I picked up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin last month while trolling a bookstore with my 14 year old daughter and her friend. They had babysitting money to burn and were there looking for a toy (a Dr. Who tardis sold at Barnes and Noble), which gave me 30 minutes or so to browse. They found their tardis, and let me tell you, it made them EXTREMELY HAPPY to find it. No happiness project needed for those two.
I don’t read a lot of non fiction and almost zero self help, so I’m not sure what attracted me to this particular book. Maybe it’s the notion that anybody can be happier if they go about it the right way. Trying to be happy, though, seems counterproductive. Should you really have to try? Is that like trying to be in love? Shouldn’t it be something that just happens, something that just IS, when things are good and the planets align?
And is it kind of obnoxious and maybe even a little selfish for a person with a comfortable life to wish for more? I live in the land of plenty, I have clean water, access to excellent health care, resources, education. I have a nice house, nice husband, great kids. While I’m truly grateful for all that, I often have the feeling (sometimes fleeting, other times for long periods) that I should be happier than I am. I should not have this vague sense of discontent.
Can a person really be happier if they work at it? (work=happy? see what I mean? does that even make sense?)
So with all those conflicting thoughts, I opened up the book right there in the store and started reading. Right away Rubin tells the reader that her Happiness Project would look different than theirs. Happiness is individual, like a fingerprint or a snowflake. But why would reading about someone else’s happiness help a person to be happier? Well, I don’t have the answer to that, but it did. It really did.
Basically, Rubin researched the heck out of her subject. Her reading included The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama, Walden by Henry David Thoreau and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, among many others. She looked at works by Plato, Tolstoy, even Oprah. She read about the history of happiness, the science of happiness, novels about happiness, and memoirs of catastrophe (because it puts everything into perspective). She spent months preparing for her project. She asked herself if it was possible to make herself be happier, and decided it was. She had to define happiness, then figure out how to make herself happier.
She set about identifying areas of her life to work on, then came up with happiness-boosting resolutions in each area. She divided up the 12 months of the year into categories such as Energy, Parenthood, Work, Friends, Attitude, Play and created resolutions for each, making a chart. It was all very systematic. She made Twelve Commandments which included “Be Gretchen” and “Do it now” and “Lighten Up.” She came up with some Secrets of Adulthood to help guide her (my favorite- “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”) She hoped that working on her own happiness would boost the happiness of the people around her.
There were many great insights and nuggets of inspiration gained from reading this book, including small things like “Don’t Expect Praise or Appreciation” (I admit I want my family to notice that I cleaned the bathroom, did the laundry, made dinner, etc. I want my gold stars!), “Be a Treasure House of Happy Memories” (my takeaway- take more pictures, share them with family members), “Acknowledge the Reality of People’s Feelings” (I have a tendency to want to whisk away the negative, and downplay my daughters’ real emotions), “Cut People Slack” (recognize that the “jerk” who just cut ahead of you might have a very good reason for being in such a hurry), and many more.
It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light.
The days are long, but the years are short.
Goals and resolutions are not the same thing. You hit a goal, but you keep a resolution. You work on them every day. You strive to live up to resolutions.
This little book has inspired groups all over the world to take up a quest for more happiness. Countless blogs have been launched as a direct result, with people chronicling their own happiness project.
Gretchen is a big proponent of social media and The Happiness Project blog is fantastic, with all kinds of great ideas and inspiration. She’s also really active on Twitter and Facebook.
My own return to blogging was a direct result of this book. While I won’t be blogging about my happiness project, blogging makes me happy and I’ve truly missed it.
Could you be happier? What makes you happy?
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