The Happiness Project

Jul 15, 2021

Hello. My name is Martha Kauppi. I’m an AASECT-certified sex therapist and supervisor and author of the book Polyamory: A Clinical Toolkit for Therapists (and Their Clients). I’m following up on my last vlog. I want to talk about the Happiness Project.

This is a way that I like to think about self-regulation. It can feel like, “Martha, you should be managing your emotions better.” That’s self-regulation, right? Instead of asking your partner to help you manage your emotions.

First of all, there are so many things that just need to be tweaked about this. The underlying, foundational idea that I think is most important is whose happiness are we concerned with here? When I’m talking about me and my life, my primary concern is that I make it. I want to make it through and I want to enjoy my life. I think if I’m enjoying my life, it makes everybody around me happier. It makes my work more meaningful. It makes my partner happy. It makes everything go easier. It’s just good for everyone. Everyone’s happiness is good for everyone else. Let’s just start with a core assumption that your happiness project is not a selfish act. It’s a helpful act. It’s a relational act.

The Martha Happiness Project is my project of, “How do I be a happy person? How do I be a happy, healthy person living a life that feels good to me?” and being the person that I want to be in my life and in all of my relationships of all different kinds.

I would encourage you to think about what your Happiness Project might include. What lights you up? What makes you happy? You should have many answers to this question. If you’re a little fuzzy on it, then I just think you haven’t thought enough about your own happiness. Remember: when you’re happy and fully engaged in your life and feeling good, everything else is easier and every other relationship makes more sense and is easier to handle.

My Happiness Project is not for the purpose of making my partner’s life better. Although, it will certainly have a side effect that my partner’s life will be easier and better if I’m happy. My primary objective for the Martha Happiness Project is that I’m happy. I want to have nice days. I want to have meaningful work. I want to have a meaningful life. I want to have interactions that feel connected, deep, and lovely. In order for that to happen, I need to be able to manage my own emotional automatic responses.

The other part of this equation is that I need to be able to ask for what it is that I want and I need to be able to figure out what it is that I want. If you would like to hear me talk more about how to figure out what it is that you actually want, listen to my previous vlog where I answer a listener’s question about that. There will be other vlogs, too, where I talk about different kinds of situations where it’s important to figure out what you want.

For right now, once you figure out what it is that you want—First of all, most of us think about a thing outside of ourselves. “I want a date with you,” for instance. “I want to spend time with this person. I want to spend this amount of time with this person. I want a car.” Whatever it is that you want, I would like you to go at least one step deeper and ask yourself why you want that.

Mostly, the things that we want, we want because we think we’re going to feel happier when we get them. Now it is starting to make sense how if I can boost my happiness level myself, I’m in a better position to have relationships with other people that feel fulfilling? Less pressure on them to meet my needs, whatever those might be, and more happiness for me! That’s the thing, right?

I don’t want to wait around until my partner happens to be having just the right kind of a day so that she can spend it with me and we can feel connected and just so, just the right way. If that’s what my happiness depends upon, even though I have a 26 year long marriage with a fantastic woman and everything is quite lovely, the fact of the matter is that if my happiness depends on her rhythms, that is too shaky of a construct. I’ll be happy sometimes and I’ll be moderately content a lot of the time, at best.

If I want to be happy, if I am really attending to the Martha Happiness Project, I need more than my partner’s contribution in order for me to be living a really full, lovely life so I’m interested in other things. I’m really engaged in my work, I play in various ways, I have assorted hobbies, I have assorted projects that I really enjoy. Some of them I can do with another person. Some of them I prefer to do alone.

My Happiness Project has to do with having enough of the balance of what makes me happy be within my realm so that it’s possible for me to be happy even if things don’t go my way. For instance, we can use one of my hobbies. I love to garden and I grow a lot of the food that we eat in the summer in our little urban garden on our urban lot. That’s a lot of work and if the weather is not cooperating, if it’s pouring down rain for a whole entire week, I’m not going to be able to do it. I’m just not going to be able to do it. If my happiness depends on being able to get out in the garden, that’s too shaky.

Same with the partner. If my happiness depends on my partner having free time right when I want her to, that’s not happy enough for me. I need to feel like, “Well, if my partner’s not available, I could go garden. I could go do another project. I could cook a nice soup. I could do any number of things that would feel fulfilling and enriching.”

Another aspect of the Happiness Project—and this fits with everything that I have ever talked about—is the project of learning to receive. Receive from others, and also receive from yourself, and also receive from the universe. If I go out in my garden and I’m just like, “Grr, I’m tired and I’m hot. I’m not enjoying this. I have to weed. Blah, blah, blah,” it’s not going to be a lovely experience.

This is a thing that I enjoy so if I can come to it with the openness to enjoy and then receive the enjoyment, receive what the garden is giving me, notice when the little butterfly goes by, just notice the sun feels nice and notice when I’m done for the day, notice when I’ve had enough—”Ok, I’m going to take a break”—this is going to support the Happiness Project. This is true in every sphere, including with your partner.

What if you’re hanging out with your partner, you’re doing some stuff together, and you’re starting to feel like there’s something that’s not working for you about this? Well, I’d like to encourage you to speak up about it. “I was really enjoying doing this activity with you but right now, I’m really wondering if we could just sit down on the couch and snuggle a little bit.” This comes out of my mouth multiple times per week.

A little course-correction so that when you’re with your partner, when you’re with your garden, or when you’re with your hobby, you are in receiving mode and you’re tuned in—this is the center of balance from in my last vlog—to what it is that you’re experiencing and what it is that you want and you can ask for it.

Then, if you don’t get what you want from your partner—let’s say I would like to snuggle on the couch, my partner’s like, “I don’t want to snuggle on the couch. I’ve got a long to-do list right now”—then I have to have a backup plan, right? If my happiness can’t be dependent on that snuggle, I’m going to have to have a way of hitting reset that doesn’t involve my partner’s participation.

That supports the Martha Happiness Project. It doesn’t mean I’m too needy. It just means that in this moment, I didn’t get my top choice, so what’s my second choice, what’s my third choice, and what’s my fourth choice? There need to be lots of choices.

Go think about what your Happiness Project might include. Maybe make a list of things that you enjoy doing alone. Think about how you would make a course correction in the middle of an activity, how you would take an internal read on what’s happening, what you’re experiencing, if there’s a little shift that would make it nicer, and ask for that. If it’s a shift inside yourself, experiment with it.

Also, experiment with receiving mode. When you start an activity, maybe be a little bit intentional about what you want to experience. This is such an important question: what do you want to experience today? For me, I start every day thinking this, “What do I want to experience today? I want to experience peace. I want to experience happiness.” Maybe I have a thing that I’m doing that I have some anxiety about or that I’m a little worried about. I’m not sure how it’s going to go. How do I want that to go? I want it to go great. I want to feel strong. I want to feel good. I want to enjoy myself doing it. I think about that stuff. That’s what I want for for myself with that activity. When I start that activity, I go into it thinking, “This is what I want for myself with this activity.” Same when I’m with my partner. I want to feel connected so I’m going to bring a connective part of myself to that to the very best of my ability.

Alright, go play with all of that. Let me know what your questions are. I hope you have a great day.

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