Last month I was perusing my local used bookstore when I came across something called "The Happiness Project". I began to read it and discovered it was about a woman's year long journey to be more happy.
The idea that she made happiness a goal for an entire year excited and intrigued me. So often I hear about happiness projects being a goal of 30 days or something similar. I could only imagine what would change for me if happiness was my priority for twelve months straight.
I then sat with the feeling that if making happiness a priority for a year feels revolutionary, it means I'm not making it a priority now. And if it's not my motivation, what is? My answer to this was two things - one, to accomplish things so I don't feel awkward when I'm socializing. I need to tell people what I'm doing and what I've done so that they won't perceive me as being lazy and undisciplined.
It stunned me to realize a large motivating factor for me is what other people think of me.
My other priority in life is how I'm going to feel taken care of. How will I make money? How will I survive? This too surprised me, because as a writer I had always told myself I was living the opposite of the pursuit of money and security. And yet this has been a driving force in how I feel and what I want for most of my life.
I'm so used to the idea that this world is about survival that even in the pursuit of my purest, most beloved passion I forgot to bring happiness into it.
What then would happen if I thought of what makes me happy and made that my priority?
The author of the book started on January 1st, dedicating each month to a happiness goal. This too felt revolutionary. So often we put all of our plans for change into one pressure-filled moment. We want our News Years resolutions to sweep through and change our whole life, without considering that each resolution needs time to be nurtured and rooted.
Since I bought the book in mid-February I decided to wait until March 1st to begin. That would give me more time to read about her journey, which was already inspiring and uplifting me. Just hearing about how someone else's life positively changes for the better can do so much to get us up and going. Even though I wouldn't begin for several weeks, I decided to go ahead and write my list.
Once I'd finished I'd wondered if I'd done a good job. Was it a good idea to make a month dedicated to laughter? How would I laugh more? Maybe that was too vague... and what about the goal to be outside more? I don't love gardening and yet I'd included that as part of an outdoor-oriented month...
The fact that I wasn't sure if I knew what would make me happier speaks volumes in itself.
But then I thought of something I wanted to add and as I went down the list there was nothing I wanted to remove to make room for it. So that was it. I had my list. (And I did sneak that thing in - it was a spiritual tome I've been wanting to read, and I piggy backed it on my meditation month).
It's now mid-March and I still haven't officially started my happiness project. I want to completely finish the book before I do so, as I know one of my non-happy habits is rushing. When I begin I book I devour it as fast as I can, sometimes falling asleep while I read. I get an idea for a project and I dive in, giving it hours at a time before I stop to ask myself how I'm feeling and if I'm ready for this next step.
I had already noticed my leadfoot when it came to kick starting things in my life, so I didn't officially put "slow down" in the list. I'm considering it an over-arching, year long goal that will support all the other ones.
You don't need the book in order to begin your own happiness project. The author has tons of information online, including a blog, podcasts and a starter kit for a Happiness Project group.
How do you feel about a year of happiness? Does it sound like a lot of work, or like you'd change your priorities and find a new way of living?
As soon as I got in the gym spa I knew he wanted to say something to me. I sat quietly and closed my eyes, radiating as best I could, “I would like to be left alone.”
When the only other person in the spa left the feeling intensified. He was going to engage in conversation and I was going to feel obligated to politely respond.
As soon as he spoke it was worse than I had anticipated. His question chaffed against me. It was the last thing I wanted to talk about.
“I just want to know,” he began, “how do you feel about Donald Trump?”
I opened my eyes and looked at him. I immediately felt cornered and like there was no right answer. Whether or not we agreed on our views, I was going to be trapped discussing something I desperately wanted a break from.
For the entire time prior, while running on the treadmill, all I saw were newsfeeds discussing the latest Donald Trump scandal. Each side was analyzing it in its own way, and as usually happens these days, without any middle ground.
I couldn’t wait until I got in the outdoor spa where I could soak my muscles and, for a short period of time, forget all the troubles of the world.
“I ask this of everyone,” he said, without waiting for me to respond. “So what do you think of him?”
While wishing I had the guts to say “I don’t feel like having this conversation” I gave a few short sentiments on my views.
He took this in and then began a long winded, tangent-filled response on his own opposing views. All the while, I struggled with the knowing that I was rejecting my own desires in order to make him feel comfortable.
As he ranted onwards I tried several times to get my perspective in. If I was going to politely set aside my own comfort then I at least wanted to have a decent conversation. He had a different idea, however, and he continually cut me off and spoke over me. I bristled at his condescending tone while asking myself how I could end this.
I didn’t want to continue my past need to make someone else comfortable out of fear that I might come across as rude. I also didn’t want to repeat my old habit of simply leaving with a polite, “Okay, thanks, I have to go now.”
Why should I leave? I was in the spa for a reason. It was my right to enjoy it without being bothered.
Eventually I grew impatient and thanked him for opening a dialogue. However, I continued, he was talking at me, not with me. I didn’t appreciate being preached at.
For a split second we both sat in disbelief. He apparently wasn’t expecting that, and I have never spoken up to a stranger in this way. Particularly a stranger I’m sharing a small space with, which usually intensifies my need to be polite.
The moment passed and he dove back in, telling me how he was more educated and knowledgeable than me when it came to this stuff. Still unwilling to ask him to leave me alone, I asked, “How could you possibly know that? I’ve barely said anything!”
He was again momentarily caught off guard. This clearly wasn’t going how he wanted. We were either meant to get into an argument or I was meant to sit silently while he “educated” me.
Shrugging off my cues that I was done with this he said, “Okay, go ahead. Tell me what you think.”
I then did something that shocked me. I said no. I refused to engage further. I did what felt comfortable for ME.
My exact words were, “No. I’m good.” I was surprised with the ease with which it came out. “I just want to sit here quietly,” I continued. I looked him right in the eye, and in a strong yet kind voice said, “We can enjoy this space together. But quietly.”
I then closed my eyes, leaned back and breathed deep. The silence was euphoric. I knew it was making him uncomfortable, but what could I do? He’d made the choice to put me in that position, and as an autonomous being full of self-love, I had every right to respond in whichever way I chose.
He soon after left.
After he was gone I reflected on what had happened. I thanked him for showing up and showing me I can be polite while also honoring my own needs. I thanked him for reminding me I’m stronger than I realize and I can stand up for myself.
My honesty may have given him a moment to reflect on his behavior also. Or he may have just decided that I’m rude and felt nothing more.
This fear of being perceived as rude is what always stopped me from doing this before. But the irony is, when you shut up and smile politely you are being rude – to yourself. And you’re allowing someone to be rude to you, to take over your time and space without considering you.
We are not required to be martyrs to other people’s social disgraces. We do not have to diminish, hide nor silence ourselves in order to make someone else feel comfortable. We do not have to smile at offensive jokes. We do not have to sacrifice our personal space in order to make someone else feel good.
We also aren't expected to argue with people, defend ourselves or prove anything. We do not have to engage and be baited into what is ultimately someone's need for attention and validation.
You have every right to say thank you but I'd like to be left alone.
The only thing expected of us is to be aware of the feelings that we radiate, which are powerful forces in this world. I’m now choosing not to engage in things that ultimately end in me radiating frustration, resentment and disempowerment.
Instead, I'm choosing love, which may require a bit more honesty and less people pleasing, but ultimately sets us all free.