The Happiness Project
Note: a condensed version of this post has also been posted over at my other blog, The Book Club, which I am trying to get back into action. If you’re interested in contributing book reviews over there, just drop me a line at effieboo dot inlimbo @ gmail dot com.
Hola! Oh, I’ve missed you. I had a borderline-hectic break this year. At least, it was hectic compared to my typical “sleep, eat, and read-all-day” norm for school breaks – I only read two books. TWO! Oy vey. And I posted a grand total of zero times. ZERO! Mucho oy vey. But I must admit, I had a wonderful break. In fact, it was so wonderful that I was *forced* to spend the majority of it actually living, and thereby gaining material for my blog. Funny how that works.
The sad bit is, despite all the actual living I did during the break, the very first thing I want to share with you is how I was inspired by a particular book (once an introvert, always an introvert, eh?). Nevertheless, it’s true. The glories of my first trip to Crate & Barrel and the amusing number of comic book stores I went into this week will have to wait. First things first: The Happiness Project.
I’ll be quick to emphasize up front: the author, Gretchen Rubin, doesn’t present this book as an all-encompassing guide to happiness. It’s not a solution that pretends to work for everyone, but merely an account of one woman’s guide to become happier in her everyday life. The everyday life bit is the most interesting – she works on small, positive resolutions, and seeks to be happier where she is. She doesn’t pack up and move to Hawaii or quit her job, she simply resolves to increase her positive experiences and diminish her negative ones. In this way, the book becomes a lot more accessible and helpful than one like Eat, Pray, Love (which I also liked!) in that it’s more doable.
The premise of the book is, Rubin realizes that she’s living her life away, one day at a time, without much thought to happiness. She decides to devote a year to promoting her happiness, focusing on an area such as “energy”, “mindfulness”, “money”, etc, for each month of the year. She tracks her progress with small, measurable resolutions on a chart that she fills out each day. Along the way she learns several truths about happiness and adulthood, among other things.
The book is very well researched – it cites several studies and research findings, as well as countless quotes on happiness. In my reading, I found myself scribbling down quotes, ideas for resolutions, and thoughts on happiness. In fact, much of the book hit home for me, in unexpected ways. Of course, the author and I lead very different lives (for one thing, I’m not a married mother-of-two), but I could do well to remember the majority of her resolutions in my day to day life.
One thing I like about the book is that it emphasizes that each person’s happiness project will be utterly different, since we all derive happiness in different ways. In fact, one of Rubin’s “Secrets of Adulthood” is that “what’s fun for others may not be fun for you, and vice versa”. There are lots of these juicy tidbits of wisdom to snack on throughout the book, and I found myself gobbling them up as fast as they came. I felt a sort of “Aha moment” (a la Oprah) at several points in the book, and these statements are already pervading my everyday interactions just a few days later.
“Act without expectation” turns out to be my #1 commandment – I am a person with high expectations, which tends to interfere with my happiness. One crucial thing Rubin hits on in her writing is that certain of our actions can make us feel unhappy, such as nagging, criticizing, getting upset, saying rude comments, losing our temper. If we can work to diminish these reactions, we can increase our happiness. After all, the only person we can change is our self. With this revelation, I already feel a great deal more at peace. I am the type of person who doesn’t leave things unsaid, who loses her temper, who has high expectations (and gets upset when they are not met). Even in just a few days, practicing restraint on these behaviours (biting my tongue, letting it go, not worrying about it) has made me feel more uplifted and happy about myself.
Another important truth she touches on is feeling good in your body. Keeping myself well-rested, well-fed, well-dressed and well-groomed is so important, and yet I tend to let it fall by the wayside quite frequently. If I don’t feel good in my clothes, I don’t feel positively about myself; if I’m hungry, I’m grumpy and irritable. The simple task of taking care of myself has the power to influence all my daily interactions, and it should be taken more seriously.
Possibly my favourite tip from the book: if something takes one minute or less, do it now. It’s hard to think of examples, but in my day there are so many things that bum me out when I think about doing them, but that only take one minute. I’ve found that just doing them makes me feel more productive, and therefore: happier!
It’s much too hard to condense the whole book into a single blog post. She presents countless revelations and nuggets of wisdom throughout, and really inspires you to think more deeply about your own happiness. I encourage you to check out Rubin’s website for the Secrets of Adulthood, the Commandments, and lots of other interesting articles on happiness.
I’ll end with a few of my favourites from the book:
You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.
It’s okay to ask for help.
It’s easy to be heavy, hard to be light.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Act the way you want to feel.
The days are long, but the years are short.
I’d love to know – have you read The Happiness Project? If so, what did you think? Were you inspired to start your own happiness project, as I am?
And if you haven’t read it – does this post make you think about your own happiness? What makes you happy?
As always, I’d love to know what you’re thinking.