high energy (or, THP: Chapter One)

(This is part one of a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  For more on why I picked up the book, click here. )

I think Gretchen’s first chapter, about ‘boosting her energy,’ is my favorite so far.  In fact, I’m willing to bet it might remain my favorite throughout the entire book.  (I’m only five chapters in, but as it contains bits about exercise AND organization, I’m pretty confidant.)

In each chapter, Gretchen lets the reader know her ‘goals’ for each chapter/month from the get-go.  In January, she decided to increase her energy by: going to sleep earlier, exercising better, organizing, tackling a nagging task and ACTING more energetic.  All those goals made sense to me–score one for the Gretch-n-Holly ‘dream team.’  (If you recall from this post, I said I thought Gretchen and I could be besties/long-lost sisters.)

I’ve never really had much of a problem with energy; I don’t require much sleep, don’t EVER nap and generally practice all of those bullet points Gretchen pointed about (above). Yet, I too felt I could be more energetic.  (Although, I don’t know of a single person who would agree with me–I’m usually the person in the room with too much energy.)

As for ‘going to sleep earlier,’ Andrew and I really struggle with this.  I know we’d both benefit from going to bed earlier, if only so that I can get up earlier (which makes me happy) and he gets more sleep (which makes him happy).  We’ve always gone to bed together, and we’re our own worst enemies in terms of sleep.  Not only do we usually stay up too late watching our latest TV series on Netflix, we then hop into bed and jump on our phones before finally turning off the light.  I know we should do better, yet neither of us seems willing to make an effort to change the nighttime routine.  There have been times I’ve attempted to go to bed earlier, but simply knowing Andrew is still downstairs (and therefore will come up to bed at any given time, turn on the light, make noise, etc…) is enough to prevent me from falling asleep. However, writing this paragraph has already inspired me to discuss this with Andrew.

Other things that prevent me from getting good sleep (likely more than the actual time I go to bed) include: eating too close to bedtime/being full when I go to bed, having caffeine too late in the afternoon, stress/anxiety.  The first two items are directly under my control, while insomnia related to worrisome thoughts is something that plagues me a few times a month.  Having a ‘do-over’ (i.e. getting up, doing something to cause drowsiness, then going back to bed) can help, although I find the episodes are dependent on the cause of the stress.  Recently, I lost the majority of two nights of sleep in one week, both on nights before early-morning ‘stressful/abnormal’ events (one was that open-water swim and the other was a yard sale), only to sleep in until 10 am the morning after the yard sale!

Before I put this goal to bed (ha! I’m so punny.), I will add that I’ve been using an amazing sleep mask for the last six months or so and it makes all the difference.  A friend (who is also a mom of young children) recommended it to me, and while I almost choked when I saw the price, I finally gave it a try and I’m not looking back (ha! I did it again.)  I think the mask helps me fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer because it blocks out so much more light than other masks, and it’s insanely comfortable.

I may not need to ‘exercise better,’ but I would benefit from more of a routine.  I thrive on structure, so much so that sometimes I consider it a ‘victory for spontaneity’ when I deviate from the plan, so I tend to do very well when I’m training for a race.  Case in point:  If I’m going to make it to the gym in time for BodyPump, I’m going to have to leave in 30 minutes.  I’ve been skipping out on weights since spring because I’ve been ‘busy’ or ‘putting other things first,’ but I’m one of those people who needs to lift heavy things (or do some other high-intensity weight-bearing exercise) to look and feel her best.  Gretchen wrote that people who exercised for 20 minutes a day three times a week for six weeks boosted their energy levels; I find this to be true in my life–the more I do physical things, the more I want to do and the happier I am.  I’m currently ‘training for a triathlon,’ but am not following a plan.  While I’m confidant I can prepare myself for the event without an actual training plan, I might just see what I can find online….

Ahh…I finally get to ‘toss, restore, organize.’  I can hear the hallelujah chorus already.  Purging and organizing is something I do ON THE REGULAR.  In fact, I find I am most likely to do these chores fun activities after periods of stress or busy-ness.  I’ve always attributed it to our frequent moves growing up in a military family, but it just makes sense to me to regularly take stock of what you’re using, what you aren’t and then GET RID OF WHAT YOU AREN’T.  I married a man who won’t get rid of ANYTHING.  It figures.  I hate clutter and and a clean, tidy, organized home is my lifeblood, without it, I’m a stressed-out mess.  Unfortunately, the man I married isn’t so hot at picking up after himself and we have not one BUT TWO animals that shed profusely.  I waffle between states of ebullience post-vacuuming and frustration approaching murderous levels DURING vacuuming.

I love how Gretchen identified various types of clutter: nostalgic, bargain, freebie, etc.  While I’m ruthless at ridding the house of some types of clutter (excess paper!), I’m a sucker for what she refers to as ‘aspirational clutter,’ such as the pants that will likely never fit again (perhaps that’s ‘outgrown clutter?’)  or beautiful dress shoes I almost never wear.  This is why my closet gets cleaned out twice a year like clockwork.  But for other household items, I can’t always have the last word.

Basically, to purge and de-clutter is to relieve both the physical stress of too many items in any given spot, but also to remove any physiological or emotional stress, such as buyer’s remorse or having too many decisions to make about what to wear in the morning.

I also really loved how she applied her ‘Eighth Commandment,’ “Identify the problem.”  The example she used was the problem of how to keep all the little toys her daughters left all over the place.  She quickly realized the problem was that those items didn’t really have a proper home, so she went out and purchased large glass canisters and gave the toys a home–an attractive home at that–and solved her problem.  She also created a ‘one-minute rule’ to follow her ‘Fourth Commandment,’ “Do it now.”  If something takes less than a minute to do, don’t put it off.  I’ve been applying both of these principles regularly, such as immediately filing any recipes I tear from a magazine, rather than allowing them to sit in a pile on our dining room table.

Another thing Gretchen did to boost her energy was to create a list of tasks that were causing her to feel guilty or otherwise ‘draining her energy.’  I thought it was brilliant!  Who doesn’t have a list of ‘nagging tasks’ that zaps your energy simply by thinking about them?  I quickly grabbed a note pad and began writing. I had seven items before I lifted my pen.  Most of the projects are small and can be done solo, others will require Andrew’s help (i.e. the stair tile that just broke).  I’ve already crossed one task off the list!

Lastly, apparently research shows we actually feel a certain way based on acting a certain way.  Therefore, one can feel happier if we act happier.  Gretchen’s Third Commandment, “Act the way I want to feel,” is right on the money.  I’ve actually used this while running, when I feel a little sluggish, I ACT faster and somehow for a few moments, I feel lighter and like I have more energy.

Like I said, I really enjoyed Chapter One.  Although I’ve never really equated ‘clearing out clutter’ directly with increasing happiness, it makes sense.  It’s refreshing to know that I’m not crazy when I extoll the virtues of organization and cleanliness; they apparently boost energy and can therefore make you happier.  Do you find clearing clutter or working out makes you happier?  How have you tried to boost your energy?





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