A Year in My Life- as told through books: The Happiness Project

Happy 2015!

Happy New Year from Kauai!
Happy New Year from Kauai!

A new month, a new year, a new season. As I think back over 2014- my year of experimenting with living life outside of the Army- I realize I assumed in 2015 I would return to “normal” life, picking back up with typical rhythms and days. It turns out I learned a lot last year, not the least of which is not everyone has typical “rhythms” and there are a lot of different ways to live life fully. I have found this really exciting especially as I’m thinking about future goals and plans.

Thinking about this in December, I knew I wanted to do something a little different this year. Instead of one or two big goals and in the spirit of continuing to explore all the different ways life CAN look, I kept coming back to the idea of smaller goals and more all-encompassing changes. Things that could be slowly explored and incorporated or discarded, much like Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project.”

This book has been on my (long) list of books I’d “like to read sometime” and although brought up several times in book club, it never fully made the cut. In December, Brandi mentioned she was going to read this one in addition to the group pick, so I grabbed it from deep in the pile and started reading.

I’m not sure exactly why it took me so long to read it; perhaps a combination of “all the hype” sometimes turns me off and wondering if such a thing as a happiness “project” is really a “sensical“ thing? The truth is- I LOVED IT!!! and I read it at EXACTLY the right time that I needed to (isn’t it just CRAZY how that happens? You book lovers know what I mean!) For a person who LIVES for lists and challenges, quests and outlines, “rules to live by” and mantras, goals and planning (picking my new organizer each year is an EVENT!), this book was like feeding an addiction. (At the same time, I can see why people who do NOT like these things (so sad) would lose interest in this book very quickly and might find it quite annoying. For instance the other person who lives in my house would find this book excruciating I think!)

As I was considering my own version of the “Happiness Project” it made perfect sense to work it into my New Year planning. One of the things I want to continue to improve on (in quality and quantity) is my writing, so as I was thinking about all of those things together, I had a (brilliant? crazy? interesting?) idea. What if I gave a “theme” to my writing this year, which might help with a more regular schedule and give constant input for posts? Since book club was one of my favorite parts of last year, and the Happiness Project is what started this whole line of thinking, what if the posts I write this year are tied in to the books I read? Not book reports at all but more ideas and connections I make with my own personal life while reading. A sort of “year in the life” of a reader? The idea kept sticking around and so I’m going to go with it- starting with this post!

My life as seen through:The Happiness Project. As a very short summary of this relatively short book, Gretchen Rubin (a lawyer who left that work to pursue writing) decided to approach 12 areas of her life in a very planned way, in order to see if she could purposefully increase her happiness. She selected areas like “health” and “parenting “and “marriage” and “organization” and assigned them each a month of the year. She then developed 3-5 goals/rules for that area that she stuck to for that month. Using a chart she could visually document how well she was doing as she processed the experience through writing. I really like the way she logically addressed and explained how the process went- discussing many rules/goals that she abandoned because they just didn’t work for her (like keeping a physical gratitude journal) as well as some that she worked into her life as the new norm (like a particular gym/work-out plan) and others that she relaxed on but still tries to incorporate as she sees the benefit (like getting 7 or more hours of sleep a night).

Another part of her process she shared was a set of “Rules to Live By” she developed- things like “Be Gretchen (no one else)” and “Cut people slack”. These were more reminders that apply across categories and could be recalled easily in different situations. I loved how she kept referencing them within the areas she was working on in a particular month and how they became sort of second-nature to recall in a particular situation.

For my “project” I’m not thinking of it as a way to bring more happiness, but instead to provide intentional boundaries, goals and areas of growth for the year as I continue to explore what it means to live a healthy and centered life. I think there is great value in reviewing the past year and looking ahead to the next year to acknowledge lessons, make changes and set goals small and large (regardless of success percentage!).

Modeled after the Happiness Project, I picked an area to focus on each month, as well as one “rule” or “resolution” for each month’s topic/focus that I am going to try to stick to for the whole year. Each month, I’ll pick 3-4 other goals (in addition to the one I’m incorporating for the whole year) to really focus on. In addition I made my own set of “reminders” (aka Rules to Live By) that I am already finding INCREDIBLY life changing (numbers 5 and 7 below are in the lead!) So, if you are interested here’s what my “Centered” Project year looks like (I’ll just give you the one yearly goal for each category vs all for each):

Jan: Finances– 90% of the time, nothing new (goal to not buy things, buy/use recycled/reused/borrowed when able and to try my best to buy 90% of new things from local/small businesses)

Feb: Marriage- “Be” Love- (the 1 Corinthians 13 kind- patient, kind, humble, not boastful, unselfish, not irritable, rejoicing in truth not injustice, hoping/enduring/believing)

Mar: Minimalism– Always choose the “lighter” option (as pertains to the earth, food, waste etc.)

Apr: Play/Fun– Preserve margin in my life

May: Food – No second helpings

June: Health (holistic standpoint) – Do something active every day

July: Work and Writing– Refuse to give any attention to dread- turn dread into anticipation

Aug: Relationships (family/friends)– Pay attention (listen well, phone down, be present)

Sept: Spiritual– Be Dawn (the person I was created to be, no one else)

Oct: Declutter– Regularly give things away

Nov: Contentment– Hold everything lightly (plans, material things etc.)

Dec: Centered life– Live from the “core” (spiritually, core exercises, know what’s important to me etc.)

Reminders to Live by:
1. Live “lightly”- weight/nutrition/exercise, minimalist, decrease possessions, be an encouragement/light to others, laugh more
2. Be “present”- present over perfect (stolen from Shauna Niequist!), no multitasking, listen well, decrease cell phone dependency, look in people’s eyes, don’t overextend emotionally/relationally
3. Make good choices (inspired by Viktor Frankl and Michael Hyatt)
4. Relationships always trump. Relationship trumps all.
5. Act the way I want to feel- the outer shapes the inner (A.J. Jacobs, Gretchen Rubin), trust truth, God, facts not feelings in the moment
6. Be “Dawn”- a light (dawn), run my own race, no comparisons, show up where I can bring needed knowledge/strengths/gifts/help, embrace my uniqueness instead of focusing on differences
7. Assume the best- (of others) – assume positive intent, cut people slack, remember not everyone is like me and that’s ok!
8. Create margin- know my limits, take care of myself
9. Encounter every lesson in life on purpose (Jadah Sellner)
10. Refuse to give attention to dread- turn dread into anticipation, offensively attack dread with gratitude
11. Cultivate patience- learn to wait well, look for places to be patient
12. Remember the “BE”s- Be kind, be quiet, be gracious, be honest, be active, be content, believe, be “love”, be grateful, be positive

(You can see a couple of these are also focuses for a particular month, because they need extra attention!)

So there you have it- some of my goals, hopes and intentional thoughts for 2015. Feel free to call me out on any you see me “not remembering” (but do it kindly?J).

I’ll be back in a few days if you want to keep “reading” along with me (I’ve already got three others to tell you about!) and I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on The Happiness Project if you’ve read it, any goals or resolutions you made or any other thoughts you may have!

2 thoughts on “A Year in My Life- as told through books: The Happiness Project

  1. Rachel Stankowski January 7, 2015 / 9:31 am

    Now I need to dig this book up from the bottom of my “want to read” pile! You make a very compelling case for it! I love, love, love all of your goals and resolutions… and I especially love YOU! I like living my life beside you, separated by so so so many miles and years, but connected by the internet. You’re brilliant and beautiful and your words are so inspiring!!!

    • Dawn Muench January 10, 2015 / 8:48 am

      Thanks Rachel- Kindred hearts from afar for sure!!

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