2017 Reading List: vol. 8

If you don’t already know, I love to find and read blogs. I love when I can connect with someone else’s life. I love to read their stories and gain insight from their experiences. At some point, I came across Gretchen Rubin’s website about happiness. Gretchen is a professional researcher and writer, and she had written a book called The Happiness Project. Ever since discovering her blog and hearing about her book, I’ve wanted to read it.

The Happiness Project is the culmination of Gretchen’s own personal year of experimentation whereby she attempts to make herself happier within her own ordinary life by making small daily changes. She sets up her year as a series of resolutions. She has twelve themes to correspond with each calendar month and within each theme, there are certain things she commits to doing to help her achieve the goal of becoming happier. She didn’t want to change her whole life, uproot her family, change careers or take drastic measures. She just wanted to see how a few small things would affect her overall happiness.

It’s such an interesting theory. People don’t often stop to ask themselves if they are happy and why or why not. I personally feel that I am very happy, but as someone who believes that there is always room for improvement in life, I was intrigued to read her thoughts on the subject.

While I will tell you that overall, the book was engaging and brought up some compelling theories and facts, I was fairly disappointed in how the book was written and how the story was told.

Gretchen is a very methodical researcher and it shows in her happiness project. She came up with a hypothesis, she did tons of research before she even started, and she made very systematic goals for the year. She had spreadsheets and checklists to keep her on track and she measured and analyzed her progress daily and monthly.

In my opinion, happiness is just not something that can be calculated that acutely. I think happiness is an overall feeling. It’s not a checklist or a spreadsheet or goals or a resolution. There’s no box I can tick that says that I’ll be happy that day. I just have a general feeling that my life is good and that I am happy. And I think on a general level, I practice some of the things that she has on her checklist, but I don’t have to think so hard about it.

I’ll admit that as I read the book, I actually hated Gretchen. I disliked her so much that I even told other people. I said, “Yeah, I’m reading this book and it’s interesting, but I hate the author.” I feel that we would not get along in real life. This is a huge turn-off for me when reading non-fiction books like this one. I like to connect with the author and feel that we have something in common or that we’re on the same side.

But Gretchen told these stories about her life that made me so mad. I think she was trying to be relatable or something. She talked about the way she talks to and treats her husband and her kids and how she wants to improve that. But all I could think was, why do you talk to them like that now? She sounds mean and irritable and annoying. She doesn’t sound nice or kind or pleasant at all. And I understand that part of her happiness project was to change that and to make resolutions that would remind her to be pleasant and nice and kind, but I just couldn’t get over the fact that she sounded like a shitty person to begin with.

She always needed validation for anything she did; she needed people to give her a gold star and she got upset when no one did. She dumped her bad days and bad moods on her husband. She yelled at her kids, she was impatient, she didn’t play or have fun. She gossiped with friends.

So she makes these resolutions to try to change. She wants to work on things like her marriage, her friendships, money, her kids, her energy, etc. Some of her resolutions made sense and some of them just sounded dumb. One of her resolutions was to “be nice” and she had to have a week of “extreme nice.” Why was it so hard for her to be nice? Especially to her husband, whom she’s supposed to love more than anyone. Why wouldn’t you be nice to him?

Her other resolutions that I didn’t agree with included things like make a big purchase, start a collection, and try hypnosis. They were all included within her larger monthly goals, but I didn’t find those things to be worthy of a happiness project resolution. Some of the things she made a commitment to, she didn’t even want to do herself!

On the other hand, she did have some good goals to try to boost her happiness. Like, act the way you want to feel, work to make new friends, take time for hobbies, and count your blessings. I think there’s a lot of little things like these, that are applicable for everyone, that can make a huge difference in happiness. These are things that are easily forgotten in the midst of hectic, busy lives.

By the end of the book, I was tired of all the weird little Gretchen-isms that she kept making up, like her “Splendid Truths” that she seemingly discovered about life and her “Secrets of Adulthood” that are really just lessons she’s learned along the way.

I think anyone who has to think that hard and that much about being happy throughout the day really isn’t that happy. She argues that thinking about being happy makes you happy. I do agree to an extent. If you believe you’re happy, then you are. But you shouldn’t have to have a checklist of things to do every day to make sure that you’re happy. Then you’re just trying too hard.

I tell Jim I love him, and I think about what I’m about to say to make sure it’s not mean, and I write in a journal, and I laugh out loud, and soak in small moments, and I have gratitude, and I do all of that without thinking about it. I just do it. I don’t have to practice being happy or measure my happiness on some kind of happiness scale. I just am happy.

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