Wednesday, May 07, 2014

the happiness project by gretchen rubin

I have been reading a lot of books lately about clearing out the clutter of one's home (and mind), for an easier life. A friend suggested I might want to check out The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin, so I gave it a try. I can't say that there was anything new or startling in its pages, but it was a quick, mostly fun read.

The book begins with Rubin wondering one afternoon if she is really happy, and what that means for her life and for our modern society. The former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is a born researcher — she started reading every book on the subject of happiness and has compiled tons of quotes and distilled theories from great minds through the ages, which she shares here with her readers. After doing a little research of my own I discovered that she also lives in much tonier digs and has a much comfier lifestyle than the "just us folks" tone of her book might suggest.

Gretchen Rubin, happy at home
"... Happiness has four stages. To eke out the most happiness from an experience, we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory."

Rubin is also a compulsive list-maker and in love with charting and graphing her progress, so she offers ideas about keeping a "happiness chart" and different projects or areas of one's life that could be examined month-by-month for an entire year. The rigid structure of the book left me kind of cold. I like to change things in my day-to-day life — the position of the furniture in a room, what I might eat or drink to see if it has a beneficial effect, but I would tend to feel overburdened if I had to keep a resolution chart to keep tabs on my progress. That would feel like taking a test. I hate the idea of a food diary. It just makes me feel bad if on Monday a turkey sandwich agreed with me and on Wednesday it didn't. But Rubin, as she keeps reminding us ad nauseum throughout The Happiness Project, is addicted to gold stars and recognition for her efforts. She likes writing happiness commandments and setting resolutions. That all seemed a bit gimmicky for me.

So while I might find her a bit overbearing to hang out with on a regular basis (enough about how you live in New York City, and over sharing about the hubby and kiddies, blah, blah, blah), I did enjoy some of the quotes and ideas about happiness that she culled and shared. A quote from the poet William Butler Yeats resonated, "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth." I like that. Rubin, thankfully, is not all serious, all the time. She can be funny, too, "Love is a funny thing. I'd donate a kidney to Jamie [her husband] without a moment's hesitation, but I was intensely annoyed if he asked me to make a special stop at the drugstore to pick up shaving cream."

The saving grace of the sometimes overly pushy Rubin and her project is that she is human, as the above quote proves. Her happiness project is a work-in-progress, and not a be-all or win situation. It has also turned into a highly lucrative career for her, as the book and its follow-up were both best sellers. It also generated a blog and other associated merchandise. Who's happy now?

So was reading The Happiness Project at all helpful to my own personal journey? I have to say yes. Rubin admits to being an impatient person, but one month she decided to let a bit of that go, and remind herself to give other people some slack. I think that is a helpful reminder on how to deal with that person who cut you off on the road or in line at the grocery store. Instead of your go-to response to curse them out or get ticked or upset or whatever else such bad behavior usually elicits, take a step back and give them some slack. You don't know what their story is, what their hurry is. Yes, the answer may even be that they are a rude jerk, but so what. Let it go. It really doesn't matter, and the foul mood it puts you in simply isn't worth it. Since I read The Happiness Project I have been trying to deal with frustrating people and situations by giving them — and myself — a bit more slack. And I have to admit it helps.


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