On a recent afternoon, I gazed out the window at the woods beyond my home, transformed by the technicolor filter of autumn. Brilliant late-day sunshine punctured the canopy of red, green, and yellow leaves while birds perched on low-lying branches chirped incessantly upbeat tunes.
I wrapped my hands around a mug of over-priced tea, felt the contentment that comes from knowing all of your basic needs are being met, and suddenly realized that, despite my many blessings, I was not happy.
With crystalline clarity, I realized I had been zealously pursuing external happiness, hedonistic delights, for years, but was still lacking internal happiness. The sort of happiness that brings peace, balance, self-acceptance, and contentment.
I decided to embark on a Happiness Project, one year of intensive self-analyzing, goal setting, and stretching to achieve a greater sense of self and a deeper level of inner-bliss. I came up with 12 areas of concentration - twelve concepts I believed needed to be examined and strengthened in my life.
Beginning my Happiness Project on January 1, 2013, I elected to spend the first month focusing on Health. For the last few years, I have struggled with injuries and overwhelming life circumstances that have kept me from working out. As a result, I have gained weight, lost muscle tone and strength, experienced a startling decline in energy, and developed a harsh view of my physique.
In considering the various areas of concentration, it seemed only logical to place the pursuit of better health
at the top of my list. If I improve my health, I reasoned, I will increase my energy and thereby increase my chances of succeeding at my Happiness Project.
I came up with several measurable steps to take me further down the road to healthier and happier living:
1. Keep a food log. I downloaded the My Fitness Pal App on my iPhone to track my food choices and calories. Keeping a record of what I consumed provided a (painful) illustration of the ways I over-indulge (No more chips and salsa. Substituting a lite lunch for a small bowl of salted caramel sauce over vanilla bean ice cream is not a wise choice). I am proud to admit that I have honestly filled out my log and have been under my calorie goal each day. I am confident I will lose weight fast.
2. Eat a healthy breakfast. You might think this sounds like I threw a softball in my line-up, but you should know I. HATE. BREAKFAST. Rather, I hate breakfast foods. I prefer to skip breakfast and instead have a brunch of pizza or fajitas. Surprisingly, eating a bowl of bran cereal or a handful of granola and dried fruit hasn't been as excruciatingly difficult as I thought it would be. At the end of week one, I feel my energy increasing.
3. Add one extra serving of fruit and vegetables to your diet per day. I like most vegetables, but detest most fruits. Hold up a smushy, smelly banana and watch me assume the same defensive measures Superman employs when faced with Krypton. Apples and oranges are the only fruits I will eat unadulterated. Raspberries and strawberries are fine if they are incorporated into some delectable treat - a french pastry, MacKays Scottish Conserve, a topping for cheesecake - otherwise please keep those seedy little specimens far from my tongue, Merci Beaucoup!
I was cruising the aisles of my local grocery store in search of palatable ways to add fruit to my daily diet, when I discovered Sunkist Blends: Breakfast Blend with dried strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, yogurt covered raisins, granola, and chocolate covered espresso beans. I decided to try a bag, fully anticipating I would end up raping the bag of the chocolate covered espresso beans and yogurt covered raisins, ignoring the healthier fruits. Surprisingly, I devoured the berries. The fat, sweet, seedless dehydrated strawberries are better than the chocolate covered morsels. Me, choosing fruit over chocolate, who ever thought it? Of course, I only eat a handful of the Sunkist Blends as my daily snack, but it's a much healthier alternative to chips and salsa.
4. Eliminate soda. Uhhhhrrgg. Some small part of me (probably hidden behind my caffeine-soaked kidneys) died when I came up with the challenge to eliminate soda from my diet. No bubbling, sweet nectar of the Beverage Gods? I pondered the eternal question, "Can life without Cherry Coke really be Life?" I thought of all of the fine vintages of Cherry-flavored Coke I have had at exotic locales around the world. The superior British blend consumed in a cottage in the Scottish Highlands. The coarse, aggressive blend I consumed on a sunlit terrace in the South of France. The
vintage with the lemon top notes I slowly savored while standing in the charcoal shaded shadow of the Duomo in Florence. I decided life without my favorite carbonated beverage might not be as sweet, but it would be much healthier (as would my ample bottomed butt). Au revoir Cherry Coke! Cheerio my carbonated compadre! I've replaced my Cherry Coke with iced tea. My current favorite is a concoction I came up with after mixing Teavana's Weight to Go with their Raspberry Lemon Riot Mate.
CONFESSION: I slipped off the no-Coke wagon last night. I had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Ixtapa, and had chips and salsa AND a Coke. I am not sure if it was the acidic guilt that stained my palate, but I didn't even enjoy my contraband Coke. I felt so miserable about ordering a soda, I didn't even finish it. I sat, silently berating myself for not staying the course, for not achieving the goal of remaining soda-free for at least a month. In the past, my lapse would have been my excuse to go on a wild binge. This time, I decided one slip didn't constitute failure. Today, I am back on the wagon, sipping my Teavana Weight to Go.
5. Take my vitamins.
6. Exercise one hour per day at least 5 days per week. I approach working out like a reluctant lover - creating a million excuses as to why I can't perform the act. When faced with a trip to the gym, I will suddenly be overcome by the urge to organize my underwear drawer/write a blog piece/play with my schnoodle/try a new recipe for salted caramel brownies (terribly defeatist and ironic, isn't it?).
Yet, once I am on that elliptical, I feel charged with a consuming energy. This week, when I considered watching the Mad Men Marathon on AMC instead of going the the gym, I reminded myself of that sense of accomplishment I always felt when finishing a work-out. I am proud to say that this week, I opted for fitness over a tidy panties drawer.
7. Add Yoga/Meditation to my weekly schedule. Recognizing the Mind-Body Connection, I decided to add Yoga and Meditation to my list of weekly pursuits. This week, I attempted to follow the lessons on the DVD Meditation for Beginners. I am sure, in time, I will become a Zen Master, the gatekeeper to my inner sanctuary of silence. However, my first attempt was an abysmal failure. I tried to focus. I really did. But, I couldn't keep my mind from wandering to pressing concerns. My thought train rattled along like this:
I wish the Coca-Cola Company would have listened to my suggestion to manufacture pineapple Coke. It would have been a huge hit, I am sure. Pineapple flavored Coke is so good. It reminds me of my first trip to the Hilton Waikiki. God I love that hotel, and their Super Pool. I wish I was sipping a Pineapple Coke by the Super Pool at the Hilton Waikiki right now. It would probably be more fun than this meditation DVD. Merde! (Yes, I curse in French) I am supposed to be concentrating, meditating, not thinking about pineapple-flavored Cokes and palm trees. Concentrate. Think of peaceful thoughts. Like palm trees. Palm trees around the Super Pool. A Pineapple Coke by the Super Pool. Somehow I am back to wanting a Pineapple Coke.8. Take one new fitness class per week. This week, I took HABIT, an intensive fitness class that focuses on exercises to build your core - abs and legs. The first thirty minutes of the class I found myself fixating on the second hand on the clock positioned above the instructor's head. I hated every gut-busting minute of HABIT (About ten minutes into the class, I decided I would have much preferred cultivating the habit of eating chocolate and reading Hemingway in a cafe in Paris). Then something happened: I started feeling that same sense of satisfaction I feel when I forgo an hour of TV watching in favor of pounding the treadmill.
9. Lose one pound per week. I stepped on the scale just before sitting down to type this post and discovered my efforts this week have resulted in a ONE POUND GAIN. The elimination of soda, the addition of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and regular work-outs have caused me to gain weight. Are you kidding me? This course better reverse itself next week or I might be tempted to restore my diet of breakfast fajitas and Cherry Coke. I am kidding. I did gain a pound but I am still firmly committed to living and eating healthier.
Today, January 6, 2013, marks the end of the first week of my Happiness Project. I have gained one pound (Grrr! Unhappy Leah!) but I have also experienced an upsurge in energy (Yay!). I am feeling happier already.
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." The Dalai Lama
(Are you actively pursuing happiness? Do you sometimes look around at the life you've built and - inexplicably - wish you were happier? Why not begin your own Happiness Project? The neat thing about the Happiness Project is that it is tailored to fit you. Each project is personal, individualized. Nothing canned here. If you decide to start a Happiness Project, let me know, won't you? I would love to tweet or email you encouraging thoughts. If you are a blogger, I will add a link to your blog on my Happiness Project page.)