Just kidding, I do remember it distantly. I have the overall impression that it was an Epic Fail and yet I don’t think complete failures actually exist. I suspect we always get more out of everything than we think. So I took a few moments to reflect…
My original goals were:
- Studio time
- The Clean Sheet
- Talk Dutch
- Finishing the flat
- Evening projects
- Sewing machine
Looking at this now I immediately see that it was too ambitious. My plan was to be focused on one aspect per month (just like in the book) with December excluded because of Christmas prep which is a big deal in my family.
Here’s what happened
My aims were always clear – cycling, yoga and swimming. I managed these things sporadically.
One notable thing I did achieve last year that contributed greatly to feelings of happiness was doing a lot more walking. It was always beneficial whether it gave me energy or revealed how tired I was. I really made the most of the seasons and the weather - the spring was lovely, the summer felt longer than normal, the autumn was crispy and stunning and the Christmas lights brought me abundant joy! Walking more was not an aim and turned out to be the stand-out activity.
Having an exhibition deadline (in October) helped a lot and sticking to a regular practice of an evening class resulted in a surprising amount of work, with seemingly little effort. I deliberately kept myself in a ‘test phase’ too to keep the pressure low and that helped keep my Artists Block at bay, because I wasn’t Being an Artist, I was just testing.
I also learned that little and often really can feel the same as a block of time. What I mean by this is if I spent 10 minutes making something I felt the same good feeling as if I spent 45 minutes. This was quite a revelation. It is always worth it.
The Clean Sheet
The Clean Sheet is one of the most easily accessible creative outlets that I engage in. It remains something that inspires me. I enjoy the writing, the stats on the website, I love it when people read what I have written and I love it even more if someone says they tried an idea or found it thought provoking. I spent time on this only sporadically but, as above, it is always worth it.
Relationships (including trips and vacation planning)
If there was such a thing as an emotional balance sheet this area would show my biggest investment and overspend of last year. Looking back now I see that 2016 was The Year of My Relationships. So much so that this is worthy of a whole separate post and when I look back, my Happiness Project more or less stopped right here.
In any case, for the sake of completion here’s the rest of the project line by line.
Talk Dutch - I do attempt to speak more Dutch at work and what everyone tells me is true – when you are tired it gets harder. In this case I didn’t put much in and I didn’t get much out.
Career - I gave to my work place but I didn’t give much of anything to my personal career plans. I did get to keep my job during a very tough time for the industry so that in itself is an achievement.
Finishing the flat - I made some progress and it’s just small things left to do now. If I leave it as it is it’s a really lovely place to be so that’s a pretty good result!
Finances - A good salary made this hard to tackle! I am not a big spender so the need for structured savings or budgeting wasn’t really there. I am concerned about the future so this one needs a rethink.
Evening projects (e.g. knitting) - Evenings can be for fun projects and hobbies for some people, but for me evenings were for classes (as above), socializing and being tired on the couch.
Administration - An hour or so a week gets the important things done. The same as with my finances it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored but it’s not calling for much of my attention...
Sewing machine - When we think of our ultimate selves we might have a picture in our head of what that looks like and for me I’d be sewing on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t think this happened once last year.
Why is this useful?
There are essentials to happiness and well-being and it’s useful for us to work out what they are. I spent the past year focusing on some different aspects of life and I did learn some surprising things about myself and if you try something similar I am sure you will too.
For example, if it aint broke don’t fix it. If I’m not over-spending perhaps I don’t need a strict budget? If you give something your time and energy it needs to be either useful or life enhancing. If it’s neither, ask yourself why you are doing it.
There were two major things missing from my Happiness Project: Fun and the Bigger Picture. I thought I included artist’s dates (such as visiting galleries and museums) and I didn’t. There’s also no real commitment to long term planning here – language skills, career, finances – they all dropped off my radar.
Apparently I don’t deserve to have fun and I have no future. Bleak.
There wasn’t anything new in there either, I simply wanted more time for what I thought was important. This revealed a major imbalance in some of my relationships and once I started getting into that, it became my main focus and it took me a long time to come through to the other side.
Like most of the rest of the world, my life is structured around my relationships and my day job. As both of these aspects were uncertain or changing it’s not surprising that I might put bigger decisions and long term plans on hold.
Did the project make me happier?
In the short term, no it didn’t. That’s because in fact I was investigating my unhappiness with what certainly appeared to be a very good life. And that’s hard.
However, in the long term it is making me happier. I have a much better idea of what makes me feel happy or unhappy, what I need and want from other people and from myself. It’s a lot clearer what is important to me.
Are you going to try?
If you decide to start a Happiness Project yourself try considering these questions.
What is reasonable? How much can you really manage in one month? Alternatively, is it enough to last a whole month?
What is useful? What will improve your life from the first 10 minutes?
What’s easy? Start here to get into a habit.
What’s difficult? Tackle this after you’ve built up some Happiness Project skills.
What’s the real core of the project? Do you want to feel physically better? More stable emotionally? Be more productive? Expand your outlook? Rest and relax? Widen your social circle? Spend more time alone? If you know this you can steer your project to better pursue your aspirations.
As we try new things we learn about ourselves and that can be wonderful and painful. Expect a few surprises along the way as not all of them will be good!
Wishing you the best of luck and more happiness for everyone!
Co-founder, The Clean Sheet