Gretchen Rubin

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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