Aug 11, 2016

Challenge Updates (Happiness and Spending)

Happiness Projects

So I never did update you guys on my happiness project.  I had a super organized post with the entire list of suggestions I got and how I felt about each one and then I went all apathetic and stopped blogging so that's been lost to the sands of time.  Honestly, it probably wouldn't have been that exciting anyway.

So I'm going to condense this down into categories of activities instead of the full list (it was somewhere around 30 things) and rank them as "Not for me," "Should do," and "Immediate Success."

Exercise - "Should do"

It almost always feels like a chore to me.  And maybe that's in part due to having less energy than usual anyway, thanks to Reptar, BUT I definitely notice an increase in overall mood when I make a point of doing cardio a couple times a week.  The stationary bike is ok, but running is the best and most helpful thing.  It's also something I really despise doing right now, for whatever reason.  So if I had to sum up my feelings on all forms of exercise: yoga, running, biking, weights, etc I'd say it's a chore but it is effective in the long run if not always in the short term.

Integrity - "Should do"

Things like saying no to things I don't want to do and being honest with people seem great in theory.  And not doing the things I don't want to do does make me happy BUT I haven't gotten over feeling guilty yet, so that's going in the "should do" category as well.  Telling the truth, while liberating at the time, backfires on me way more often than you'd expect it to.  Some people don't want to hear the truth, and sometimes I don't want to have lengthy conversations about feelings with people because I dropped a truth bomb, but you can't really say, "Nevermind, I'm out" when you started it.

Artsy - "Not for me"

I like art.  I like figure drawing and painting with a twist and writing, but it's something I do when I'm in a good mood to have fun.  It's not a way to increase happiness when I'm feeling down.  So I guess "not for me" is misleading, because they are for me, but I'm not going to run to my sketchbook when I'm feeling sad.

Reflective - "Should do"

Things like meditation, journaling, etc.  Journaling should be enjoyable, but it's in the same category as exercise.  I really have to make myself do it and a lot of times it's not worth the effort.  Honestly, I don't see much of a difference when I journal or meditate regularly.  I do, however, use meditation as a tool on the occasions when my stress is overwhelming me or I feel like my life is out of control and it's very effective then.  But those are rare and specific occasions.  Gratitude lists are great, but I can take 'em or leave 'em.

Products - "Not for me"

I actually wanted product suggestions and I only got one, which surprised me.  This goes hand in hand with what I'm learning from my spending freeze, but new purchases really only increase happiness for a short period and then as soon as I'm used to it being there, I forget about it and it's invisible like the rest of my stuff.  So learning not to chase happiness through shopping is a great, great lesson!

Pampering - "Immediate success"

And just when you thought I was a grouch and nothing could make me happy, we have one!  Kristen and I had a really good conversation and it helped me see a different perspective on this.  Most of my suggestions were lifestyle changes.  Big things that involve changing my habits and a substantial amount of effort over time.  Kristen's approach was much more day-to-day.  She said that she tries to just focus on that particular day and what would make her happy in that moment.  She also suggested bubble baths, which were absolutely heaven and I wish so badly that our tub was big enough to actually soak my whole body rather than just my backside.  But even with that half in/half out issue, I enjoyed it enough to do it several times and it's sooo relaxing.  I also went on a "spontaneity" spree where I'd ask myself, "What do I want to do now?" and do it.  One day that meant yoga with my mom.  Another it meant fruit gushers and making a funfetti cake for no reason.  Sometimes it means spending time with Ryan and the dogs, but mostly it means noticing when I'm starting to feel burned out, sequestering myself away in the bedroom, and reading until that feeling of pressure on the front of my brain goes away.

Result: I didn't feel that much happier when the project first ended in July, but for the past few weeks I have felt pretty damn good.  And it's been this subtle thing that I didn't really notice, but I think it's been the result of being more in the moment and paying attention to my needs.  Getting off social media has helped, for sure.  I've had a lot of free time, too, which means I'll probably wince when I look back at how few invoices I was able to send out in July, but that time, though unproductive, has been incredibly well spent.

Spending Freeze

Don't worry, this I can sum up much more concisely (Edit: I lied.  Sorry).  I'm terrible at spending freezes and budgeting and I broke this several times.  BUT my spending overall decreased and, like my absence from social media, the lack of shopping gave me a lot of time to reflect on how new "stuff" really does or does not impact my life.  Some things have undeniable value.  While I enjoy organizing for the process itself, it does have a long-term impact every time I need something and it's easy to access and use.

But my other purchases?  Not so much.  Clothing makes me happy for a week or two and then the novelty wears off.  All too often, I find I wasn't stringent enough with new purchases or I buy to fill a hole in my wardrobe and end up never wearing it anyway because the fit wasn't quite right or the fabric is scratchy or whatever.  Other things, like decor, or games, are admired briefly and then become invisible like all the games and decorations we already have.

The other thing I'm getting better at is realizing the different between need and want.  I felt like I "needed" new shoes because my sneakers have developed a small hole by the pinkie toe.  But you know... with how little I've been running lately, they'll last for months yet.  If I buy new ones, I'll wear those all the time and not actually finish wearing these out, so I should just wait.  I thought I "needed" a new dog bed since Toast had chewed up the corners of her current one.  But... it doesn't need to look nice!  I can slap some duct tape on the corners so she stops pulling the fuzz out and it'll be good as new.  Plus it'll be less upsetting if she chews on it again, which is all too likely.

So my major takeaways are things that will probably sound obvious to you but I obviously needed to learn:

  1. Products don't increase my long-term happiness
  2. Need and want are different things
The "freeze" isn't over, although freeze is a strong word since I've never had the discipline to shut down my wallet completely.  I will always be willing to spend money on new experiences and travel, as long as there's enough money in my bank account.  But I'm going to continue saying no to new "stuff" as much as possible and working on deciphering what is actually a need vs a want.

One of our major upcoming challenges will be purchasing baby stuff.  Do we really "need" a changing table?  Do we really "need" a special piece of furniture to hold baby clothes?  I was completely sold on all the BS nursery furniture but the more Ryan and I talked about it, I think he's right and a lot of that stuff won't get used.  Because you don't just take care of the baby in the "baby room," you take care of it wherever you happen to be in the house.  So we'll see where we end up on baby spending, but just by cutting out a changing table and baby dresser, we're already saving a couple hundred dollars.  Not to mention a crib - we got one for free, but I was all set to just use a pack n play, which is multiple purpose AND way cheaper.

And, with baby stuff, I feel like it's not just about frugality.  I don't mind investing in nice things if we intend to keep them for a long time.  But it's all so transitory!  Your baby gets to be 2 or 3 or 5 and then you throw away all of that furniture and replace it with appropriate "little kid" furniture.  It's so wasteful.

To sum up: both projects were good.  I didn't accomplish as much as I hoped to but I learned more than I expected to.

Have you ever tried a spending freeze?  What about a happiness project?  What have you learned (about either)?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design


  1. This is a great post and it really just made me want to tell you how much I think you will enjoy reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (or follow along on her blog!) A lot of what she talks about there is akin to what you mentioned with your happiness project :)
    I am 100% in agreement with you about baby stuff. We spent money on important things that we either felt we had to buy new (i.e. car seat) to be safe, or things we knew we would get a lot of use out of (stroller), but a lot of our other stuff was fortunately gifted to us, or given to us second hand.
    We also did not set up a baby nursery for either of our girls. They each have their own rooms with (now) a bed, dresser, desk, etc and of course decor but it's not the type you would see on Pinterest & they both love their spaces nonetheless :) I know I am in the norm when it comes to stuff like that though! Our second daughter was also changed on the floor (or on a bed) for 100% of her diaper days, haha.
    Anyway, I really enjoyed this post and your progress with these life projects!!!

  2. Lots of great insight here, Jenn. I very much fell into the camp where I bought things to appease my emotions and to impress others. It took me a long time to recognize I did this and even longer to mostly stop doing it (the emotional shopping is the hardest one for me). But like you, I figured that most "stuff" didn't make me happy long-term and too often meant I didn't have money to do stuff that did. Exercise also feels like a chore to me. One I make any excuse to avoid doing, but I'm trying really hard to put on my big girl pants and do it anyway. I also struggle with being honest with others (and myself too). But I'm trying, especially with being honest with myself about why I make the choices I do. I'm glad this project help you gain some insight and increase your happiness too.

    1. You know, like you said, I think the biggest thing was realizing I did it. I've read other people talking about emotional shopping and I didn't think I was guilty of that but to some extent I definitely was. "If we only have __, our house will feel complete" and so on.

      Yeah, there are so many things that can make us happier, but they take time and the impact isn't necessarily instantaneous. While I sometimes drop all my "chores" to go read a book, I also recognize that life runs smoother and better when I keep up with them, regardless of whether that's doing the dishes or going for a run.

  3. so i don't have a baby but i vote no to the changing table - a dresser (that the kid can use when it's not a baby) with a changing pad will be fine.
    i am so SO glad you were able to be more in the moment and focus on your needs or what would make you happy.. it's silly but sometimes we focus way too much on the bigger things, and big things are great, but it is not realistic to have something big happen every single day, you know? so we end up getting cranky because the good didn't happen today, or whatever. so you change your definition of good. that's my theory anyway haha. i really am happy for you, and yes seriously with the bigger bath. one day i will have a bath that i can completely lay down in! i can't wait!
    'Products don't increase my long-term happiness' - YES. i am 2 months and 11 days in with no shopping.. i have bought things so i'm not perfect, mainly books and a new gym bag, but no clothes, accessories, shoes, nothing. it is amazing to me that i can 'survive' just fine when i wanted so many things before. i am definitely realising i want to purchase things - like more workout clothes and camis that i wear under everything, but i am also seeing like 50% of my closet sit there unworn. it's annoying. but anyway. i want to be one of those people who can shop sometimes and not rely on it to make me happy, but i am not sure if i will ever be like that. i might have to work at it all the time, like really evaluating my purchases and whatnot. we'll see. anyway! i think learning more than you expected is better than passing both challenges with flying colours.

  4. You are still running? Go you! I had to quit that shit. It hurt my stomach to run, so now I just walk on the treadmill every day. And even that makes my stomach feel weird sometimes. Go figure. I get what you are saying about the newness of items wearing off and it blending with the rest of your stuff.

    As for the changing table and all that crap? This is what we are doing. We are getting a convertible crib that goes from crib to toddler bed to full size bed. We are going to get a regular 6-drawer dresser that she will have until she leaves our house and put a changing pad on top of that. And then I want a chair that rocks or glides...not a baby rocker...for her room that she can use in there forever or we can put in another room in our house. Walmart had some for around $200 which is cheaper than most of the rockers we saw and multi-purpose! I am all about only spending money on things that last.

  5. Spending Freezes make me anxious. Which probably means I need budgeting help if not spending makes me panic.


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