Happiness Project: Use a milestone moment.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I’m a big believer in using milestone moments as cues for evaluation and reflection. Even though it’s a bit of a cliché, I’ve seen many examples — including in my own life — when people were prompted to make positive changes because they’d hit a milestone like a major birthday, marriage, the death of a parent, the birth of a child, loss of a job, or the accomplishment of a career marker like getting tenure or making partner.

These major milestones don’t usually happen very often, so lesser, more familiar milestones – though less attention-getting – can also act as a helpful prompt to reflection.

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. The Big Man is one of the very most important elements to my happiness, but he’s also one of the elements that’s easiest to take for granted. (And to complain about.) I try to use our anniversary as a cue to think about how grateful I am for him.

I do the same thing with my children’s birthdays. With the tumult of party invitations, ordering the ice-cream cake, and hunting down Tinkerbell paper plates, it’s very easy for me not to reflect on the more important things. I have to remind myself of what really matters, of what we’re really celebrating.

So for your Happiness Project, be on the watch for milestones. Transitions of any kind can be a helpful prompt to a more thoughtful and grateful frame of mind.

On a darker note, on the subject of wedding anniversaries, it occured to me that a great (if slightly grim) tradition would be to use our anniversary as a prompt to do an annual review of our situation, should the worst befall. Are our wills up-to-date? Do the Big Man and I have access to the financial information that the other person routinely handles? Etc. (For example, I know offhand that the Big Man has no idea where I keep the tax documents or the kids’ birth certificates. I should probably mention that.)

Every couple would have different concerns, but questions might include pensions, insurance, debts, guardianship of children, what the plan might be if income level or childcare arrangements had to change dramatically.

One of my Happiness-Project resolutions is “Read memoirs of catastrophe,” and I’ve read lots of accounts of cancer, sudden death, and other disasters. One common theme is how horrible and difficult it is to deal with cold logistics at a time of shock and grief. Being organized and knowledgeable would be a comfort.

Repeating this review once a year, in the normal course, would keep it from seeming morbid – instead, it would be an ordinary expression of family responsibility.

We could call it Unthinkable Day, or Be-Prepared Day, or Hourglass Day…having this review take place on an otherwise happy occasion might make it seem less gloomy.

The days are long, but the years are short.

I got a big kick out of this Mindset display, which I discovered courtesy of the ever-fabulous Communicatrix, Colleen Wainwright.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Or how about the Hourglass Day on the “day before,” or the “weekend before,” the otherhwise happy milestone. Then you have even more to celebrate, the Hourglass day is behind you! Savor the milestone.

  • MelissaJ

    My daughter just started fourth grade. There is nothing like the first day of school to remind you that the years are short. Seems like just yesterday she clung to me crying, not wanting to go to Kindergarten. She literally ran out the front door the other day, she was excited for school to begin. (I made her stop for the picture of course!)

  • Hi Gretchen, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I bought your book “Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill” at B&N, and I really like it.
    Reguarding your “read memoirs of catastrophe”, it is funny how you can learn from the trials of others. I was profoundly changed by the book “Autobiography of a Face” by Lucy Grealy, who had part of her jaw removed as a child. She has this epiphany about beauty while out on a date, and reading it was as if I’d had the experience myself.
    I really feel like I have started my own Happiness Project with my new blog (linked above). Maybe it isn’t strictly a Happiness Project, though.

  • You’ve been awarded a Brilliant Blog Award, my Dear. Visit my blog and check out what I said about you, your blog and the rules of this Award roll.
    Keep the wonderful work coming. There’s not one single post when coming into my RSS reader that doesn’t bring a smile and an idea into my head and heart.

  • Oh, I’m off to check out the Brilliant Blog award! wonderful!
    I haven’t read Autobiography of a Face, but I LOOOOOOVED Ann Patchett’s memoir of her friendship with Lucy Grealy (the woman who wrote Autobio of a Face). Can’t recommend it enough.

  • Congratulations on your wedding anniversary! Might I add that September 4th is a particularly awesome date for anything? (especially being born;o)
    It did take me a while to realize that a birthday is a happy milestone to celebrate and an opportunity to just he happy to be well and alive, instead of a day to get down about age and the passage of time.

  • Heather

    I like your idea of Hourglass Day or Unthinkable Day (I like both those names.) I try to celebrate milestones with thought and happiness too – for example I always take my birthday off work and either go Christmas shopping (which is much pleasanter on a weekday) or on a little day trip somewhere. And on that day I always enjoy being out and about, alive, etc.
    I don’t think the Unthinkable Day need be gloomy. It’s scary to think about the bad things that can happen, but to me, planning for them with my husband makes me feel more married, more together, than I feel on an average day. And that’s special. So the anniversary is a perfect time for it. I think I’ll bring that up with him. Thanks. And Happy Anniversary, too. 🙂

  • dgm

    Every Valentine’s Day I make each of our kids and my husband a separate card entitled, “!0 Things I Love About You.” These things must be specific, not simply “You’re nice”, for example. Rather, they identify in rhyme things the person has done (funny things, poignant things, caring things) over the year that makes them the special individual they are. It’s great to see how excited everyone gets to open their card and read it aloud.
    BTW, today is my 15th wedding anniversary! Good time have been had by all these past years.

  • I used my 30th birthday to make some pretty big changes. Oh, and I started a blog to go with them!

  • Anniversaries and birthdays are great times to take stock (we tend to do it subconsciously anyway – how far we’ve come, what we’ve achieved).
    In a similar way to dgm, we also have a little tradition on Valentine’s day: we each make a a card for ourselves and then pass it around the table; each person writes what they love about the person in their card. When it gets back to the beginning we each have a card filled with wonderful things about ourselves. We read them out and it always makes me feel so blessed.
    Hubby and I have a similar tradition on our anniversary – we look back over the year and are grateful for each other’s gifts and what we really appreciated about each other. We take a moment to remember our vows too. On our tenth anniversay we created a little ceremony and re-read our vows in the presence of our daughter. It was magical.

  • gl.

    We call our day “Serious Matters Day.” We also include a review of our living wills to see if any of our decisions on those things has changed. By the end of it we’re very glad the other is alive! 😉

  • I absolutely agree with using a milestone as a moment of evaluation and reflection. It’s also great for motivation! I reach a milestone birthday this year (40!) and have used the occasion to challenge myself to do one thing every week that I’ve never done before. Some of these never b4s have tested my strength (climbing a rock wall), my self-esteem (going to a nude beach), my creativity (doodling) while others have simply been silly or fun (a public pillow fight). Each one though, reminds me that there’s so much in life I have yet to experience. I have less than 4 months left in my milestone year but I’m having so much fun, I just may keep it up. I highly recommend trying it out.

  • PJ

    It is so very important to “have the talk” with your spouse or significant other. I lost my husband of almost 30 years very suddenly. Not only did I have the shock and grief with which to deal but I was also faced with financial matters. Unfortunately I was one of those wives who was never involved in money matters. I’m having to work very hard to get up to speed, especially in this uncertain economy. Not only that, I never took care of household matters. I wish I’d kept a list of all the dependable repairmen my husband called on. Faced with life without the love of my life proves to be a challenge every day. Maybe someone will learn from my mistake.