Saturday, 15 March 2014

On happiness, resolutions and making art

Inspired by Gretchen Rubin's book "The Happiness Project", last year I started a "Happiness Project" of my own.

I didn't follow her approach exactly, instead choosing a theme for the year and then, each month, deciding on a related sub-theme.  Because I  didn't decide on all the themes up front, each monthly theme evolved naturally out of my experiences as I explored my own path to happiness.

At the beginning of each month I then picked an easy, moderate, and difficult goal or resolution related to the month's theme and committed to sticking to it for 30 days.

Why I like it...
The helpful thing about a Happiness Project like this is that you're only committed to goals/resolutions for a month so a) they don't feel so overwhelming and b) you don't get bogged down in guilt and self-recrimination if you find you can't  stick to them.  If a particular resolution works for you it will quickly become part if your routine and by the end of the month, you've formed a good habit. If one doesn't work for you, or you find it impossible to maintain, you can drop it at the end of the month, and move on to something else.  It offers a way of experimenting with ideas to determine if if they are really good ideas for YOU, or just a grinding path to self-flagellation!

Despite the fact that my 2013 commitment to "Taking radically good care of myself" became harder to maintain as the year wore on, it helped me establish some healthy habits early in the year and learn what I really, need, value and enjoy in a very practical way.  My successes last year gave me the motivation to try  Happiness a Project again this year.

Roll on 2014...Create Joy

My theme for 2014 is "Create Joy". I kicked off with the sub-theme "Live Creatively" in January.  My resolutions were to "Dress beautifully" (easy), "Quit Perfectionism" (moderate), and "Make Art - even lame, bad or silly art" (difficult).

Dressing beautifully was mostly easy, and the discipline of making the effort to look good every day gave me a boost on days when I felt ick or blah.  This is definitely a habit I will stick to, especially on work days when I have to put on my game face on even though I don't feel like it.

Quitting Perfectionism was a in important resolution for me, as I can waste hours on pointless "polishing".   As Clarissa Pinkola-Estes succinctly puts it, "perfect is the enemy of done".  Marshaling the gargantuan amount of self-discipline required to stick to this resolution saved me lots of time, stress, and drama.  Definitely worth it. It also helped to keep me committed on my third resolution to make art.

As I anticipated, making art was by far the hardest resolution of all to keep.   Because I am not likely to ever rival Picasso, I deliberately kept my definition of art very loose. Any effort on any remotely creative project qualified - including simple activities like knitting a few rows on a sweater I'm working on for Mr Pieman or doodling in my journal.

Although the toughest, this resolution yielded the most interesting outcomes:  I learned that if I am too tired to "make art", I am too tired. Period.  I also came to realize  that tackling creative projects is essential for my general sense of well-being and quality of life.

All three of these resolutions are now part of my day-to-day routine. New habits, easily established and extremely rewarding.

Memories in February
If I'm honest, February, on the other hand, was a virtual non-starter.   Over-confident from my successes in January,  I chose a more abstract theme, "Make Happy Memories". But instead of motivating me, it felt artificial and was impossible to act on.  

I soon realized that most of the time one doesn't really know in advance whether a particular event or activity will be the kind of thing memories are made of. Memory-making just can't be forced. For instance, in line with my aim to plan and execute a memory-making activity once a week,  one Saturday I took the kids for a scavenger hunt at our favourite park.  It was fun, but hardly the stuff of enduring memories. 

My other two aims were to "live mindfully", and "slow down".  As a career-loving parent of three kids (thank-you Sheryl Sandberg for the term), with a daily commute that currently takes around two hours each way, these aims were incredibly difficult for me. I'm just not spiritually evolved enough to  on "be here, now" when I'm stuck in standstill traffic on the N1. Some days, distraction in the form of audiobooks or music may have been the only thing that prevented me from climbing an e-toll gantry with an automatic rifle!  Well, audiobooks and the fact that I don't actually have an automatic rifle...

My theme for March is to "Cultivate Calm", and so far it's going quite well.  But, since March isn't over yet, you'll have to wait a few weeks for my report-back!

Hint:  I've made a huge breakthrough in my understanding of what makes some people more successful than others...and it's not just a matter of being part of the "old boys network"...

What were your resolutions for 2014, and how are you doing with them?

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