Because I’m making it one of my Taiwan goals not to acquire possessions, I only allow myself to buy one book a month, and only then if I’ve finished my previous books. The suitcases of unread books I had to rehome before I left Glasgow were heartbreaking, and also a huge loss of money.
My book this month was ‘The Happiness Project’, by Gretchen Rubin. Although she and I live very different lives (she an established writer with two children living well in New York, I a semi-nomadic, single twenty-something teacher in East Asia) I’m getting a lot out of the book – a lot more than I expected. She tackles a different aspect of her happiness each month: children, marriage, friends, time, and learns what is and isn’t manageable. For instance, she has to come to terms with the things that aren’t ‘Gretchen’: things she wants to enjoy, feels she should enjoy, but in reality just doesn’t. This realisation closes a lot of doors, as admitting that you’re never going to be a lawyer, or an ambassador, or fluent in French, is sealing off possibilities.
It’s been making me think a lot about how I’m guilty of velleities. Things which I dream I’m capable off, and that I say I’m going to do, but which I just don’t because there aren’t that many hours in a day, and it’s not a priority. I always mean to read up more on political affairs in the Middle East, but I’d rather read an article on health, or on women’s rights. Although the Middle East does interest me, it’s not the broad political picture but rather the lives of the people living there that I want to spend time looking into. I do have time for another 3 private students a week, but I don’t want to be someone who only works, and I wouldn’t have time for yoga. It would be great to get up and do Beachbody Insanity on my rooftop every morning before work but I have to get up early enough for me as it is, and I’d rather have the extra time in bed – so I should stop setting my alarm for an unrealistic hour and then snoozing it 15 times.
More than anything it made me aware of how often I vocalise my negative thoughts, and then how they become more than thoughts, but how they start to become part of how I live my day. My job is repetitive and time consuming. I have sung the same song every single week day morning for the past 4 months, and I have another 5 months of it to go, along with various others that I have on a small rotation. I know the exact formula of the lesson I will teach with my bushiban classes each day. On the whole, the classes run like slightly dysfunctional clockwork (dysfunctional because there are kids involved, but clockwork nonetheless) and it didn’t take me very long to work out a routine that would allow me to prep for the minimum amount of time, while still teaching a class that would keep the kids interested and engaged. It is certainly not the most stimulating of jobs, although it is made a lot more bearable by having kids whom I like almost without exception.
Like Gretchen Rubin, I have decided to embark upon my project but with more specific goals. I’m trying to be more conscious of my negativity, and I’m going to try to set myself little challenges to make my days more fulfilling. The areas that I’m going to start with are: friendships, relationships, work life, free time. It will be a work in progress. I’m calling it the Buddhism project because one of the biggest things that’s made a change to my happiness in the past month is starting to meditate, and that’s a practice I’m going to try to maintain. Onwards and upwards.