Two Month Update: My Year of Happiness

Friday, March 6, 2015

In January, I felt compelled toward the question of happiness. When I thought "I should," I did. I was proactive and on top of it, at least in the areas I focused on. In February, I found myself slipping some. This was, in part due to external factors: the dreadful weather (so cold! so much snow!) and finding out one of my sisters has cancer being chief among them. This month, I've been feeling a little low, and reminding myself to take action toward happiness has been harder. However, in place of it, I've found myself trying to do things that would reduce/help manage my stress level, which is off the charts lately. And that is, after all, one road toward happiness.

Some things I've learned:

  • Making an effort to look nice when you're feeling crappy pays off. You feel more confident, people give you compliments, are you start to feel the way you look: good.
  • When you're having a hard time, tell people. They'll cut you some slack and your stress and anxiety will reduce some.
  • Tire out the dog and your life will be easier. 
  • I feel good about myself when I'm reading regularly.
  • Tackling nagging tasks makes you feel amazing, even if the task itself is unpleasant.
  • Yoga is a good source of spiritual growth.
  • I am not a minimalist, but there are a lot of areas in my life (and home) that could be simpler, and I would be much happier.
  • Shopping leads to more shopping, so better to do it as little as possible.
  • Finding healthy ways to reward yourself is challenging and necessary.

Some things I've tried:
  • Doing things daily. This is an ongoing effort that I certainly haven't mastered yet, but I became really mindful of it in February. In January I worked on locking down my morning and evening routines. In February I worked on figuring out what tasks should really be done every day, and that I usually do much less frequently. This, too, is a way of building routine into my days: things like washing the dishes, scooping the litter box, playing with Olive, wiping off counters. Not deep cleaning or difficult things, just small things that help life run more smoothly.
  • Letting my to-do list reward me. I've been using the Carrot To-Do app and it has been really good for me. The beauty of this app is that it's part to-do list and part game. You level up for crossing things off your list, get rewarded with bits of trivia and a digital cat pet (90's babies especially, this will appeal to you!). Plus, the Carrot robot talks to you so it makes the whole to-do list thing more personal. I use this list primarily for household duties (dishes, etc.) and small tasks like scheduling appointments; things that can be a nuisance but you don't get much recognition for completing. 
  • Giving myself credit for making an effort. This goes along with the previous point. In the past, I've felt I couldn't cross something off until it was 100% done. This is due to my perfectionist nature. Now, I'm allowing myself to cross things off my list and give myself credit for making an effort. For example, dishes are a constant struggle. So if I wash a load of dishes, I cross it off my list. There may still be dishes sitting on the counter, and that's okay. I just put dishes on my list again, and cross it off again when I've done another round. This gives me a better visual picture of the efforts I've made, which helps me feel like I've gotten more done and encourages me to keep going. It's a mind game, really, but half of life is figuring out ways to make things work for you.
  • Going to the dog park. I have found that Olive is so much calmer in the evenings after she's had an hour to run around with other dogs and expel her energy. This makes it easier for me to get things done and/or relax, and also reduced my puppy frustration. Finding ways to make Olive's schedule and tendencies compatible with my own is an ongoing process that helps me achieve greater happiness and productivity at home.
  • Keeping my Goodreads up to date. I have been off and on with Goodreads, but now that I'm reading books for pleasure on a regular basis again, I've been using it as a way to keep track of books I want to read, books I've read as I finish them, and a way to get recommendations from my friends. When I go to the library it's really easy to pull of my to-read list on the Goodreads app and take home a new book to read.
  • Purging. I know a move is in my near future, so I'm doing a little early spring cleaning and going through one room at a time, filling boxes of things I no longer want or need. I like to start on this early--usually I'll end up pulling a few things out before it's all said and done, and going back and adding more from certain areas of the house. It's amazing how much stuff you can accumulate in a year!
  • Incorporating even 5 minutes of yoga into my day. This doesn't happen every single day, but I'm trying to get there. I have realized that I feel so much better after I do yoga, and that goodness is a combination of physical exertion, mental clarity, and deep breathing. As a non-religious person, this time spent with me thinking about and working on my mind and body in productive ways is my own form of spirituality. Against the general hustle and bustle, this time, be it 5 minutes before bed or an hour and a half class, reminds me that I am here and I am human.
Looking back, I think I did better action-wise than I initially thought I had, but my state of mind was not where I wanted it to be. While I was working toward happiness, I wasn't thinking about it. I was complaining and dwelling in negative spaces. Working on positive thoughts and positive attitude will be something to focus on next.

How is your year and your resolutions going so far?

Yours Truly, Jen

New Look!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

If you haven't noticed already, the blog has a new look! I'm still working through some kinks and cleaning things up, so please kindly excuse the cobwebs. I wanted something cleaner and easier to work with, and this look was the winner.

It's amazing how making things prettier, cleaner, and more organized inspires you to do more with them. This weekend I cleaned and organized my home office space, and I've probably spent more time at my desk since then than I had in the rest of the days I've lived in this apartment combined. The blog needed a little love, and now that it's got it, I'm so excited to share new content with you.

I found my template on Etsy from Mlekoshi Playground. Luk responded within a couple of days to a bunch of questions I had before I'd even bought anything from him. He provided a really great, detailed response, and after purchasing the template, I felt comfortable going back and asking more questions. They have been awesome about provide code snippets, giving mini tutorials, and pointing me in the right direction. Highly recommend if you're looking for a clean, quality layout.

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. What are some of your favorite Etsy shops (does not need to be blog related!). I'm really exploring Etsy products and services right now and looking for recommendations.

One Month Update: My Year of Happiness

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I'm calling this My Year of Happiness, though of course this is a project that will undoubtedly last the rest of my life, because this is the first year where happiness is the ultimate goal, the lens through which I frame everything. I thought it would be fun to post updates throughout the year and let you know what things I'm trying, what strategies I'm employing, what things work for me and what things don't, what I'm reading to help me on my journey, what I learn, and ultimately, how "well" I'm doing on this "resolution."

So, it's been a month. Some things I've learned:

  • My energy level and how well I feel definitely dictate how much I'm able to get done and how willing/able I am to make good choices, choices that lead to happiness.
  • Sometimes if I can just push through exhaustion and do one good thing, it will re-invigorate me and allow me to keep going.
  • Sometimes I'll push through and it will do nothing for me. Sometimes I can't push through at all.
  • It really is mind over matter. Most of the tasks on my list, most of my goals, are really not that huge. Revise your resume. Do the dishes. Call so-and-so. Get this maintenance work done. Yet, I put them off and it becomes this big looming thing.
  • It takes constantly reminding myself to break old habits and reinforce new ones.
  • Routines take a little while to establish, but once I do, I am so much less likely to skip a step. Even if I'm tired. Even if I just don't feel like it. Even if the dog is being a diva.
  • I feel so much less stressed and more in control and happy when my house is clean.
  • Moods are infectious, for better or for worse.
  • There is time, you just have to make it.
  • Not watching TV in the evening really opens up possibilities.
  • I can't control everything, but I can control more than I sometimes think.
Most of these things aren't brand new lessons I just discovered in January, but are things I've definitely noticed as I've worked to be more mindful of how I spend my time and my life.

Some things that I've tried:
  • Taking a bath. One night I was feeling super tired and sore and in a bad mood and I almost went to bed early, but as I was washing my face, I looked over at the tub and I thought, here's something. So I took an epsom salt bath, which helped ease my sore muscles, and I lit a candle, and I read Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed which helped restore my faith in humanity and in myself, and I went to bed feeling relaxed and good. I also discovered a potential plumbing problem in my apartment :/ I think this will be a good thing to do once a month, or whenever I'm feeling really stressed.
  • Positive post-it's. This is something I've done before, and was reminded of when I read The Happiness Project. She talks about posting notes that remind you of the state-of-mind you want to have in that space (like relaxed in the bedroom of focused at your desk), so I did some of those and I also did some encouraging phrases where I felt I needed them: "Enjoy the process" on my bathroom mirror" to remind me that I like taking care of my skin and playing with makeup, which can feel like a chore when I'm tired or running late; "Happy with myself" on the mirror in my bedroom, where I tend to see myself when I'm tired and disheveled; "Prepared to take on the day" on my front door; "Do what needs to be done" over my kitchen sink, because I'm so bad about doing the dishes. I put these notes on bright pink post-it's, so they catch my eye easily, and they give me a little boost, + remind me to be more mindful as I go through the day.
  • Specific morning and evening routines. I'll talk more about these in future posts so this one doesn't get (way) too long, but working to get these in place has been a huge help for energizing me in the morning and relaxing me in the evening, plus helping me check everyday activities off my list, like getting in a workout or doing a quick cleanup.
  • When the thought "I should" comes into my head, I try to make myself do that task right away, if at all possible. I should take out the trash, I should reply to that email, I should talk to my boss about X. Sometimes "I shoulds" come in bigger ideas, like "I should lose weight," or "I should get back into blogging regularly," and these things cannot be taken care of right away, and need an action plan in order to tackle. So, these go on a list. But little things can be done right away, and I feel better when I do.
  • Taking steps to get my finances in order. If you're broke, you know how stressful this can be. I've been feeling overwhelmed by debt, and I've finally summoned the courage to look it in the face and make a plan to get it under control. It's scary and intimidating, but I feel so much better now that I'm not dodging it anymore.
  • Exercising in the mornings. This is part of my morning routine, and I've been better about this some weeks than others. But generally, I feel better if I go ahead and get this out of the way. Then if I get invited out to dinner, or have a really exhausting day, or whatever, I don't have an excuse not to workout and I don't go to bed feeling guilty I didn't make time for it. I definitely have not mastered the self-will, nor the routine, to make this happen every day, but I've taken steps toward it, which feels really good.
  • Watching less TV. I have big love for television, so I will not give it up altogether, and once I get into better habits, I'm sure I'll start watching more of it again. But I actually have a lot of stuff that NEEDS to get done in the next couple of months, so it is a natural time to back off from TV and to tackle the things that need to be done.
  • Journaling. I've really started back up with this in the last week or so, and it's been really good for me. I'm hoping that this will help me keep track of which things are most helpful, what accomplishments and failures I make along the way, as well as record what's going on in my life and give me another outlet of expression.
  • Reading bucketloads. Reading was one of my first loves in the life, and it's something I've fallen away from as it became a requirement for school and as I've developed more diversified interests. This year I've been tapping back into my old love of reading and writing, which is funny considering I've finished up two writing degrees, but this is the first time in ages I've been able to choose to write and read whatever I truly want, and it feels really good. I read some in the fall, but I wasn't ready to really fall back in love with it. Now I am. I've finished four books so far this year!
It's one small change at a time that leads to a better life, I think. So I'm pacing myself, and practicing self-forgiveness, while also pushing myself to break bad habits and just be better. I think when we're into daylight savings time and there's more sun in the evening, I'll have an easier time utilizing my evening hours, but for right now, I'm doing the best I can.

Dear readers, how are you doing on your resolutions so far? What things help you reduce stress and increase happiness?

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. If there are specific things I've mentioned here or otherwise that you would like me to blog more about, let me know! I'm working on getting some posts scheduled for the upcoming weeks, and your feedback is always helpful.
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