Does this quote have any resonance for you?
“The days are long, but the years are short. Time is passing, and I’m are not focusing enough on the things that really matter.”
For a chronic pain patient, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the daily routine of chronic pain management. It can even be a full-time job. But what about happiness? Is there a way to take all of the things that you do daily and make small changes that can truly make you happier?
How can you make each day something that has potential to bring you happiness, even in the middle of everyday struggles?
These are the questions Gretchen Rubin set out to answer on her year-long quest for happiness. She chronicled this journey in The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent A Year Trying To Sing In The Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, And Generally Have More Fun. While this extended title may make the quest for more happiness seem daunting, Rubin spread her mission across 12 months, tackling a different facet of life each month with the goal to be happier in each area. Each chapter starts with several key points and then goes on to explain how to make them happen, with easy exercises, research to support it, and reminders.
For chronic pain patients who are used to marshaling their strength to tackle big projects one step at a time, The Happiness Project can be a great way to begin to find more happiness in life. Here’s how Rubin did it and how it might just be the key for chronic pain patients everywhere.
January: Boost Energy
January began for Rubin with the realization that she was often tired, a feeling that chronic pain patients can relate to. In this chapter, Rubin begins to address this by setting forth five simple guidelines that include things like exercising better (not necessarily more, just better), getting more sleep, and reducing the energy-draining clutter. These are all ideas that everyone can put into place over 31 days, even in small increments.
February: Remember Love
February is the shortest and often coldest month of the year in many parts of the U.S. During this time when everyone is cooped up without respite, little disagreements can arise. Add chronic pain to the short-tempered mix, and it can be easy to forget love and loving kindness. Rubin reminds us to give proof of our love, “fight right” when arguments arise, and quit nagging.
March: Aim Higher
Work can be a source of frustration, or it can be a wonderful way to stay involved in the world. Chronic pain can be isolating, and work offers a way out. But happiness at work is not always a slam-dunk. This chapter encourages the reader to “enjoy the fun of failure” and work smarter. This does not only apply to those who work outside of the house. Homemakers and those who work from home can garner some valuable tips here, too!
April: Lighten Up
Our kids can be a source of joy, but let’s be honest: stress and other difficulties can compromise personal happiness when raising children. Rubin reminds us that building happy memories and acknowledging people’s feelings (even if those people are under three feet tall) are of paramount importance. She rejects the assertion that children decrease happiness and writes encouragingly about her own family and how they deal with conflict.
May: Be Serious About Play
Play is serious business. It’s how we learn, bond with others, and enjoy the world around us as children. When we become adults, play often falls away. Maintaining that sense of wonder, silliness, and fun is imperative for happiness. Remember the adage: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”? Rubin invites readers to schedule fun at regular intervals, seeking out new, spontaneous adventures and shucking off the mantle of adulthood on a regular basis.
June: Make Time For Friends
At some point in our lives, we get really busy. Busy with family, work, and the daily tasks of existence. Chronic pain sufferers and their families add visits to the doctor and pain management to their list. But what about friends? Happiness is a social emotion, and Rubin invites readers to make time for friends, showing up for them and doing simple things like remembering birthdays. And not just on Facebook but in person or at least on the phone.
July: Buy Some Happiness
Sometimes it’s nice to buy yourself a treat. Even if you are on a tight budget, it can be possible to plan for July’s task of a modest splurge. Even though research shows that more money does not equal more happiness, it can be refreshing and fun to just buy yourself a little gift.
August: Contemplate The Heavens
August is generally not considered a month of reflection. Yes, summer is winding down and many families are transitioning back to school, but often mindful gratitude is left behind in the rush of school shopping. In this chapter, Rubin urges reflection and an attitude of gratitude to really change the way you look at the world. This can include a renewed faith in religion or exploration of another tradition.
September: Pursue A Passion
As with the book Big Magic, Rubin believes that creativity for its own sake is refreshing, enlivening, and happiness-inducing. You needn’t be a master to create something, and creating doesn’t need to be restricted to a canvas. September is the month to make something, anything, with no worry about the result or whether it’s good. Turns out, the act of creating, all on its own, is good for happiness.
October: Pay Attention
Have you ever had the experience of looking back on a day and being unable to really recall what you did? We often move through life from one activity to another, not really paying attention to what we are doing or who we are with. Mindfulness changes that and can be a great way to really be in the moment. Mindfulness is also a research-proven technique to help alleviate chronic pain. And wouldn’t that be a happy thing?
November: Keep A Contented Heart
Happiness is a positive emotion, and this month stresses eliminating negativity and rudeness. As the holiday shopping season hits its stride and people elbow each other out of the way for the perfect gift, take a moment to take a break, use good manners, and laugh it off (out loud). Contentment in this month can go a long way for a joyful holiday and a happy life.
December: Boot Camp Perfect
Finally, every month comes together in December on a boot camp of happiness. The word “perfect” is misleading (and daunting), but Rubin just focuses on the effort of pulling everything together in this final month of The Happiness Project.
The short summaries above are just a taste of the offerings in The Happiness Project. This is no pie-in-the-sky book that insists that only massive life changes result in happiness. Using examples from her own life and from the readers of her blog, Gretchen Rubin manages to show that real happiness is truly within the reach of everyone. Rubin provides a “Happiness Project Manifesto” as well as easy tips to help implement the strategies in each chapter and resources for further reading. Chronic pain patients can use the suggestions in the book to remind themselves of the things that are lovely in their lives while making incremental change that is manageable and sustainable.
This book would make a valuable gift for anyone who could use a little more happiness in their life. In the meantime, what steps can you take today to be happier?
Image by Brent 2.0 via Flickr