Starting my own ‘happiness project’?

I’m not a huge fan of happiness as a concept, to be honest. Just thought I’d get that out there from the beginning. Happiness is a fleeting moment in time, an emotion that goes hand in hand with its opposite, sadness. Joy and sorrow. We can live our lives in ways that create more space for happy moments, but ‘happiness’ isn’t really a state of being.

Instead, in 2014, I’m going to start my own ‘healthiness project’. Healthiness is both more tangible and something that you can actually work on. Healthiness can be body, spirit, mind, community, family…all that good stuff. And a lack of healthiness, overall, is definitely what I’m feeling right now.

With that in mind, I’m going to use Gretchen Rubin’s questions from her happiness project book to kick start my own project.

1. What makes you feel good? What activities do you find fun, satisfying or energising?

Reading for pleasure, whether curled up on the sofa under a blanket, or in a cafe with a warm chai, or in bed where I just want to have one more chapter. Going for long walks outdoors. Lying on a beach, with a book. Going to the cinema with my kids. Baking with my kids (when they’re not pestering me to lick the spoon). Going to the pub with friends. Cups of tea with friends after school. Mentoring junior colleagues. Working on strategies, whether for growth or for doing things better. Sitting in a sauna or steam room. Eating out in new countries. Cuddling. Taking photos. Blogging. Writing in my journal.

2. What makes you feel bad? What are sources of anger, irritation, boredom, frustration or anxiety in your life?

Having way too many things on my to-do list and not having good enough systems to cope with them. Feeling rushed in the morning or feeling distracted at bedtime. Not having time to sort out a budget. Being late. Missing birthdays. Never having time to go out with friends. Being surrounded by idiots. Clutter. Knowing my diet could be much better and my weight lower. Feeling more aches and pains than I should at this age. Email. Meetings that have no point and, seemingly, no end. Yelling at my kids. My kids yelling at each other. Being too tired for sex. Being pestered for electronic time.

3. Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change your job, city, family situation, or other circumstances? Are you living up to your expectations for yourself? Does your life reflect your values?

Professionally, there are aspects where I’ve achieved much more that I ever thought possible at this stage, especially given the two maternity leaves I’ve had. But I’ve not published nearly as much as I should’ve (or could’ve), and I know that I need to write another book soon. My weight and overall health aren’t right. I give next to no thought or time to meals or scheduling exercise, even though I know enough about nutrition not to make really bad choices. But I’m not making good ones either, and I tend to rush headlong into carbs without thinking because I’ve not planned. I sleep later in the morning than I should, which leaves me rushing and grumpy with the kids when they dawdle. I’m distracted. I only read at bedtime. I’ve not written in my journal for months and haven’t written in it with any consistency for a few years. I play with productivity tools rather than being productive. Financially, I haven’t worked out a budget that’s equitable; though I make much more than my husband, I have larger student loans…but I still have more spare cash than he does. I don’t manage to budget every month, and we’re not saving. I’ve not seen some of my friends for months. One of my friends’ dad passed away, and I didn’t know about it. My parents need to hear from me more often. My husband and I don’t spend enough time alone, and I often go to sleep after him when I’m too tired for sex. I snap at the kids too easily. Basically, I feel like work takes up so much of my waking time and thinking that there’s very little left for me or people I love.

4. Do you have sources of an atmosphere of growth? In what elements of your life do you find progress, learning, challenge, improvement and increased mastery?

[kind of hard to write about this while being pestered by a teary 9 year old whose life is being ruined by not being allowed to play on the ipad…]

My new role at work gives me tremendous opportunities for growth…possibly too many opportunities! I’ll need to be strategic and selective. My new administrator is about to start work, which will hopefully ease some of the more mundane burdens. I don’t need to teach for the next 3 years, which means that I’ll have much more flexibility and freedom. Once this current very busy patch ends, and the new funding contract is secured, I’ll be able to take my foot off the pedal a little bit (famous last words?). I need to ensure that I don’t fill any time that’s freed up with yet more work.

At home…that’s where I’m not so sure. It feels like for the past 6-8 months, I’ve put so much into building this new research centre that there’s been nothing left. I guess…I have physical space to write, and I should make more of that. I have tremendous friends who make me feel grounded, and I need to find time for them. I’m able to budget enough for healthy food choices and have a husband who loves to cook. My kids are, more often than not, good company and increasingly independent. They’re at school all day now, and if I plan my day out right, I can find time during the day for exercise or for reading or writing.

I need to think about the next step, which is developing concrete resolutions, but it seems to be not all that complicated really. I seem to be a pretty simple soul, made happy by pretty easy things, but I’ve let work take over my life for years now. I haven’t placed appropriate boundaries around it. I love my work, and aspects of it are fulfilling and necessary for my well-being, but it’s not everything. My systems have broken, and I’ve not yet figured out what new ones should look like. I’ve not given enough priority to my own health, which impacts on the energy I have to be a productive academic, a loving wife, a gentle and fun mother and a fulfilled person. The trick will be in identifying clear resolutions, breaking these into very concrete tasks and then, for once, following through with them. The latter is not my strong point*, but I’m not getting any younger.

[* In a recent team building exercise, where we did personality tests, I scored 0 under ‘Completer/Finisher‘ (I’m a Resource Investigator/Shaper). How is it possible to score a 0 for this?? No wonder I have a house full of half-finished projects and a lifetime of broken resolutions!]


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