Steph Yiu

The Sum of Small Efforts

My amazing roommate Emily just started blogging this month. Her mission: to document her New Year’s resolution, which is to “do one thing every day that scares you.”

As someone who works for WordPress.com, having your roommate create a blog on WordPress.com is enormously entertaining. It’s also been incredibly inspiring.

Watching her do this daily challenge reminded me of the #100happydays project I completed last summer, where I learned how truly monumental the sum of small efforts can be.

That project, like any good project, started in a pub while hanging out with a friend. It was March 2014, and I was going through a rough patch. Life kind of got really overwhelming, and I was struggling to keep up.

But, hanging out with friends always made me feel better. So here we were, my high school friend Stephany and I, sitting at a pub on a quiet Saturday.

“I’m doing this #100happydays challenge on Instagram,” Stephany said, out of the blue. “Why don’t you do it with me?”

“Yes!” I said, almost immediately. I didn’t even think about it.

So, I downloaded Instagram, snapped a photo, posted it, and hashtagged it #100happydays. And then off we went. Every single day for 100 days, rain or shine, I posted a photo of something that made me happy.

At first, it was just a small thing I incorporated into my daily life, figuring out what moments made me happy. It was an exercise in gratitude. Mostly, this was just my friends putting up with me taking photographs of them, which was not an unusual thing for me. This was Day 2:

Sunday painting party at Kay's new house! #100happydays

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As the week wore on, I realized that this was a great way to document fun moments, which I’d look back on when life wasn’t as fun. It was like banking happiness for the future. This was Day 8:

Life is so shucking good at Tomales Bay Oyster Farm. #100happydays

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I would seek out fun things to do, so that I’d have fun things to post. Like when I randomly went to improv practice with Emily. Day 12:

Outdoor improv practice with Emily, good way to wake up the brain on a Tuesday night. :) #100happydays

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There were also some not-so-happy days, when I was sick in bed and feeling sorry for myself. Day 13:

As the days accumulated, I started to identify patterns in what made me happy. Unsurprisingly, the majority of my photographs included my friends. Day 32:

Apparently after a bit of brunch we all turn into mice. #100happydays

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I was learning what made me happy, and began to seek it out. I started using #100happydays as an excuse to sign myself up for things I knew I would love. (Apparently I’m the kind of person that needs an excuse to do things that make me happy). This was Day 44, in Edinburgh:

I've wanted to come back and visit for so long, and now I'm finally here! #Edinburgh #100happydays

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Halfway through the project, I ran into my friend Mike at an event, who had been following the project on Instagram.

“Steph!” he said. “How’s it going?”

“It’s going really well,” I said. “I’m just focusing on things that make me happy.”

“Well, you’re a subject-matter expert on that now, aren’t you?”

Well, I guess I was.

Over time, it became easier and easier to find things that made me happy. I started to genuinely appreciate the little things. And, I started to slow down and find more space in my life — something my dad had been telling me to do since I was a little kid.

Beautiful sky on the walk to dance rehearsal. Three days til showtime! #100happydays

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Because of the challenge, I was saying Yes! to every opportunity I had to hang out with friends. Even if I was tired or grumpy. Because they always made me happy. This paid off in spades. Day 60:

Support from friends was hugely important. Friends far away would “heart” and comment on my posts daily. Friends I ran into would ask me about the project. It changed the conversation from “How are you holding up?” to “What’s the next awesome happy thing you’re doing?”

Roof. Margaritas. Summer! #100happydays

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About 80 days in, I wanted to stop doing the project. It started feeling repetitive and sort of boring. Also, just because I had started the happiness project it didn’t mean that tough moments stopped happening. Some days, it was hard to find a happy moment. But, I had less than a month left, so I stuck with it.

Every time I come to SF I eat too much. #100happydays

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Some days, it was simply about seeing the happy in just being. I took this one while lying on my roof:

Day 93 :) #100happydays

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On the 100th day, I decided it was time to celebrate, in a “Let’s create our own happiness” sort of way. What began as one photograph became a journey, one that I shared with so many of my friends. I emailed a bunch of girlfriends, made a reservation at my favorite restaurant, and we dressed up and had a night out on the town. This was one of my favorite days of 2014.

Strangers kept coming up to this group of girls, laughing and toasting champagne, asking: “What were you celebrating?”

Was it someone’s birthday? Is this a bachelorette party? Did you finish grad school?

My friend Jill had the best answer: “LIFE!” she would exclaim. “We are celebrating life!”

Does one need any other answer to celebrate?

After the project wrapped up, I ended up turning some of the images into notecards that I sent to my friends, to thank them for being there when life got tough.

Happiness is a skill that needs to be cultivated, like any other skill. By sticking with it every day, I went from capturing happy moments, to finding patterns of happy moments, to seeking out things I knew would make me happy, to finally, creating happiness on my own.

We spend so much time trying to be happy, but as it turns out, like everything else in life, happiness is not something that’s magically granted to you. It’s not something that you can buy, it’s not something that someone else can give you, and it’s not something that can happen without any effort. And in this case, it was the sum of small efforts, building the story one photograph at a time.

More reading: My company’s founder recently celebrated his 31st birthday and in his birthday post, he wrote: “My big takeaway from the year was the importance of habits and small actions for accomplishing big things.” And, 99u has a nice little guide on Stacking Habits.

2 comments

  1. “Happiness is a skill that needs to be cultivated, like any other skill. By sticking with it every day, I went from capturing happy moments, to finding patterns of happy moments, to seeking out things I knew would make me happy, to finally, creating happiness on my own.”

    <3

    Like

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