Recovering pessimist Joëlle Marti is the author of the Those Happy Moments blog (http://www.thosehappymoments.com), which she started on January 1st, 2016, after one too many years of not living life to the fullest. After blogging about daily happiness for 366 days in a row – and becoming a shockingly happier person along the way – she was inspired to help others become happier, too. Her story and insights, along with practical examples and exercises, are shared in “Those Happy Moments: How a One-Year Experiment Led to Lasting Happiness,” now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon.
With an eclectic background that includes an INSEAD MBA, a yoga teaching certificate, and a near-obsessive love for travel, Joëlle has finally ventured out of the corporate world and into writing. A Swiss-American, she now lives in Hamburg, Germany and loves referring to herself as a Hamburger.
Prior to 2016, I had never thought of myself as a happy person. I wasn’t a miserable person either, mind you, and on paper, things tended to be pretty good. But something was missing—something that neither therapists nor journaling nor a fancy MBA nor any number of job titles had been able to fix. My overall life just felt small. The constant question in my mind was, “Really? This is all there is?”
So on January 1st of that year, I decided to do something a little different. Rather than simply writing my usual list of New Year’s resolutions (which I’d always done, and always forgotten about immediately after writing it), I decided to write a blog post. I didn’t even know how to write a blog post, but for once I didn’t let that stop me. And I wrote down a few sentences about how, frankly, I just wanted to be happier that year. I signed the entry, “Love, Joëlle” to acknowledge how personal it felt to me. And then I came back for more the next day, and wrote about something that made me happy again. And again the day after that. And somehow, just like that, I wrote a blog post for every single day of the year. A leap year’s worth of 366 entries – which ensured that whenever I looked back on 2016, I’d see only Happy Moments.
The vague idea I started with was this: Even on a “bad” day, or a boring day, or even just a “blah” day, surely there’d always be something happy that had happened to me at some point in those 24 hours. And maybe if that was the moment I focused on from an otherwise not-so-happy day, maybe that’s how I’d remember the day itself. And maybe by collecting enough of those Happy Moments – real, true moments that actually happened in my everyday life – maybe I could start to think of my overall life as a happy one, and to think of myself as a happy person.
And somewhat amazingly, it worked! The further I got into the year, the more I started to care about those Happy Moments of mine. Finding them, noticing them, and ultimately creating them became second nature – there was so much more for me to be happy about than I’d ever thought was possible! Happy Moments were everywhere all along, and they were just waiting for me to take notice. Big moments and small: everything from certifying as a yoga teacher to the birth of my new niece to, heck, that time my toenail polish perfectly matched London’s double-decker buses. I stopped making excuses for those cruel little voices in my head telling me how unhappy I was, and instead I just kept finding new moments that proved those voices wrong.
At the end of my one-year experiment, I was thrilled to find that even without blogging every day, I was still so much happier. My attitude and practice had led to significant external changes in my life: a great new romantic relationship, exciting new career opportunities, better health, and a much more authentic sense of who I wanted to be. And I was much happier on the inside, too. I felt like a completely new person.
And about six months into 2017, I started thinking, “I wonder if there’s more to this happiness thing?” Maybe what I’d learned could help somebody else: someone who felt stuck, or fearful, or uncertain, or sad – just like I had felt before.
From Blog to Book
So I wrote a book about my experience: What I had learned, and what I hoped others could gain, too. I included silly stories from the year, but also painful ones: everything from my love of cheesy shark attack movies to a slow, frustrating recovery from a torn hamstring and a broken heart. I included insights and practical exercises to challenge readers on bringing more happiness into their lives, too, constantly asking myself along the way: What was the book I would have wanted to read, back when I was at my most unhappy?
Most significantly, reliving the year gave me a great chance to reflect on the 10 most common themes I’d encountered, which ended up forming the basis for the book’s 10 chapters, distilled as follows:
Chapter 1: WTF Am I Actually Doing Here?
Stop listening to the negative, cruel “WTF” voices and doubts in your head that may tell you what you’re doing isn’t worthwhile. It is. Just keep swimming.
Chapter 2: What Makes ME Happy?
Notice your own personal quirks to get to know yourself better. This will help prove to you that you can find reasons every single day to smile. For example, I’m slightly obsessed with the word “biscuit,” German pick-up phrases, and have a phobia of pigeons. What about you?
Chapter 3: Those Pesky Adverse Setbacks
Keeps some perspective when adverse setbacks strike. These experiences do not define your life or who you are. Even “bad” situations don’t have to be all bad, so be willing to acknowledge how far you’ve come.
Chapter 4: Good Friends, Good Fun
Celebrate the people you care about, and flash back to the fun times you’ve had together. The more you take away from this, the better a friend you can be to yourself. Personally, I’ve always struggled with a lonely complex, and the chance to reflect on all the good times with people who cared about me went a long way towards killing that complex.
Chapter 5: Where’s My Next Adventure?
Seek out adventures in your everyday life to help you go beyond your comfort zone. They don’t have to be expensive or far away, or crazy. Just about anything can be an adventure with the right attitude!
Chapter 6: Challenging Yourself – Because Nobody Said This Was Easy
Break down seemingly-impossible challenges into bite-sized, approachable pieces. And most importantly of all: Jump off that cliff. At some point, a net will catch you, and things won’t always be this scary. But you have to jump. You can do this.
Chapter 7: Forming Happy Habits
The two elements I found particularly useful here were daily effort and forgiveness. Take daily baby steps to chip away bit by bit at those better habits, stay focused, and forgive yourself for not doing things sooner. These elements will be loyal partners in getting you closer to who you would like to be.
Chapter 8: Find the Happy in Random
Stay curious and notice the random things happening around you. For example, I wrote about mistaking a mango for a custard apple, my experience with a Japanese toilet, and the time I thought I saw Yoko Ono advertising iPhones outside my building (it wasn’t her). Random moments like these can be an endless source of happiness to counteract daily mundaneness and negativity.
Chapter 9: What About When I Feel Sad?
If you feel sad, start by acknowledging that, but don’t let those feelings take over. Then make a plan of action: schedule comforting rewards for yourself, and if all else fails, use daydreams to escape. And most importantly, keep reminding yourself: This too shall pass.
Chapter 10: Time to Create YOUR Happy Moments
To create more happiness, find ways to bring more unnecessary-but-fun activities into your life, and be grateful for the opportunities that come from them. Take a new route to work one day. Try out a coloring book. Plant some tomatoes. Say hi to that cute guy or girl. These were just some of the many things I tried throughout the year. Try to answer the question of “What COULD I do today?”, rather than “What SHOULD I do today?”
Now It’s Your Turn
Think about it: What made you smile today? What was your Happy Moment? What did you work on? What, if anything, would you like to remember from today?
Now think about this: What are your dreams? Your goals? Your purpose in life? What are you missing in order to be happier?
Chances are, the first set of questions were a lot easier to answer than the second. But the two sets actually go hand in hand: We can’t achieve our dreams without acting on them. We can’t meet our goals without taking baby steps. And we can’t become happier without smiling along the way. In a sense, we should all be “happiness athletes,” exercising our happiness muscle, sticking to it, forming good habits, dusting ourselves off when we stumble, and keeping that countdown clock or finish line in mind. Each one of us really needs to decide in a sense, what kind of a performance am I going to put in?
I encourage anyone to look for ways to find and create a little additional happiness in their own lives. Even if it feels cheesy, or silly, or even pointless at times. I’m living proof that it can make a real difference. I truly hope you’ll pursue something new, exciting, and happy. And I hope you find lots of Happy Moments along the way.