The 2020 Happiness Project

2 Jan

sunflowersNot too long ago, I found what I considered to be a “rock star” parking spot on Boylston Street, just a few feet away from the Copley subway station. It was a Sunday afternoon, and since there’s no charge for parking then, I simply got out of my car and walked away, off to go about my business.

More than an hour later, as I was walking back to my car, I saw a pink something or other on my front window, tucked under the windshield wiper. It looked like a parking ticket. What the hell! Wasn’t parking free today?

Turns out, it wasn’t a parking ticket, but a list of 21 behaviors that would apparently help me find “The Way to Happiness.” I laughed. The source of the information — the L. Ron Hubbard Library — was a bit dubious, but I had to admit, the list had merit: Take care of yourself. Honor and help your parents. Do not steal. Be industrious. Try not to do things to others that you would not like them to do to you. Fulfill your obligations. Do not murder. And so on. You get the idea.

I’m surprised one of the items on the list wasn’t “Show gratitude.” After all, according to Harvard Medical School, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

As you might assume, I was grateful the flyer wasn’t a parking ticket, as I originally thought it was. And I was thankful for the folks who put it on my car, because the realization and the flyer itself both made me smile.

Corny as it may sound, I’ve learned in recent years that the secret to living a happy life is to appreciate things like that, and to document them. To that end, I started my annual “Happiness Project” in 2015 with that very simple premise: At the end of every day, you should write down one thing that made you happy, whether it’s something you did, something you ate, something somebody said, a TV show you watched or movie you saw, a tweet, or something else. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that made you smile. (And yes, the name is a nod to Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project,” which started as an experiment and became a best-selling book, and movement.)

Five years later, I can say it works. At the end of every day, in one long, running blog post for the year, I note something happy that happened. It’s not an intentional thing; I’m not trying to be happy. After all, as Niall Williams recently wrote in the New York Times, happiness is “a thing that [can] not be pursued, only realized and chosen.” I’m recognizing that, even on the seemingly bad days, there’s always something worth remembering that made me smile, no matter how small and inconsequential it may have been. In essence, I’m expressing gratitude every single day.

I’ve now done this exercise for four of the last five years. The one year I didn’t do it — 2016 — well, it wasn’t a good year. Sure, there are multiple reasons for considering 2016 to be a bad year, but since self-care has become even more important in these troubled times, and there was a lot of negativity to off-set that year, I have to believe there’s a connection between my not doing the Project and the fact that I now look back on 2016 with less than fond memories.

I don’t know what will happen over these next 12 months, but as I write this intro at the start of January, given everything that’s already going on, I’m not optimistic. I know the year won’t be free of negativity, but I want to be able to look back on these 365 days in a positive way, just like I do the other four years when I did my Project.

I’ve resolved to make 2020 another good year. So let’s get to it. Here’s what made me happy every day this year.

April 4

April 3
Given some issues from a couple weeks ago, I was relieved today when I went to change the company’s Twitter handle and it went through no problem. Phew.

April 2
I was amused today when multiple people replied to a tweet of mine from yesterday (ahem), in which I shared a news story and referenced a video it contained, even though I didn’t mention that said video link went not to what it said it did but to a Rick Astley video. LOL … These people had never heard of Rick-Rolling! LOL

April 1
When I woke up today, I had slept so well the night before and was feeling very good. After a few nights of being up multiple times for multiple reasons, that made me very happy.

March 31
Had a fun video chat with Andrew and Robin tonight. Great to catch up and just talk for a while.

March 30
This morning I was happy I’m working at home right now because I had a bad night and wasn’t feeling well, and being home meant I could take it easy today.

March 29
Today I was happy I decided to go through my underwear and undershirt and PJ bottoms drawers and get rid of some of my older clothes. Productive use of time.

March 28
When I woke up this morning, the heat in my condo appeared to not be working. So I was happy when, a couple hours later, it came on again.

March 27
Last night, Zach Williams of the Lone Bellow did a solo acoustic live stream show on Instagram, and I missed most of it. So I was happy it was still available to watch today. Good stuff.

March 26
Today was supposed to be MLB Opening Day, and that was a bummer. But MLB broadcast a lot of classic games on Twitter — including game four of the 2004 ALCS, and that was fun to watch again.

March 25
My only meeting today was canceled shortly before it started, so I was expecting no human contact today (other than emails and texts and Twitter). But then Farrah and the kids FaceTimed me to have lunch together, and all was well. Perfect timing.

March 24
I’m happy I decided to bake a cake on Saturday because, on days like today, it gives me something to look forward to after dinner, when there’s nothing on TV and not much to do.

March 23
Tonight I finished watching Fleabag. Damn, was that a great show. Not sure why it took me so long to watch it, but it was worth the wait.

March 22
It was nice to go for a walk around some quiet streets today with Farrah and the kids — albeit at a safe distance. Actual offline human interaction was much appreciated.

March 21
I was happy today that when I went to Star Market, not only did they have the ice cream I wanted, but it was actually on sale. Made the stop there worth it.

March 20
Tonight I enjoyed watching Jennifer Garner talking with Jimmy Fallon on his at-home version of The Tonight Show.

March 19
Received my first Amazon Fresh delivery tonight (because my Whole Foods order from Monday was canceled on me). Quickly wiped down my surfaces and doorknobs and drawer nobs and electronic devices with disinfectant spray. Glad to have more cleaning supplies at my disposal now.

March 18
Today I finally got out of the apartment — and out of the building — for the first time since Saturday afternoon. Felt good to breathe some fresh air and go for a walk again to get some exercise.

March 17
Thank God for technology. Today I had lunch “with” Farrah, thanks to FaceTime. And then, later in the day, my teammates and I had a virtual happy hour via Zoom.

March 16
I was very happy today when I found a couple containers of disinfectant wipes on Whole Foods/Amazon, and learned that I could have them delivered tomorrow morning. Thankful I don’t have to run to the supermarket now.

March 15
Today I was happy when I heard dad changed his mind and would be working from home tomorrow (and hopefully, for the foreseeable future).

March 14
One nice thing about this social distancing thing, and having no plans, and things around me generally being quieter right now, is that it means I can get a good, long night’s sleep. For example, when I woke up this morning, I’d slept for about 10 or 11 hours. Felt good!

March 13
With things at work, and in the world, being as crazy and confusing (and frustrating) as they have been this week, it was nice to get an encouraging and supportive call from Melanie this afternoon telling me I’m doing a good job, and coaching me on how I can see the current situation as an opportunity.

March 12
Today was not a good day. But one thing that was good was that, because I worked from home, I was able to make myself a good, healthier, home-cooked meal for dinner.

March 11
There were some seats at the bar at Back Bay Social when I walked by tonight, so I sidled up and had myself some chicken and waffles for dinner. Delicious! And not drowning in maple syrup and BBQ sauce, as is usually the case (both came on the side, without me asking), so … even better.

March 10
Today, Massachusetts declared a state of emergency about the coronavirus, which made things a bit more real for me and others. So I was happy that I decided to go to Star Market tonight to pick up some things so I could be prepared just in case, and that the store wasn’t crazy busy.

March 9
I really dig The Shop on HBO, and I’m glad I have a series recording set up for it, because it always seems to air randomly, and now I won’t miss any episodes. The latest episode was on Saturday night, and I watched it tonight.

March 8
Went to the Station Diner for brunch today and was happy to see Nicole working behind the bar. Felt like I hadn’t seen her in a while. She takes good care of me.

March 7
Today I was thankful for YouTube, because when I had nothing to do this afternoon, it kept me busy for a couple hours.

March 6
Gotta say, even though I was looking forward to certain aspects of the trip, I was so relieved today when it was decided that we would postpone next week’s event in New York City. A lot less work on my plate right now.

March 5
Glad I made it to the Bostonian Barbershop in time to get a haircut tonight. Really needed that.

March 4
When a movie screens for members of the media a day or two before it opens to the general public, that’s never a good sign. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Ben Affleck’s latest, The Way Back, tonight.

March 3
I woke up earlier this morning because I was expecting a lot of social media activity resulting from the study results that were released overnight. And yet … the world was not on fire. Which was a relief. I think. Anyway, it made for a less crazy morning, and that was good.

March 2
I was happy tonight when, after working in the office till almost 8:45, the train I needed arrived at the Arlington station minutes after I got to the platform, so I didn’t have to wait too long to go home.

March 1
I assumed that when I went to the Roots store at the Natick Mall today, that I would walk out empty handed. But alas, I was told that if I spent $150, I could get $30 off. So … I took advantage of that 20% off deal. No regrets.

February 29
This afternoon, I was happy I timed things well so I could make it on time to the new Majestic 7 theater in Watertown for a movie. Excellent new place to see films.

February 28
Today I was happy I stayed in the office till 6:30pm working so I could get some things off my to-do list and not have to worry about them over the weekend.

February 27
Finally got to ride one of the brand new Green Line trains home tonight. It was definitely more spacious, and a little more comfortable, than the older ones are.

February 26
Today I was happy I was able to transfer my Marriott Bonvoy account to a new email address, even though I no longer have access to my old work email address (which I used to create the Bonvoy account in first place). Now I can keep the points I earned last year and earn even more after an upcoming stay. Thank you to the helpful customer service person who allowed me to do this via the phone.

February 25
Andreina and I heard back from the building manager today that the condo board has voted to impose a monthly levy on Quinn (and her parents) — a $500 fine, retroactive to May 2019, that will continue until she becomes a graduate student or moves, whichever come first. Hopefully this means she’ll be moving out. Soon.

February 24
Apparently, the temperature outside hit 63 degrees today. On February 24. In Boston. If this is global warming, I’m not complaining.

February 23
Today, I was happy my car mount arrived from Amazon, and that not only was it easy to set up but it actually worked, so I could use my phone hands-free on the first day that a new law was in effect. (Also, that it only cost me $10.)

February 22
After finding the Yankee Candle store at Legacy Place closed today, I was happy that I decided to check at Bed Bath and Beyond, because they had the fragrance spheres I wanted there, and they were on sale.

February 21
The first music video from the new Broadway adaptation of Sing Street debuted today, and it’s making me more confident in the show, and more excited to see it in June.

February 20
Not sure I agree with the strategy behind it, but I’m happy that today it was decided that we postpone distributing a big report that I’d have spent a large part of this upcoming weekend writing. So that’s one thing off my to-do list (for now), and it means I can do other things I want to do this weekend.

February 19
Today I was happy for the other options in our office kitchen so I could grab a bagel and cream cheese for lunch instead of settling for the less appealing (free) Haitian food that was brought in.

February 18
It was so nice tonight to listen to Pete Buttigieg during his CNN Town Hall. I’m still not 100% sure I’ll be voting for him, but with everything else going on, Pete’s calm, intelligent, sensible demeanor is much appreciated.

February 17
We went to In a Pickle for brunch today (I love that the kids love it here), and I had the S’mores French Toast Tower for the first time in a long while. Yum! Still so good.

February 16
“It’s so peaceful here.” That was a direct quote from Marc this morning, explaining how he was able to sleep at my place last night. It also was an accurate reflection of how the three kids and I spent the morning until Mitzi and Jason got here.

February 15
I’d been wanting to try the steak tips at Joe’s, so I was happy that Mitzi, Jason, the kids, and I ended up having dinner there tonight. They (the tips) were yummy.

February 14
Despite being tired, I was happy I stayed up to watch all of Real Time with Bill Maher tonight instead of going to bed and saving the rest to watch in the morning. A minor victory, but a victory nevertheless.

February 13
We had delicious cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes in the office today. Mmmm … the vanilla cake with chocolate frosting is so good.

February 12
Fun time this evening out with a group from work to celebrate some birthdays.

February 11
Tonight I was happy about the steak sauce at the Met Bar. Decided to stop there for dinner on the way home and have the steak tips. Yum.

February 10
Tonight I was happy to find Pret a Manger open (till 9pm!) so I could have a different and slightly healthier dinner before my movie than if I had gone to Panera.

February 9
A very entertaining Oscars show ended with a big Best Picture win for Parasite over 1917. Woo hoo!! Also: two awards for Ford v Ferrari. Yay!

February 8
I’m excited to be making summer plans, including a trip to Chicago.

February 7
The Lone Bellow’s new album dropped today, and like an idiot, I forgot my earbuds at home. So I was happy the album was up on YouTube and that I had headphones at work, so I could still listen to it during the day.

February 6
Brooklyn Nine-Nine came back tonight. Yay!

February 5
Saw a movie at the ArcLight Boston for the first time tonight, and wow … I feel spoiled. I mean, the movie itself (Birds of Prey) was no classic, but the theater itself was fantastic.

February 4
After presenting during the all-company, global town-hall meeting today, I got multiple shoutouts for my work. That was cool.

February 3
Tonight I was happy that, when I walked into the Pour House after work, there were plenty of seats at the bar. So I was able to have dinner somewhere different, for a change.

February 2
I love the Subaru “Smaht Pahk” Super Bowl commercial, but this morning, Jeep shared its big-game ad and it was so great. My second-favorite of the night.

February 1
Today I was happy HBO released its Sunday-night shows a day early via HBO Go, so I could watch Curb Your Enthusiasm tonight, and not worry about doing so after the Super Bowl.

January 31
After a few days of writer’s block, I finally had a breakthrough and was able to finish a blog post for work. Phew! Just in time for the weekend.

January 30
The The Good Place series finale tonight was perfect. A wonderful hour-plus of television. Makes me want to rewatch the entire series.

January 29
It was announced today that Wes Anderson’s new film, The French Dispatch, will be released on July 24. Yay!

January 28
Received the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl programs in the mail today, from Cat. It’s nice to know that, even though she and I haven’t seen each other or spoken in years, that I’m still on the list to receive those.

January 27
I left the office around 6:30 tonight, so in hindsight, I was glad I decided to go to Finagle a Bagel today and that I sat there and ate my lunch — instead of getting something quick somewhere else and bringing it back to eat at my desk.

January 26
The temperature hit 50 degrees today, and it was sunny, so that was nice for a late-January day.

January 25
Panera was packed when I got there today, so it made me happy when folks who were finished got up to give me their table. And that, coincidentally, the place became less crowded while I was eating, so I could sit and read the new EW without feeling like I needed to give up my own table quickly.

January 24
You know what? This was a good week at work. A very good week. Things I did were well received, and I received a lot of kudos. It was really nice.

January 23
Tonight on The Good Place, the characters arrived in the actual Good Place, and it was the Getty Center! Perfect.

January 22
Planter’s announced today that Mr. Peanut had died, and that led to a few good laughs in the office today, and a fun tweet from our corporate handle sharing our sympathies.

January 21
I didn’t get much sleep last night (damned Quinn, who kept me up till after 3am), so tonight I was just happy to be home and able to go to bed early.

January 20
I’m happy Maureen and Melissa were both working in the office today, because I had the day off and it was fun to meet up for lunch and catch up with them. Also, some of the things I heard about how things had changed (and how some things had not changed) in the past couple months made me happy I wasn’t there anymore, and reminded me I made the right choice to leave.

January 19
Glad I went out to Natick today, because I was (finally) able to get the zipper in my Roots vest fixed.

January 18
Used my new Keurig K-Mini machine for the first time today, and I’ve gotta say: I really enjoyed waking up on a Saturday morning to a mug of hot cocoa.

January 17
Really appreciated all the kudos I received today, and the past couple days, on the Global Trends report I produced, that’s going into market on Tuesday. Happy it turned out so well and that people like it as much as they do. It’s always nice to come out of the gate for the first time with good work.

January 16
Maybe it’s the novelty, I don’t know. But I’ve actually enjoyed the late, very busy days of work this week. It’s nice to like what I do again.

January 15
The guy at Pret a Manger gave me a free croissant this morning because someone had just bought the last one, and I had to wait five minutes for fresh ones to come out of the oven. It was worth the wait.

January 14
Another night, another catch up sesh: Tonight it was Melanie. Good times.

January 13
Great to catch up with Stephani tonight. And at the Daily Catch. Yum!

January 12
The temperature today hit 73 degrees. Amazing. No complaints.

January 11
The 2019 year-in-review book I made on Shutterfly arrived in the mail today. It came out really well, and is a great compilation of what a fun 12 months I had.

January 10
For the first time all week, a B train wasn’t pulling out of the Arlington station right as I got there at the end of the day. The train I wanted was still two minutes away. Phew!

January 9
It was a busy day today, so I was excited when I checked Facebook at the end of the day and learned the Lone Bellow had released another (great) new song, “Good Times.”

January 8
Pret a Manger was out of croissants when I stopped in this morning, so I was happy to get to the office and find fresh bagels in the kitchen. And then I forgot it was Wednesday, so we had lunch brought in (which means I could save the lunch I brought with me today for tomorrow). And then there was a sheet cake birthday cake (apparently, something we do every quarter for those celebrating). So … a good food day in the office today.

January 7
Damn, the Dave Chapelle Mark Twain Prize special tonight was good.

January 6
Today I brought some old-school PB&J for lunch, on delicious, fresh bread. With Bugles, natch. No regrets. Yum.

January 5
Of all the Golden Globes winners tonight, the one that legit made me happiest (other than Laura Dern over J.Lo) was Awkwafina, whose movie The Farewell is so special and so good, and one of my favorites of 2019.

January 4
This morning, I cleaned out my pantry and all the non-food crap I’d been storing/dumping in there the last few years. Found some unused gift cards, stuff from jobs I left five and eight years ago and haven’t looked at since, Time magazine issues from Barack Obama’s first inauguration, a lot of empty eyeglass cases (and a lot of old glasses, too), and lots and lots of stuff I didn’t need to save for this long, if at all. Suffice it to say, I threw out a lot, and now it’s nice to see the floor, and have my pantry organized, again.

January 3
I was moved to a new desk at work today — my third in a month — but this one has walls. It’s been almost five years since I’ve had a cubicle with walls. Suffice it to say, I’m very happy about this. Really.

January 2
A lot of people went back to work today, so this morning I was happy to get the seat I wanted on the T, so I didn’t have to worry about how crowded the train was.

January 1
Woke up this morning at 9:30 a.m. well rested, thanks to my unexpected crashing at 11 p.m. last night, and my upstairs neighbor not making a ton of noise when she and her friend went to bed, and them sleeping late today. Did I really get close to 10 hours of sleep? Yay!

2 Responses to “The 2020 Happiness Project”

  1. Roberta Messuri January 2, 2020 at 2:55 pm #

    Hey Martin, Happy New Year. And thanks for this post. It really hit home for me. I decided to also write down, every day in 2020, one thing that makes me smile. I’m so many ways I value knowing you.

    • Martin Lieberman January 2, 2020 at 2:57 pm #

      That’s awesome! Glad to be an inspiration for your own Project. Happy 2020! 🙂

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