Just putting this out there, but I have a “thing” for positive psychology books. My dad and I went through this period when I was in the last half of high school of just reading and sharing articles and books about happiness, and even now, we still send each other articles we find on the Internet about how to live healthier and happier. The Happiness Project is a little different from the science-y and data-filled content that we usually read, but Gretchen Rubin does a great job of integrating data into her experiences in this one-year project. And although I was familiar with many of the references she used, I still learned many new things, and her project inspired me a great deal!
I had everything I could possibly want – yet I was failing to appreciate it.
Gretchen had the realization one day that she had what she called “midlife malaise,” where she felt discontented and dissatisfied at times even though she felt that she should be appreciating the things she has more: “a good marriage, two healthy daughters, and work she loved.” She decided that she wanted to be happier, and started the process by doing lots of research on happiness and making a resolutions chart for her one-year happiness project. Gretchen dedicated every month to a certain set of resolutions, focusing on vitality, marriage, work, parenthood, friendship, money, and attitude, along with other themes. Along the way, she tells us of the lessons that she’s learned and the good and the bad of her project.
The Happiness Project actually reminds me of Year of No Sugar, mostly because it’s also a one-year project from someone who wants to better her life. This book is a nice mix of personal experience and hard data, and has more of the prior than the latter. Gretchen has a sort of type A personality, and having made a career as a lawyer in the past, she delves into her happiness project her way – with plenty of research backing up her actions. She made lists and set out to work on her resolutions in a very systematic manner; for example, in the month of February, Gretchen had a Week of Extreme Nice where she was extremely nice to her husband for a week (no criticism, no snapping!). As a very systematic person myself, I really appreciated that she set out these goals and resolutions in small chunks and worked through them step by step, even though some of her friends were flabbergasted by her rigid methods of achieving more happiness. 😛
Another bit that I liked about this book was that Gretchen pulled in other fellow normal people to get their opinions. I’ve become so used to scientists and professors being interviewed in non-fiction works that this came as something new and refreshing. As part of one set of resolutions, Gretchen started a blog and was able to incorporate a lot of the reader comments into the book. It’s nice to see that readers reacted positively to this project and that they had their own ideas and ways of doing things! One person wrote that since we use passwords everyday, they changed their passwords to goals or achievements that they’re working on, so that it’s like a mantra that they’re aware of everyday. I might actually try that, since it’s a pretty cool idea!
It’s interesting to note that as Gretchen talked to the people around her that many people thought that she was already well-off, so why was she trying to be happier when she could help out so many other less fortunate people in the world? (This kind of reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…) I think Gretchen had a nice way of putting this concern into perspective, based on her own understanding of the nature of happiness:
One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.
And I agree… trying to be more happy should NOT be seen as selfish! A slogan that appears multiple times throughout the book is this: “The days are long, but the years are short.” We don’t have much time in the world, and different people have different lifestyles and thoughts on what happiness is. Someone quoted John Stuart Mill to Gretchen: “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” Her response:
But for me, asking myself whether I was happy had been a crucial step toward cultivating my happiness more wisely through my actions.
So I could go on and on about this book and what happiness means, and as you can see, The Happiness Project is a thought-provoking book that really made me think. I might not agree with every action that Gretchen took in achieving her resolutions, but it’s interesting to see how other people try to be happy so that we can learn from them, right? Her personality really shows through her words, and I appreciate that she took on this project even to the disapproving comments from some people. The happiness trend has seemingly slowed, and it looks like meaningfulness is the next big thing. But I’d encourage you to take a look at this book if you have the feeling of wanting to be a better version of yourself. 🙂