At the start of the year I decided to do the 100 happy days challenge. For those of you who don’t know what it is, the challenge is to be happy for 100 days in a row. The website says:
We live in times when super-busy schedules have become something to boast about. While the speed of life increases, there is less and less time to enjoy the moment that you are in. The ability to appreciate the moment, the environment and yourself in it, is the base for the bridge towards long term happiness of any human being.
The challenge sounds fairly simple – each day post a picture of what made you happy. It could be something small like a good cup of tea or something huge like getting engaged. The point isn’t to try and one-up anyone else, but to find the things in your life that make you happy. Apparently people who successfully completed the challenge claimed to notice what makes them happy each day, be in a better mood, receive more compliments from other people, realise how lucky they are to live the life they do, and become more optimistic. I wasn’t expecting any of those things, or particularly looking for them. I just thought it would be a fun challenge to do.
I started the challenge on January 14th this year (my first post was the disappearing TARDIS mug my boyfriend got me for Christmas), and replying to a friend’s comment on my Facebook post I said that while I hate enforced ideas of what and how ‘happiness’ should be/feel like this challenge felt less prescriptive as to what constitutes happiness. It’s about trying to find bits of happiness, not being happy 100 days solid. And it would be nice to have a reminder for yourself of what things made you happy too.
To begin with, I stuck by that. Looking back at the tag now on my Twitter I had things like going to the cinema with my dad, getting a contributor’s copy of a journal I was published in, seeing my research being talked about in French, my cats, my boyfriend and nice things I’d cooked. Some days it was a real struggle finding things to post. I said at the beginning that photos of my cats would pop up on a regular basis, and they did. Most often when I’d had an average day – nothing exciting but nothing gutting either. The kind of day where you get up, go to work, have a routine day in the office, come home, cook tea, put the telly on then go to bed. It was days like that it was often hardest to find something because there wasn’t anything particular that had made me happy. On really rubbish days, funnily enough, I could actually talk about friends or family who’d made me feel better. While that’s not happiness, as such, it’s something to be grateful for.
As the challenge went on though, I found myself starting to think of what things I was going to post to show I was happy rather than what was making me happy. It was almost a case of ranking moments of happiness for future gain than acknowledging them for what they were. Looking through my photos from the period I did the challenge I’ve got a few that I didn’t post in favour of other moments later the same day. Looking at them now makes me happy, of course, but I don’t feel that it was really in the spirit of the challenge. And sometimes finding photos to take was hard. The challenge specified taking a photo of the thing that made you happy to share on social media, and for the most part I did. It would certainly have been easier if photos weren’t involved because there were times I’d forget, or be unable, to take a photo. What then? Could I tweet without a photo (yes, but the rules said photos had to be included and I didn’t want to break the rules). Sometimes I plain forgot to post, so I’d post a couple of days in bulk when I remembered. That still felt kind of like cheating but I did it anyway.
I didn’t manage to finish the challenge in the end. Ironically I was being too happy to take any photos or post that I was happy (which I think is a good way to end it myself!). I was at a symposium I’d be invited to on Cult TV where I met up with old friends and colleagues, had really interesting conversations, went out for a drinks and had a curry. I was so caught up with having a good time that the challenge totally slipped me by, and by the time I remembered about it I couldn’t be bothered to do it anymore. The 100 Happy Days website notes that 71% of people failed the challenge:
71% of people tried to complete this challenge, but failed quoting lack of time as the main reason. These people simpy did not have time to be happy. Do you?
The last couple of sentences in this did particularly annoy me, and it got me thinking about whether we actually need to be happy every day. People can be unhappy for many reasons, and for some of those there will be nothing in their day that can make them happy. There’ve certainly been times since I stopped the challenge that – had I been still doing it – I would have had nothing to post about. Times when I was worrying about my mother being in hospital, times when I was worring about my PhD, times when my depression reared its head over the meds I’d been taking. And knowing me failing to post on those days, failing to find something that made me happy, would have just made me feel worse. So not everyone can be happy and not everyone will finish the challenge because of that.
But equally I don’t think we need to be happy every day. It’s nice, of course, but we experience a range of emotions and I don’t think we should censor those for the sake of happiness (whatever that may be). There are times when it’s okay to feel sad, angry, bored, disappointed. Those are just as valid feelings as happiness, and I think a challenge like this can invalidate those. I also wonder how much it feeds into some of the harmful talk about depression and how if you’re depressed you just need to make an effort to be happy. I’ve made it pretty clear that I’ve suffered from depression for a long time, and it can be a debilitating illness. It saps everything good and joyful and happy and leaves greyness and shadows in its place. Being told to smile or cheer up does nothing to help, and I can’t help feeling that a challenge like this, where every day is potentially a struggle to find something that made you smile, is only going to make things worse for some people.
There’s nothing wrong with looking for happiness, and I’m not trying to argue that. If that’s what helps you or if that’s what you enjoy then go for it. But I don’t think it would do any harm to recognise that we can have 100 bad days or 100 angry days too.