February's 'My Mighty Month' Challenge Is Cultivating Happiness
A little over five years ago, I was sitting in my college’s local bar celebrating my birthday with a group of friends and the guy I was seeing at the time. I was wearing a new dress, surrounded by people I genuinely cared about, and had a plate of waffle fries all to myself. “How could it get any better?” I remember thinking.
When it came time for wish-making, I blew out the candles and wished for the one thing that made sense: happiness.
Four days later, I was dumped.
That wish taught me an important lesson. Happiness isn’t just something you can wish for, it’s something you need to work at and actively pursue.
Which brings us to February’s My Mighty Month challenge: cultivating happiness.
If you, like me, are someone who lives with a chronic illness, disability or mental illness, being happy is one of those things that sounds nice but oftentimes feels impossible. Having to actively pursue something – when you’re already balancing work, doctor appointments, some semblance of a social life and those annoying pill reminders on your phone – doesn’t seem like a recipe for happiness. If anything, it seems like more stress. Who needs more stress? I don’t, and neither do you, I’m guessing.
That’s where February’s My Mighty Month challenge comes in. For 30 days we’ll provide you with weekly challenges designed to promote happiness. Sure, you’ll have to commit to taking the challenge, but we’re here to take the stress and guesswork out of it. Each weekly challenge is based on happiness and psychology research, so while we can’t guarantee you’ll be happier in 30 days, we can say we’re not just pulling ideas out of a hat.
What Makes People Happy?
According to positive psychology and happiness studies you can increase happiness by promoting self-care and reducing stress; maintaining social connections and practicing gratitude, mindfulness, and kindness.
Each week, we’ll send out an email with three challenges designed to address each happiness-building component. You can do all three or pick and choose as you please. Your participation, however, is important, as studies have shown effort is required to see results.
Understanding This Month’s Three Components
Each of our happiness-building components will have its own corresponding challenge designed to give you guidance and help you make the most of your 30 days. We’ll be emailing out a weekly newsletter as well as posting each weekly challenge on our My Mighty Month Facebook page. Here’s a better idea of why we picked these components, and what each challenge will look like:
Self-care and stress reduction. Stress and happiness aren’t always related. For example, you get a promotion at work, the new title comes with more responsibility and stress, but you feel appreciated and important, and that makes you happy. Negative stress, on the other hand, can seriously dampen your mood. And, the more perceiving yourself as having more stress can decrease your happiness too.
Our weekly challenges can help you carve out some time for you to focus on self-care and stress reduction.
Maintaining social connections. Happiness studies have shown some of the happiest people are the best connected people. “People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping,” writes Christine Carter, Ph.D, of University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
If you are an introvert, the idea of making more friends might not make you feel happier, so for you, each weekly challenge would focus more on strengthening connections and spending time with those most important to you. You can also use this challenge as a way to make new friends.
Practicing gratitude, mindfulness and kindness. Studies have shown that being grateful, practicing mindfulness and doing acts of kindness can all improve happiness. A study from 2009 found that people who performed acts of kindness for 10 days straight had a significant increase in happiness as compared to those who performed no acts of kindness. Other studies have shown that practicing gratitude – reflecting on what you are grateful for – and being mindful, as in envisioning your best possible self, can boost happiness too.
Part of this month’s challenge will be keeping a happiness jar. For 30 days, we ask you to write down one thing that made you happy that day and put it in a jar. It could be something simple like “I ate ice cream,” to something more meaningful, like getting out of bed for the first time in days. Then, at the end of the month, you can reflect on all the things that made you happy. (Learn how to make your own jar here, and how to fill it here.)
Yes, being grateful is hard when you live with a health condition, be it mental or physical. I’ll be the first to admit that when I am in pain (which is more often than not), I don’t want to skip through the park and count my blessings. I want to eat sour gummy worms and watch Netflix. And, while I might beat myself up for being unproductive, there is nothing wrong with taking time for yourself – it’s self-care. I’m not going to skip when I’m in pain – and maybe, unplugging from my phone and watching TV is the best I can do that day. I can add that to my happiness jar as something that made me happy, even on a day when I was in too much pain to leave the house.
Other challenges in this group will include prompts – like January’s 30-day journaling challenge – that will help you practice gratitude and mindfulness.