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The 7 Day Happiness Challenge

I got hooked on the concept of daily tasks that drive towards an end goal with my very first “30 Day Ab Challenge”.  My experience with a plan that instructs me to do something every day for a few minutes revealed that this is an effective way for me to try new things and accomplish goals.  I’ve done physical challenges, wellbeing challenges, and gratitude challenges all structured as daily action-oriented improvement plans.  When the New York Times posted a 7 Day Happiness Challenge on New Year’s Day I didn’t hesitate to sign up. For 7 consecutive days I received an email containing a researched based, yet simple, task designed to increase one’s Social Fitness. Here’s a summary of my experience:

 Day 1: Take stock of your relationships with a 13-question relationship quiz.  This was a great level-setting activity to get me thinking about my current state of connections, how I connect and what I find valuable.  The questions focused on who I interact with, how often, the nature of the interactions, and how satisfying they are.   It came as little surprise to me that I am well connected socially and of no surprise that I have poor work connections. This exercise made me reflect on what I already knew: taking on a remote role in a new company without a team reporting to me is less than satisfying.  While I had several work “BFFs” at my last company, my current state is a bit lonely (more on this on Day 5). 

Day 2: The Secret Power of the 8-minute Phone Call. The challenge for the day instructed participants to schedule an 8-minute phone call with someone that you don’t talk to enough.  This was not difficult for me at all because I had just experienced the value of the 8-minute phone call: two weeks prior to this challenge, a friend I hadn’t heard from in over a year texted me to ask for my new address.  My response made her laugh so hard that she Face Timed me, and we spoke for about 10 minutes.  It was wonderful to see her face and hear her voice and we both agreed we needed to do more of that.  This challenge pushed me to schedule another call.

Day 3: Small Talk has Big Benefits. Research has proven that regular exchanges with ‘weak ties’ creates Happiness, so talk to strangers.  This was also an easy one for me as I do many things solo but with volunteer or special interest groups, so I am very comfortable having impromptu conversations with random people. I cheated on this day because I didn’t have plans to leave the house, so I counted the conversations I had three days prior at a polar plunge event.  On that day I had many conversations with people I had never met, including a very touching one with a hospice nurse who was celebrating his 50th birthday by plunging in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Day 4: Happy People Express Their Gratitude. The email suggested writing a Living Eulogy to express your gratefulness to someone.  This challenge made me very uncomfortable but was also the most impactful for me and hopefully for the recipient of my letter.  This exercise is about being emotionally vulnerable while telling someone how important they are to you, not something I practice regularly.  However, I’ve wanted to tell my sister for several years now how much I value her love, support, humor, and candor.  Recently, she was traveling overseas, and I was unable to speak to her on our usual every day/every other day cadence and I missed her.  I realized how difficult this was for me when I backed into the letter, stamping and addressing the envelope before even writing on the card.

Day 5: The Importance of Work Friends. It turns out that people who are close to their colleagues are happier and more productive.   As mentioned previously, my isolation at work is a disappointment and I’ve been unable to figure out how to address it.  This challenge provided me with tangible action items to begin to build work relationships.  Initially I was doubtful, but I thought it over on my morning run and I quickly identified one of the suggested actions that I could take.  When I logged into the computer for work, I reached out to engage my targeted new work BFF and launched my action plan. 

Day 6: Don’t Cancel Those Plans.  Put a social plan on the calendar and stick to them. This one is almost laughable as anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner!  My calendar is full of races, dinners, volunteer events and other social plans.  This challenge prompted me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, which was invite a friend over for dinner and crafting to make blankets to donate to one of the charities I support.  It was a last-minute invite, and we had a lovely evening, talking and creating.  This was a great exercise for me as it reinforced that making plans doesn’t have to be complicated or done weeks in advance.  I will do this again and with other friends.

Day 7: Sustaining the Gains. Committing to relationship goals, practicing consistency, and honoring social rituals are all extremely important.  These are tenants of a successful exercise program and fit perfectly with the concept of treating social connections as Social Fitness, with intention and purpose.  As a result of this challenge, I now have a 2023 goal of developing my work relationships (as opposed to just feeling sorry that I don’t have any), hosting more impromptu simple dinners to create for charities, and scheduling an 8-Minute Call once a month. 

This Challenge was simple and sustainable and very rewarding.  It made me mindful of how I interact with the world, the quality of my interactions and helped me develop new skills to advance those interactions.  Aligning with the goals of PTFW, I felt “seen and heard” and I know my actions helped others to feel “seen and heard” as well.  All the challenges are something that I can and will continue to implement in 2023.  If you’d like to take on the challenge and share your experience, join Prime Time for Women for a virtual discussion on Thursday, February 16 at 7 PM.  Hope to see you on the call! Register here.

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