Happiness, Continued . . .

New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge / Joy Weese Moll
New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge / Joy Weese Moll

As part of Joy Weese Moll‘s New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge, I’m spending the month of January reading (and blogging about) Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, The Happiness Project.

Joy poses interesting questions for this week’s chapters:

1. Of the three topics covered in chapters 7, 8, and 9 (Money, Eternity, and Passion), which area would you like to improve the most in 2014? Why? Would some of Gretchen’s techniques work for you?

My most needed improvement? I stand convicted, Gretchen: I’m an “overbuyer” and my husband is an “underbuyer,” for sure. I tend to buy on impulse whereas he looks, walks away, and looks and looks some more before he makes up his mind. I’m not sure whether Gretchen’s techniques will work for me, but she’s made me more aware.

2. What idea from chapters 7, 8, and 9 could you use today that would likely make you happier?

I like Gretchen’s concept of “spending out,” not clinging to things. She confesses to being a “saver”–holding on to things for later or for a special occasion. I can relate to that. My grandmother owned a lovely robe she never wore because she was saving it for her burial! I occasionally tried to get her to wear it, but she refused. Now and then she would have me take it out of her closet and check its condition. Satisfied that it was still pristine, she’d tell me to put it away. She got her wish.

More importantly for me, Gretchen goes beyond the idea of not clinging to things. She says, “The most important meaning of ‘Spend out’ . . . is not to be a scorekeeper, not to stint on love and generosity.” She describes how easy it is to fall into a pattern of keeping score: Well, I did this, so he/she should do that. The key, Gretchen says, is “Don’t think about the return.” She quotes Sarah Bernhardt, the great actress: “It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” Spending out relates directly to a generous spirit, and that is something I want to cultivate!

3. What idea from chapters 7, 8, and 9 are you pretty sure wouldn’t make you happier at all, even if it seems to work for Gretchen?

Sky above, what's below?
Sky above, what’s below?

In chapter 8, “Contemplate the Heavens: Eternity,” Gretchen tackles spirituality and mortality. I appreciate her quest for spiritual wholeness—every person is entitled to approach her spiritual journey as she sees fit. But as a person of faith, I don’t think I would ever pursue finding a spiritual mentor as she does. Nor would I set out to read about others’ catastrophes in order to learn from them, as Gretchen describes it–a kind of vicarious experience of tragedy:

I went to the library and checked out an enormous stack of books. I started by collecting accounts by people grappling with serious illness and death, but then I broadened my search to include any kind of catastrophe: divorce, paralysis, addiction, and all the rest. I hoped that it would be possible for me to benefit from the knowledge that these people had won with so much pain, without undergoing the same ordeals. There are some kinds of profound wisdom that I hope never to gain from my own experience.

It’s one thing to feel deeply for the plight of someone else. It’s a fallacy to believe that we can know what another person’s trials and sorrows feel like.

Let me tell you a story:

When I was a young wife and mother, an older woman I admired very much lost her only son. He committed suicide. I went to that heartbreaking funeral, and after, I knew I wasn’t done. I felt compelled to visit her. I dreaded it, but one afternoon, I got a sitter for my two young sons (oh, imagine the death of a son!), picked up a plant or something, I don’t remember, and went. I remember walking up to her front door, practically trembling, my heart racing, a huge lump in my throat. What could I possibly say?

I didn’t have to worry about it. She saw my helplessness. She consoled me.

What did I learn? The important thing is to show up. Speechless, empty-handed, it doesn’t matter. A hug, a grasped hand. Offer what I can.

But, Gretchen, there’s no “learning about pain” without going through it. And all of us, most likely, will at some point experience our own.

4. I suspect all of us share Gretchen’s passion for books. How do books make you happy?

Budding artist/writer
Budding artist/writer/ me

Books do make me happy. Or sad. Or angry. Books are so much a part of my life (and always have been; see the photo, left), that I can’t imagine life without them. The two novels I’ve written, although they’re unpublished at this point, fill me with pride. I have labored and laughed, bled and cried all over those pages. They are my own, which brings an entirely different perspective to the word book.

Have you read The Happiness Project? If so, please share your take on Gretchen’s ideas (and mine, too)!

If you would like to read the earlier Happiness posts, you’ll find them here:

Week One: January Read Along: The Happiness Project

Week Two: And How Was Your Day?

Author: Gerry Wilson

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

12 thoughts

  1. Thanks for the story about the mother and her response to your visit, the value of showing up. I agree that learning through experience is going to happen to us all, sooner or later.

    Writing a book certainly does change the perspective on books all the way around!

  2. Thank you for being so faithful to Joy’s challenges. I don’t have time for them, but love to support them. I feel as if I’m doing that by reading your blog posts.

    I prefer to shop second-hand over brand new. If feels as if there is a spirit to the items, a mysterious past, a soul. I feel a responsibility to things I own just as I feel a responsibility for people in my life. I have to take care of them.

    As an introvert this is both a source of joy and a drain on my bandwidth. So I bless all things (and people) that come into my life. While I keep few very close to me. As they cycle in and out, I can wish them well and a happy life-span.

    1. Lori, sticking with the challenge was hard this week. We traveled over the weekend and so my reading and my “500 words a day” suffered. But that baby grandchild was amazing! You’ll be interested to know that I took The Memoir Project with me on the plane and I’m about to finish it. I’ve really, really enjoyed it and marked up just about every page! I’m not sure I can put my memoir premise into one sentence yet, but Smith inspires me to keep going. Very wise stuff! Thanks for the rec.

      1. I did mine for free and gifted one to Amy and my elder daughter. You know me, Penny Pincher in Paradise. The gods have conspired to gift me three free. Not sure how I managed that. That said. Yep, I would pay for it. My daughter thought I did as a birthday present to her, and she found it so valuable that she paid to have her sister take it. Gods still conspiring. I just wish I could control what juju magic they bestow on me. Haven’t quite figured that out …even after all these years. 🙂

  3. Boy, you’ve been busy, Gerry! My response to “stuff”. I’m still grappling with getting rid of things. My hubby once told our daughter “this will all be yours one day.” She smiled…demurely. Doubt she wants much of our stuff. And so…I’m still at the thinking stage of going through trunks and drawers and closets to get rid of things. About your visit to the grieving woman. Sigh…”Yes! Sometimes just to show up is all that is needed.” To offer a hand or hug or listening ears. Amazing the woman consoled you. And books! I’ve gotten rid of stacks of them. Another funny story. I used to store books in our food cupboard, for lack of bookshelf space. My hubby, once again the witty one, said that when our daughter moved out and there was more room in the refrigerator…I could store my books there. ;0) I never did. But now that I’ve gotten hooked on our tablet and all the articles available online, I’m getting rid of more books. Not that you can replace a book…for cuddling in bed with.

    1. Beth, I have a funny story related to yours about your daughter. One of my grandsons walked in our den one day, looked around, and said, “Just think! Someday all this will be mine!” I think he was about six at the time. Wonder where he heard that? : ) And yes–I look around at all the things I’m “keeping” and I wonder if anybody is going to want any of it. Probably not. I do need to get the old photos in order, though. Thanks, as always, for your insightful read and comment. Peace!

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