Monday, June 11, 2012

The Happiness Project

Earlier this year, I first heard of this book, written by Gretchen Rubin. I put my name on the list at the library and it came in recently. Here it is!
This book was awesome! I couldn't recommend it more highly. I would encourage anyone out there to read it. The author is a former lawyer, turned writer, who lives a pretty good life. She has a job she enjoys, a loving husband, and two daughters. She doesn't struggle with mental or physical health issues, and she recognizes just how lucky she is. But, in spite of all of these blessings, she found herself wishing she felt happier about it. I think many of the rest of us, who are also wonderfully blessed, sometimes wonder why we're not happier all the time. I know I fit into this category and I've wondered why I'm not happier. I related easily to the perspective and tone of this book and read it in a jiffy. I think it's part self-help book, outlining the things she did to try to make herself happier and making suggestions to readers, and part analysis of what makes people happy. The author did a lot of research into both theories and empirical evidence. This blend was interesting and definitely made me think.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the emphasis on goals and measurements. It's weird - I think our culture has a paradigm that we're only happy when we're free. The ultimate in happiness is an afternoon spent in a lawn chair on a beach, the free feeling of happy hour after work on Friday, or the chance to go on vacation and eat whatever we want. Don't get me wrong: I love this "free" feeling. I don't think we should underrate the joy we can get from experiences like these, which seem to me to be fun because they feel spontaneous, or, at least, carefree.

But, there is another kind of happiness that takes a little more focus. The way the author decided to try to make herself happier, and determine whether her efforts were successful was to set goals. Her list of goals was long, and included general themes along with more specific action items. While I'm not sure that this specific approach is for everyone, and maybe not even for me, there's something here: sometimes we have to take on a project to be happier. I suppose people who have rehabbed a house, or housebroken a puppy, or raised a child understand this. These activities require extraordinary commitment and effort, and it can take long periods of stress before enjoying any of the happiness. This book reminded me that there are lots of things out there that any person could decide to do, even if they're not ready to buy a house, train a pet, or start a family, where we put forth sustained effort and realize a reward. For me, that's the key to this book and to improving my own life. I'm going to make more of an effort to think about projects that will make me happier and take the steps to accomplish them.

This blog is one example, and though it pre-dates my read of the Happiness Project, it fits right in. Some days, blogging is hard. It can be hard to get a project done, especially if something goes wrong. I've learned a lot about photo editing, but it has been tough going, and that's still true of the (limited) coding work necessary to make the blog look the way it should. And when I've had a tough day at the office, or I'm focused on something in real life, or I just have a headache, the last thing I want to do is sit down and focus on this project. But, I do it. I've done it. And it makes me so proud and so happy to see it growing. I'm hoping to use this blog to chronicle some of my projects that will make me happier.

To read more about the happiness project, visit Gretchen Rubin's blog here.

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