When I started to read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin in September 2011 I was happy. After years of wanting for something that was inexplicably out of reach I found satisfaction in what I had. That satisfaction empowered me with a tremendous sense of freedom. That freedom prompted me to explore, and the more I explored the more I found myself winding my way back to myself, a place I had departed from for far too long and was still thrillingly familiar.
Before I finished The Happiness Project, my life fell apart.
Rather, the part of my life that I had chosen to be satisfied with and fulfilled by (my family: husband and young son) fell apart. In less than two weeks I learned that my husband was unhappy, discovered he was having a relationship with someone else, and then he left. Still, I held on to my happiness, and I choose to now.
When I started to read The Happiness Project I was inspired. I thought I would do a happiness project of my own for 2012.
Before I finished The Happiness Project I was annoyed by the author, Gretchen, and her perfect, easy life. I was certain that I would do a happiness project of my own and it would be better than hers.
Long after finishing The Happiness Project I haven't lost touch with my happiness, but a happiness project doesn't seem quite right.
At lunch with 38 (formerly known as "a new friend" who has since chosen her own blog nickname) on Friday I had an epiphany. We were talking about our families and I said something to the effect of "I wanted a perfect family so badly I was willing to sacrifice anything and everything to get it. To MAKE it happen." I said it and something in my mind made a mental note to think about it later and the conversation continued in other directions.
I didn't think about it right away, but in the next couple of days I realized I had touched on the answer to the question I hadn't even been brave enough to ask myself yet.
My marriage is over. My family life is forever changed. I have felt like the victim of these circumstances more often than not in the last couple of months and I haven't even bothered to ask myself what I could have done differently... Instead I've told myself that I didn't do anything wrong or that I did my best. I didn't ask the question, but the answer came anyway.
So, the answer to "what could I have done differently" is: I could have ended it. At any time. I actually did once, nearly two years ago BFO and I were separated for nearly a year. Then back together for a year before now. But I didn't know why I was doing it then, and it didn't stick. I didn't see what I can see now.
Within the context of this "perfect family" life I had created for myself I truly believe I was doing my best. I was making thoughtful choices and acting in ways that reflected the values of preserving that family. It was simply the wrong life. So much of what I wanted was in an attempt to fill a void leftover from childhood desires. The void still needs to be filled for the longing to stop, but the interpretation was too literal. I don't need to create a perfect family life to fill the void. Instead I need to be my true self and follow the path my longing takes me down intuitively.
I have no idea where that's going to be, and I think that's a good sign.
Today, my FULLfillment project begins. There are so many elements that I am not entirely sure where to start. I love planning as much as doing so this project will begin there. January is the planning month. I will still come here to write about whatever is on my mind, but most of the planning will probably happen off screen (pencil and paper still works better for some things).
What I know for now:
I’m not a big fan of rules. Just like anyone else I want to create them when I feel afraid, but outside of those situations I find them to be far too limiting. My household does maintain a few, however, and if they’re good enough for a toddler they’re good enough for me.
1. Take care of self
With spiderman this rule helps me encourage the eating of healthy foods, getting out and getting active, keeping safe, getting enough sleep, learning about feelings… hell, there’s nothing to reframe here. This is an important rule. Same at home as it is here.
2. Take care of others
With spiderman this rule is more about limiting name-calling, learning how to talk to other people, recognizing that momma is a person and not a piece of furniture… so just a tiny bit of reframing here: I won’t do anything to intentionally hurt someone.
3. Take care of environment
With spiderman this rule is about using crayons and markers on paper instead of the walls, only jumping on the couch at home (not at other people’s houses), picking up after ourselves… here it’s going to be about my relationship to the earth, my home, the places I go…
In addition to The Rules, I’ve begun compiling a list of Things I Know to be True. It’s likely to grow and change (and it will reside in the sidebar to the right from now on), but here’s where it is starting.
apples cure hunger.
take a snack-- you're going to want it.
you can't get full if you're not fulfilled.
some foods will not only not feel as good as you think, but they'll feel AWFUL tomorrow.
my child doesn't need to be happy all the time.
validate. validate. validate.
my job is create a safe environment for him to become whoever he is going to be.
we all do the best we can with what we have in the moment.
people want to help--let them.
everyone has a gift.
everyone wants (and needs) to belong.
how to get what you want (1. relax, 2. see it, 3. want it, 4. let go).
if we're going to make up stories in our head, let's make up good ones.
unknowns are innevitable--sit in them and be still.
there are no failures--only learning opportunities.
And finally, before I head off to do some of my more domestic duties…
It’s important for any project to have a feedback loop. A place and time for evaluation. It can happen at the end, it can happen throughout, it can happen at end points throughout… it just has to happen. Without it, what’s the point? This project is open to your feedback continuously. Please leave comments with your reactions to any particular post at any time (and check back to the comments section and/or future posts for my responses). I will be evaluating each month at its end to determine how (or if) the choices made contribute to my fulfillment. How will I know if it’s been successful? Well, I’ll tell you.
This is what I’m like when I am my best self (Inspired by “how I feel when I feel well” from the Wellness Recovery Action Plan by Mary Ellen Copeland):
(this list will also permanently reside on the sidebar over there à and may evolve with time)
airy-fairy--in touch with my spiritual self and ideas that are bigger than myself.
amused--by nearly anything.
appreciative--of simple things.
articulate--the words come easily.
aware--of my feelings, my body, sensations, energies, surroundings, and others.
conscious--of my needs and values and my actions directly relate to those values.
decisive--i know what i want and what i don't.
inspired--ideas flow endlessly.
interested--in the world, the way things look, feel, smell, taste, and sound.
light--a little floaty feeling. yeah, really.
organized--my thoughts, spaces, and plans come together beautifully in my head and/or on paper.
If these things happen, it’s working. If not, it’s not… but it all counts as learning, so it all counts!
Until next time… xoxo