Several years ago I worked in an extremely stressful job in a very negative environment. Creating a website, starting a Facebook page, partnering with a friend to design a logo, writing speeches... all of these gave me a healthy place to focus my energy, rather than spending it on extra hours at work or coming home and complaining about work every night. I had been going down a very negative path, and having this project helped me move in the right direction.
Having a project, whether as part of a noble goal or as a little some-would-think-this-is-silly endeavor, sparks a whole lot of joy. A friend is writing a lengthy story as a gift for his sister-in-law, my daughter rearranges her room at least once a month, my husband's been photographing peonies in all sorts of lighting and settings for the past several days, and I'm starting to work on creative ways to compile all the pep talks I've written, systematically wearing and cataloging all my dresses, and brainstorming how to redesign my website.
A project can come in any size, type or duration. Having a project helps to keep you away from unhealthy behaviors, whether it's consuming too much tech or gossiping or complaining or overeating. It gives you something to get excited about. It helps you grow. It helps you reach larger goals.
The book I've quoted most in my Pep Talks is The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, because implementing the lessons I've learned from it has truly changed my life. There are six benefits of committed goal pursuit, according to Lyubomirsky, and I've found them to also be the benefits of having projects:
Committed goal pursuit provides us a sense of purpose and a feeling of control over our lives.
Having meaningful goals bolsters our self-esteem, stimulating us to feel confident and efficacious. The accomplishment of every subgoal (on the way to the big goal) is yet another opportunity for an emotional boost.
Pursuing goals adds structure and meaning to our daily lives. It grants responsibilities, deadlines, timetables, opportunities for mastering new skills and for social interactions with others.
Being committed to our goals helps us learn to master our use of time: to identify higher-order goals, to subdivide them into smaller steps or subgoals, and to develop a schedule to accomplish them.
Commitment to goals during times of crisis may help us cope better with problems.
The pursuit of goals often involves engaging with other people and such social connections can be happiness-inducing in and of themselves.
According to Lyubomirsky, "People who strive for something personally significant, whether its learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don't have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project."