January Read Along: The Happiness Project

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.

Another question:

What idea from the first three chapters of The Happiness Project could you use today that would likely make you happier? 

"Bedroom Full of Junk" by
“Bedroom Full of Junk” by Bill Longshaw
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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.

First goals:

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?



15 thoughts on “January Read Along: The Happiness Project

  1. I read this book, and I really liked it. One of my friends actually purchased all the charts, etc. and is making some forward progress. I like the fact that Rubin looked at her own life and tackled everyday things to improve. I’m not as ambitious as she is; I think I tried to implement one small change consistently in 2013.

  2. Gerry, thanks for sharing this. I agree that striving for happiness is a good goal and these little exercises to help focus on the good parts is inspirational. It is sad that her husband didn’t notice when she stopped nagging.

    Warm Regards,

    1. Hi, Todd. Thanks for reading and commenting! “It is sad that her husband didn’t notice when she stopped nagging.” Yes, I agree, but maybe Gretchen’s point is that the strategies are for *her* improvement/contentment, whatever, and she tries not to have expectations of others. I wish I could absorb more of that!

  3. The older I get the more conscious I am of my limited bandwidth. While the child in me wants more, the adult in me doesn’t want to own much at all. Hawaii used to be more conducive to this style of life than it is now, but it is still easier than in most places on the Mainland. My apartment is small…so large-scale entertaining is done under tent at one of the beach parks. I don’t own it privately. But I can own places emotionally without the upkeep. University of Hawaii/Manoa campus has always felt like different rooms in my house to me. 4 libraries worth of books and tropic foliage at every turn certainly don’t hurt. I don’t have to own it to have it.

    Seems like I should swing down to one of my libraries to pick up a copy of “The Happiness Project.”

    Terrific post, Gerry. I plead guilty to many of the same things.

    1. Well, as I said in an earlier comment (echoing Joy W. M.), Gretchen Rubin is young, at least by my standards. I thought before I started that I might not like the book, but I’m certainly relating to it. I think you’d enjoy it, too. Thanks!

  4. I’m glad you’re finding useful things in The Happiness Project. I noticed at various times that Gretchen seemed so young — some of her details aren’t that applicable in my life. But, then, it was kind of nice to feel happy that I have tackled and succeeded at improving some of the things that cause her problems. The way she models such a conscious approach to happiness works well no matter what our stage in life

    Thanks for participating! I love your insights about clutter and marriage..

    1. I’m looking forward to the rest of the book (my first time to read it, so I’m in discovery mode). I was a little put off at first by how young Gretchen is, but you’re right; she’s done a well-researched approach to improving one’s life (because I think that’s what the book is really about, whether you call it “happiness” or not) and provided a good model. Thanks for the comment, Joy. I enjoyed reading your post, too.

  5. When I first read this, I thought about the difference to me between happiness and joy.I thought about all the young folks I heard on New Year’s Eve with their resolutions to be “happy”. For me happiness is more of a fleeting emotion. Joy runs deeper….joy is *shared*. Then I kept reading and loved the idea of decluttering…yes! Simplify! Give my brain less to look.. and be *all over the place*. Simplicity is one of my goals. The *nagging* goal is a good one too….gee….silence can be golden. Then when I got to the end I had to giggle, when I realized the author’s name is *Joy*. 🙂 Great read, and great advice. And yes….happiness or joy….whatever you name it….is contagious….like a pebble in a pond, with ripples going out and beyond. Thanks for another great post and cause for reflection.

    1. The way we define words is fascinating, isn’t it? I agree that joy runs deeper and is less dependent on external circumstances. Happiness can be predicated on some rather flimsy evidence. But I am finding the book interesting from a practical standpoint. The author has hit home with me, particularly on the clutter issue. Our house isn’t *that* bad, but it’s something that nags at me. Maybe it’s partly an aging thing–the opposite of nesting–more about getting things in order. (And then there’s the nagging; ouch.) So on that “happy” note–have a great day! : ) And thanks for the comment, as always.

      1. Oh yes, the book does have some very practical advice. The clutter issue in our home boils down to “do I really NEED this?” We don’t have an attic or a basement…which is a good thing. I did get rid of stuff and 2 big stacks of books on vacation…but there are still the cupboards and closets. Oh well. One day at a time…I read somewhere about cleaning one big area a day…hasn’t happened here yet. I’m glad you and hubby have a strong relationship…and that he was ok when he came in that night.

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