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!]


2012 Review Thingo (in the style of Shauna)

This is mercilessly plagiarised from the delightful Shauna Reid (see hers at It’s a great way to figure out where your year went right, and where it went not-so-right, and what to focus on for the year to come. Clearly I need to shake up this year a bit and try something new!

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?

Am really struggling to think of anything! I wish I could say sky diving, or spending the night in the desert, or taking up international espionage, but 2012 hasn’t been that exciting.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next this year?

Nope, not even close. I think I really should’ve printed them out kept them close by and reviewed on a fairly regular basis. If I don’t really know what my resolutions are, it’s pretty hard to keep them!

I will do new resolutions. Really.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, my friend, Rachel, had a little girl, and Hugh had a little boy. A couple more are due in 2013, however, most of my friends are past having babies.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My Uncle Chris, who was also my godfather.

5. What countries did you visit?

USA, Germany, Sweden. I was supposed to go to Brazil but didn’t fancy the very long flight to Brasilia.

6. What would you like to have next year that you lacked in this one?

A trip back to the USA with the whole family. It’s been far too long since the kids have been there.

7. What dates from this year will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

January 25 and April 9, when both my husband and I turned 40.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Winning a new research contract, securing the jobs of several of my favourite colleagues.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Buying my husband tickets to see Pearl Jam in Berlin, but then not being able to sort out babysitting. Not only did we lose over €100 on the tickets, but we had a dream snatched from our hands. So much for his 40th birthday present…

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

No, thankfully! I had a blood pressure scare, but that turned out to be nothing.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Hard to say. I should say my iPad, but that was bought with research money so doesn’t count. I think it might be my Marimekko oilcloth, which I bought as an off-cut in a shop in Gothenburg. Everything about it gives me pleasure, and as I sit at the kitchen table at least three times a day, it gives me pleasure often.

12. Where did most of your money go?

If I’m honest, I’d say on interest on debt repayment. Also, my children. Always my children…

13. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Excited may be the wrong word…relieved more like…but Obama’s re-election.

14. What song will always remind you of this year?

‘Little Talk’ by Of Monsters and Men. I first heard it on breakfast tv in Berlin, and it’s been part of the soundtrack of the year.

The other song would be ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz. My sister and I stayed up late on her sofa talking well into the night, crying as we listened to it. It was her pregnancy song. Floods of tears.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder?

Happier, I think. I’m living in a bigger house that gives us enough space to breathe as a family, and my career is definitely on the way up.

b) thinner or fatter?

Neither. I’m exactly the same as I was this time last year. Which is depressing.

c) richer or poorer?

Unfortunately, neither. I’m making quite a bit more money, but we’ve lost money out to the house move. I was really hoping to be much better off at this point, but que sera sera.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Chilling out. I wish I’d kept up with meditation as it was making me feel much more relaxed. Resolution number one!

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Procrastinating. I did have far too much work on this year, but I also spent a lot of time faffing about online and not getting down to what needed to be done. I put it down to exhaustion.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

At home, as usual. We had family from the US over on Boxing Day, whom I’ve not seen in about 10 years, and it was a real treat.

19. Did you fall in love this year?

Nope, unless you count my kitchen table, complete with Marimekko oilcloth. I do really love having an eat-in kitchen!

20. What was your favorite TV program?

Anything Scandinavian. Borgen, The Killing, The Bridge…I’ve loved them all.

21. What was the best book you read?

New Andrea Camillieri books. Rory Stewart’s ‘The Places in Between’.

22. What was your favorite film of this year?

Not sure I’ve seen many non-kid films this year…

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 40. I worked a bit on a research bid (sigh…) and went out for french food with my family. Escargot with kids is a real treat! Not exactly what we had planned.

24. What kept you sane?

My family, my sister and N.B.D. This is our new family phrase to remind us that most things are N.B.D. (No Big Deal).

25. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

The husband on Borgen (Danish actor Mikael Birkkjaer).

26. Who did you miss?

My family overall, but especially my sister. I miss her everyday and would give just about anything to have her living next door to me.

27. Who was the best new person you met?

My new neighbour, Clara. It’s nice to have someone so simpatico living right across the street.

First Weight Loss Goal Reached!


I have 50 lbs to lose, but that’s a hell of a lot. Pass me the fries with a side of peanut butter amount to lose. So I’ve taken expert (ie, women’s magazines) advice and have broken it into smaller chunks with a treat for each goal achieved.

So…drum roll…for my first 5 lbs…which only took me 4 bloody weeks…I give you, my treat! My most perfect shade of Chanel nailpolish. Manicure tonight, with no side of peanut butter.