Sunday, March 10, 2013

Happiness

I recently purchased The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin after seeing the small and intriguing book in the English section of a Japanese bookstore in Thailand (lol). I was pretty sure that I had read something on Facebook by a friend who had read the book and started a project of her own... and this was a girl that outwardly seemed happy all the time. Is it possible to be happier if one already feels generally happy?



The day I bought the book, I was really in the market for an exercise ball for my current p90x infatuation. Such things aren't exactly on every street corner in Bangkok! I found my ball and was pretty proud of my purchase, despite how much of a money crunch I'm in... as a "super senior" in college with a back-to-back-unpaid student teaching and internship experience. The back of the book says, "She found that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that outer order contributes to inner calm; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference." The first statement resonated with me as I had just spent precious money on something that would help me exercise better so I would be fitter so I would be happier. The second statement directly applies to my situation in Thailand; having everything "normal" stripped away and having to start over at "ground zero" and find out who I am, what I really need to exist happily, how I integrate into society, and what I want to do for the rest of my life. Are you starting to see the book's fit to my situation?

Tony Horton is out of his mind if he thinks we can do this.
At least I bought the ball. 

I bought the book and read it the next day. There are many profound statements, quotes, well-researched conclusions, and fun anecdotes on each page of this "memoir" of sorts. Gretchen Rubin presents her 1 year project in hopes to inspire others to start their own. I've always been fascinated by the human desire to study someone else's life so intimately (reality TV, celebrity autobiographies, even religious books, etc.). Like we're living vicariously through that person because there's something unsatisfying about our own. Hopefully, we then transfer to our own day-to-day experiences (sometimes we learn what NOT to do in this way). This lady seems to have helped countless people with her own story! Here was my realization after reading a few chapters:

I'm already knee-deep in my own "Happiness Project"!

You may think of that as a "duh" statement ('how could one not be happy in an exotic, tropical country?'), but for me it was a pretty profound thought. I knew that Thailand would be good for me and I realized that I was striving for some positive changes, but it took the 275 page read to help me realize what it all means.

I may not have thought the scope of what's happening for me in Thailand as a "project", but it pretty much is. Why not call it that? I love projects, lists, order, and creative names to make something sound more fun (see previous blog). Maybe thinking of this as a project will allow me to continue the good habits that are forming once I get back home and make some clear goals and objectives for myself. But here's what I'm already doing that would probably fit under Rubin's "Happiness Project" umbrella:

  • I've completely committed to completing a 90-120 day, hardcore exercise program-- complete with nutrition guide for slimming down
  • I'm writing down everything that I spend to hold myself accountable 
  • I've created a daily Internship Itinerary to help focus my studies
  • I am reading books and blogs to start a good habit of lifelong learning
  • I'm watching American TV that makes me happy in regular (healthy) intervals
  • I am successfully, though slowly, learning a new language (which mayyy be out of necessity :))
  • I've made a list of the "ideal me", physically, and have made great progress
  • I got a nice camera and have started a great habit of taking pictures more often
  • I'm writing a blog, which is something I have always wanted to do
  • I exercise adventure by going somewhere new every weekend, taking my bike to new places to eat all the time, and trying new foods
  • And-- closest to what Rubin prescribes in her book-- I made a check-list of things I should probably be doing every day and fill it out ritualistically every night (it's uncanny how well this fit's into the book's  mold)
There are plenty of OTHER things that I would love to be a project but maybe they'll just be part of the second half. Maybe I'll think of it as "phases". Anything to do with relationship, my actual career (which I don't have yet), my future living space, and friends will have to wait until my return. 

Perhaps more on that later. 

2 important things that I'm realizing more and more during my stay: 
  1. "Quality of Life" is simply technical jargon we use for "happiness". When I first heard my Thai colleague use "happiness" to describe the ultimate goal of music therapy, I thought it sounded awfully "fluffy" ... many Americans shy away from this term because it's hard to measure, it's different for everyone, and it sounds a bit "non-medical", if I can use such a phrase.  But "happiness" may truly be the word to describe what we're really trying to achieve--for ourselves and others, in our work and at home, and across a lifetime.
  2. It's alright to focus on yourself and your own happiness, even if your life goal involves others, because happiness is the prerequisite to giving happiness. 
I suggest this book. If you don't read the book, I suggest that you think about --and exercise-- what makes you happy. Every day! Thailand has honestly re-framed how I see happiness and I'm on the road to a happier me (even though I wasn't unhappy to begin with!). 

My happy place.

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