Frankly, it’s not really like me to read a book like the Happiness Project.
I’m usually very suspicious of books like these–they seem too self-indulgent and kind of preachy. I find I get frustrated with the voice and the perspective can’t be generalized to my own life.
And I admit, I was clueless about the Happiness Project. Two weeks ago, I didn’t know about the Happiness-Project blog or the fact that the book by the same title was climbing its way to #1 the top of the NYT bestseller list.
A friend called me to go see Gretchen Rubin at a book signing in Berkeley and I immediately agreed. It sounded intriguing. Through a random chain of events, I owned Gretchen’s first book from many years ago and knew of her inspired career choice as a writer. The room was absolutely packed. More notable than the amount of people there was the amount of energy. People seemed keyed up.
The premise of the book is simple, but the application of it is not. Rubin is crossing Manhattan in a bus and considers what she wants from her life. The answer is to be happy. It’s not a midlife crisis, she is not depressed or even unappreciative. And she certainly isn’t a whiner. A malaise has crept in and as she wonders is this it?
In that moment, a spark catches fire.
Gretchen decides to undertake happiness as well, duh, a project. Just like she would around the house or at work. And that calls her into action.
The chapters that follow–with a new theme each month like Money or Mindfulness–she runs a series of ‘experiments’ of what may make every day life happier.
Some work, some don’t.
Here are things I loved about Gretchen’s book:
1. It opened up possibilities.
I think the world is filled with people who tell us what we shouldn’t or can’t do. One of those people is ourself. We are plagued by responsibilities, by shouldas and musts. For many of us, our die feels cast. Gretchen’s book creates a world of possibilities. As you read about the many activities she undertakes (no matter how crazy…who writes a novel in a month?) you find yourself feeling creative, explorative, imaginative. It changes your lens and makes you feel hopeful. Who can argue with that?
2. It reminds us that we are in charge.
Self-admittedly, I have a fear that I will wake up later in life and feel like life happened. Passivity makes me crazy. Gretchen’s book reminds us that we are accountable. We are in charge. She points out we often believe in an “arrival fallacy”–when I get that promotion, I will be happy; when I buy that big house, I will be happy. That means we intrinsically are telling ourselves that happiness will be done to us and that we can’t control the outcome fully. Silly.
Gretchen puts us back into the driver seat without a lecture. She leads by example. A recent colleague of mine said: Power is not given away, power is taken. Take the power to be happy.
3. Big change happens with small steps.
I love that Elizabeth Gilbert took a year and traveled the world in Eat, Pray, Love. Yep, that sounds awesome. But I don’t think I just get to step out of my life for a year. Rubin gives us permission to create a new reality without completely blowing off the one that surrounds us every day. She challenges us on how we will bring happiness into our lives rather than overthrow our old life for a new one. It seems a helluva lot more realistic.
4. Working on your own happiness takes courage.
I think it’s very easy to be cynical about the Happiness Project. Take Penelope Trunk. She writes that we overemphasize happiness instead of leading an interesting life. And further, that people with more choices are generally not as happy. Because if you live in Wisconsin, for example, there aren’t as many choices and therefore it’s easier to be happy.
I like Penelope’s stuff–it’s witty and amusing.
But this? Lame.
Between the lines she seemed to be saying it isn’t really her fault she isn’t happy because of her big, fat, choiceful life.
Gretchen Rubin has taken a risk and not made an obvious choice. You try walking into a cocktail party and telling people you are launching a Happiness Project and not feel like a moron.
It takes courage to put very public energy into your own happiness. Because what if you fail?
Now a warning from the surgeon general.
I need to point out that this book is like the Ironman of happiness.
Gretchen literally tries 60-100 ‘experiments’ in happiness.
Fortunately, she did this so I don’t have to.
I would like to run an Ironman, but I know I won’t.
And I couldn’t take on half of the many initiatives she did.
But that’s not the point.
As I leave New York after an amazing weekend with my sister, (a weekend spurred on by the HP, when I decided I don’t see her enough for someone I love to be with), I think to myself:
That was sooooo easy.