I must confess that when I signed on for Joy Weese Moll’s January Read Along, I was a bit skeptical about the book, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. What could I possibly learn from this young author about happiness? I have been both unhappy and happy at times in my life; I know the difference! Yet I was drawn to the book. Not that my life is lacking. But what if, just what if I could be happier?
I was wrong to be skeptical. The Happiness Project is a worthwhile read. Gretchen details her journey through a year of paying close attention to her own life and happiness. Gretchen says up front that her definition of happiness, her goals for a happier life, and her strategies for achieving it might not work for everybody. Each person’s circumstances, needs, frustrations, and desires are different. But by walking us through her self-assessment, goal-setting, and practice of the strategies she hoped would make her happier, she sets the example. And she sets the bar high.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . .
Our assignment for this first week of the challenge was to read the first three chapters. Joy gave us a set of questions to help us think about the book.
The first question I’ll address is this (from the Reading Guide at Harper Collins):
Gretchen argues throughout The Happiness Project that striving to be happy is a worthy, not selfish, goal. Do you agree? Do you think that Gretchen was right, or not, to devote so much time and attention to her own happiness? Do you spend much time thinking about your happiness?
I agree with Gretchen that striving to be happy is a worthy goal. Gretchen points out that she already had a happy life before she set out on this journey: she loves her family; she feels privileged to do work she enjoys; she doesn’t lack for security or material possessions; she is not spiritually impoverished. So why seek improvement? Gretchen first suggests that happiness is contagious. If I’m happy, my happiness spreads to those around me because I’m more content, which in turn makes me more attentive and more loving to others. But it was something of a revelation for me to consider that it’s all right for my own happiness to be important, others aside.
I don’t spend much time thinking about my happiness, but this book is making me think about it. I realize that I take happiness for granted even though, as I said earlier, I have experienced unhappy times. If I take nothing else away from the book, I think I’ll try harder not to take happiness for granted.
What idea from the first three chapters of The Happiness Project could you use today that would likely make you happier?
In the first chapter, “Vitality,” Gretchen describes how she attacks the clutter in her life and how getting rid of it energized other aspects of her life and relationships. De-cluttering hits home. If I think about the entire house, I’ll be overwhelmed, but if I break it down into manageable goals (as she does with every strategy), it becomes doable.
Gretchen’s second chapter deals with marriage. She emphasizes that her marriage is solid. But what can she do, she asks, to make herself happier in the context of the marriage? She can’t change another person, she says. The only person she can change is herself.
Me, a nag?
The most personally convicting of Gretchen’s goals in these early chapters is her determination to stop nagging. Ouch. She notes that nagging does no good, even or maybe especially the “it’s for your own good” kind. (Guilty.) I’ll give you my own example. The other day, my husband went out late in the afternoon for his walk. He was gone a couple of hours. It got dark. It was cold. I started to fret. He wasn’t wearing reflective clothing. He didn’t have his cell phone. I was just about to go looking for him when he came in. Perfectly fine.
I started in. “Where were you?” “Didn’t you notice it was dark?” “Why didn’t you take your phone?” “You could have . . .” Blah, blah, blah. For his own good. I need to practice Gretchen’s strategy: my husband is a grown man. Maybe it wasn’t the wisest thing to be out walking after dark, but that was his choice. My choice could have been to let it go. I could have been pleasant when he came in. I might have said, “How was the walk? Is it cold? Are you tired? Would you like a cup of tea?” God bless him, he might have fainted!
Gretchen designated one week she calls the Week of Extreme Nice. During that week, she went out of her way to affirm and love and pay attention to her husband. No nagging. Did he notice? Not really. Did it matter? Ultimately, no, because she took pleasure in doing nice things for him, and she was happier as a result.
What am I taking away from these early chapters in The Happiness Project? I want to de-clutter and to stop nagging! I may or may not make a chart for my goals as Gretchen did, but even if I don’t, the ideas are firmly planted.
How about you? Don’t you want to join Joy and lots of others in this fun challenge?