January 4, 2016

My 2016 Happiness Project

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what makes me happy...and, more specifically, what does not. It is the time of year for reassessing, after all. Something about that fresh year--the blank calendar, the unmarred planner, the pristine, white days ahead. It begs the highest of intentions, doesn't it?

Well, in the best spirit of the new year's resolution, I have set before me a little project for 2016. And I've named it.

Amy's 2016 Happiness Project

It's not terribly original, I'm afraid. But it is rather descriptive.

And it has two main components: 1) Focus on joy, and 2) Be a happy failure.

The first isn't all that uncommon. It's meant to encompass bringing the focus of each day to my own joy and the joy of those around me. And it includes things like playing with the kids (and the dog) more and doing things that make me smile, like listening to music that I love and coloring and reading and writing...and relaxing. Making those sorts of things the priority rather than the things I get to when there's time.

Another way to put this is Dessert First. As an adult I've always been a "get the work done first, and then play" kind of person. And I used to think that was a good thing...aren't I so responsible?! But now I think it might not be such a good trait. Because as my responsibilities have grown (with the house and the husband and the kids and the dog and the...) so has my work load, and these days it seems like I never actually get to the play. The work is never done. And you know what they say about all work and no play...

So. Dull.

Focus on joy also means bringing a joyful perspective to the other things that fill my day. I'll give you an example: It's come to my attention of late that I've grown to dislike grocery shopping--a task that never really bothered me much before. It's gotten so bad that I actually dread my trips to the store and I rush through them as fast as I possibly can--this means it's usually a pretty miserable undertaking. And I have to do it every week. Which is no fun. It makes me wonder if an attitude change might help. If I could approach grocery shopping with a more joyful perspective (or at least a neutral one, like I used to), maybe it wouldn't be so bad. If I didn't rush through it just to get it done and get out of there. If I took my time...

Worth a try, at least.

The second component is my favorite...it is also the most difficult for me: Be a happy failure.

It has also recently come to my attention that I have rather high standards for myself. Standards that are built on the erroneous but invasive idea that if I do not perform virtually every task in my life to a level as close to perfection as possible, I am, well, a failure.

This is super depressing.

For those of you who experience a fear of failure (cloaked in the guise of perfectionism), like I do, this may sound familiar. Either you end up paralyzed by the fear so you don't even attempt the thing, or you're so driven by the fear that you do everything to the nth degree. To say this whole fear of failure thing just recently came to my attention is a lie. I've known for a long time that I have a fear of failure. What I didn't realize was how pervasive that fear was. I thought that I feared failing at big things...but really, who doesn't? Not that big of a deal, right?

But, as it turns out, I also fear failing at little things, because in my mind, failing at the little things is also failing at the big things. As in, I've failed at getting a great, healthy, home cooked meal on the table on time (not a big thing)...so I've failed at being a good wife and mom (a really big thing). That's a lot of pressure to put on planning, shopping for and cooking a meal. No wonder I don't like it.

This fear of failure (because failure is the worst thing in the world) is getting in the way of my enjoying each day to the fullest (because I'm too busy trying to do everything perfectly). If your goal is to never let anything fall through the cracks, it can get pretty exhausting. (It also means that my planner is pretty disturbing.)

So, to summarize: I'm afraid to fail because failure is the worst thing in the world.

Or is it?

It occurred to me that instead of trying to conquer my fear of failure, it might be easier (though not necessarily easy) to change my view on failure. As in, maybe failure isn't such a bad thing.

Because if striving for perfection makes me miserable and if doing things that bring me joy gets in the way of striving for perfection, then maybe I could learn to be a happy failure. Go ahead and "fail" at everyday tasks and be all the happier for it.

Sit at the table with he kids and happily color for an hour while simultaneously failing miserably at getting dinner on the table. Joyfully curl up with a good book on a cold Saturday while failing to get the laundry done when it should be done. Laugh through Trainwreck with my husband while failing to get thank you cards written in a timely fashion. Lose myself in writing my book while failing at, well, pretty much everything else.

Elizabeth Gilbert calls it, being a well-disciplined half-ass, this letting go of perfection. Done is better than good, her mother used to say. In the wise words of my dear friend, Wendy, "Just buy them more pants so you don't have to do laundry as often!" (She's so ridiculously smart, I swear.)

Sound weird? Well, yeah, I guess maybe it is--especially if you're a perfectionist. But it also just might be revolutionary for me. So I'm gonna give it go.

I suppose this means that if you're expecting anything from me...a thank you card, a hot meal, clean, folded clothes...you might be waiting a while. But you can use that time to read a good book.

Until next time, may the new year bring you great joy and happy failure!