I’ve already confessed that I spent far too much time in front of the TV during my weeks of bed-rest. But once the worst of the nausea passed, I started to devour books as quickly as I could get my hands on them. Among my favorites were Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, and – the subject of today’s post – Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.
I followed the hype surrounding the release of The Happiness Project with equal parts curiosity and skepticism. For a long time I have felt a tension between knowing intellectually that I lead an incredibly fortunate life and feeling less than satisfied much of the time. So I am often intrigued by articles and approaches that suggest a step-by-step path to happiness. On the other hand, I am sometimes dubious about whether happiness is really the be-all and end-all of emotions, a sentiment some of you expressed during our Raising Happiness book club earlier this year.
So it was with this mixed bag of preconceptions that I cracked open Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling book. In it, she describes a year in which she attempts to stay true to a series of happiness resolutions that she hopes will improve her vitality, family life, friendships, hobbies, work, and spiritual life.
Well, I don’t know if Gretchen is a genius or if this book just came into my life at the perfect moment, but I loved it. I found her earnest, honest exploration of her life extremely resonant and I felt like I could relate to her challenges and her resolutions.
Overwhelmed by clutter? Check. Snippy toward my husband? Check. Prone to allowing items to languish on my to-do list for months at a time? Check.
Moreover, I was moved by Rubin’s suggestion that we all can find small ways to improve the lives we have now: “I didn’t want to reject my life. I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen. I knew I wouldn’t discover happiness in a faraway place or in unusual circumstances; it was right here, right now.” As much as I’d sometimes like to pull an Elizabeth Gilbert and hightail it to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a year, that approach doesn’t seem viable for a married mom of two little kids with a third on the way, so I appreciated the reminder that a series of small steps can be as rewarding as a few dramatic ones.
While reading the book, I also broadened and personalized my own definition of happiness. I’m never going to be super smiley and bouncing with energy. Happiness for me isn’t about birds chirping and angel choirs singing. Rather, it’s a shorthand for feeling the way I want to feel and acting the way I want to act. Focusing on finding contentment, satisfaction, and resilience. Being more grateful. Being more selfish when it’s appropriate and being less selfish when it’s not. Welcoming in the good stuff and saying sayonara to the not-so-good.
I was so moved by the experience of reading the book that I decided to start a happiness project of my own. For the next six months (well, perhaps the next four months and then another two some time after the baby is born), I will try to follow my own resolutions. The six themes I’ll be working on?
- Boost your energy.
- Cultivate your mind.
- Get your house in order.
- Love your family.
- Be a good friend.
- Cultivate your spirit.
Up first: Boost your energy. The eight resolutions I’ve been working on this week and will continue to focus on until mid-October (several of them borrowed from Gretchen herself):
- Sleep eight hours every night.
- Exercise a little bit every day.
- Incorporate a new Michael Pollan-ism every month: Another book that had a big impact on me this summer was Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. In it, he offers “an eater’s manifesto” and a number of suggestions for eating more healthfully all the while learning to enjoy food more. I’ll try to adopt one of his ideas each month. (More on this next week.)
- Act more energetic.
- Use a daily to-do list.
- Clear my closets.
- Tackle a nagging task.
- Observe the one minute rule: If something needs to be done and can be accomplished in less than one minute, do it now!
I hope you will join me on this journey, friends, and will help hold me accountable for making these changes. I’ll report back each month and will let you know my new set of resolutions as I move on.
Here’s to happiness – however you define it.
Have you read The Happiness Project? What did you think?
What does happiness mean to you? Do you think happiness can be increased or decreased through sheer force of will?