The Happiness Project of a final year PhD student

Hi all! So, this post will be the first about many challenges I have been developing for career growth, and I have seen so many Portuguese bloggers do this challenge since Cláudia from Officinalis talked about this in her podcast (in Portuguese). I also joined the Facebook group (in Portuguese as well). And, as I told you about in my 2018 new life post, I’d like to start my career and life purpose development tools challenges here on the blog. At first, I had another thing in mind for the January’s post on this, but I thought this would make more sense.

I first got acquainted with the Happiness Project when I bought the book by Gretchen Rubin in a second-hand book sale in Concord, Massachusetts for $2. I am going to be honest, I didn’t really love the book (it felt somewhat too…mechanical and analytical even for me) but the concept and tools are interesting. So, what Gretchen proposes with her project is to find, in each month of the year, an area of our life that could use some improvement without making drastic changes. There are also focus areas that can translate to all year long, and some commandments and truths that are transversal to help ourselves have a life more guided by our values.


I thought I wouldn’t do the project this year because I am soon moving to a new location and there are some things still being worked out for the next steps of my PhD. But there is a constant thing this year. This is going to be the final year of my PhD. I also still have blog domain hosting paid until the end of the year. So, in this sense, it was so reasonable to do it still. Of course, since I’m still waiting for some new things to come, some things might change. I encourage you, if you’re a grad student and in particular in your final year, to do a project like this not to lose track of your life in such busy times! Mine would look something like this.

January – The month of Learning

  • Go to as many workshops of MIT IAP that interest me. I’m enrolling on written and graphical communication, public speaking, science journalism, financial investments and savings, creativity, research code management, figure skating and Japanese culture. Busy month, wow!
  • Make a technical writing consultation appointment
  • Read non-fiction books
  • Take a science photography online course

February – The month of Digital Nomadism & Minimalism

  • Travel in the US for a week (my travel is already booked and it’s somewhere in the East Coast) and manage to work and visit the historical landmarks at the same time.
  • Spend less on my two week nomadic lifestyle than I would spend in a month of rent in Boston.
  • Work from different locations in Portugal, even it it’s a different cafeteria or library some days. I’m going home in the second half of the month, which will be great to save money and most of all, meet with family and friends.
  • Donate most of my clothes and belongings and pack all my Boston life in a suitcase

March – The month of Celebration

  • Take my birthday off work (for the first time ever!) and have a day devoted to self care.
  • Celebrate each small accomplishment of my PhD, blogging and workout schedule with a small treat (might even be watching one more series episode than originally intended or cooking an awesome meal).
  • Share more positive moments by organizing with family and friends


April – The month of Productivity

  • Return to the Pomodoro productivity technique
  • Write 1000 words a day for at least 12 days
  • Record all my past notes and revive previous courses
  • Finalize the pending blogging tasks that may still appear in a set number of days, like the new template


May – The month of Finances

  • Create a savings plan to be able to invest in grown up things when I finish my PhD (car, rent my own apartment)
  • Get a travel piggybank again
  • Avoid eating out as much as possible (only for birthday parties or special events)
  • Sell some things I no longer need
  • Figure how to make money as a freelancer by engaging into my passions
  • Track all my expenses in an app or spreadsheet

June – The month of Self Care

  • Complete a fitness challenge (like the TIU Bikini Series that I do every year since 2014).
  • Make a health checkup
  • Try new healthy and cheap recipes
  • Avoid drinking coffee, sugary drinks and alcohol
  • Indulge on a Spa



July – The month of Fun

  • Write one funny thing that happened to me every day
  • Go to one concert
  • Return to dancing classes (Lindy Hop and salsa/bachata were my favorite!)
  • Spend time at the beach & pools
  • Watch one funny video daily
  • Laugh of myself more so that I don’t take myself so seriously


August – The month of Completion

  • Have a final travel to a new destination for a weekend before the final leg of my PhD
  • Take on pending programming tasks unapologetically
  • Get a final draft of what the organization of my PhD thesis should look like
  • Submit all unsubmitted contributions of my PhD thus far for peer review
  • Participate on the BEDA – Blog Every Day August challenge and manage to complete it this year!
  • Complete all books I have in my shelf that I couldn’t read yet

September – The month of Writing

  • Make a weekend writing retreat alone to start the final writing stage of my PhD (if I can do this on the Portuguese countryside, it would be awesome!)
  • Daily journaling to keep me sane in this final stage
  • Get a 1500 words/day goal for either thesis or articles


October – The month of Career Development

  • Organize contacts from all my networking events and follow up on opportunities
  • Develop my possible chosen freelancing career
  • Prepare my personal page with a good CV/Resume attached
  • Update my personal branding
  • Prepare a media kit for the blog for potential partnerships


November – The month of Gratitude

  • Write every day three things I was grateful for on a gratitude journal
  • Being more mindful of my actions
  • Give a least one compliment daily to a different person each day
  • Make handwritten thank you notes for people I’m thankful for


December – The month of Transition

  • Make a balance of what the PhD experience was for me
  • Prepare a morning affirmation for the final month of the thesis
  • Evaluate new channels & goals for the blog as the domain hosting initial period finishes



Year-long tasks

  • Be punctual.
  • Keep my promises in terms of time management. If I don’t, really have a good reason.
  • Be less “infinite agenda”. Commit to only one large event daily.
  • Talk more with loved ones.
  • Be more present in my interpersonal interactions and aware of my feelings.
  • Meditate daily as much as possible.
  • Sleep 7h daily at least.
  • Run twice a week at least (my goal is finally 5K under 30 minutes and 10K under 1h).
  • Prepare weekly PhD reports for my supervisors.
  • Write a weekly post for the blog.


My 10 Happiness Commandments

1 – Be Cátia. Always.

2 – I can be multiple things while I am still a PhD student and woman in STEM

3 – I need to still sleep properly to be able to function

4 – I can follow my own path and still be successful in everything I do

5 – Success is not defined by a number. It is rather defined by a feeling

6 – Comparison is the thief of joy

7 – Be love in order to spread love

8 – A smile is the best way to uplift a mood

9 – Be curious rather than judgemental

10 – Life is like a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving



Are you inspired by the project? This is somewhat akin to my 2018 vision board that I did, but more structured. I used to have my 2018 vision board on Pinterest private, but I decided to put it public as my inspiration and public “order to the Universe”. I gathered, besides pictures, some articles related to what which month should have in store for me. I will update this board with new pins every month as I make a review of my goals and I only put some resources related to the January goal – Learning thus far to keep it more active. Btw, I’m loving the new Sections feature on Pinterest, which will be so so useful! Please visit my 2018 Happiness Project + Vision Board Pinterest board and don’t forget to follow me there to have inspirational content on your feed too.

How do you think an Happiness Project would help you to have a better 2018? Do you think you’ll be happier as well in your current career? Let me know! In the meantime, don’t forget to follow my PhD journey in the US in FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest to keep up to date!

See you next week,


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