Does Progress Equal Happiness?

Last year I decided I wanted a mantra/slogan/motto/theme. Something that I could fall back on to keep me motivated and — dare I say it? — happy.

As a fan of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (book and blog), I know that many things can contribute to one’s happiness, from kittens and rainbows and enjoyable activities, to personal relationships and spirituality. I know that deep, abiding happiness is not the same thing as momentary delight. I also happen to know that organizing, and being organized, makes Gretchen very happy!

One of the things that contribute to my own happiness is the maintenance of a clean, orderly, functional, attractive home. It’s not that I love the act of cleaning sinks, clearing clutter, and paying bills – I would really rather be sitting in my hot tub and/or reading a good book! — but I do love the resulting comfort and peace of mind that those activities provide me. Another thing that makes me happy is reaching a goal. But both of these things – the everyday routine, and the little steps along the path to completing a big project – can also be discouraging at times. (Are we there yet?)

I recommend to clients that they reward themselves for finishing projects, reaching goals, even achieving small milestones along the way. The trouble is, it doesn’t seem to work for me. I make lists of big rewards and little ones; rewards that involve food and/or money, and those that are free and involve the simple pleasures of life. I determine which reward is suitable for which milestone or project completion. But I don’t always follow through with the reward. It’s not that I deprive myself, exactly – I pretty much do what I want, when I want to, anyway. Sometimes I buy myself a treat in ANTICIPATION of reaching the goal…which, um, kind of defeats the purpose.

I finally realized that I would really like to enjoy the process more, to not always be reaching for the goal and the reward. I don’t want to have to WAIT to be happy. I want to be happy NOW! But how??? If happiness doesn’t equal goal completion and rewards (in the case of doing things for one’s own good, like regular home maintenance and organizing), what does it equal?

So…one day I was watching a TV show about Tony Robbins and Oprah Winfrey. It was the one where he convinced her to walk on hot coals. Tony said (although not in direct relation to hot coals), “Progress equals happiness.” He said many other inspiring things as well, I’m sure, but that’s all I heard: “Progress equals happiness.”

My internal compass said, “Ding, ding, ding! That’s what I think too!” It resonated with me so much that I made it my mantra for the year. I haven’t written about it until now because I’ve been testing to see if it’s really true. Well, it’s been nearly a year now, and I can say that, indeed, it’s true for me. Progress equals happiness. Completing a big project or reaching a goal is nice, and fun, and exciting, and satisfying. But at the end of any particular day, do I need to have completed something big? No. Do I need to have made progress towards my goals to be happy? Yes. Do I have to make progress on every single project? No, just the most important ones. And each has its own cycle of needing attention. Does it matter how MUCH progress I made? Not really. Do I feel the most un-happy when I have not made any progress that day, or in fact done some active backsliding? Yes. Do cleaning a sink, clearing clutter, and paying bills constitute progress? Yes, indeed, they do! Is that enough for me to be happy, or do I also need a reward?

It’s enough for me. Progress equals happiness…in projects, in personal growth, in relationships, in health, in home maintenance, in everything I can think of. I wonder if it would be enough for you too? Or, perhaps you already have a mantra/slogan/motto/theme that you’d like to share in the comments?

Don’t get me wrong, I still like treats and rewards! But my happiness does not depend on them.

Copyright 2012 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Donna Smallin Kuper on January 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Love it!

    • Hazel Thornton on January 1, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Thanks, Donna!

  2. Teri Winfield on January 1, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Wonderful words of wisdom Hazel. Last year was one of regrouping and deciding for myself to be happy – so your message truly resonates with me. If I live each day being genuine and true to myself, then I’ve lived a good day. I’ve found it takes very little to keep me happy. I’m not nearly as easy to “derail” either.

  3. Dwight Karkan on January 4, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Hazel I read this and I said, “Mhhmmm” For me the thrill of it all, and the joy comes from the creating of something new. It is like we as organizers get to look at something broken and our joy is in the process of putting the puzzle together to make it something functional and in its own right “art.” We find joy in the making things new and the knowledge that maybe this person now has a weight lifted, and it was us who had the priviledge of helping them with that. Keep up the good work because each client each day you are making Progress in yours and others lives that lead to yours and their happiness!!!

    Blessings on your work!!

    • Hazel Thornton on January 5, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks, Dwight! This post is more about what keeps me going NOT in relation to clients, and how maybe they can be inspired to keep going on their own. But, in addition to that, I feel the same way you do!

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  5. Janet Barclay on January 3, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    I get it. So often I tend to focus on being done, instead of pausing to realize how much I enjoy the actual doing! And the steps we take towards a goal are what really counts. I heard a sales speaker a few years ago say that to say “I’m going to sell $xxx this week” is not a realistic goal, because the amount you sell is affected by factors beyond your control. So instead you should say “I’m going to make xx sales calls this week.” And if you do, you have made progress.

    • Hazel Thornton on January 3, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      Exactly. You do get it! Thanks, Janet!

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