by: Niya Christine
In November 2012, in a Seattle Starbucks, I painted a Starbucks cup as fast as I could for fun. And, it was. In fact, it was so fun I wondered where I’d been all my life?
When did the daily stack o’ tasks eclipse the daily joys that used to be fact in my life? It was time to investigate. I pulled out some journals from the past 10 years. Sure enough, task lists, planning, thinking, strategizing time, envisioning outcomes. And though there were a few reflections on writers, artists, films that inspired me and why. 75% was similar to a battle sergeant’s preparation for war.
My war was on time.
This is silly, I thought. Do I really think there is no time for fun and joy? When did I become that person? It wasn’t that I wasn’t being creative. I had written film scripts, novels, a children’s book and finished an MFA in creative writing. And though, I was proud of those things, the daily joy—the feel good stuff was definitely not a staple.
Around December of 2012, I became a full-on archaeologist of joy. I stalked my past in pirate-like fashion.
When was the last time I felt truly alive? What was I doing everyday at that time? What were the peaks and challenges? Turns out, it was when I was painting everyday no matter what. I was in college studying psychology, lived on a farm with horses and wonderful people doing interesting things. I would come home from school and work, relax on a horse’s back during sunset. After that, eat a bit of dinner, pour little wine and go into my silk studio no matter how tired or wrung out from the day. I’d hike up the kind of emotional music that 20-somethings are experts at.
I just couldn’t wait to see the color move.
In the morning, the surprising way the piece dried and that good feeling of exhaustion when you’ve participated in something a little larger than yourself. No matter how little sleep I got, I was ready to face the day. In fact, the problems from work and school the day before were bite size and manageable
I wanted that feeling again.
Many years had gone by. I wasn’t sure I would be able to cultivate it again. What if my joy molecules where all gummed up? Or worse, atrophied, rubberized, fossilized? Ah, well… it was time to see.
I knew I had to challenge the resistance fully. Nothing, short of full on commitment.
New habits require daily care. So the set up of the project was important. I knew I needed to design it to match the needs of my personality. To put it to work. I like organization. So I ordered a set up to archive the original paintings. I like accountability so I created a way to share the paintings with subscribers over coffee in the morning. I like the structure of themes. So I change them out every month. I like contrast, so the themes have 2 subjects in play. I like learning, so I didn’t promise perfection to my audience.
I wanted to learn and explore, make mistakes and still blog the daily painting. I like the element of surprise. So I decided to put words to the paintings, if the painting compelled a story while posting. Many of them have and that’s been the biggest and most joy filled surprise of the project.
This is my personal “happiness” project. Do you have something in mind for yourself? It can be anything, like learning something new everyday and writing a sentence about it. Reusing something you have to make something new. Or a letter a day to all the people you’ve loved in your life.
Here are a few things to consider as you narrow down your ideas and commit:
1. Think about what’s missing in your life. What do you think you need to put off until you have more time? What do you daydream about that pains you not to be doing now? Consider that you don’t have to put it off. Just consider it. Don’t make plans yet or think about how. I did this for a few days. The “how” came naturally after that.
2. Is there one routine you do everyday that isn’t helping your life? Swap it. For me, I had a daily habit of reading and writing every morning in the first hour of the day. My journals had become anxiety sponges. I decided to get up, make coffee and go straight away to the studio. Huge energy burst immediately with this change. Not thinking about time amounts yet. Just thinking about activities. Edit out the ‘filler’ things in your day. Challenge their meaning in the big picture. Consider swapping the time for your ‘personal happiness project
3. Be happy not perfect. Enjoy! Remember, be happy not perfect. I don’t like many of these paintings posted. But I have a year to practice. That in itself makes me happy.
4. Who is rooting for you? Have a few private conversations with people who support your happiness. Tell them your thoughts. Example: “I really miss playing the flute. It’s been 20 years, but I felt really happy when I played. I don’t know where this is going, but if I played it for even 10 minutes a day, I would have that sound in my head again. That would make me happy.”
5. If you were not to miss a day in your commitment, what is the amount of time you could commit? This has been the most powerful part of this project for me. My rule is, never miss a day. I know that I will back into bad habits if I allow ‘missed days’ — excuses have a way of sneaking back in. If I get really sick or I’m in a car accident, I will make it up later. But 365 paintings in a year is the goal.
Yours might be different. You might decide 6 months, 10 minutes a day. Case example: You have dreams of opening a cupcake shop. Would a 6 months or a year of recipe development help it’s success? Hell ya, it would. Would 10 minutes a day of ideas, research or stocking the shelves with ingredients fuel opening day excitement? Yes!
6. Public or Private? My friend Kris in Colorado creates 365 earrings in 2012. She never missed a day. She wrote notes everyday. She kept her project private. She’s extraordinary. Me? Changing habits is very challenging for me. So I added in the rule of accountability. I created a subscription base and blog my paintings daily. When the excuse train comes in, it doesn’t matter, I have a commitment now to my subscribers above and beyond myself. And I never regret it. Even on the days I don’t feel like it. Consider who you are and how you’ve kept commitments to yourself in the past and make this decision ahead of time.
7. What are you creating? You might be creating something in the arts. But you might be creating something personal. More intimacy with your significant other. More time for yourself to simply daydream or walk and think. Time to research and make travel plans with the full spectrum of thought and resources. Time to add beauty to your home. Make an indoor garden and tend it. Notice the “What Are You Creating?” is coming in on this list at number 7. There’s a reason for that. It barely matters what. What matters is the daily attention no matter what.
8. Choose your time amount and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be for a year and it might only be 5-10 minutes per day. Julia Cameron wrote a novel at stoplights for months. These few moments were all she had between work and child rearing. I run a business and write books. My time limit tops for concept-ing, drawing, painting, posting, writing is 1 hour. I knew that if the project started taking over my life, exhausting me, I would stop. Use a timer and find the right time amount for you.
9. Practice before you launch. It might feel awkward at first. For example, the flutist mentioned in an earlier example. What if she is a bit shy? Where will she practice? Does she need to buy a flute or will she pull her dusty one out of the garage? Does it need repair? Can she blow into it for 30 seconds a day for a week before launching? Set up and practice is SO important. I would have choked if not for the practice sets. I practiced in all states of mind. I found that no matter what, painting always energized any mood.
10. Set low expectations and celebrate often. Keep your expectations low and give yourself many pats on the back along the way. My goal was to feel a bit more joy in my day. I had been serving just about everyone and everything else but myself. I needed daily expression and to turn some attention to personal time doing something I love. I also had a background goal of practice and learning new illustration skills to make my children’s books that much better. All of these goals were satisfied within the first month and I knew I had made the right commitment from the first week.
Even if I lost all subscribers, followers and print sales tomorrow, I would continue. It’s now a part of my day that I can’t do without. It’s also changing other decisions and choices for the better. Because once you get a dose of daily happiness you can’t help but want your whole life to be that way.
Are you ready to commit to your passion and become your own archaeologist of joy?
Take a moment and let us know what your happiness project will be!
Niya owns a UE/branding design firm, Ritual Labs. She is the author of “Bragging Bantering Bawling” story collection and “Po'Bird: A Wingless Bird Determined to fly” an illustrated children's book. She plans to spend much of 2014 turning the paintings into useful things like coffee table books that turn into coasters. You can visit here at http://niyachristine.com for the art dailies. You can also hang out with Niya on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/niyachristineart