And How Was Your Day?

Week two of reading and responding to The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin as part of Joy Weese Moll’s January Reading Challenge, and wouldn’t you know it?

Yesterday was not a happy day.

Nothing serious happened, but my life felt out of control— too much to do, too many obligations, and every chore seemed to take longer than it should have. I had no time to write until last night. Not that I didn’t want to write this blog post; I did. But at that point, honestly, it was just One. More. Thing.

I was tired, frustrated, irritated, impatient, angry, even sad. I vented to my husband (he was handy). I railed at myself for not knowing how to say no.

Looking back on a day full of petty annoyances makes me glad I’m reading The Happiness Project. Granted, I’m thinking about my own discontent and my failures, but more importantly, I’m considering ways to make my life happier which, in turn, will affect the lives of those around me—especially those close enough to take the brunt of my bad days!

Not about me?

The other night, when I was reading chapter four in The Happiness Project, I jotted this down: “Many of Gretchen’s attempts to make herself happy turn out to be about other people.” A bit later (p. 147), she writes about discovering her Second Splendid Truth:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy.

One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Sigh. Yes. I don’t believe I made anybody happy yesterday, least of all me. I was too scattered. I resented the tasks I needed to complete. There’s some satisfaction in having done them, but at what cost?

 The rant’s over; aren’t you glad?

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Let’s get to chapters four, five, and six, our reading “assignment” for this week.

Chapter 4 — Lighten Up: Parenthood

I don’t have much to say here. I’m a long way from child-rearing, but Gretchen’s advice to parents still applies. How much better would my day have gone if I’d stopped at some point, taken a deep breath, and found something to laugh about? If I’d lightened up?

Chapter 5 — Be Serious about Play: Leisure

Yesterday afternoon, when I was still turning from one thing to another, my husband sat calmly at the breakfast room table, working the New York Times crossword puzzle. I was close to tears. “It must be nice,” I said, “to sit around and work crossword puzzles all day.“ Ouch. He doesn’t work crossword puzzles all day. He’d repaired the garage door when it didn’t work, had done some writing, and had exercised a couple of hours. And more. I was angry, not with him, but with myself. It wasn’t just that I’d had no leisure time yesterday; I couldn’t remember when I’d ever had time to fritter away.

But whose fault is that? I know, don’t I.

Like Gretchen, I have a hard time identifying what I do for play. Oh, I spend time messing around on Facebook. I read. Writing is fun but also serious, even tearful business that dredges up emotions and leaves me wrung out. That’s not fun. There were the art classes I took a few years ago; I loved playing with oils and watercolors, and painting was so absorbing that the two-hour classes passed like minutes.

Have I done it since? No. So Gretchen’s “fun” chapter deserves a second read. I need to learn how to play more or play better!

Chapter 5 — Make Time for Friends: Friendship

I’ll simply reiterate Gretchen’s main points here and encourage you to read the book, if you haven’t. They’re important.

Remember birthdays. How hard is that, really? But it requires planning.

Be generous. Generosity is often more about time and self than money. If I’d approached the things I had to do yesterday in a spirit of generosity, how much better might the day have gone?

Show up. This one nagged me to pick up the phone last night and call a friend whose husband had had surgery. I’m glad I did.

Don’t gossip. I thought of this when I was in the midst of a conversation with a friend. We were talking about someone else, and it made me uncomfortable. Thank you, Happiness Project.

Make three new friends. Hmm. This one is hard. More food for thought.


Sometimes as I’m reading this book, I think, gosh, Gretchen Rubin can’t be human. Everything seems so easy for her. How can she research and read and write and raise children and have a good marriage and friends and two (or is it three?) reading groups and throw big parties and publish and exercise and have fun and show up and be generous? Etc. Etc.

The perfect woman? No. Gretchen’s not perfect, and neither are we. Here’s where I see she’s human and very real: at the end of chapter six, she talks about how her “basic temperament” hasn’t changed, but in spite of that, she feels “more joy and less guilt.” And then she says this:

In some ways, in fact, I’d made myself less happy; I’d made myself far more aware of my faults, and I felt more disappointed with myself when I slipped up. My shortcomings stared up at me reproachfully from the page (163-164).

Ah, Gretchen, I want to tell her. You’re young, but so wise.

We all have days like that. I had one yesterday. But today–maybe today will be different.

How do you cope when you’re having a bad day? If you’ve read The Happiness Project, did you find Gretchen Rubin’s “strategies” for a happier life helpful?

Author: Gerry Wilson

Fiction writer. Avid reader. Former teacher. Wife, mother, grandmother.

13 thoughts

  1. I was sure I left a comment yesterday! Maybe I wasn’t having a good day either — it sure was busy! I hope you’re feeling happier today!

  2. The Happiness Project is making me more reflective and mindful, as well! My kids are grown up and in their twenties, so any parenting advice comes too late for me, but I also found the Lighten Up chapter applied to family life, whatever kind of family it may be! It was funny to read your thoughts on Gretchen’s being able to do so much, while working from home and being a mother, because as a holder of a full-time job, I’m always looking with envy at retired people, thinking how much free time they must have! I realize that there never feels like there’s enough time to do all we want to do, at any stage of life.

    1. Being a busy retiree is far better than *not*! Some people have a tough time with retirement and can’t figure out what to do in the “second act.” They get lost and depressed because of inaction. I realize I’m the “boss of me” and I can own/arrange my time far more than, say, a younger woman with a job and a family. I look back on all that and can’t for the life of me figure out how I juggled it all! This book is helping me take a hard look at what I choose to do NOW, and why.

  3. You’re so right that generosity is so much more about self and time than about money. I have no problem throwing checks at charities, but to get out there and actually volunteer TIME… I know it would be more meaningful and probably bring me satisfaction, but it’s so much harder.

    1. I really felt convicted by this one. It seems I spend a lot of time “doing” things (most of them good!) but I don’t give much quality time to other people, especially those who might benefit from the skills I have (reading to/tutoring kids, for example).

  4. Yes, we all have days like that. The good thing is when we recognize that WE have days like that because WE have put too much on our plate, or are resentful of others, or are stressed out because of our own doing. I know that the days I’m unhappy are the days I feel like I can’t do anything, because I have so much to do. The happiest days are the ones in which I stop, look, listen, and then do nothing. Ahh, happiness. It’s there within us; we just have to let it out. Great post.

    1. “I know that the days I’m unhappy are the days I feel like I can’t do anything, because I have so much to do.” So true! I need to stop and think before I say yes too often! Oh, for a day to do nothing!

  5. As I was reading your quotes of Gretchen’s advice about happiness, I was struck at how similar they were to Marion Roach Smith’s cues to memoir writing. It’s not about you.

    Excuse me? Memoir is not about me? Well it is and it isn’t. Just as being happy is about you but isn’t.

    You are the illustration for the larger point. That’s why your sharing your struggles is so compelling. A heck of a lot more compelling than your perfection…a statement I would venture would sound heretical to your mother and grandmother.

    I’m an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs. It’s truly who I am, but it’s also NOT how people perceive me. It’s still a struggle for me to remember this when I’m at low bandwidth.

    I stumbled across a wonderful concept via Sally Hogshead’s website.
    She comes from a psychological/neuroscience perspective just as the Myers-Briggs. But instead of measuring who you really are, she measures for how you are perceived by others. How you can be heard as most authentic to others.

    I’m a Catalyst. Amy Pabalan is a Secret Weapon. One of my daughters is a Subtle Touch. Just reading through the materials was a big Gestalt Switch for me.

    I felt that was terrific information for me as I redo my own blog(s). What do people want to hear from me? How am I at my best for others? Those kind of questions that you seem to be asking as well.

    1. Oh, I have to do that profile! I’ll do it and maybe post (or send you) the results–depending on how it turns out. Sounds like I might have a surprise in store! I never can remember what I am on Myers-Briggs, but I think I’m the same as you; INTROVERT, for sure! And most people don’t perceive me that way. I have the memoir book on my iPad and it’s up next! Thanks, Lori.

  6. Wow. Poor Gerry. Sounds like you were all over the place! Lots going on in your life and lots for you to respond to. I love the children’s book “The Runaway Bunny”. I AM that runaway bunny. When life gets to be too much for me, folks that know me well, know that I burrow in my bunny hole. I have a private little room of a sanctuary. It used to be our daughter’s room. There are no pictures on the walls to clutter up my mind. I have an “altar” of sorts on top of the desk with a celtic cross, family photos and a big calligraphy “Don’t be frightened by the task”. There’s this computer…a few other things. But the main thing…oh yes…the main thing is the bed with a soft and silky Japanese comforter on it. I love to nap. And get away. And be still. It helps restore me to get back into the “world”. Guess I’m at a point where I have different kinds of priorities…what do I NEED to do? What do I WANT to do? I do more of what I want now. I have a wonderful full time job teaching, stay in touch with friends, call my mom every night, have special moments with my hubby, stay home on Saturdays, go to church/mom’s every Sunday (45 miles away)…but my home time and down time are much simpler now.

    1. Yes, poor me! That’s the heart of the problem, isn’t it? I wrote some pretty good advice to myself in this post, I think. I’ll see if it really makes me more mindful when I’m sliding into that mode! I hope you’re writing, Beth, because you have a gift. And I wish you would come and help me make a little nesting place, and beyond that, *know* when I need to take a time-out! Thanks so much for this comment.

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