Why I decided to put together a photo album that wasn’t as good as it could have been.

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One of my happiness-project resolutions is “Be a treasure house of happy memories.” Thinking back on happy times elevates mood; research has shown that although depressed people have as many nice experiences as other people, they don’t remember them as well. By helping my family to recollect happy times from the past, I’m boosting their happiness in the present – and photographs are a particularly good way to recall happy memories.

On the other hand, one of my Secrets of Adulthood is “Photo albums and houseplants are a lot of trouble.”

I’ve been experiencing this conflict for weeks now. On the one hand, I wanted to make a lovely album of photographs from our summer – all carefully arranged, with lengthy, well-written captions to remind us, in future years, of all our adventures.

But whenever I thought about undertaking this project, I felt overwhelmed and panicky. It filled me with dread. We had so many photographs, and it was going to take a huge amount of time and energy to complete the album, even using an online service as I planned to do. As summer vacation receded into the past, and photos started to pile up from the fall (the Big Girl getting her ears pierced, the first day of school, my father-in-law’s birthday), the task loomed ever more ominously in my mind. I already had so much work to do. I didn’t want to labor over a photo album, too.

So I reminded myself of another Secret of Adulthood, this one lifted from Voltaire: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” My desire to create the perfect summer album was preventing me from working on it at all. I needed to do a good-enough job and get it done – or else I might end up never doing an album at all.

I used another happiness-project technique to get the task finished: I set a specific time to do it. I’d been telling myself that I’d organize the album “in my free time,” but the fact is, I don’t have any free time. I’m never aimlessly wandering around the apartment, looking for something to do. Because making the album was a priority for me, I wrote it on my calendar as a real appointment, and I worked on it yesterday while the Little Girl took her nap.

As it turned out, making the album wasn’t such an awful task. Once I actually sat down to do it, I got it done in one sitting. I didn’t spend a lot of time arranging the pictures, I didn’t write captions, I didn’t do a lot of things that would have made it nicer, but I got it DONE.

Now I have the happiness of anticipating the arrival of the album.

John Stuart Mill wrote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” In my experience, this is quite incorrect. Asking myself whether I was “happy,” as the writer of Friday Playdate did, was the first step in a process that led me to A) recognize that I was already much happier than I realized and B) take steps to boost my happiness.

From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.



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