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.

January 19

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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