I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too. Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each post will help you think about your own happiness project.
One of my Secrets of Adulthood is "What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while." But it's easy to kid myself about what I do every day, as part during my usual routine, and what I do once in a while.
If I'm not careful, I can convince myself of statements like: "Most days, I go to the gym." "I eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day." "I rarely show my exasperation to my daughters." A reason my Resolutions Chart has helped my happiness is that it keeps me honest about what my daily routine actually looks like - not what I think it looks like, or what I wish it looked like. When I see on my chart that I haven't really been getting enough exercise, I can make sure to head to the gym.
Just as I have daily routines, I have weekly routines, holiday routines, yearly routines. I ask myself: do they boost my happiness, or not?
I'm a huge fan of Christopher Alexander's strange, brilliant writing, and I was struck by a passage from his book, The Timeless Way of Building:
Being in bed, having a shower, having breakfast in the kitchen, sitting in my study writing, walking in the garden, cooking and eating our common lunch at my office with my friends, going to the movies, taking my family to eat at a restaurant, going to bed again. There are a few more.
There are surprisingly few of these patterns of events in any one person's way of life, perhaps no more than a dozen. Look at your own life and you will find the same. It is shocking at first, to see that there are so few patterns of events open to me.
Not that I want more of them. But when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can't.
Think about the patterns of your life, about the daily routines that shape your existence. How's your morning? Could you tweak your morning routine, to make it a bit more pleasant? (For example, here are six tips for keeping school-day mornings calm and cheery). How about lunch? Your last hour before bedtime? Your Saturday afternoon, your Sunday evening? Your routine when you're feeling blue or lonely?
By identifying these patterns, and acknowledging their power to shape our lives, we're better able to set the patterns in ways that boost happiness. A friend of mine realized that one pattern in her life was an extremely irritating commute. Every day she had a horrible trip, and every day she was surprised by how bad it was and how much it affected her mood. When she acknowledged this, she decided to try to change the experience by listening to audiobooks in the car -- an activity she loves. That small change in the pattern of her life made a huge difference in her daily happiness.
I've thinking about evening routines. I have a very specific routine with each of my daughters. A lot of parenting advice focuses on bedtime, so I've paid careful attention to this part of the day. My younger daughter: she sits on my lap in a rocking chair, I read aloud for a while, then we turn off the light and rock in the dark. Then I tuck her into bed. She tries to drag it out as much as possible, of course, but that's the pattern. With my older daughter, I lie in bed with her for 10 or 15 minutes after she turns out her light. We talk or play games we've made up through the years, like "Little Sister" or the "Video Game." These are good patterns: calm, loving, predictable, enjoyable.
But, I recently realized, I don't have an end-of-day routine with my husband. Once the girls are in bed, we drift around the apartment. "What are you going to do?" we ask each other. Sometimes we watch recorded TV together (lately, Treme). Sometimes one of us is on the phone. He eats some ice cream, one or both of us catches up on email for a while. Usually we end up reading in bed together. It's cozy, but it's a very loose pattern, not the highly structured pattern I have with my daughters. I want to start a routine with him -- but what exactly should it be? I still haven't figured it out, but I know it can't involve a) reminders about unfinished tasks, b) conversations about logistics, or c) the kind of remark that I make that I preface with the words, "FYI..." Not good ways to end the day!
How about you? Have you recognized patterns or routines in a way that's helped you find ways to make your life happier?
* The New York Public Library is my favorite New York City institution, and I loved watching this hilarious video of the group Improv Everywhere recreating the famous opening scene from Ghostbusters. Support your local library!
* Did I ever happen to mention that my book The Happiness Project is a New York Times bestseller, including hitting #1? Really, I did? Oh. Well, anyway, you can...
Read sample chapters!
Watch the one-minute book trailer!
Join the discussion on the Facebook Page!
If you'd like a copy of the Resolutions Chart that I mentioned in this post, for inspiration, email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. Just write "resolutions chart" in the subject line.