Four Things I Learned From Using a Happiness Planner

I’m oddly loyal to my Erin Condren Life Planner. Every year, I look forward to November 1, my arbitrary date to start browsing planners for the new year. I design dozens of different covers and color schemes, debate with myself about the merits of a horizontal layout versus a vertical layout and send my sister no less than three options to weigh in on. It’s served me well since my senior year of college, and I have no intention of letting it go anytime soon.

But during a recent major life transition, intention was exactly what my daily routine was missing. Without an office to go to and the structure of a traditional workday, I found myself alternating between either cramming way too many things in a day or lying around reading Game of Thones all day because I couldn’t decide what to do.

While I searched for my new normal, I found myself forgetting to appreciate the little victories every day. I’ve long been a fan of asking everyone I meet, “what was the best part of your day today?”, but I was forgetting to ask myself. My days felt aimless, my evenings unfulfilled, and I woke up each morning unsure of what I was going to do that day – and not in a satisfying, taking-the-day-off way.

The solution came to me serendipitously, during one of my many candle-sniffing expeditions to Anthropologie (it’s cheaper than therapy). Wandering through their notes and journals section, I found The Happiness 100-Day Planner. Immediately, I knew it was coming home with me.

happiness planner

What I loved about this planner was it combined my planner essentials (essentially, a place for a daily schedule and to-do list) with the more intentional journalistic qualities I was missing.

At the top of each daily page is a box for your daily exercise and meals, plus something you’re looking forward to that day, perfect for a five-minute intention-setting exercise at breakfast. Then, after the daily schedule and to-do list, there are places for reflection around good things about today, what you’re grateful for and what you hope for tomorrow – all in one little page. And without a ton of space to write, you never feel like it’s a time-sucking exercise.

happiness planner

I’m about halfway through the planner, and I use it in conjunction with my normal planner (which is for more technical schedules and to-dos; I know, I’m a freak). Here’s what I’ve learned since keeping a Happiness Planner:

It’s totally cool to be grateful for mundane things

Not every day is going to include “Booked tickets to Africa!!” or “Runner’s World piece went live!” and that’s completely okay. In fact, I think it’s a stronger gratitude exercise to search for extraordinary moments in days that you’d otherwise write off as “fine.”

Some of my super-boring items that I expressed gratitude for so far:

  • Matcha smoothies
  • Finally having handles on all of our cabinets
  • Having the time to read outside on a park bench
  • Phone call with my sister

They may feel small, but these moments add up day after day, impacting your overall happiness more than you may realize. Taking a moment to appreciate the small stuff exponentially increased my happiness at the end of the day.

A giant, running to-do list is not for me

When I see a long list of dozens of items, all of which seem incredibly important to accomplish, I curl up into my metaphorical shell and avoid them all. Anyone else?

The Happiness Planner only has space for six daily to-do items (although there are places for weekly plans). By focusing on six items that were reasonable to accomplish each day, I felt more calm about tackling each thing.

Most days, I make a point of putting one “gimme” item on there as well, just to get the ball rolling. This can be anything from “hit ATM” to “call Grandma” or “review flash cards once.” The point is, I start with something smaller; then, once I’m able to cross it off the list, I feel more competent and empowered to keep my momentum going with the rest of my to-do list.

Sometimes, saying “start” is enough

As a freelance writer, it can be really intimidating to stare down the barrel of a major assignment. In conjunction with the “gimme” to-do described above, I’ve started reframing my projects in my to-do list.

Here’s what I mean: instead of deciding “On Wednesday, I have to write the entire blog post that’s due Monday,” I give myself the assignment of “Start blog post that’s due Monday.” Then, I pledge to dedicate about 25 minutes to the blog post (kind of following the Pomodoro Technique– anyone else into this??)

When 25 minutes is up, I take a second to check in with myself and my work. If I’m cruising along and feeling the flow, I keep going. If I’m uninspired, bored or not feeling the item, I close it out until another time. That’s it! The most important thing is that I started.

One final hack for this specific tip: I recently read an article about giving yourself permission to “do bad work” – and I’m all in. The idea is, you start working, knowing that the work isn’t going to be perfect and you’ll have to revise and improve it later. That way, once the majority of the task is done, you can go back and fix it at a later date.

Of course, I don’t want my  brain surgeon to follow this philosophy, but it works for my profession. Could it work for yours?

You really can plan for your own happiness

Before starting this project, I believed happiness was something that you stumbled into organically, a natural result of the magical combination of having a successful professional life, strong relationships and a healthy body.

Now that I’ve been using the Happiness Planner, I’ve realized that happiness is a deliberate choice every day, and one that you can plan for.

Over my coffee and oatmeal each morning, while I deliberate what I’m looking forward to, I’m basically asking myself “What can I do today to increase my happiness?” Sometimes that’s using my free drink at Starbucks, other times it’s taking an hour to browse hotels in Vietnam.

By planning and anticipating that day’s happy moments, I’m able to recognize them more in the moment and be more appreciative of them as they happened (and while reflecting on my day at night).

Happy accidents, then, are the exception, not the rule. Planned happiness has a greater impact on my everyday. I’ll continue using my Happiness Journal for the next hundred days (in conjunction with my Erin Condren, of course) to finish out 2017 with a truly happy new year.


Have you ever used a happiness planner? What about a gratitude journal? What have they taught you about happiness?

Happiness Think & Feel

About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.