From the very beginning of my Happiness Project, it quickly became apparent that choosing one theme per month may not work very well. The issue was not the blueprint I was following but, more specifically, the way I roll.
The theme idea was not new to me; I copied it directly from Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project.
The bestseller contains twelve sections: one for each month with an accompanying central theme. This model made for an entertaining read. Each chapter started with the announcement of the main subject which was further broken into three to four actions steps.
Tidy, fun and easy to read.
On first impression, this method appealed to me so much I spent a few days developing my themes and action steps for the upcoming year.
Pick a Theme Already!
Very early in the course of my Happiness experiment, I became conflicted over choosing my first topic.
I couldn’t make up my mind.
I felt I wanted to start with energy because this subject made perfect sense in light of a long-term commitment as in “get organized, focused, and start the other themes with renewed vitality.”
Energy was a logical choice, right?
At the same time, could I postpone some themes which were also very dear to my heart or that I felt were pivotal to the success of my project? Topics such as marriage, children, self-acceptance, and a few more were on my list.
I felt I neither could put off the theme “children” for three or four months nor “marriage” for one. “Friends” for five? I didn’t think so.
At this point, the start of my new venture was a couple of days away and the old dictum “don’t reinvent the wheel” came into play. Rubin had successfully completed her project with the theme method. I was a novice at this assignment; I might as well follow suit.
Straightaway, I found my attention somewhat fickle and not focused solely on the theme at hand. I would ponder ways to bring more happiness into all my relationships or, in turn, on how to bring back some discarded interests back to life.
This habit added to my already pretty active topic of “energy.”
By the middle of the month, I was struggling to pick my next theme. I had initially decided to work on self-acceptance. However, I was now questioning this choice and was leaning toward “marriage” instead.
I didn’t want to work on self-love for egocentric reasons. Most of the literature I have read on this subject concurs self-acceptance is a crucial prerequisite for all healthy relationships. This notion is established on the basis we cannot fully give to another which we have not ourselves experienced.
When we are able to accept ourselves with our human frailties, this fosters a sense of inner peace which enables us to be more present for others.
According to an article in Psychology Today, individuals who do not possess self-acceptance report both that they are less satisfied with their love relationship and that they are less optimistic about its future. “Furthermore, those who question their own self-worth are more likely to anxiously expect rejection and vigilantly monitor their partners’ behavior for signs of it, at times mistakenly interpreting benign acts as hostile and rejecting.”
In summary, it is hard to maintain any sort of relationship when we feel unworthy. Furthermore, let’s be honest and realistic—the majority of us most often focus on what’s “wrong” with us as well as what we did “wrong”. I do not escape this tendency hence my desire to work on self-acceptance.
Hubby and I have a great marriage, really we do. We will celebrate our twenty-fifth in about six months and while not perfect, our married years have been fantastic. He is the love of my life and my best friend. He is also the one who has seen it all including my not so nice side.
When it comes to relationships—and marriage in particular—I am a firm believer we can make a good thing even better. I am quite certain I have slacked off here and there and thus, there remain plenty of ways I can demonstrate my love for my wonderful spouse.
In short, did I work on the pre-requisite of a good marriage or on the marriage itself?
Even IF I could finally decide on one theme—by tossing a coin maybe?—could I wait two more months to work on my relationships with my kiddos, or my friends for that matter? Since kids come before friends, this would put the kid theme in January and my friend theme—minimally— in February.
What Do I Do?
I finally settled on…NO themes.
Well, this is not exactly true, I still have topics with related actions steps and ideas under each one. I simply don’t intend to work on one singular theme each month.
This means, when it comes to choosing some actions steps for each month, I went back to the starting block.
My brainstorming process went like this: I took my trusted notebook (the one I used in my very first brainstorming session) and wrote one theme per page. I wrote all my ideas and actions steps below.
I ended up with more than eleven (remaining) themes. However, some topics—as well as related action steps—were very short. Only one had one action step. Others were rather lengthy.
I decided I would pick about four action steps for each month from different categories. This means I would work on “marriage” over a period of a few months rather than a one-month time frame. In this manner, I could take some positive strides on multiple topics at once.
It became apparent that my notebook idea was not a very effective way to organize my subjects and associated steps. I continually flipped back and forth between ideas.
I decided to create a spreadsheet on my computer. At the top of the spreadsheet, I wrote each topic. Underneath I wrote my action steps as well as any ideas or thoughts which came to mind. I also color coordinated each theme in order to make it easier to view.
This process took a tad over an hour. When completed, it gave me a bird’s eye view of my subjects.
I proceeded to pick a few steps I wanted to focus on for November.
The next day, I wondered if there was a better way to brainstorm. A Google search revealed various apps. I only concentrated on three apps which were free. I tried two of them.
Coggle has a free option as well as a few paying ones.
I created an account and started a theme sheet. However, in short order, I saw this was not going to work for me. My mind map became too cluttered and confusing. By then, I had only entered a couple action steps of only one theme.
The way the map is designed made it hard for me to see my action steps as well as my notes.
I went on to try WiseMapping.
I liked this app much better and I was able to enter everything (same as my spreadsheet.) The process took longer to set it up than with Excell. After about two hours, I was left with a very large map which was impossible to see clearly in its entirety. My choices were either view the whole display (with the writing so small it was of no use) or a small fraction of my map.
While this may be helpful for some. I will stick with my less than glamorous spreadsheet.