I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and thought it was great! Although I consider myself a pretty happy person, the book gave me a lot to think about and inspired me to embark on my own Happiness Project (shared below).
What It’s About:
Over the course of a year, Gretchen tries to increase her daily happiness without really changing her life. She doesn’t do anything drastic, but instead, experiments with small daily shifts (i.e. going to bed earlier, making three new friends, singing in the morning). She’s a trained researcher, so what we “know” about happiness is scattered throughout, but what really made me love the book was how authentic and honest she was about the ups and downs of her process.
1. Happiness is greatly influenced by how much challenge, novelty and growth we experience. Most of us want to spend our leisure time squarely within our comfort zone (in my case, watching Netflix), but research shows we feel happier when we push ourselves to do new and challenging things. This really resonated with me because the last few years of my life have involved a lot of change, challenge, and growth – and consequently, happiness! In the past two years, I got married, moved to the U.S. from Canada, went to grad school, moved from Boston to LA, and started my first teaching job. This year, I’m in the same job and the same city as I was last year. The rate of challenge and growth I’m experiencing has dramatically slowed down. I was noticing myself feeling less happy than I was last year and this book gave me some insight into why that might be and what I can do about it.
2. If you aren’t sure what would make you happy, think about what you liked to do when you were 10 years old. What a fun idea! I tried to remember how I entertained myself as a child. I liked to organize my bookshelf, read, record ‘radio shows’ on my Fisher-Price, sing, perform, and write poems and stories. I have been thinking about ways I can bring more of these activities back into my life (or new activities that create similar feelings). She stresses the importance of being true to yourself and identifying what you really like to do (vs. what you wished you like to do).
3. “It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light.” I loved the notion that what may come across as ‘effortless cheer’ can actually be quite effortful for that “naturally” sunny person. Choosing to put forth positive energy and language actually creates lightness. She talks about how enthusiasm requires bravery, because we seem smarter when we are discerning and hard to impress. She talks about how exhausting it can be when an enthusiastic person is around a “deflater” and how much more courageous it is to be someone who is ‘readily pleased.’
4. You manage what you measure. In the book, the author keeps a detailed chart tracking her monthly resolutions and refers to it each day. She talks about how the chart was the greatest contributor to her increased happiness, as creating it required her to take the time to think intentionally about what resolutions she wanted to make, write them down, and have a tangible reminder of them.
*I think I set too many goals for myself during this experiment. I shouldn’t have included exercise, as that is something I already incorporate regularly into my week. If I were to do it again, I would focus on one target a week over the course of a month. I felt like I had too much to track, and it felt like a burden. The social media challenge was a lot harder than I expected; doing this helped increase my awareness of how often I am “plugged in.” I was surprised by how much I noticed the impact of doing the gratitude stories and the daily meditation – I aim to engage in those practices more regularly in 2016.