Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” an account of Rubin’s year-long journey of discovery to find heightened levels of contentment and happiness. People all over the world are now embarking on their own happiness projects and it’s helping me find simple ways to elevate my happiness in every day life. Like many people, I often take the best parts of my life for granted; my 2 beautiful children, Noah and Vivi, who tackle me with love every time I walk through the door. My caring, incredibly smart wife, Maritza, who knows me better than I know myself and who I adore. My extended family, who, with all their quirks and individual lives would drop anything at a moment’s notice if I needed them. My career with a company that gives so much and allows me to be my best self every day. My ridiculous castle of a house, my race car-like speedster that my wife allowed me to buy, bunny2BEAR, my coaching clients and and so on. I have the makings of an “ideal life,” yet I found myself always searching for more ways to fill my happiness bucket. I remember a conversation with my wife not long ago, “I don’t know if you’ll ever be happy” she said, with frustration coming through her soft tone. She was right! Through all the striving, I’d forgotten to enjoy the most important aspects of the life I was living right now. It was time for a change. It was time to take my own advice I’d been coaching people on for years. It was time to slow down and spend more time embracing the blessings I already had in my life. Research shows that you are happier when you help more people and people are happier when you, yourself are happy. I knew that adding more happiness to my life, would not turn me into a bunny, but would only strengthen my inner BEAR and help me be more effective in helping those around me. So, I jumped right in.
Here are a few things I’ve added to my life to find an ounce (or two) of happiness (following Rubin’s lead):
Energy: I cleared the clutter out of my closet by removing anything I hadn’t worn in the last 6 months and wouldn’t wear in the next 2 months. I organized my drawers and threw away ratty, worn out clothes I didn’t believe anyone would want and gave away the rest. I’m pretty OCD so I color-coded every section and separated everything into it’s own “place” from my v-neck undershirts and underwear, my exercise clothes, my dress shirts untucked, tucked and with a jacket, my suits, just my suit jackets, my polos, my sweaters, my button up sweaters, my zip up sweaters, my dark jeans, my light jeans, my shorts, my swim trunks and on and on. I went to town and started to get bursts of energy not meant for a closet. I was in organization heaven! When I finished, I worked through my office, kitchen, kids rooms, play room, living and dining room, bathrooms and finally took a breath. For days I was on a high. I never realized how much joy I could get from something so simple as organizing the “junk” in my house. It was awesome!
Marriage and kids: Next, as Rubin did in her book, I wanted to look at how I could improve my home life. Looking from the outside-in it wasn’t that we were unhappy, but could we find ways to decrease the amount of bickering and complaining and demanding that every family goes through to boost the Braswell family happiness barometer? You betcha! So, it was a worthy cause. With my wife traveling most months I try to make the most of the moments we have together. Prior to the “Happiness Project” I would often resent my wife at times when she had to work and I was “forced” to take care of the kids. I know, it’s not fair and I’m not proud of it, but it was true. “Why do I have to put the kids to bed, I worked all day too and I still need to work on my other stuff as well!” When you take your life for granted, you often have these moments of fogged thinking and selfishness. Hindsight is 20/20, and I was on a mission to change it. Instead of keeping score I chose love and gratitude for the hard work Maritza was putting in. She is an amazingly successful attorney who is doing work that most people 10 years ahead of her aren’t doing. It takes commitment and hard work and I admire her so much for all she has done in her career and to balance her family at the same time. It’s not easy, but she’s done a fantastic job. She didn’t like spending time away from the kids and my complaining wasn’t making it any easier on her. Her guilt only intensified with every sigh I let out. To myself, I said “No more! I’m going to ‘protect the girls’ (as I teach my son). I’m going to take away her anxiety and frustration and ‘save the day!'” I happen to believe that by making a strong decision about something with conviction you can change your behavior. In this case, it worked. From that day on, when she said she had to work late, I was supportive and immediately stepped into my ‘save the day” superhero mindset. I started spending more time with the kids doing some really new and exciting things. For example, we started reading night, in which I would read 10 pages of a book each night – ok, I was reading books I wanted to read, so we both got full engagement, but after each page I’d say “ok, Noah (4 years old), how many more pages do we have?” He’d put up ten fingers and then drop the 2 we’d already read and then count his 8 fingers, with fervor and pride. It was like my closet experience, I was getting so much joy from watching him count his fingers and then yell out “8, daddy, we have 8 more pages!!” Again, I couldn’t believe how such a simple scene was bringing me so much joy, but it was. We still continue this routine and now it’s becoming a bit of a tradition – when my wife isn’t working – which is actually most nights now, she is singing and playing guitar and I’m reading – then with a “one-one-one more minute” we leave our kids to a last minute iPad moment before going off to sleep. It’s been therapeutic and fulfilling just having this one simple tradition added to our life. I also hug my wife and kids more now – research shows that a simple hug has a major impact on our happiness, so it’s been a welcome add to our family!
These are just two areas I have been able to find more than an ounce of happiness lately. More to come. In the meantime, where do you find your ounce of happiness? I’d love to hear how you’ve been able to take back your life and focus on what truly matters. If you are still struggling to slow down, it would be interesting to know what keeps you running at the speed of sound.