wardrobes, visit your local thrift shops, improve your photography, create some amazing artworks, de-clutter the house – oh, and lets not forget improve and boost your blog by writing more, reading more, commenting more and interacting more.

I guess I’m the kind of person who wants to achieve a helluva lot in five minutes! I now know that, realistically speaking, I can only tackle one thing at a time and its going to take many, many weeks to get to the point where I can look back through my Wish/ and To Do List and see the ticks actually appearing down the side.

Secondly, I have fallen foul of one of my worst bugbears – the tendency to comparison. I can find myself becoming so mired in comparing myself unfavourably to others that their lives (and blogs!) begin to make mine feel inadequate: not as beautiful, not as successful, not as organised, not as sociable… I completely lose sight of what I’ve got, who I am, the things I actually love about myself and my life. And it can be the start of a depressing downward spiral as the more I wallow in this feeling of uselessness and inadequacy, the less I get done and the worse I feel.

As Linford Christie once said “it’s all about PMA: Positive Mental Attitude”. I do love a mantra! My first mantra this year took in the joys and exhaustion of parenting little munchkins “The days are long but the years are short…”, but what I really need right now is a good PMA!

Another inspiring quote I read today (via a Bloglovin’ weekly feed) was this from Maya Angelou: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”. She’s hit the nail on the head of course – everything, from social anxiety to fear of failure and the demons that sit on your shoulder and tell you you’re not good enough – everything can be overcome without even lifting a finger because we all have the ability to decide how we choose to think and the things we choose to dwell on. [Before there is a backlash – I should add that I’m not talking about people who suffer with clinical Depression but those of us who are lucky enough to be able to achieve mental balance, whether it be through meditation or simple mindfulness practice).

I’ve often thought that the people who are the most successful are not actually the most beautiful, or necessarily the most intelligent or interesting ones, but the ones who exude an aura of self-confidence and self-belief. I’m not sure if this is the product of nature or nurture or whether it occurs more frequently in people of certain nationalities (I imagine Americans to be more this way inclined than us Brits – something to do with this race of people who have been brought up to believe that they can do anything if they put their minds to it – even become President [of the Western World!]).

Anyway, I guess my point in all this is that I’m back on track, I have a lot to be very happy about and proud of, and as far as self confidence goes – well, some of that comes with age (and not giving a s**t anymore!) and some of it might have to be faked. Well ‘Gotta fake it to make it’ – another great mantra! And I’ll leave you with this from Henry Ford:

henry ford quote

Word of the week – Flump: grappling with happiness

depressed polar bear

This week has been a bit of a weird one for me, after being very upbeat for the last few weeks, following all the tenets of the Happiness Project, and generally feeling very resilient a few negative things happened in quick succession and I’ve found it very difficult to clear my mind of the debris left behind. Sleep took a turn for the worse and I feel the blog has suffered somewhat as every time I have sat down to write its like the ink has dried up in my brain. This culminated, last night, in me sitting down to a bit of web surfing and finding myself unable to read the words of any given paragraph in order (or even in the right words!) I could feel a headache coming on and it was a very weird and disconcerting experience. I realised that I was very tired, having woken at an ungodly hour the night before, fretting over a piece of nonsense in my life that I don’t seem to have been able to let go of. And then I threw in the towel and went to bed at 8.30pm.

The fact that there has been a lot of talk of the MAD Blog Award nominations this last week has also re-ignited this self-comparison demon that I’m trying to banish. I think I may have suffered with this one my entire life and its time to hop onto my little magic carpet and sail above the trees to view the woods in their entirety for once.

I enjoy writing; its nice to know that I have any kind of audience. I’m very lucky to have two healthy, funny little bunnies in my life and next week is April, one of my favourite months!! I also have a hair consultation, treatment, cut and blowdry lined up (for the first time in about 6 or 7 months!) plus lots of little projects to tackle, so there’s no time for flumping! Onwards and upwards!!

(Oh and by the way I think I just created a new verb –  ‘to flump’ – well, it just seems right somehow, eh? Some sort of bizarre crossbreed of slump and funk… No offence Pootle…)


The Reading Residence

The Happiness Project: A Review

Happiness ProjectAs I’ve mentioned before, I became aware of this book back in January and the idea of it was so appealing that I felt compelled to buy a copy at the first opportunity, duly gravitating toward the self help section of Waterstones.

The idea apparently came to the author, Gretchen Rubin, whilst sitting on a bus one day and for no particular reason. She makes no secret of the fact that she and her family are comfortably off New York City dwellers. She has two daughters – one of about 7 and a one-year-old (at the time of the book was written), a good career as a writer (having previously trained and worked in the legal profession), a loving husband, good family ties, and no major health issues or illnesses to contend with (other than her husband’s Hepatitis C which is more of a future worry than a present concern).

On the face of it, it seems odd, perhaps a little self indulgent, to launch such a project when she appears to have no great need and no real obstacles to overcome, other than her own nature, but she addresses this criticism early on, explaining that it was really an exercise in being more grateful, being less snappy with loved ones, more contented with what she has in life, and she argues that “contemporary research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likeable, more creative, more resilient, more interested in others, friendlier and healthier. Happy people make better friends, colleagues and citizens”.

From this perhaps I would re-name the book “The Self-Improvement Project”, but packaging under the heading ‘happiness’ certainly hooks you in as a potential devotee because, lets face it, who doesn’t strive for happiness throughout their life? There’s certainly nothing new about that, as Rubin is well aware, quoting everyone from Aristotle to Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Johnson.

Rubin is one of those very earnest, highly educated, intellectual Americans – a high achiever, a resolution maker and at the same time full of self doubt and constantly evaluating and criticising her own nature (which I guess is justified in the context of this book). You get the feeling that she found it harder to lighten up and get silly with her children than to plough through several ‘memoirs of catastrophe’ – by that meaning biographies written by people diagnosed with terminal cancer and the like (an exercise in learning to view life with serenity and appreciate the joy of being alive and healthy).

I’m still not convinced that everything she does in the way of prostrating herself – for example her week of ‘extreme nice’ during which she allows her husband to get away with leaving all the hard work to her and never complaining – are not just an exercise in door-mattery (I admit I just made that word up but you get my meaning!).

But despite this criticism and taking on board the author’s earnest tone and the fact that several of her ‘revelations’ are things which struck me years ago and just common sense really (for example really listening to other peoples stories, humouring, not interrupting, encouraging and affirming are as much of a gift to others as any material offering, and the fact that giving of yourself, both time, money and spiritual support, will make you as happy as the person you are helping) I did take away a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas from this book. I am very mindful right now of her mantra ‘the days are long but the years are short’ with regards enjoying and appreciating my own adorable small children, and I am looking forward to de-cluttering my life somewhat and to reading “A Landing on the Sun” by Michael Frayn which is apparently a must-read on the subject of happiness (and anyway I love Frayn!).

I also took her advice on ‘spending out’ last week when I bought my new camera – sometimes, if you buy exactly the right thing, money can buy happiness and in the case of my camera, I know this will allow me to capture many happy memories, particularly while my children are so small, and it is also the potential start of a new hobby.

Trying new hobbies, joining social groups, identifying and owning the things which interest and intrigue you (the author herself starts up a Children’s Literature Reading Group despite agonising over the seeming lack of intellectual cast to the pursuit), all these things, as well as making resolutions and sticking with them, are goals and aspirations which I will take away with me from reading this book.

I may be a very different person to Rubin but she herself acknowledges that no two people will have the same happiness project, and, despite her desire to be unique she has to acknowledge that she has tapped into, not only the zeitgeist, but the zeitgeist of every generation in seizing upon the fundamental human desire for happiness.

I’ll leave you with two of my favourite TED talks on aspects of happiness and how to achieve it.

How to Buy Happiness