The 2019 Happiness Project

2 Jan

Photo credit: Jessica Noel/

In November 2017, a live-entertainment producer named Jared Paul opened a venue in Chicago called the Happy Place. Dubbed “the most Instagrammable pop-up in America” by Urban Daddy, the bright, colorful, and yes, photogenic playspace was “a themed immersive experience designed to help you escape for a very short time and immerse yourself in happiness,” Paul explained.

The Happy Place sounds like it was a lot of fun. I mean, who wouldn’t love an interactive “exhibit” filled with balloons and gumballs and confetti and rubber duckies and rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches? I was in Chicago twice last July, and I’m sorry I didn’t know about it then. Otherwise, I surely would have checked it out. (Following its nine-month engagement in Chicago, the Happy Place opened in Toronto in November 2018. It has also been in Los Angeles.)

Of course, actual happiness is a bit more elusive. I mean, it’s not exactly a subtle metaphor that Paul’s pop-up is just temporary; I suspect the high from experiencing it is also short-lived. Further, as researchers often point out, the more you try to be happy, the less happy you’ll actually be. In fact, as a recent study revealed, a constant pursuit of happiness can actually increase feelings of loneliness and disconnection. And you can’t really study how to be happy — though apparently, a class does exist (at Yale University, of all places).

On the other hand, there are small things you can do to boost the hormones that lead to happiness, that have a legit, longer-lasting effect on your well-being. One of the most oft-cited by some of those same researchers is regular expressions of gratitude — in a “gratitude journal,” for example.

In 2015, as an exercise in gratitude, I began documenting one thing every day that made me smile. I called it my “Happiness Project,” and indeed, it offered valuable perspective and balance during an, at times, frustrating year, allowing my mood to stay positive. I didn’t repeat the journaling exercise the next year, and as you may recall, it proved to be a very challenging 12 months, with lots of negativity swirling around. I brought the Project back in 2017, and it actually made a real difference in my mindset. No surprise, then, that I decided to do another Project in 2018; again, it helped me have a better year.

I don’t often stick with such things, but I’m proud that I’ve been able to keep this Project going for three full years. And I’m confident that doing it has made a real difference in my life.

Photo credit: Jessica Noel/

And so, as we begin another year, one in which the tone in our country seems to have gotten even uglier, and self-care is becoming even more critical, I’ve decided to (hopefully) keep the trend going, and start another Happiness Project for 2019.

Same drill as before: At the end of every day, I will update this blog post with a short blurb about one thing (big or small) that happened that I am grateful for or that made me smile. Just that simple. Then, in December, I’ll be able to look back on a year in which I was happy — regardless of what else was going on around me.

I need to acknowledge that, yes, the name of this “journal” is a nod to Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project,” which started as an experiment and became a best-selling book (that, full disclosure, I’ve never actually read) and movement.

Like Rubin, I’m doing this Happiness Project for myself and my own self-care, but obviously, I’m sharing it in a public venue. That’s not because of the social-media-age belief that “happiness is only real when it’s shared” — a concept that was clearly in mind when Jared Paul created the Happy Place. It’s because I’m hopeful that my Project may inspire others to follow my lead. If you do start your own version of a Happiness Project, I’d love to hear about it and whether the exercise helps you as much as it does me.

Alright. Enough intro. Here’s what made me happy every day in 2019.

January 17

January 16
The heat in my condo wasn’t working so well when I went to bed last night, so I was happy that it was warm when I woke up this morning, and that it was even warmer when I got home from work tonight.

January 15
Multiple people were either working from home or traveling today, so I decided to hit the snooze button an extra time and then stop for a decent breakfast, and I still made it in to the office at basically the same time I get there every other day.

January 14
Honestly, today I’m happy, and relieved, that the saga of the job I didn’t really want and the recruiter and company that really wanted me is finally now over. Even if it should have ended four days ago.

January 13
Went to Johnny’s today for breakfast specifically for the Churro French Toast special … only to find that it was no longer on the menu! Thankfully, the waitress volunteered to ask if they could still make it, and sure enough, they could. And it was amazing. So delicious. Oh, and also … this.

January 12
After nearly 10 years of it just sitting in my storage unit, taking up space, today I finally got rid of my old 30-something-inch CRT TV. And in the process, I also got the big bin of old stuff out of my car after what was more than a year of it being there. The year of getting rid of stuff and getting organized has begun!

January 11
I don’t want the job, but it was nice to get a hard sell today from a recruiter and her two bosses telling me I’d really impressed their client company in my two rounds of interviews, and that this company was going to make me an offer, and wanted to chat with me again to respond to my concerns and change my mind about walking away. A bit over the top, and also a little bit frustrating, but it was definitely flattering.

January 10
The 2018 Year in Review photo book that I made on Shutterfly arrived today (two days early), and it’s awesome. Really happy with how this one came out. It’s a great, colorful recap of what was a busy and fun year.

January 9
You’re the Worst came back tonight after more than a year’s absence. It was worth the wait.

January 8
Thankful for our office snack and beverage vendor, who proactively brought us hot chocolate K-cups in his weekly delivery today.

January 7
Tonight for dinner, I made one of Wegmans’ from-the-freezer Terriyaki Salmon dishes. Easy peasy, and tasty too. Happy to have another option for dinner that I don’t have to plan for in advance.

January 6
Today, Rachel posted a video on Instagram of Eden belting out “Part of Your World” to her baby brother, and holy crap, was that funny. Can’t tell you how many times I watched it, but it always made me smile.

January 5
Today I was happy that the episodes of Homecoming are each only about a half hour long, because it allowed me to (finally) watch all of season one in one day.

January 4
It’s always nice when your B-line train goes express from BU East to Harvard Ave on the Friday evening commute home.

January 3
Today, I was grateful for the Tree to Grow Lone Bellow fan community on Facebook, through which I recently (finally) learned that the Live at Grimey’s vinyl-only release that came out for Record Store Day last April comes with a free digital copy. I bought it via Amazon over the weekend, and my album was waiting for me when I got home from work tonight. Worth it.

January 2
Found out today that my work trip to San Francisco next month has been approved, so now I’m excited to go back to the City by the Bay for the first time in 20 years.

January 1
So glad I got over to the Back Bay yesterday to see the First Night ice sculptures, because, between the rain last night and the unseasonably warm temps in the mid-50s today, they were surely melted by the time I would have gotten over there today.

5 Responses to “The 2019 Happiness Project”

  1. Craig DesBrisay (@craigthusiast) January 2, 2019 at 10:11 am #

    Great post, Martin! I like your happiness project and it’s inspiring me to get back into doing my daily gratitude journal. As an aside, another way that I’ve improved my happiness is remembering that, “I’m at my happiest when I’m making progress toward my goals.” So, for me, clearly knowing what my goals are in life, career, fitness, family, friends, etc. is helpful. Then taking action consistently and reflecting occasionally on my progress is how I endeavour to close the loop.

    • Martin Lieberman January 2, 2019 at 10:17 am #

      Thanks, Craig! And thanks for the suggestion re: goals. One thing I definitely need to do is firm up some goals beyond the vague ones I have right now. Incremental success always leads to a continued pursuit … and increased happiness as well. But I’ll never accomplish anything unless there are checkpoints along the way. 🙂

  2. joshmccormack January 2, 2019 at 10:13 am #

    Great recommendation and personal experience in making an effort to notice and appreciate the good things in life. Most of us lead a life without reflection, one where evidence contradicts our view on it.

    • Martin Lieberman January 2, 2019 at 10:14 am #

      It’s a long-tail investment that always pays off. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


  1. The Happiness Project 2019 • Terra's Bytes - January 3, 2019

    […] colorful play space where you can “immerse yourself in happiness” for a few minutes. As Martin notes in his post, happiness is fleeting and the harder you look for it, the less likely you are to find it – […]

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