In November of 2012 on a flight home from a training given by the International OCD Foundation in Boston, I started reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It had been on my bookshelves for awhile, and every time I looked at it I thought, “Boy, I really need to read that.” Because, in all honesty, happiness has not come easily for me. It’s hard to be happy when you walk around frightened all the time because of what your OCD is whispering in your mind, even if on the outside you might look happy.
As I read Rubin’s account of her 12-month project to try to help herself be happier, I started thinking of all the things I’d do if I were going to make myself happier. I got out a small notebook I keep just for such “aha!” moments, and I started to write them down.
And, what’s even more amazing, when I got home from Boston, I started to DO them.
My own Happiness Project
I didn’t read the book intending to do my own Happiness Project, but that’s what’s happened! Mine is a little different than Rubin’s, however. I think that people who have OCD face some tremendous obstacles to being happy, because OCD breeds a toxic environment for itself where it can thrive. The toxins OCD loves include fatigue, depression, need for control, and negative thinking, to name just a few. For instance, I used to end up exhausted from being relentlessly bombarded all day by unwanted thoughts and from performing the never-ending rituals that OCD demands. My fatigue made me more susceptible to OCD, and having more OCD thoughts made me more tired, which led to more OCD, etc. in a self-perpetuating cycle of hell. It goes without saying that these toxins combined with OCD destroy much of the joy found in life.
My goal in my happiness project? To clean up these toxins in my environment, and set up my life in such a way that they (and OCD) can’t easily come back.
I was inspired by Rubin’s focus on a different issue related to happiness each month (for instance, hers include Vitality, Marriage, Work, and Parenthood), so I created 12 issues for myself. I did not commit to working on one each month, though, as that would feed into my workaholism (one of the toxins I am trying to clean up). Instead, I just started working on them one at a time.
Eight months into my project, my life is a lot less polluted. I can’t claim total success (as for me that would be trying to be an “unhealthy” perfectionist, another one of my toxins….), but I am making tremendous progress on my list, and more importantly, I feel a lot happier.
Shala’s Happiness Project
- Take care of my physical self to combat fatigue
- Deal with the long-standing maladaptive coping mechanism/addiction I developed to deal with OCD: workaholism
- Let go of expectations….and control
- Become a “healthy” perfectionist
- Meditate each day
- Stop “feeding the negative thoughts wolf” – root out distortions such as black and white thinking
- Accept my limitations and embrace my strengths – creativity within constraints
- Really embrace uncertainty
- Do more maintenance exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, especially on core fears
- Stop the vigilance
- Remember “it’s not about the content!”
- Choose to be happy
Stay tuned over the coming months for more Aha! Moments about each of the 12 above, and about how I’m turning each of them into a lifelong habit.
If you were going to do a Happiness Project, what would be on your list? For inspiration, you can also visit Gretchen Rubins’ website. I’d love to hear about your Happiness Project and how you are taking or have taken your life back from OCD—just visit my Contact Me form to get in touch!
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