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?