Brainstorming for my Happiness Project

posted in: Wholehearted Living | 10

While on a lengthy car ride from Durango, Colorado, to Tucson, Arizona, I listened to The Happiness Project (by Gretchen Rubin) which I finished shortly before entering Phoenix.

Upon the completion of the book,  my brain was bubbling with ideas. I was determined to design a happiness project, and I wanted to do it all by October 1st, a mere few days away!

Gretchen Rubin masterfully narrated her book. I continually thought “great idea” or “oh, I want to do that!” At other times, my response was not as enthusiastic. Either way, I was thrilled at the prospect of designing my happiness experiment.

I quickly realized I had three problems:

  1. I was driving and could not take copious notes as is my natural inclination.
  2. There were too many action steps I wanted to cram into a Happiness Project.
  3. I was not necessarily keen on the idea of taking an entire year to implement my project.


Problem Solving

After zeroing in on my stumbling blocks, I could – hopefully – come up with some creative solutions.

I could remedy problem number one in two ways: 1) I could once again listen to the entire book on Audible, and at the same time, 2) order a hardback copy of the book. Once I had said book in hand, I could gleefully engage in marking, highlighting, and partaking in copious note-taking. I decided to do both (listen as well as order the book).

Problem #2

Problem number two would prove arduous to solve. The beauty of the Happiness Project was in taking the time to focus on one theme per month. Realistically, I couldn’t perform all my action steps in one month. Even if I could, the prospect sounded daunting.

Rushing through my Happiness Project would be counterproductive. I probably would not learn the lessons I was longing to gain if I forged ahead at neck-breaking speed. On the other hand, I was by all accounts impatient. A year seemed like a long time, and I wanted all my experiences infused into my brain “now. ” A sentiment typical of our times.

At this point, I had to surrender to the process. There is indeed happiness – and peace – in acceptance.

Problem #3

Problem number three was similar to problem number two. I wanted to work on twelve different areas, and invariably one subject would have to be last. How on earth was I going to pick the timing of my themes? They all felt crucial. Could I wait eleven months to work on my passion or my social bonds? What about altruism and energy?

Should I mindfully pick one subject or instead, as I was tempted to do, write my themes on a piece of paper, toss them in a hat and draw at random?

Not a bad idea, leaving everything to chance.

Instead, I determined to take the time to thoroughly brainstorm my themes even though I had less than one week to do so. After all, I had a model in the book, and while I did not want to work on the exact subjects Gretchen Rubin had picked – nor in the same sequence – her manuscript was a useful resource for me to model after.


Brainstorming for my Happiness Project



On Monday, I sat at my kitchen table surrounded by my favorite colored Bic pens, a yellow legal pad, and my laptop.

First, I wrote Gretchen Rubin’s eleven subjects with the action steps within each theme.

Afterward, I wrote the list of happiness themes I found listed on the website.

Subsequently, I also wrote all the subjects which interested me or which felt essential to my happiness. I anticipated that if I – proverbially – vomited all my ideas on paper, I would eventually be able to create twelve satisfactory categories for my experiment.

I did indeed collect plenty of ideas and action steps. My problem became how to organize them in some semblance of order. Some themes overlapped. Others subjects seemed too small; they could not possibly fill an entire month. Some categories were too broad; I would need to be split them over a couple of months.

At one point, I only had six categories, a bit later, fifteen.

This brainstorming was proving harder than I had forecasted.


Figuring It All Out

I decided I wanted to work on Energy first as Gretchen Rubin had done. The theme “energy” made perfect sense. If I didn’t have enough vitality to drag through my day, how was I going to stick to new resolutions for twelve months? Without energy, I would eventually quit which wasn’t my desired outcome.

Beyond “energy,” even though I already have a great marriage, I knew I wanted to work on this theme as well. We can always improve on a good thing, right?

Kids were another obvious category as were friends. “Friends” was a neglected subject in my life of late, one I teeter-tottered between being content with the status quo and wondering if maybe I was missing out.

I knew having a support system was important to happiness, especially during bad times. However, my support system was pretty much non-existent at this point.

I also knew I wanted – or shall I say needed – to work on authenticity. I have always had a strong desire to be authentic. I also needed to be able to accept myself fully before expecting anyone else to it.

Self-compassion was essential to living authentically, and to love others as well. How could I give to others what I would not give myself?

In addition to these subjects, I had many others which seemed – as I mentioned above – to be either too big, too small, or to overlap with another.

I went through my whole legal pad and started afresh with a new one to do so.


Comes in Google

At this point in my analysis, I felt stumped and decided to Google “happiness.”  I furiously took notes on the pages of my new pad. Additionally, I logged into my public library account to peruse their collection of books on happiness. I put a few on hold and a slew of others on my “for later shelf.”

Realistically, there was no way I was going to do a bunch of research by my starting date of October 1st.

I finally concluded I would concentrate on my first subject before planning for future months. Additionally, I would create some adequate action steps and a resolution chart.

Then, I would map out other subjects I knew I wanted to pursue. My more obscure themes, I would write on paper and leave them aside for a while. Maybe I could ferret some nuggets by walking away from this planning and taking a break.

Brainstorming is exhausting.

By the time I had all this worked out, it was close to ten PM, and I needed to head to bed (or at least, attempt to do so).


Another Day

As of right now, this is still where things stand for me.

All day, life happened. A morning walk. Kids. Appointments. Grocery shopping. A trip to the bank. Making breakfast and lunch as well as distributing what seemed like a million snacks (please, tell me your kids also say they’re hungry every twenty minutes). I even puttered around and wasted a fair amount of time which also seems to be a daily task of mine. Some of said wasted time was spent on social media, mainly Facebook (with which I have a love-hate relationship.)

Facebook is most definitely an area I need to tackle because it does not necessarily make me happy. It is a phenomenal tool to keep in touch with my family in France as well as friends all over the country. Facebook is also a black hole. Therefore, while Facebook does rank okay on my happy meter, wasted time most definitely does not. I am confident I squander way more time than I want to.

As evening nears and my kids are either riding (horses) with the neighbors or playing with the siblings of said neighbors, I plan on finishing my dinner prep in the hope of having some more time to brainstorm before my bed lures me into its welcome embrace.

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