After the holidays, I attended a Zoom class on how to keep a visual diary. Not having kept a diary before, but having received dozens of notebooks as gifts in anticipation of a time I might keep one, I decided to give it a try.
The instructions were to describe your days in a few words and pictures. We were to begin with New Year’s resolutions. Inspired by my notebook with a flamenco dancer on its cover, I chose, “Have more energy” as one goal, and “Expand creativity” as another and created icons in the style of a first-grader to represent both.
Not being able to draw presents problems for a visual diary, but last year, a friend gave me an entire set of PaperMate Ink Joy gel pens and they work nicely for someone who likes to doodle in bright colors.
Shortly after that class, I read an article online about a Yale professor whose course on the Science of Happiness was the most popular class in the history of the university. And anyone could sign up for it. Wow! Without a second’s thought I followed the link and signed up to join 300,000 others and take a class from Yale to add to my credentials. Did I mention that I’m retired and have no need to beef up a resume?
As a proudly enrolled Yale student, I first listened to a brief videotaped lecture, read a couple of articles, completed several surveys seemingly designed to point out one’s character flaws, and thought how pleasurable it was to be an Ivy League student.
Then I came to the description of the homework—coyly called ‘strategy’– for lesson one. “For the next seven days, work in daily activities that enhance savoring,” and a sense of gratitude.
You could print out handouts to report on your success, write your responses online, or use paper of your choosing. Not willing to start another diary, I chose to mingle my homework with my visual diary entries.
Days passed, and I realized I hadn’t yet savored anything. One morning, when I’d nearly finished with a shower, I remembered this assignment and made myself hang around for a minute longer to appreciate the hot spray on my back.
But then, the homework became more complicated. It wasn’t enough to have a savoring moment, you also had to tell someone else about it, take a photo, or share it in some other way. Following that you were to spend five to ten minutes a night writing about the gratitude you felt for events of the day.
The gratitude piece was easier, since it didn’t involve taking a photo of me in the shower, but between my attempts at sharing, drawing and then writing, my evenings were getting shorter.
Week three has made me consider becoming a Yale dropout. The latest homework is to make one new social connection a day for a week. One example was to chat with a fellow bus rider. Right. And do this while living in a county that requires social distancing and masking everywhere? I go to the grocery story where I stand six feet behind the person ahead of me in the checkout line, an occasional movie theatre during the hours when no more than ten people show up and it’s dark, and to the Y where I’ve already spoken to everyone who exercises at the same time I do.
For now, I’m certain I will feel happy when the happiness class ends and I have more time for what I was doing before I resolved to become more energetic or creative. For now, my diary holds the secrets to my various assignments, which will be understood only by those who are able to interpret children’s art.