Seeking Happiness, One Month at a Time

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It's easy to take on too many life goals at once, only to experience failure. Try this alternative for seeking happiness instead: monthly themes.

Like many women, when I turned 40 I thought I finally would find the motivation to finally lose weight, save more money, lower my stress, find a better job, get my kids to eat healthier, redecorate my house, etc. It is probably no surprise that 40 came and went with almost no progress on my self improvement wishlist (although I did change jobs – yay!)

Inspired by The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, where the author takes a year to explore different ways of seeking happiness, I decided to try my own happiness project in 2016. Similar to the book, I assigned a theme to each month of the year and I try to tackle one thing at a time, rather than a dozen goals at once. Here is what I have done so far:

Dry January

Candidly, I had developed a bad habit of drinking a glass of wine (or two) each night and I wanted to break that habit. I know a few people who, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions (and post-holiday detox), abstain from alcohol for the month of January. I had a few social events and a vacation planned in January so rather than commit to a totally dry January, I decided to at least have 50% of my January days be dry.

On my calendar I marked each day as either DRY or BONUS. To help distract me on dry days, I stocked up on my favorite kombucha, and at “wine o’clock” on my dry days I drank kombucha in a wine glass. Kombucha is a good substitute for wine because it has a very distinct taste and a little fizz and it is not something I drink on a regular basis so it feels special. The first few days were not easy but after a successful month of drinking a lot less, I decided to continue. At the beginning of each month I pick my dry days, write them on the calendar and I keep plenty of kombucha at home. No more mindless “wine o’clock” habit.

Budget February

It's easy to take on too many life goals at once, only to experience failure. Try this alternative for seeking happiness instead: monthly themes.

In 2015, I noticed my family was saving a lot less money than usual and it made me nervous. I decided that February would be the month where I 1) got real about how much we were spending and where, 2) made a family budget and 3) started tracking performance against the budget on a regular basis.

Fortunately, I am an avid user of Quicken, so I had all of the reporting tools at my fingertips but facing the truth about how much money we had blown the previous year on stupid stuff made me feel ashamed. The deadline for creating and implementing my budget by the end of February helped me push through all of the negative emotions and finish the budget.

It may sound counter-intuitive but once I was finished I felt so much better. When I did not have a budget I felt anxious every time I made a big purchase because I did not know if we really could afford it. Now I have a plan and I know which big purchases I can make this year (new couch? YES), and which ones have to go on the back-burner. I’ve kept up the habit by scheduling an hour on my calendar each month to review spending. So far so good.

Family Time March

I struggle with being fully “present” when I am with my children. When I am exhausted after work, it is very tempting to let my two boys, ages 8 and 10, entertain themselves with their electronic devices rather than playing with them. In March, I challenged myself to find new ways to carve out more time interacting with my kids.

I did not have a specific measure to track, such as number of hours, but I wanted to try a list of ideas and see which ones helped. The things I tried included:

  • A regularly scheduled family movie night
  • A regularly scheduled family game night
  • Reading a book that I adored from my childhood with them, in addition to our regular bedtime reading routine. For March I chose My Side of the Mountain.
  • Playing card games while at restaurants on our vacation, rather than letting them entertain themselves on their iPads
  • Putting together puzzles
  • Talking to them while driving them in the car rather than playing the radio
  • Spending 1:1 time with each child at least two times a month
  • Weekly family bike rides (weather permitting)
  • Register to run a 5k as a family

I feel a little embarrassed looking at this list because they all seem like activities I should have been doing with my children but I wasn’t. At the end of March, I put all of these activities in my calendar as recurring appointments so I don’t let myself fall back into old habits. I hope it works.

Weight Loss April

The older I get the harder it is for me to lose the weight I tend to pack on between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My goal for April is to get back to my pre-Thanksgiving weight by the end of the month and to sustain better eating habits to get back to my “ideal” weight by swimsuit season.

I exercise fairly regularly, so this is all about eating for me. Using MyFitnessPal, I’ve been tracking everything I eat each day (everything – even the food I eat off the kids’ plates). MyFitnessPal recommends a calorie intake amount for each day based on how much weight I want to lose and I am trying to stay below that threshold across a week (i.e., if I go over one day, I stay under the next). I am also limiting carbs to no more than 100g a day.

This requires planning breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the week, packing my lunch and snacks most days and eating out less, but it is working. I’m already at my pre-Thanksgiving weight.

So, what’s next? The rest of the year includes months focused on my career, children’s eating habits, relationships, my house, etc. I really enjoy this month-by-month approach because it allows me to delay “work” on an upcoming goal until the designated month. It helps prevent that urge to to tackle many things at once because I know that I have a plan to eventually pick up those goals.

Wish me luck and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Eisha Tierney Armstrong

Eisha Tierney Armstrong lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and is the very proud mother of two energetic boys (10 and 8). Although new to blogging, Eisha has always had a passion for women’s issues and work-life integration. Eisha earned her MBA from the Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree in economics and women’s studies from the University of Kansas. She currently serves as Director of Analytics Products & Services for the media company E.W. Scripps and her professional background includes more than 15 years at global advisory firm CEB, where she managed and grew their multi-million dollar finance practice.

2 Comments

  1. Wow.. Am thrilled, thanks a lot for this.. happy new year in advance

  2. Great Tips! Great Advice! I am using the monthly goal setting for 2018. You listed some really awesome family activities for Family Time March. I am looking forward to trying some of them with my almost 3 year old toddler. Thank you for sharing the tips.

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