Experiments in Happiness: The Setup

Recap: My New Year's resolution is to stop externalizing my happiness. This year, I'm focusing on my own behaviors and thought processes and experimenting with altering them -- one per month -- in order to become a more self-aware, self-assured person. You can also access my HuffPost archive here for past installments. You can also read the whole series on my blog, This Millennial Life.

January: No alcohol.

Yes, yes -- it's been less than two weeks, but I've been thinking more about the parameters of my yearlong project and decided further explanation was in order before diving into any "results."

I realize that I can't really have an experiment without qualifying or quantifying certain factors -- specifically, the factors I'm looking to strengthen or change. And while it's hard to make definitive assessments of, say, self-esteem, there are some correlating, more easily evaluated indicators.

I anticipate that anything I'll be attempting will affect one of three categories -- Body, Mind, and Creative -- and within those categories, the needle will move on certain benchmark factors. Some experiments won't apply to some or even most of these criteria, but it's a handy way to visualize and track progress -- or regress.


The classic -- and safe -- New Year's resolution category. The little black dress of self-improvement. Any changes I make to my body, diet, or exercise -- including teetotaling for January -- falls into this category. I predict experiments that affect this category will primarily make changes to my:

- Energy: Can I wake up in the mornings without punching someone? Can I stay awake without someone punching me? How many cups of free office coffee is too many cups of free office coffee?

- Activity: How often am I exercising? How does it make me feel? (Spoiler alert: The answers are "not enough" and "mad and sweaty.")

- Health: How well am I staving off the fourteen kazillion germs I encounter every day on the New York City public transit system? Is the dry patch on my mouth that appears in the same spot every winter actually lip cancer like I've secretly suspected for years?

- Weight: Pretty sure I will regret tracking this. Look: This is not now and will not ever be a weight loss blog. I'm plagued by the same crippling body image issues that torture every healthy American woman who's not in utero, but I'm not publishing my weight for the ever-compassionate citizens of the internet so that I can get snatched. I'm keeping track of it, and sharing it, because it's a tangible way to measure changes in my body from month to month.


All the "self-"s: Self-esteem, self-worth, self-actualization, self-loathing, selfies. I'll also lump all sorts of fears, anxieties, and resentments together here as well. Changes made in the Body category may very well also affect the factors below. Each month I'll evaluate my:

- Stress: How anxious and afraid do I generally feel? How long does it take me to fall asleep at night because I didn't start contributing to a 401(k) until 6 months ago and I'm pretty sure that means I'll die penniless?

- Savings: How much money am I able to save each month? Ok, so I understand that money is not an imaginary concept in my head, though if you looked at my bank account, it might as well be! Har har har! (Shoot me.) I'm including saving money here in the "mind" category because how much money I make/save has the most direct effect on my mental state, which is to say, usually deleterious.

- Contentment: I feel evaluating my happiness on a monthly basis would lead to existential meltdown, so I've knocked it down to contentment. How satisfied/dissatisfied with my general situation do I feel? How much do I want to change something about my circumstances that I feel like I can't?

- Presence: Hoo boy, do I struggle with this. I permanently live six months to a year in the future unless I forcibly restrain myself, and it contributes to a whole lot of frustration and anxiety in my life. A big motivation for me to do this project was the necessity of examining my "State of the Union" in the present rather than rabidly preparing for the future.


Anything that Oprah or bloggers with all-white living rooms would call "feeding your soul." I'm a sucker for arts and crafts, and I can easily fall into a Pinterest black hole looking at DIY projects and never doing them. I also work on theater projects as a dramaturg and writer. So basically anything I end up making or writing affects the following:

- Fulfillment: How artistically fulfilled do I feel? A broad question, to be sure, but definitely something that fluctuates. How satisfied am I with what I'm creating and how much time I have available to create it?

- Production: Feelings are one thing, but what am I actually making or doing? Did I write a new song with my writing partner? Did I work on a show? Did I make a coat rack out of toilet paper tubes? Did I submit to a playwriting contest? Basically, what are the tangible fruits of my creativity?

- Doubt: If you don't know the song "Die, Vampire, Die!" from the musical [title of show], go listen to it, and then you'll understand exactly what this category is about.

- Motivation/Discipline: How regimented and self-motivated am I being each month, and what's getting in my way? Also a big one for me. I have so many ideas and I'm so bad at getting them started. And I'm even worse at finishing them. I am a lazy, lazy artist.

So all in all, that's 12 different "inputs" that I'll look at each month to try to determine how a given experiment is affecting me -- or not affecting me. And if there are other, more significant happenings that contribute, I'll be sure to write about those as well.

Hopefully, this structure makes sense and will frame the rest of my posts, and if it doesn't, well... At least we wasted this time together.

I'll check in at the end of the week on my first two weeks of sobriety!