Happiness Project


While I haven’t been blogging much about My Happiness Project, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been following through on it. These last few months have gone by incredibly quickly, but they have made me so much happier than I have been in a long while.

In my last post I talked about building community and reconnecting with my family, and I have to say that I wish I had set that goal YEARS ago. For many years now I have told myself that I don’t need anybody. I have prided myself on the fact that I never get homesick or miss my family while other travelers are desperate for news of home. But I think I finally understand why they thought I was the one who was missing out. In the past few months I have traveled to Utah, Arizona, California, and Washington, D.C., and have reconnected with friends and family that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.

Some of the highlights of these trips included hearing my 90-year-old grandmother talk about her experience working as a military nurse in WWII, going to the gym with my 90-year-old grandfather (!), and having the first real chat with my mother in about a decade. I came to terms with my own mortality on this journey, facing two aging grandparents who have been role models for me throughout the years and learning of my mother’s worsening health, which included brain surgery a week before my visit. All I can say is that I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see them again and that none of them seemed to mind that I have been MIA for so many of the last several years. Despite my upcoming move abroad, yet again, for once I feel like family will be one of the big things that I will miss about “home.”

As my most recent beau told me this weekend: With technology today, we are never too far apart. I think Senegal will still feel like worlds away, but I will try to be grateful for some Skype sessions with my baby nephews and my grandparents while I’m away.

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Has it really been a month already? I had such big plans for this blog. I even made a schedule of when I would post and I have failed miserably. Perhaps this will be one of my goals in a future month. For now, however my focus is shifting toward strengthening relationships in my life.

Last month I chose to focus on my physical health because I figured it would be an easy place to start as I already have a strong exercise routine and would really only need to make some small alterations. It ended up being slightly more difficult than expected, however. First, my boyfriend and I broke up at the beginning of the month, which meant I was going out more often and made my goal of drinking less alcohol suffer. In addition, I took on weight training with a personal trainer as part of my effort to mix up my workouts. Unfortunately, this led to a strained knee two weeks ago that I am still suffering from. I have continued to workout albeit without the squats and lunges that would have really helped to give me some shapely legs. I’m not willing to make this injury worse though as I am sure I would be much more miserable if I were to have to give up running and other forms of exercise for my vanity.

While things weren’t as successful as I’d hoped, I did learn quite a bit this past month by tracking my eating habits, trying new workouts, and creating some healthier eating habits. I will, of course, continue to work on this area, but with the changing of the month comes a change in focus.

One thing that really came into perspective last month was how few close ties I have here in Oregon despite having lived here for more than a year now. This was, of course, brought on by having broken up with my boyfriend which left me without standing weekend plans. But it wasn’t just that. It was also a trip home that really made me realize how much I miss having true friends in my life. Going home is always just so easy. My friends and I seem to pick up right where we left off and I always feel so free to speak my mind when I’m with them. There isn’t any judgment from them, which is something that is hard to find these days. I really struggle here in Oregon to open up to people because I tend to be very politically incorrect. People these days just don’t like to hear someone with an unpopular opinion and they definitely don’t like people who disagree with them. And so, I feel like I spend a lot of my time just biting my tongue or, even worse, not going out at all. I have become a bit of a hermit here in Oregon and it’s really depressing – as if the rain weren’t bad enough, right?

With these things in mind, I feel like it’s time to focus on creating a community for myself here. I have spoken to some colleagues about starting a book club and a writing group, and I have been participating in a guitar collective of sorts for awhile now. I want to make these a regular part of my life in the hopes that I will feel more connected to people here and, hopefully, will open up a little bit.

Goals for Month 2 – May – Creating a Community

*Family Relationships
– Mend fences
– Set aside time each week to talk to family
– Forgive; take responsibility for my role in bad relationships

*Friendships
– Make time for friends (join/start a group, go to happy hour, make weekend plans)
– Set aside time to talk to faraway friends
– Learn to remember people’s names when I meet new people
– Ask people questions about themselves (create a list of go-to icebreaker questions)
– Say yes more often

As you know, one of my goals for this month has been to drink less coffee and alcohol, and to drink more water instead. I took on this goal because, after a month of tracking my diet, I found that many of my excess calories are coming from lattes and wine.  In addition, I’ve been wanting to lower my coffee intake to save money and possibly to sleep better. Another reason for giving up caffeine and alcohol is that I get terrible leg cramps when I get dehydrated. Therefore, because alcohol dehydrates me and my constant coffee drinking has caused a major decrease in my water consumption, I need to reduce my intake or else give up running (I will never give up running!). The problem though has been to motivate myself to drink more water in lieu of my favored beverages. All of this logical reasoning just wasn’t enough.

My solution? Lemon water (obviously). My best friend, Leslie, has been extolling the miracles of lemon water for years, but I never really let it sink in until recently. I spent some time a few weeks back researching lemon water to see if it had any added health benefits – turns out there are quite a few, including fresher breath and better digestion. Win! Given all of my reasoning, I decided to finally follow in Leslie’s footseps and adopt a morning lemon water regime in lieu of my coffee habit. This is also perfectly timed with the changing of the seasons, which will make the habit easier to cement into my daily routine. Once it begins getting warmer I find that I don’t really enjoy coffee beverages as much anyway. Yes, even the iced variety. I think it’s something about drinking milk when it’s hot out. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Lemon water is a great trade off. It allows me to drink something refreshing and flavored throughout the day that’s low in calories and doesn’t make me feel bad about myself. It also fulfills my need to have something to drink with me in class – I do this because it gives me something to do with my hands while my students are thinking over questions or doing group work and also because I sometimes get parched after two hours of talking.

One thing that had originally put me off about this idea of lemon water though was the inconvenience of it. Let’s face it, I’m lazy. I didn’t know if I’d really slice up lemons every morning and clean a water bottle every evening to make this goal work for me. Luckily, I happened upon this fabulous water bottle that has a lemon squeezer at the bottom, so there is minimal effort on my part. I just have to slice that lemon in half, stick it in there and go. It seriously couldn’t be easier. Even better, it makes it so the water is really infused with lemon, which I love.

What do you think? Have you tried any of the fruit infusion water bottles? Any favorite recipes? I tend to stick with just lemon, but there must be some other delicious choices out there. Please feel free to share them with me!

As I’ve been thinking more about how to live a more contented life, I have begun doing a bit of research about what makes people happy. I got a library card and checked out a couple of books like “100 Habits of Happy People” and other similar titles. One book, however, has really changed how I want to approach this project: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I have not finished this book (I’m only on Chapter 6), but already I am impressed with the process that Mrs. Rubin describes in her book and am very excited to develop my own Happiness Project in a more organized way. With that in mind, I have broken my goals down into categories and will work on one aspect of my life at a time, rather than approaching a variety of goals at once and adding new ones all willy nilly as I have been doing. One of the nice things about this, too, is that focusing on one area of my life will inevitably improve other areas. For example, my choice to make coffee at home not only helps me to cut out some major calories (health and fitness), but it also helps me to save money (financial).

When I took an inventory of my happiness, the number one thing I felt was affecting my mood and general discontent was my physical health. I have gained 15 pounds since returning to the United States and have picked up some bad habits like drinking less water, eating out too often, and going to bed too late. Because this is having such an effect on other areas of my life, I thought it would be best to focus on this area first. So, now I’m putting it in writing. Below are my goals for this month. I plan to talk about each one in more detail as the month goes on, but wanted to get this out there so I’m committed to it. If you have any suggestions or help to offer, please do! I’d love to hear about you own health and fitness goals and what you’ve done to achieve them!

Month 1 – April – Let’s Get Physical
Eat healthier – eat more vegetables, eat less sugar
Less caffeine and alcohol, more water
Take vitamins
Exercise regularly and MIX IT UP (5X/WK)
Use sunscreen + moisturizer every day
Ride bike to work more often (3X/WK)
Get more sleep – Early to bed, early to rise
Stretch morning and night (esp. hamstrings!)