I picked up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin after hearing many glowing recommendations from friends and the interweb. The premise sounded interesting yet light. Rubin, not suffering from depression or any tragedy, was feeling a noticeable lack of happiness in her own life. She spent a year researching happiness and carrying out her Happiness Project. It was an academic pursuit but also a practical one – she sought to enjoy and appreciate the wonderful things already in her life after realizing she may be taking them for granted. I think we all are guilty of this a bit, having it good and expecting that to be the norm. Rubin knew she wasn’t being present in her own life, letting negative thoughts and bad moods run rampant, pushing extraneous joy away to make sure she was being productive and not frivolous. I can totally relate. I often times let my sense of duty to my own life take over, for better or for worse. I was intrigued and inspired by Rubin’s approach: setting twelve happiness goals, one for each month, and spending a year tackling the whole project.
Within the first few pages I knew I was going to love this book. Rubin felt like a kindred spirit to me with her purposeful nature, a hint of contemplation, as well as her “insatiable need for credit.” She wasn’t in the wrong for dutifully living her life, but she knew she was existing only at the surface level. Her realization that she may be in danger of wasting her life inspired her to start her Happiness Project.
I’m not going to rehash the whole book because I do think it’s worth a read. However, I do want to touch on some of my favorite themes. As I said, Rubin’s Happiness Project devoted each month of an entire year to exploring and engaging in a specific topic (eg. Boost Energy, Lighten Up, Buy Some Happiness, Pay Attention, etc.) Here are my favorite take aways:
- Gold stars may be an idle, self righteous pursuit. Instead of wanting credit for doing good deeds, do them because you want to do them for yourself and not for the credit that is associated with them.
- Clutter, when out of control, confronts you with your own mistakes. Rubin categorizes clutter into nostalgic clutter (yearbooks, old papers, all the birthday cards you’ve ever received), conservation clutter (things kept because of their potential usefulness), bargain/freebie clutter (i.e. usually crap), clutch clutter (old standbys that are probably junk – a paint splattered tshirt, ratty yoga pants, etc.), and aspirational clutter (my own personal biggest “mistake,” a whole closet full of things I “might be able to fit into someday”).
- Start applying the One Minute Rule: don’t postpone anything that can be done in less than one minute (an email, tidying up, folding socks, etc.)
- “Although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act.”
- Aim for a high standard of behavior (extreme nice, genuine appreciation, acting polite, little negativity, no gossip).
- Stop thinking that in some idealistic, far reaching future you will be happier, things will be better, life will be easier. All you have is right now. The “arrival fallacy” (the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy) is an idea the prevents us from enjoying now.
- “Enthusiasm is more important to mastery than innate ability, it turns out, because the single most important element in developing an expertise is your willingness to practice.”
- We seek to control our lives, but the unfamiliar and unexpected are important sources of happiness.
- “I have an idea of who I wish I were, and that obscures my understanding of who I actually am.”
- Denying bad feelings intensifies them; acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return.
- Don’t overrate the fun activities that you didn’t do and underrate your own inclinations. The things that others do are no more enjoyable, valuable, cultured, or legitimate than those you do.
- What did you do for fun as a child? Revisit those passions.
- There is an I in “happiness.”
- “Pouring out ideas is better for creativity than doling them out by the teaspoon.”
- Sometimes later becomes never.
- Gratitude is important to happiness: it fosters forbearance, brings freedom from envy, makes it easier to live within your means, and be generous to others.
- Irony and world-weariness allow people a level of detachment from their choices.
- The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted.
- The desire to change is meaningless unless you can find a way to make the change happen.
- Last but certainly not least, the most influential mantra I’ve adopted since reading this book: It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light. (“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”)
These tidbits and take-aways aren’t new ideas. But Rubin’s purpose is to remind us of ways we can be more aware and appreciative of our own happiness in the present moment. I know when I get caught up in my own day to day, these basic principles are the first to go.
My goals of balance and being present are always on my mind but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly how to achieve those things or how to measure them, if they can be measured at all. I think happiness is a great baseline measurement for any goal though. Even if it doesn’t directly relate, being happy may keep you motivated, focused, energetic. For example, when I met Joy The Baker I was feeling a little blog-dead. My creativity was low, the motivation to whip up new recipes was nowhere to be found, my desire to sit in front of my computer and edit photos was nonexistent. But then I met Joy and felt so inspired. I read her book cover to cover and couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen. When I go back and think about the whole thing it was really the happiness I felt from the experience that reinvigorated me.
What are your happiness mantras? What keeps you actively engaged in Right Now?