I'm going to go ahead and lead with a disclaimer on this post: it's a loooong one. If you've been reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and would like an in-depth look into what the first month has been like for me and Zach, please continue reading. Even better, tell us about your own first month in the comments! (As brief or as novel-esque as you would like.)
If you usually come here for art, fashion, fun collages, this post may not be the one for you. But don't fret, I'll have a whole lot of that for you this week, too.
So if you're still with me, here's how it goes: We basically follow along almost exactly with the book, focusing a little more or less in certain areas depending on what we want to work on most. If you'd like to join in with us, we read a chapter per month (April will be chapter two) and recap on the first Monday of every month. I also talk tips mid-month, so make sure you're subscribed to receive blog posts in your email if you'd like to keep up with those.
And now, let's talk happiness, changing habits, and for the love of god, going to bed on time. :)
On Choosing to Take on a Year-Long Project of Happiness
Zach: My goal with this project was to find more work/life balance. I wanted to try this project to see if a good mood/happiness was achievable for me even in the midst of a seriously over-packed work schedule and dealing with life stressors. I think focusing on happiness is absolutely important , though I realize I wasn't making a conscious effort before. So many things are affected by mood and perspective and I've realized that when I'm actively trying, happiness is achievable even when things like work demands and financial pressures seem overwhelming.
Ashley: I agree. We both definitely needed more work/life balance. I also was interested in the project because I thought it would help Zach and I find more of a common ground in certain aspects of our relationship. I am very much one who thinks "more" is the key to happiness- more effort, more planning, more work, etc. will lead to greater achievements, better self-esteem, and more overall happiness. Zach is definitely on the "less" team- less structure, less obligations, less worries. He has a very laissez-faire approach to his free time. And while I think there is value in both of our belief systems, it's almost like we were magnifying those beliefs because of the imbalance. We were often arguing about how to spend our time and what and how certain things should be approached when I think what we really need is to build a bridge between both ideas.
On Going to Sleep Earlier
A: When I saw that Gretchen Rubin's first task in The Happiness Project was to "go to sleep earlier" I knew that this was going to be my white whale. I put most of my focus this month into this one task because regular sleep is something I've struggled with my whole life. A combination of insomniac tendencies and a creative lifestyle means I'm often staying up way too late (like birds chirping the next day late) and then sleeping right through my alarm. These sleep habits, or I guess lack of sleep habits, have definitely had a negative effect on my mood lately because not having control over such a basic life function leaves me feeling immature, irresponsible, and just overall bad about myself. Whenever I sleep late I would wake up in a panic, however, when I wake up early, I am in such a better mood and have so much more energy.
It seems like with such strong results it would be an easy habit to change, but the physical struggle on this is so real. I don't feel tired at night, like even a little bit. As a creative, too, there is so much appeal in staying up after everyone is asleep and just working away into the calm, silent abyss. There's a romantic notion that this is how artists work, but the only people I've ever heard of who actually make their living off of their creativity live with so much structure and maintain very regular work hours. So I know that there's a lot of myth to the work-at-night appeal. I know I'm more productive and focused in the morning. At night when I'm feeling the urge to pull an all-nighter, I have to remind myself that I will have the hours to work in the morning and literally force myself to go to bed. The appeal of an iced coffee and a podcast waiting on me in the morning helps, too.
Z: Being on a more regular sleep schedule has been nice for both of us. I've always been pretty gifted at falling asleep wherever and whenever I want, but that can be a blessing and a curse. I had developed a bad habit of resting in the living room after work and almost immediately falling asleep in my work clothes. I would eventually wake up and go to bed, but I would feel sore and unrested from an interrupted sleep cycle. I started this month by focusing on a set bed time of midnight and forcing myself to go to bed at this time. When I put more effort into having a nighttime ritual and actually changing, brushing my teeth, and getting into bed, I wake up feeling so much more rested and refreshed. Over the course of the month, my energy levels have changed tremendously, which has had a huge effect on my daily mood, especially in the mornings.
On Exercising Better
Z: I've never really been in a regular exercise routine and I would say the major hurdle, especially in the past few years, is time. As a business owner, I work long hours six to seven days a week. I would always intend to exercise and help with housework when I got home at night, but most nights I found it impossible to have the energy. I realized that the key for me is to complete these tasks in the morning before work. This one simple switch has made it so much easier and, even though I'm getting up earlier and adding more tasks into my schedule, I have found that when I stick to this, I have much more energy and my days are more enjoyable.
A: I'll be honest, I didn't want to change anything about my workout routine. I follow the Blogilates workout calendars and I love them. One thing I did change though, and this is really the opposite of Zach, is that I gave up on the idea of becoming a morning workout person. I always try to structure my day around working out first thing. Then I wake up and don't want to do it, fail, and inevitably feel crummy. The truth is, at this point in my life, I only like to workout in the afternoons or early evenings. So I've just embraced that and let go of the idea that I am going to be some morning workout goddess. That girl just doesn't exist right now and as long as I'm getting through a pm workout, that's okay. The freedom from my own expectations, I believe, is a move towards happiness.
On Getting Organized and Tackling Nagging Tasks
A: I focused a lot less on these goals this month because, like I said, changing sleep habits was my main priority. I did manage to get a few extra things accomplished, like reorganizing my jewelry and accessories. I also went through a waist-high pile of jeans that, despite wearing the same pair almost every day, I hadn't brought myself to get rid of yet. Now that I actually have so many pairs to toss, I'm planning on making one of these DIY denim rugs this spring and I'm pretty excited about it.
Z: My nagging tasks actually were the organizing tasks, starting with cleaning out my work bag that was full of documents, paperwork, and a lot of other things that were unnecessary to be carrying to and from work. When I finally organized my bag it felt liberating- I had literally lightened my load. The energy I got from this task snowballed into other areas that needed organized and cleaned at work. I've realized that the key is just to tackle tasks like this as they come to mind instead of letting messes grow and weighing on you.
On Acting More Energetic
Z: My first reaction to "acting more energetic" as a prompt is that is was such a simple thing to do that it would be dumb not to try. It actually ended up having a really big impact on my mornings. By acting like I was happy about being awake and having to work out and clean, I actually started appreciating the time I had to do these things. My overall mood and energy level every morning has improved.
A: It really has! He's been so awesome in the mornings. I have to do this every day, too, because I never want to work out. I know, however, that every time I muster up the energy to exercise, I always feel so many uplifting and energizing benefits afterwards, so I try to remind myself of this when I'm faking my pre-workout enthusiasm.
Biggest Takeaways this Month
A: Going to bed on time and waking up early can be a luxury rather than a punishment. I am so much happier when I have that extra time in my day.
Z: Happiness is a conscious effort. It doesn't just happen, you have to work on it. I recognized things I was putting off were much easier than they seemed.
After all of this talk about schedules, tasks, and organization, I have to say I'm really looking forward to next month's topic: Love! (Cue studio audience swooning "Wooooo.")
April relationship goals include:
Don't expect praise or appreciation.
And give proofs of love.
I'm definitely excited to work through this next month with Zach. He's excited, too, because he's pretty sure he's got me beat on this one. We'll see. ;)