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The 2020 Happiness Project

2 Jan
sunflowers

Not 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.

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The 2019 Happiness Project

2 Jan

Photo credit: Jessica Noel/fabcocktail.com

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. Continue reading

The 2018 Happiness Project

2 Jan

I don’t know much, but I know this: You can’t plan to be happy.

That said, you can make an effort to be mindful and appreciate good things that happen and that make you smile. And those things will make you happier. It’s a simple idea, but it’s an effective one.

And being happy has many benefits — not least of which is that nobody wants to hang around with a perpetual Debbie Downer. But all kidding aside, being happy has multiple health benefits, including increased strength and decreased stress, a stronger immune system, and reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Scientific evidence also suggests that happiness can help you unlock creativity, improve your memory, and make you more productive. So, it’s really not a trite or superficial (or sexist) thing when someone wishes you a “Happy New Year” or “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Holiday,” or suggests you smile more. They’re actually wishing you increased wellness and productivity. Continue reading

The 2017 Happiness Project

3 Jan

HappinessSomething I’ve learned over the years is that happiness is not something you can seek or plan. You just have to allow yourself to feel it. To notice and appreciate the good things in life — no matter how small — that make you smile. Hopefully on a regular basis.

With so much negativity in the world, that can sometimes be hard. And this year, it may prove extra challenging.

So, to proactively prevent another sucky year like 2016 was, I want to do whatever I can to focus on my own happiness — and hopefully, in the process, share that happiness with others. Continue reading

The 2015 Happiness Project

5 Jan

balloon-smiley-faceIn 2014, I was happy, and I’m committed to being happy in 2015 too.

So in an effort to demonstrate that every day has at least one thing to smile about (even the so-called bad days), I’ve decided to steal an idea from my friend Christoph Trappe, who spent the entire year last year posting happy thoughts, memories, or moments in one running blog post that he updated daily. It was a great way to show gratitude and remember what made each day so special for him.

That idea, like so many other good ideas, came from Twitter — specifically, a fellow tweeter named Krista, who did a similar thing in 2013. So you might say I’m now continuing the chain. Maybe next year somebody else will follow my lead.

Here’s the plan: For the next year, at the end of every day, I’m going to write down something that made me happy, whether that’s something I did, something I ate, something somebody said, a music lyric or line of movie dialogue that resonated with me, a tweet, or something else. It’s just that simple. Doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that made me smile.

With apologies (and all due respect) to Gretchen Rubin, I’m calling this blog post my “2015 Happiness Project.” Think of it as a digital “rememberlutions jar,” a way to make sure I’m doing everything on my 2015 to-do list, or, in a way, an abbreviated version of the journals I used to keep when I was in high school. And please, check back here often to see what’s making me smile all year long.

Here we go. Continue reading