After Sera Beak's sometimes esoteric and always emotionally-charged spiritual memoir, Gretchen Rubin's writing was refreshingly straightforward, concise, and to-the-point. Yet The Happiness Project still managed to be evocative, multi-layered, and inspiring. I often found myself highlighting passages in my Kindle and reflecting in my journal about what my own happiness project might look like. But when I first picked up the book, I worried I might not be able to take much away from the book because Gretchen and I are so dissimilar. She hopes to "change her life without changing her life," while I've just moved across the world and changed almost everything about mine. Gretchen consistently describes herself as someone not keen on change or trying new things and I'm constantly hunting down new experiences and adventures. Yet, I found I had a lot to learn from Gretchen. As she notes, everyone's happiness project will look different, but many of the most profound discoveries in her happiness research came from reading about the happiness projects of others.
In case you're unfamiliar with the book, it begins when author Gretchen Rubin has a startling thought while riding the bus: she has a good life, but she's not nearly as happy as she could be. She doesn't really appreciate it. The days are slipping away and she's not quite sure where they're going.
So, she embarks on a happiness project. Each month for 12 months she tackles a different area of her life, from mindfulness to marriage, by taking small steps to improve her life and become a happier person.
Recently there have been critics of all this talk of happiness. They say happiness is overrated, that it's hardship that really causes us to stretch and grow. And perhaps Gretchen wouldn't completely disagree. In fact, one of her secrets of adulthood is that "happiness doesn't always make you feel happy." Many of the things that can make us happier people in the long run are uncomfortable at the time. And for Gretchen, happiness can only exist in an atmosphere of growth. If we're not growing, we stagnate and stagnation is the enemy of happiness.
Yet, she's firm in her belief that happiness is the aim and I'd have to agree. Yes, human experience exists on a much wider spectrum, all of which is important to our growth and development, but if we could be happier more than not, why wouldn't we want to be? When we're happier we more easily see the beauty around us, we can truly experience the richness of our experiences, and we're better able to contribute to the happiness of others.
What Gretchen's experiment shows is that we have the choice to be happier. The small choices we make everyday add up to create our experience of the world. Her book is full of tips and insights into how a person can create a happier life. She also provides a framework for discovering what resolutions might make you happier should you decide to embark on your own happiness project, as well as tools that can help you stick with them.
I'm sold and have been toying with the idea of creating a similar adventure for myself. I'm not certain what structure it would take, but I've already started scribbling notes on what brings me joy, what areas of my life I'd like to change, and the opportunities for growth. I'll keep you posted.
What about you? Have you read The Happiness Project? Have you ever done something similar in your own life?