Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happiness Project I: Energy to Spare

well, not exactly.

You might remember at the beginning of this month I started a bit of a Happiness Project, as inspired by Gretchen Rubin's best selling book of the same title. My first month's undertaking mirrored her own first month, in that it was a quest to find more energy, more get-up-and-go in my life. I resolved to turn off the TV by 10pm every night and get into bed, to turn the light out by 11pm, to get that elusive and mythical 8 full hours of sleep a night, hoping it would mean I'd be more refreshed, rested and ready to take on the world each day. Oh, the optimism!! I also promised myself I'd move more during the day--more time at the gym, more outside time with Ethan (which gratefully coincided with the end of the Seattle-esque downpours that plagued our areas daily).

So how did it all go? Welllll....

I am one of those people who starts out of the gate strong. The first couple of weeks, I was infinitely aware of the clock in the evenings. "9:45?! Almost time for bed!! Woo-hoo! I'm going to be so freaking rested tomorrow, it's not even funny! Watch out world! I'm gonna git you!" In bed at 10pm, reading my book, glancing at the clock to be sure I was done reading by 11pm. You know, for the beauty sleep. Off into dreamland by 11:01 and up at 7am. "Mmmrppphhh, can I sleep for 10 more minutes? Maybe it's 8 hours AND 10 minutes that's the perfect amount of sleep for me."

By mid-way through the month, I'd catch myself losing track of time in the evenings, suddenly realizing I was 15 minutes into the Marriage Ref, which comes on (even though it never, ever should, at any time) at 10pm. Ooops! Have to go to bed! And off I went. But then, 40 minutes of reading wasn't really enough (note to self: you are a giant nerd, but that's okay). So I'd be up reading until 11:20-ish. And up at 7am.

Strangely, I found that 7.5 hours of sleep far more refreshing than the 8+ I'd been getting in the earlier weeks of the project. So, lucky me! I now let myself watch a few minutes of whatever is on TV at 10pm. Let's face it, but 15 minutes in, I'm generally disgusted by the programming anyway, and am now happy in the habit to just get up and go to bed rather than cluck my teeth at the TV and kvetch about how our popular culture is swirling the drain.

While it's got nothing really to do with energy, I also started a gratitude journal this month and that has gone a long way into increasing my overall happiness. There is something about consciously ending my evening by writing down 3-4 specific things that made me smile or moved me during that day that truly brings the idea of living mindfully into perspective. Over the course of my day, an interaction with Ethan, Husband or a friend, or something I see around me in the world will spark the thought, "that is so going in my gratitude journal tonight," and I will be consciously aware that in that moment, I am happy. If you ask most people, "Are you happy?" they will likely shrug and say, "Sure, sure I'm happy." But it's a really lovely thing to have a moment of your day whisper to you, "you are so happy right now." Keeping the journal has done that for me. And I'm grateful.

As for moving more? Well, that's been a mixed bag, but everything has to be a work in progress, right? How authentic would it be if I went from flirting dangerously with couch potatohood to acting like a coked-up chihuahua? I will say this; I made a LOT of plans to move more. Some of the plans worked out, and others didn't. The intention to take spinning classes sort of floated down and came to rest on the "ideas I've had that I did not follow through on" pile in the back of my mind. I might get there yet, but thus far...not so much. BUT, I have spent a lot more time outside with Ethan, playing with Ethan, being active with Ethan. So I might spend more of my mornings randomly surfing the net and drooling blogging, but the couch has been finding itself far lonelier than it's ever been before in the afternoons. And that is a pretty good start, I guess.

I do think the month of focusing on my energy level and using that as a jumping off point for gathering more happiness into my life was successful. After years of disjointed sleep (thank you, child who didn't sleep for the first 2 years of life!), I have finally discovered that 7.5 is pretty much my happy number. It's nice to know that. I have found that inertia is the biggest barrier to activity--whether the activity is just getting up off the freaking couch at night so I can go fall into bed, or getting off the freaking couch at 4pm to go kick the soccer ball outside with Ethan--once I am actually UP, the energy just sort of starts to flow. I'm still exhausted at the end of the day, but it's the exhaustion of having done something with my day.

This month, my focus is going to be on nutrition. For years I have struggled with my eating habits and this has led to negative body image issues that I obsess over through self-deprecating jokes at my own expense at a pretty constant clip (please ask anyone I've spent more than 10 minutes with how I feel about my body--I'm fairly certain they'll know). I've decided that in order to be truly happy, I have to find my way through that negativity to a place of peace with my body, and that's only going to happen if I can find a way to treat my body more kindly, through good, clean nutrition and eating habits. I wrote about this at much greater lengths here yesterday.

This month will be a lot harder because so much of it's going to be happening inside my head and requires more thoughtful consideration than "well, it's 10pm! I'm off to bed!" In order to make this month's goal, I am going to be cooking our meals at least 5 nights a week and Ethan's going to be helping me. This will accomplish our doing something active together AND making more healthful choices for meals in the coming months. We've already started and rather than being an arduous task, I'm finding cooking with Ethan to be one of the most fun and rewarding things I've done as a parent thus far. And that, my friends, is pure happiness!

Wishing you all happiness & peace,


Corinne said...

This post was pretty inspiring! You can do it :)

cicadalady said...

it's great to be making such conscious changes. most people make a new years resolution and then by march it's long over. but keeping it up, with a journal, etc. is so wonderful. i agree - very inspiring!

Becca said...

Cooking fresh foods will help you a TON with the eating goals! I was anti cooking for many years and then started doing it because we couldn't afford to keep eating out and now I am a huge food dork. And actually kind of a snob when you get down to it. Someone gave me a recipe the other day that included Velveeta and I had to force myself to smile and say thank you.

Emi said...

you're an inspiration woman :-) Glad to know the cooking together gets fun and productive.. :-) Cooking 5x's a week.. Yikes!!... That sounds daunting. One thing you might find helpful-we cook a big batch of something on Sundays and freeze stuff so at least 2 x's per week we don't have to cook but we have a fresh meal in the freezer. Let us know how it's going.. :-)

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angelynn said...

Playing with your son is such a great way of getting exercise. It's crazy how much energy they have and how running around is so much fun. You're doing an amazing job of figuring out what it takes to change your life. Even if it goes slowly, the fact that you're consciously doing something about it moves the needle. I love the journal idea. I try to do a post now and then about happy moments. Doing it every day sounds so calming. You're doing a great job!