The Happiness Checklists

By Jarrett Retz -May 14th, 2017

I read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, and it inspired me to try something new. As can be seen from the title, I made checklists for various lengths of time throughout my day.

The purpose of these checklists was to remind me (and force me) to do the things that I knew will probably increase the bliss in my life. Many of these things are simple, and if I were to tell someone that it is a good idea to try, they would most likely say, "Of course.. duh." However, many times these actions do not get done. I forget. I rationalize with myself, and let it slide.

I made five checklists;

  • Hourly
  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Annually

I set alarms on my phone, with labels, for each corresponding time period. This would remind me of things that I had not completed. It also reminded of things that I could do at that moment. It was a lot of alarms..

The hourly checklist was fantastic at first. Taking the time to appreciate the small situations that go well so often was enlightening. What was surprising difficult about the hourly checklist (besides upsetting my coworkers with all the alarms that went off) was the responding texts and calls.

Many of the time I didn't want to respond for various reasons, but it helped remind me to be a little more accountable with my communications.

However, after three weeks, I stopped the Hourly Checklist. The net effect it had on my responsiveness to texts and calls—since I've dropped it—has been negative. Sometimes I forget to respond to texts that I should have responded too. I didn't get the same feeling of calm enjoyment anymore that I got at the beginning when I first started the exercise. Maybe every hour is a bit excessive, or the alarms became stressful, creating a negative effect.

The bottom three items were difficult to sustain, but the reminder to think about them thirteen times a day definitely increased the amount of times I, for even a moment, was able to sustain the positive aspects of standing tall, talking slow, and making skillful movements.

Why did I stop? I wish I had a better answer. I still have these moments of awareness regarding the small situations that I can appreciate. A lot of the time it's interactions with things at work, sometimes it's having the time to be productive, and other times the appreciation came from not being hit by a car biking to work.

The amount of things to appreciate, at least in my life, become overwhelming actually. I normally found a group of things to be grateful for at every hourly alarm.

To replace the hourly checklist, I will probably set up moments of mindfulness through my Headspace App. I can remember the checklist items now, so maybe not hourly, but a couple times a day a reminder may fit better into the flow of my life.

The Daily Checklist did not last long either! I already had an app on my phone called Way of Life, which is daily, so it seemed redundant to have two daily checklists. I consolidated them, so I actually kept (and continue to use) the daily checklist.

My favorite item on the list? "Listen to a Happy Song", or a song that makes you feel good. I usually did this in the morning and it's a subtle mood booster. I even mixed it up sometimes with a motivational speech or track.

I dropped the "Spend an Hour Outside" because my job takes care of that.

I had already developed a solid meditation, exercising, eating vegetables, affirmations, and language practice through Way of Life, so it wasn't a stretch to get these done throughout the day. It's important to note that these activities were added to my daily routine slowly over the last year, and not thrown in all at once.

One of the more difficult ones to remember was "Give Someone a Well Thought Out Compliment", but in hindsight OF COURSE I was glad I did it after the fact. It was stressful, but it also tag-teamed the goal of increasing appreciation in my day.

"Read Something" was interesting. I never noticed the amount of information I read or get from many different mediums. I always had judged it by reading a book, but after realizing I read more of other articles on the internet, phone, or print it made sense that some days I did not have as much time to read a bigger book.

I added a few aspects to my Way of Life based on this checklist, and this checklist evolves month-to-month. What I like about Way of Life is the visual feedback, the streak tracking, and the trend displays. It provides a little more of an emotional pat on the back.

Easily the most looked at—and scrutinized—checklist in the fleet. It requires just enough work, discipline, and planning to make it not too stressful, but still not easy.

Right off the bat, calling and talking to my family has been a major positive. There are times where I have noticeable felt less lonely. Now that many of my immediate family is living in different locations this has become very important. Continuing this practice will most likely take our relationships to a place where they haven't been for years (and this was a goal on my Yearly Checklist too)

A month in, I have actually increased my Cold Exposure to three. I have heard some positive things about going into a sauna 2-3 times a week, and have now changed the Cold Exposure to Heat Exposure.

I haven't 'volunteered', in the technical sense, but on my days off I take a plastic bag (that my roommates hoard in a cabinet in the kitchen) and put it on my bike. Since I ride to work, there is roughly two miles of road that can collect a good amount of litter every week. I probably only spend twenty minutes picking up, but a grocery bag of garbage once-a-week over a couple months adds up.

I feel like I am a part-owner, or caretaker or that stretch of road. Living so close to work and biking has allowed me to have this opportunity. Just having a small commitment, or tie, to the community (that probably goes unnoticed) can have a good emotional kickback. I ride down that road sometimes, seeing a clean area that used to have garbage on it (before I picked it up), and I think "Fuck yeah, I did that."

I've begun to trade my social events and new experiences. Some weeks it is easier to double up, or add a social event to one week and take one off the current. Some of these social events, and new experiences have been;

  • seeing live music at a new place
  • doing a comedy Open Mic at a new place
  • meeting up with a girl I met on Bumble
  • watching the pro at the golf course give a lesson in my time off
  • going to a winery
  • I think one week I counted buying and trying new types of food

There are some on the weekly that need to have a wager, or nudge added to it.

The social events are interesting. It started out as being something to get me out and see people. Now, it's something that is there to help me keep track of how much social time I'm spending so I remember to leave time for other things in my life (i.e reading, watching astronomy videos)

The last bullet "Plan events for next week" plays a big role. Having the major parts of my week (like work) planned out allows me to see how I can fit my other daily activities around time constraints.

Monthly and yearly are sparse. The monthly is a great reminder to continue saving, think about planning a trip or get together, and for some reason I through in "listen to live music" because I think that's important.

I haven't had a chance to review my goals for this year, and the yearly checklist actually has a secondary checklist that has my goals on it. It also has some bigger things that I want to do.

As for build something useful.. I built a small carry that attached to my bike from an old golf bag riksha.

I haven't done everything perfectly on these checklists. I'm also not my best coach. Having someone else remind you to (or help you) get some of the harder tasks done would be a top notch way to really follow through. There is no doubt in my mind that the existence of these checklists have been important in remembering certain actions that will improve my life.

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