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My Happiness Project

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

I’m sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, reading a book next to Sandra and enjoying a rare errand-free afternoon in the heart of East Village. Across from us, speakers are playing 70s throwback songs–Boogie Shoes, Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting, Beethoven mashups. Dancing along to the tunes are a woman in hot pink shoes, light pink shorts, and a polka-dotted fuchsia shirt and a man in Elvis bellbottoms and a Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet. Passersby pause to soak in their sunshine before moving on, licking fresh fruit popsicles and walking their dogs.

I take in a deep breath as the breeze picks up and smile goofily to myself. I know I’m a sentimental person, and I find myself taking part in a park scene perfectly worth being sentimental about. I can just hear my sister saying to me, “Oh god, Amy. Stop being so sappy about everything in your life.” But I do feel sappy. Sappy enough to write my first blog post in a month (oops).

Cue the extra eye roll when Elaine then finds out I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project as I sit there, a book that documents this woman’s twelve-month search for the whats, hows, and whys to be happy.

My sister told me she only got through the first chapter before putting it down–it just wasn’t her kind of story. But it is mine. This book speaks to my soul. No, really. I have annotated on page 27 in her “Boost Energy” chapter:

  1. “literally me. SHE IS ME.” (regarding the satisfaction of to-do lists and the importance of staying calm when life gets crazy)

  2. “OMG ME.” (when she’s questioning why she kept twenty-three glass florist-shop vases, extra hangers and shopping bags she’d tucked away for years, and freebies she would never actually use)

  3. “SHE’S FOUND MY SOUL” (when she throws out all that clutter and clears both physical and mental space)

  4. “. . . MY NEXT 10 SOULS!!!” (when I realize that while Gretchen points out that everyone will have his or her own “Happiness Project,” mine could very well be a photocopy of hers, too).

I’ve recently been going through mini existential crises regarding my own happiness, often during moments I feel like I should be feeling only gratitude and joy. I’ve cried more times in the past two months than I did all of my freshman year, questioning whether what I am doing today will actually bring me those nebulous feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, and contentment tomorrow. I’ve called my parents and my sister too many times to ask. “What the hell am I doing with my life?” only when I honestly feel like I’m doing too much. And maybe I am. Maybe I’m so focused on the “what ifs” and “if thens” and “then whats” that I’m burnt out before I get to enjoy the… now? That sounds paradoxical.

But just as Gretchen found, I find it calming to contemplate, clean, and clear the mental and physical clutter. I won’t find the answers as long as I have a messy workspace, so I need to tidy up the desk, one tiny to-do list at a time.

And here’s the catch. I need to “do it for myself” because it is “what I want.” “This sounds selfish, but in fact, it is less selfish, because it means I am not nagging to get a gold star from anyone. No one else even has to notice (46).”

So maybe that’s it. I just need to take a step back and, like Gretchen, reframe and remember what is important to me. I’ll have to come back to this often to make sure I follow through, but I’ll take Gretchen’s advice and tackle my own Happiness Project little by little–starting with writing it down. These first few are a mix of hers and my own.

  1. Quit nagging.

  2. Don’t expect people to revolve around your schedule.

  3. Bring a sweater.

  4. Drink more decaf coffee and matcha tea.

  5. Enjoy the process.

  6. Act more energetic.

  7. Go to sleep earlier.

  8. Give proofs of love.

  9. Side note: This is one I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. It’s easy for me to treat my friends in a “bubbly Amy” way, to give big hugs and sing sweet praises and end every conversation saying, “Let’s hang out soon.” It’s easy for me to be loud and cheerful and friendly–until I feel guilty for not actually hanging out with everyone soon, for feeling like an imposter rather than a “good friend,” for feeling like I still haven’t found what a “good friend” actually means to me. By writing down this resolution, I hope to be more diligent in how and to whom I show my love. Not only through enthusiastic words and promises, but through enthusiastic actions and gestures that I truly want to do. This way, I can be “bubbly Amy” without coming across as disingenuine while also dedicating more time to those who matter most without and additional “expectation of praise or appreciation” (38). Because why would I need an affirmational gold star if I’m doing it, first and foremost, for myself?

  10. Enjoy now.

  11. Blog more frequently, with fewer words per entry.

  12. Edit: Blog more frequently, less wordily.

  13. Enjoy the fun of failure.

  14. Make money to spend it.

  15. (On things that won’t add to life’s clutter.)

  16. Spend on food.

  17. (Not on clothing.)

  18. Spend on others.

  19. Spend time on non-work related projects.

  20. Spend time loving current passions.

  21. Spend time loving current friends.

  22. Spend time on yourself.

  23. Spend time doing nothing sometimes.

  24. No, really. “Dead space is never really dead space,” Elaine says.

  25. Worry about what you can do today. (But don’t worry too much. )

  26. Lighten up.

  27. Keep dancing.

  28. Be unapologetic love.

  29. Be unapologetically Amy.

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