Overview, Or: My Secret To Happiness

To maintain an overview over all the little things going on at the same time in my life has always been one of my greatest struggles. So great, in fact, that it became a source of alarmingly scary panic attacks at some point.

But the more I think about it, the more the feeling of overview (others use the term ‘control’, but in my opinion ‘overview’ is a more fitting description) seems like an illusion. Now knowing that I crave this very comforting deception, I might have to learn to create it myself.

The reason all of this is currently on my mind is that I have returned to uni only yesterday and already feel like I have lost my grip. Writing helps, so here I go.

There are a few things going on at the same time. First, there is uni. Although I only have three seminars at the point, I am barely keeping up and I have trouble motivating myself to do the work that needs to be done (although it is actually enjoyable work). Then there is my happiness project. The point of it was to help me master everyday life and rid it of frustration and guilt. At this point though, my resolutions chart only seems to be yet another source of a bad conscience.

Here we go, writing is already helping. All I need to do is put on some music, have some tea and maybe a shower and voila, I have a new, more positive perspective and can focus on what I need to focus on.

So if you’d ask me know what I do to help me create the illusion of control I can honestly tell you that it is the little things: write a blog or a diary to help you get back on track, drink a cup of tea, clean yourself or your flat, make lists. Oh, and the easiest and quickest measure is good lightning. I’m telling you, I have a daylight lamp that is like pure magic (I might actually write a post in its honour soon): It’s like switching on energy and motivation, especially if you live in the north of Germany where there is very little sunlight during winter.

You must excuse me now, I need to go shower and make a list!

B x

Happiness in Progress

As you might know from my blog post a few days ago, I have started my own happiness project. It’s only been a little while, but I guess this thing needs a bit more clarification.

Prime objective is, of course, to stop myself from wasting my days being miserable and not doing things and then feeling more miserable because I haven’t done anything. So, as a result, doing anything pretty much is progress. But I do admit that I am a wee bit ambitious, so there is a more grand goal here, too. It’s hard to put into words, but I am essentially looking to achieve a feeling of purpose, satisfaction and, of course, happiness (hence the title of the project).

But, of course, it’s not like you do on specific thing and then feel purposeful, happy and satisfied forever. It kind of fluctuates. One day you feel energetic and motivated, the next day you fail to overcome the major hurdle of getting out of bed. Also, these things are not entirely self-administered. Of course, there are internal factors that lead to happiness, but there are also external factors that you have no control over whatsoever, and there is, last but not least, that thing called luck. So for my project I focus on what I myself can do to feel better, and on nothing else.

Gretchen Rubin, whose book inspired me to start my own happiness project, recommends that you set concrete goals and keep track of them:

Make resolutions that are concrete and manageable. “Play with my dog each morning” is more effective than “Get more fun out of life.” Track your resolutions by finding a way to hold yourself accountable.

So I followed her example and filled in a chart (you can find the blank chart on page 13 of this document – page 1 to 12 might serve as examples to you) with seven individual and manageable resolutions (below).

  1. Develop a regular sleeping pattern – This is a big problem of mine. I am really not a morning person, so I prefer doing work at night. Plus, I am a child mentally when it comes to sleep: I don’t want to go to bed in the evening and also really don’t want to get up in the morning. Problem is that I live alone and have no one who nags me about it.
  2. Do daily Duolingo in Spanish and Danish – You probably know this online language learning platform (if not, please do check it out!). For me as a language student regular practice is essential. Especially in Spanish, this aspect is missing from my university course where we have a seminar titled “Grammar” and another one titled “Vocabulary”, that focus only on that one thing. So Duolingo comes as a refreshing new opportunity for me. I also love how it is like a game and you can save “lingots” and all that.
  3. Read a lot – Self-explanatory, I hope. Maybe this goal needs to be a bit more measurable (like “read 50 pages a day”) but I think that would be too forced.
  4. Master the art of make-up – Make-up has always been a mystery to me. I see how powerful it can be and it really fascinates me but I just can’t get the hang of it. Maybe if I practice a bit and watch some tutorials on YouTube, this won’t bother me as much.
  5. Be more active – We all know that there are all these studies on how regular exercise makes us happier and endorphin and all that, but I frankly hate working out (detailed description here). So for me “be more active” means walking to university, taking the bike to ride into town and maybe swimming from time to time. Nothing grand.
  6. Blog every day – And here I am…
  7. Do what has to be done – This one is the most important one, I think. Could also be paraphrased as “stop procrastinating”. This is everything from doing the homework for my Danish course to doing laundry and buying groceries and getting out of bed every day.

Every-day life seems to be constantly getting in the way of this,in the end, when happiness is the objective Christmas parties aren’t exactly counter-productive… So far my track sheet contains an encouraging number of ticks and also some crosses, but I guess that’s about right. After all, this is a work in progress.

B x

The Happiness Project

So I’ve had a bit of a low recently. Don’t exactly know why, but I guess I’m in a bit of a weird point in my life right now and I couldn’t really handle it.

Still can’t, to be honest. Right now I should be sitting in a seminar that I enjoy and that I learn a lot from yet I am here, at home in my room typing this. Everything seems to require so much energy. The reason I didn’t go to the seminar is that I didn’t do the homework and the preparation it required, but the reason I didn’t do those? I don’t know, I just couldn’t get myself to do it. This seems to be the case with everything lately. The horrible thing is that I know exactly what I need to do to feel better, but even if it’s just something like boiling the kettle and putting on some music I just can’t get myself to do it. And that is ridiculously annoying. Also because I find myself guilt-ridden for not doing anything all the time.

To be fair, I have been doing some things. They range from actions as small (but essential) as doing laundry and cleaning the bathroom to more grand (okay, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration) activities like writing (and sending off) Christmas cards to all my friends and family and signing up for driving lessons. And I am writing this.

So, the reason I am writing this is probably something you have all experienced, being human: I want to be happy. Or at least satisfied, inspired, driven and/or encouraged. Who doesn’t. Spending my days wallowing over the things I don’t while I simultaneously neglect the things I should be doing is an awful waste of my time. And it’s not only that these are things I should do, these are things I really want to do. Ugh, it’s annoying.

Anyways, that’s that, I will take action now. It also coincides with yet another important statement: I’d like to out my self as a major fan of self-help books. At the same time I despise them. It is amazing how self-help books only ever tell you thing you already know. Yet, they manage to present these universal truths or lies in such a way that they suddenly seem more clear, more innovative, more inspiring and easier to achieve. Amazing. Become who you want to be in ten easy steps. Easy. 250 pages and voila, there you are. I must admit, I totally fall for that. My latest discovery in this field is a book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. It’s been around quite a while now, there have been sequels and accompanying merchandise and all that. It is one of those autobiographies re-purposed as a self-help inspiration. Of course, how much you enjoy reading these and to what extend the do or don’t inspire you is entirely up to what kind of person the writer is and what kind of person you are. Well, the writer is an Upper East side wife, writer and mother of two in her thirties and I am not even in my twenties, have some considerable commitment issues and live in a student dorm in Germany. Couldn’t be more different. Especially because she is the kind of person to have every minute of her day planned out with reading groups, gym classes, dinner parties and of course the hobby-dobby-do, an array of leisure activities. Yet, I like that her book comes undisguised and some of what she says and does makes sense to me too.

One thing she does is list and refer to things she learned as an adult. I can do that too:

It is okay to just like parts of a book and not the whole thing. The eating part of “Eat, Pray, Love”, for example, was really entertaining, while I found the rest to be sentimental bullshit. And that’s completely fine.

Clearly, I don’t give any shits about the months she spent working on her marriage and her parenting skills. I couldn’t be less thrilled about those. And I intensely dislike the her tone and general world view, but that lady struck a nerve with me when she mentioned a realization about how we will only ever be us. I will only ever like the things I like. I will only ever take the path that I take. With every decision we kill lots and lots of possibilities (and give birth to lots and lots of new ones, but that’s irrelevant in this context). I’ve been aware of this for quite a while (what did I tell you, self-help books never tell you anything new) and it has been a considerable source of my Weltschmerz (isn’t the German language resourceful).

Apart from this one realization the other thing I like is how this woman does things. Her way of trying to find happiness is not to meditate or find herself or whatever, but she just does things. Little things. And God knows, it is time for me to also do things.

So yeah, I’m going to become an expert on second-language acquisition, I’ll do all the small things that need to be done (eating, sleeping, showering, …) without making a fuss, I’ll finally get a grip on this whole blogging thing and whatever else springs to mind. Get ready to hear from me soon.

B x

P.S. Today I found that I can see cruise ships going up and down the fjord from my window! I was just sitting here and noticed a massive building moving behind the other buildings until I realized it was a cruise ship! How awesome is that!!

Here you can find out everything about Gretchen Rubin, her Happiness Project and the sequels and prequels. Also has some downloads that might or might not be helpful to you.