Category Archives: Happiness Project

April Happiness Project- Kikki K Happiness workshop*

Ok so I could pretend that I had always intended for this to be my scheduled activity for April when I outlined my happiness project in January. But that would be dishonest. I didn’t have the workshop scheduled until about a fortnight ago, although I received the voucher for Christmas so it was definitely well and truly on my list of things to do.

The truth is, the first two months haven’t gone exactly to plan and a combination of running out of steam (ie time, energy, motivation) and being disorganised had part of me thinking “screw this” but then another part of me saying “no hang on, why not just make the workshop your Happiness activity for this month?”.

So on Thursday last week, Mr L made sure he got home a bit early from work and I ventured into Auckland’s shopping district to attend my Kikki K Happiness workshop.

Kikki K run a series of workshops with various themes- including Organisation, Goals, Happiness and a new one, Mindfulness. They run for an hour and cost $50 (in NZ) and there’s the lure of a free (well, an included) gift and a discount on all items in store on the night. You know what the gift is ahead of time so if you wanted to, you could go into it with an idea of the content although I must admit, I didn’t bother doing any research and just went off the description of the workshop and also the fact that one of my themes/interests for this year is Happiness.

So at the start of the workshop were given our own Kikki K Happiness journal to take home and this formed the basis for most of the points of discussion. The session was led by Michelle, who leads all the workshops in Auckland and Hamilton and started doing so (I think) just this year. She was a graphic designer in a former life until deciding she was unhappy in her job and needed to do something different. I’m unsure if she has any formal training in Life Coaching or motivational speaking (or in fact, if you necessarily need any) but she certainly had the makings of a good facilitator for this kind of session. I felt she was a little nervous, although maybe if I hadn’t known she was new to the job I wouldn’t have picked up on this.

The other workshop participants were all female and all appeared to be twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings, with the exception of two high school girls, (who were very sweet!)

The basic concepts discussed were not new to me, which didn’t actually matter, it was good to have them reinforced. Interestingly, Kikki K sell Gretchen Rubin’s books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, and a large part of the workshop (and in fact the diary) seemed to be inspired by her own Happiness Project. I found this a little distracting, partly because I’d already made my own impression of her book, partly because I wondered if she was receiving any commission and also because I would have liked to add a couple more references and resources to my happiness bibliography. But it didn’t take over the workshop and given that much of my own Happiness inspiration has been derived from her writing, I didn’t really feel I could complain too much.

The main themes/messages were:

  1.  Being happy is an active choice we make on a day-to-day basis
  2. Taking pleasure in the (often simple) things already present in your life is far more effective than dreaming of how future big goals are going to make you happy
  3. Reflecting on what makes you happy, what has made you happy in the past and being grateful for those things is vital for Happiness
  4. Accepting yourself and your own likes & dislikes in also crucial, rather than trying to conform to others’ ideas of what should make you happy

The diary is essentially in two sections- the first covers general reflective exercises covering mainly what I’ve mentioned above, the second is a more specific tool for analysing what would make your life happier and coming up with some steps to achieve those things, with a month-by-month plan. In other words, your own happiness project.

I left the workshop feeling relaxed and, happily, happy. It was hard to say if the workshop and the reminders it provided me re my own happiness project were the main reason for that, or if I just felt like I’d had a mental break after a particularly taxing few days with the kids. Probably a bit of both.

So my April happiness project has become to complete the diary exercises and take another look at my own happiness project and see if I can do a bit of a better job than I managed in February and March!

*Much as I would love to be endorsed by a company like Kikki K, I attended this workshop as a paying customer

Lions & Lambs

Growing up in England, there was much preoccupation with the weather, as there seems to be in general, but more so, apparently, in countries whose weather is either predictably bad or predictably unpredictable. There was always a saying “March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” meaning that it was supposed to be some kind of critical weather month which magically transitioned from winter to spring. True, early March in England is generally pretty grim weather-wise, but I certainly have memories of many an April, May and June wondering when exactly the nice weather would arrive.

Today is the penultimate day of March and, whilst the weather in Auckland has gradually become a little cooler but still remained generally very pleasant, I’d say in terms of Happiness and Vitality, March is definitely ending on a more leonine note than it started. [Actually all the lions I’ve ever seen have been very cool, calm and collected, mostly asleep but even the awake ones have been sedately pacing or meticulously stalking prey- but never mind, let’s not wreck the analogy.]

Quite what I was thinking making “Vitality” the theme for March, at 7 months pregnant with a fairly hectic work schedule for both myself and Mr L, I have no idea. Today I find myself completely exhausted and emotionally overwrought as I gear up for my last rostered shift at work this evening (still leaving a few loose ends to tidy up before no 3 arrives) and at home I find myself increasingly disorganised and at the end of my tether with Miss L, who seems to have firmly embraced the terrible twos at the age of only 21 months. Carrying an extra 20kg, sleeping poorly (thanks to big tummy, pregnancy-induced snoring, crying children), I don’t think I’ve ever felt less full of vitality in my life. I keep saying “when I’m on maternity leave…” but in fact work accounts for less than 20 hours of my week so I’m not entirely sure how much difference stopping will make. At least there won’t be any more super-late (3am) nights. At least, not work-related ones.

Anyway here’s a summary of March Happiness:

Go to sleep earlier– I did ok with this one for a couple of weeks, but it required a surprising amount of discipline. I looked around for a clock to use as a time-keeping substitute for my phone (not a prolonged search, I admit) and then kind of forgot about it, and as my sleep became more frequently interrupted by other the other factors mentioned above, I found myself turning to my phone and its cyber-entertainment during bouts of insomnia. I have found showering before bed fairly relaxing however, and have got into a bit of a habit of doing this. Plus showering at night means I can do it at leisure without fear of a child killing themselves/their sibling while I’m at it.

Exercise– did badly on this one, coming nowhere close to 3 times a week (although I didn’t keep my resolution chart either- another fail- so I couldn’t say how many times I did manage it). It did reiterate to me, though, how much better I feel after some fresh air, even if it’s just a 20 minute stroll through the park with the dog.

Act energetic– this was perhaps the most ridiculous of my ideas so far. For someone who finds it hard to fake “energetic” at the best of times, this was never going to happen given my current size, my sleep-debt and everything else at the moment. Might have to re-try this one at a later date.

Toss, restore, organise was moderately successful. We managed to get the spare room sorted out, the cot in the baby’s room up, a few more pictures on the walls and a couple of other odd jobs done. I haven’t done a lot of tossing, but I’ve made the bed a bit more often than usual and been a bit more diligent about putting the laundry away. The evening tidy up happens properly about 50% of the time, and in a modified format most nights.

Similarly for the nagging tasks– when I reviewed my to-do list last night I was pleasantly surprised to see how short it was. True to my word, I have crossed off an item without doing it once a week and managed to get through a couple of other items a week from it and amazingly have managed not to add too many other things to it.  To be honest I didn’t give a lot of thought to doing smaller than 1 minute jobs right away, maybe I already do them without thinking, I don’t know, there just didn’t seem to be that many….

Eat better, however was also a complete fail…. But I have mapped out a rough outline of my post-baby diet which (perversely) I am planning to start after Easter- yes, before the baby is born!! Really keen to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight in time for our ski trip in August, 3 months post baby, so I thought I’d get started early as 3 months isn’t a lot of time to shift all the kgs I’ve gained.

All in all, I’m kind of wondering how Gretchen fit all this in on top of real life. I suppose the idea is that it’s supposed to enhance and improve your real life. It probably helped that she was writing a book about it but she must have had a job and a life going on while it was in progress, it’s not like a book pays the bills before it’s written (well, not many bills). Anyway she seems to be quite popular these days, with another book, a podcast series and also speaking at some Happiness convention in Sydney we saw an ad for….

I, meanwhile, feel like I just have to survive this evening/this week/this pregnancy/who knows how long… I’m hanging out for the day I don’t go to bed dreading being woken up and to waking up most mornings feeling reliably relaxed and refreshed. Maybe in another 10 years!

March Happiness Project- Vitality

It’s autumn! I love a change of season and I especially love the first day of autumn. So my plan for March: Vitality.

Gretchen does this one first up. I guess she figured it’d stand her in good stead for the rest of the year. Which is partly why I chose to do it early as well (and also because, getting late in my pregnancy, I figured I might need it the most about now!)

I think I’ve pretty much lifted my resolutions directly from her. They are:

1. Go to sleep earlier– I really need to do this! Since giving birth to Master L, when everyone seemed to be full of the advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!!” I’ve resisted having a nap when the kids have theirs, or going to bed as soon as they do. It helped that as tiny babies, both my kids were good sleepers so I seemed to have less of that new-baby sleep deprivation than other mums do, I think. Apart from the fact that, even at my most tired, 7pm is generally too early to go to bed (and I need to have dinner), I’ve always valued my child-free/child-asleep time so much, that to sleep it away myself seems like a waste. I welcome the opportunity to do my own thing, whether it’s getting dinner ready, tidying up, watching TV or surfing the net. However, now that I have 2 kids and am 30 weeks pregnant, I’ve come to realize that staying up being an adult is all well and good, but if you’re so tired the next day that you act like a child (and a tired one at that), it’s better for everyone that you sleep. For me, I need to not just go to sleep earlier, but go to sleep “cleaner”. Sleep hygiene is something I’ve never been great at, and now that we have mobiles and laptops and i pads to keep our minds buzzing right up (and even after) we turn off the light, I’m even worse. So I’m going to try the following to sleep longer and better:

  • Start the bedtime routine at 9.30- laptop off, last cup of tea, start getting kids’ milk ready, make sure kitchen either tidied to my liking or make conscious decision to leave it till the next morning (and be happy with that decision!)
  •  Upstairs at 10- no more checking phone for emails or FB updates
  • Read for up to half an hour before lights out at 10.30
  • Get a bedside clock ASAP so I can leave my phone charging downstairs and am not tempted to check it at 4am!

2. Exercise- I’m limited by what I can do at the moment (yes, I know, excuses, but really, I have horrible varicose veins that start in my groin and ache when I try and do too much on my feet) but I’d really like to swim or walk (well, stroll/waddle) 3 times a week. The dog will be happy about that too (not me swimming, but the strolling part). I’m conscious of being VERY unfit in this pregnancy, which I’m sure I’ll regret in labour, if not before

3. Act energetic– ok so being the size of a baby whale is not really conducive to this but the theme of this month is “Vitality”, after all! I came across a man called Richard Wiseman last night, a psychologist and author of 59 seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (I have asked the library to reserve me a copy). One of his basic theories about behavioural change is that if you pretend to be what you want to be, you will be. So pretend to be more energetic, and you will be! Same goes for happy, powerful, calm blah blah… (Maybe I could save myself this whole Happiness project series here!)

4. Toss, restore, organise– This is generally something I find fairly easy although we have still not got on top of things 100% since moving house. This weekend’s task is to get 2 more of our remaining rooms sorted out. I’ve also become a bit slack with tidying the kids’ toys in the evening- “Do an evening tidy up” is actually one of Gretchen’s daily resolutions for her vitality month. It needs to be reintroduced in our house! I’ve also been intrigued lately by a blog called Zero Waste Home– but more on that later.

5. Tackle that nagging task– oh my perpetual to do list!!! Gretchen’s rule- if you can do it in less than a minute, do it now (actually she got that from someone else, I’m not sure who though). To whittle my To-Do list away I’m going to try:

  • Once a week, cross an item off without doing it (ie just get rid of one non-essential task)
  • Schedule 2 items per week
  • Anything less than a minute- do it now!

6. Eat better– I debated about including this as it probably falls more in the domain of “Health and Fitness”, which I have planned for July. However I can’t help but feeling that my terrible diet (too much food and of the wrong type) probably also plays a part in my lack of vitality, not just through excessive pregnancy pounds gained, but in the general malaise and sluggishness that comes from feeling constantly full and never hungry. So although I think the motivation to really lose my baby weight won’t kick in until after the baby’s born, I’m going to try making some small changes now so that a) I feel better and b) I don’t have as much weight to lose come May. Starting with 3 meals & 2 snacks a day, instead of the constant grazing and mindless eating I’ve been allowing myself to do.

 That seems like a lot of resolutions for one chart. Let’s see how I go….

 Commandments

  1. Let it go
  2. Act the way I want to feel
  3. Do it now
  4. Enjoy the process

February summed up

Well, I feel as though I am ending February with a spectacular FAIL. I got as far as printing my resolution chart out but neglected to actually put it up anywhere visible (in fact I’d go so far as to say I lost it) let alone fill it in.

I limped through last weekend at work, thinking “I just have to make it to Tuesday”. Well I made it, and then struggled through Tuesday tired and preoccupied instead of enjoying being at home. Wednesday was better but then yesterday fell hopelessly apart by bedtime with Master L, Miss L and mummy all tired (Master L after preschool, Miss L mysteriously having refused her daytime sleep and mummy having stayed up too late the night before doing nothing constructive).

I feel like I am constantly making excuses for myself- yes I’m pregnant, yes I’m tired, so what? So go to bed earlier! It was MY decision to have a third baby (and a first, and a second), no one else’s (well except Mr L I suppose!) and it’s not fair that I take out being tired and pregnant and fat (not just pregnant fat- too much food fat!) on the kids.

When Master L sobs back at me “Mummy why do you have to shout at us?” and Miss L goes and hides in the spare room…. I feel like the worst mother in the world. Especially when I answer his question in my head “I have no reason, bubba, except that I’m just being a shitty mother this evening”.

Maybe I should have followed Gretchen’s lead and worked on Vitality first rather than Attitude. Some fresh air and more quality sleep might have put me in a better frame of mind….

So, overall, as far as the resolutions went:

 

No negative FB posts- B+ This was easier than I thought
Use your kind voice C- Started off ok and got worse. This is really a conscious decision. I can choose what I use!
Area of refuge C+ I got better at this, but didn’t feel it had a huge impact
Use your kind voice FAIL I was terrible at this!! But it sort of reappears in March, so I’ll give it another crack.

 

Anyway there are just under 48 hours left of Feb… probably not enough time to redeem myself but I can at least improve on the past 48 hours!

February Happiness project- Attitude

And so (given that I finished her book at the very end of January), I decided February would be the start of my Gretchen Rubin-inspired Happiness project. Not long to plan, exactly, I know, but I thought I’d ride the motivational wave and get stuck in.

More t/f on the rest of the project (assuming I keep at it!) but it’s fairly closely modelled on Gretchen’s: essentially, tackling one area a month with some more specific goals laid out. I thought I’d start with “Attitude”. Interestingly, she leaves this one until November, which didn’t make much sense to me when I read the book. I thought if I worked on this first, the remaining 11 months might be a bit easier.

So my mini-goals/tasks/resolutions were:

1) No negative FB updates

2) Use your kind voice– funnily enough as soon as I started this I got an email from The Parenting Place– some NZ parenting support group I’ve had almost nothing to do with except signing up for their newsletter in a moment of weakness. They don’t send a lot of useful stuff, but I found this timely:

“As parents it’s easy to forget that how we say something often matters as much as what we say. If you have a child who can be resistant, keep the fight out of your voice and try using charm instead. It’s amazing what can be achieved when our tone of voice lets our kids know that we expect them to make a good choice. Making a decision to sound calm and happy often has the added benefit of making you feel calm and happy – a win/win for everyone.”

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? Along with it went a resolution to try and say “Yes” as much as possible. “Yes I’ll play with you. Yes we can go to the park. Yes you can help me make your breakfast”. What no one has told me is how you’re meant to respond when they throw it back in your face- when, after a morning of speaking kindly and saying “yes”, Master L has a meltdown because you say (kindly) “Yes we can build sandcastles on the beach…. Another day. Now we have to go home and have lunch and put Miss L down for a sleep”. And suddenly your sweet obliging child turns into an ungrateful, entitled monster and you’re almost sorry you bothered indulging him in the first place.

3) Find an area of refuge– “when people’s minds are unoccupied,” Gretchen says, “they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts. And rumination- dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters and sad events- leads to bad feelings”. I’ve found this hard as it’s a bit vague. Apart from the argument with my sister, which has taken up more of my headspace than it should, what I’ve been trying to do is think of nice things- the new baby, holidays etc, before I go to sleep at night.

4) Smile more– especially when you feel negative or anxious

Gretchen recommends keeping a resolution chart, ticking off each day which resolutions you pretty much stuck to and reviewing it to see how you are going.

Now that we’re half way through February, I wonder if the reason she left this one till last is that it’s so bloody hard! Apart from the fact that it’s a bit more abstract in nature than, say, eating healthily, it requires an incredible amount of determination, resolve and energy to maintain a good attitude towards life in general. As Gretchen her self says,

“It’s easier to complain than to laugh, easier to yell than to joke around, easier to be demanding than be satisfied.”

Especially when you are moderately heavily pregnant with your third child… (Don’t make excuses, fortunately, is not on the chart).

February’s been an up and down month anyway. It started with a solo night away in Melbourne for me at a work meeting. I finished the book the night before I left and was all fired up to plan my project and start! I found 2 days (and one, blissful night in a comfortable bed in a cool, dark, quiet hotel room) unbelievably refreshing. I came back relaxed and energised and feeling like I’d had a holiday. Maybe something to do with the fact that we did, then, go on holiday for a week, back to Sydney, which was also a really enjoyable week.

Since coming home though, I’ve really struggled with work, especially, but also the day to day routine in general. I’m tired, annoyed with the annoying bits (of work) and desensitised to the good bits. Maternity leave is within view but before it lie 2 more night shifts and another weekend. Plus a number of work things I need to get done before I go on leave. And it seems like every week for the next month or so either Mr L is away or I am either away or working a weekend. Other things, like petty arguments with my sister, a slight change in routine for the kids and a ton of things on my to-do list that I never seem to get on top of, have allowed a negative attitude to stomp all over my resolutions and February happiness goals.

So I’m finding it hard! But half of Feb is left. The last couple of days I have been angry Mummy and I don’t like it at all, so I’m going to do and print my chart out right now and hopefully add some more ticks to it…

Happiness is…

One of my “things” for 2015 was to look more into the concept of happiness. I had stumbled across Shawn Achor already and then I stumbled across Gretchen Rubin and her “Happiness Project”. Intrigued, I reserved her book of the same title in the library and I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago.

It’s hard to say what I thought of it. She certainly had a lot of interesting stuff to say and it provided ample food for thought over the last couple of weeks. Evidently intelligent, educated and articulate, she writes about a year of her life where she conducts her own Happiness Project, dedicating each month to a specific task, area or goal intended to make her happier.

I guess I was expecting a light- hearted, witty, entertaining account where she transformed her life with minimal effort into something shiny and bright. Instead, the book was an honest, considered, almost thesis-style report of some of the day-to-day details of her life she felt she needed to change to become happier. As I said, there was a lot of interesting stuff in there, but there were also quite a few bits I skipped (such as reprints of lengthy comments posted by her own blog followers). She came across as a rather serious person who really had to try hard to embrace happiness. In her own words:

“I had a tendency to be discontented: ambitious, dissatisfied, fretful, and tough to please.”

She just doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable author, protagonist and main character and I think that’s partly what un-did me. Likeable’s possibly the wrong word, it’s not that she’s unlikeable either… but then, it’s not a work of fiction and I don’t think it’s designed to entertain, as such, it’s an act of sharing, and if by sharing, it helps people, great. Of course, it’s also how she makes a living now (as a writer).

I think the main things that bothered me about this book, through no fault of the author’s, were

  1. There was no overnight transformation, no magic bullet, just a series of real, practical steps requiring effort and commitment (and therefore much more applicable to most people’s lives).
  2. Instead of featuring someone I fancied myself as in a slightly more glamorous, story-book life (my “superhero self”), the author, in all her serious, grudge-bearing imperfection is actually much more like the real me than I like to admit.

Unfortunately, the week after I finished it, it was due back at the library but I managed to spend some time going through the book again and picked out some of the bits that might work for me. In fact, at the back of the book she includes the web address for her blog and some practical tools that might help the reader with their own happiness project.

And so I have mapped out my own rough Happiness Project for 2015, starting this month, Februray, with “Attitude”…. TBC!