These past few months I’ve created a serious safety hazard in my own house. I’ve been on a reading binge and the place is full of towering stacks of books; no major collapses or paper cuts yet, but I’ve stocked up on band-aids just in case! My local library hasn’t yet contacted me about my prize for the most books borrowed in a month, but any day now…
I think I’ve read maybe two dozen books this past few months and one of the most useful has been Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Last month’s book review (Better than Before) was by the same author and focussed on everyday habits, and the two books have a few things in common.
But first, The Happiness Project documents Rubin’s 12 month project of trialling new habits, behaviours and attitudes designed to make her happier (and she reviews a heck of a lot of happiness research as she goes). Her approach is all about small (mostly free) changes, not a complete lifestyle overhaul or expensive purchases.
It’s not a book I would have normally picked up because weirdly (or not) I’ve never really aspired to happiness. I like being happy but I’ve never thought it was the only thing worth feeling, so I more liked the idea of a rich, meaningful life instead and avoided books focussed only on happiness. I don’t know why I saw it as an either/or option (meaningful versus happy) but this book has convinced me of the value of working on everyday happiness. It isn’t trite, Pollyanna or airy-fairy, and doesn’t attempt to disavow the complete range of human emotions.
Rubin makes the point that the strategies she tries in her happiness project are not for everyone because what makes one person happy doesn’t necessarily work for another. I suspect working out these strategies might be the most difficult part of the project, but even just trying some of Rubin’s was really useful to me.
A lot of what she explores is actually about picking up one’s rank in life (see The Little Book of Power for more about rank). It’s about stopping nagging, whinging, tantrums etc, and pushing oneself to use ones capacities more fully. I tried this out myself while house-hunting recently. We spent way too many days driving around the city from house inspection to house inspection – it was boring, time consuming and stressful – it could have been a nightmare! Rubin’s book made me think about how my attitude towards the task could set the tone for our whole family, so instead of being surly and stressed about the whole experience (which would have been very easy) I stepped up a little and intentionally tried to make it a fun adventure, just by cracking jokes and being light-hearted (and packing good snacks). And it worked, we actually had a lot of fun doing a not-very-fun activity (the ultimate test will be the house-move)!
Along with Better than Before, The Happiness Project emphasises the importance of how we conduct and manage everyday life. As a psychotherapist my work is often focussed on deep, psycho-spiritual and emotional processes, but these books give me a new appreciation of role of everyday actions and attitudes in our wellbeing.
Check out her blog (including a range of free resources for doing your own Happiness Project) here: http://gretchenrubin.com/
The next book on my list is about moral psychology and explores burning moral questions like…is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken?! (something many of us ponder often no doubt 🙂
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