Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Happiness Project

In The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin embarked on a year-long self-help project to make herself happier. She spends a little too much time explaining why this project isn't self-indulgent and while I buy her argument that happy people make other people happy, it was just such an over-the-top project that I never really got behind her or felt like I was cheering her on. In fact, when the book was finished, I told my husband, "Whew! Thank goodness I'm done with all that happiness!"

It wasn't actually the happiness or the idea of being happy that turned me off so much as her driven, perfectionistic approach to finding happiness, but more about that later. Plus, it would have been better if I hadn't tried to read the entire book over just a few days. It is probably better savored, chapter by chapter, but in my own driven way I'm trying to read 50 books this year and so I barrelled through.

Even though I wasn't always happy while reading the book, it was well-written and the evidence she cited in support of the methods she used to increase her happiness interested me. She had done her homework and, if she is to be believed, she was in fact happier by the end of the year. Plus, she felt like the people around her were happier as a bonus.

I really appreciated the first of her "Twelve Commandments:" Be Gretchen. How many times have any of us done something because it's what we thought someone else wanted only for it to turn out disastrous when, if we had been honest about we wanted instead, the result would have been better? Of all the information in her book, this lesson was the strongest.

A second strong message (another of her "Twelve Commandments"), "Act the way I want to feel," is one I've been attempting to apply for many years using the slogan "act as if," so seeing evidence to support the effectiveness of this technique brought home just how important it is.

While these two adages might seem to conflict (How exactly can she be Gretchen while acting the way she wants to feel?) in fact they worked well together in her life and in my own. For example, there are many days when I don't want to run, but I act like I am happy to run and when I'm done running, 99% of the time I am much happier.

As I was reading, I repeatedly wished the author studied the Enneagram. I could see the driven, perfectionist "1" personality type so strongly in the way she set up a very structured challenge and in the character traits that made parts of it difficult for her. All these attempts to change herself simply made me tired. I also saw my own "9" personality type whenever I wanted to balance what she was saying with some opposite approach, find a middle-of-the-road solution to a problem she faced, or just lie down because I found her insistent demands on herself exhausting. Each of us sees the world through our own personality lens and seeing the world through her "1" eyes made me both laugh and cringe.

Overall, I'm glad I read it, but I'm not prepared to begin such a structured happiness project anytime soon. I think I've already been doing my own mish-mash version of it most of my adult life.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Geographic Cures

"Shut up about ideal conditions. I am tired of hearing myself whine about needing a writing shed—and, frankly, I'm tired of hearing you whine about it too." - Patti Digh in a blog article on Sheila Bender's website

In 1996, I attended my first writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg. By June of 1997, I had convinced my adventurous husband that we should put our house on the market and move to Taos, New Mexico so I could study with Natalie year-round. Now, mind you, Natalie didn't have any kind of plan for people to study with her year-round, but I thought, if I just got out of Ohio, I could write. I mean, the sun! The moutains! The fresh, high-altitude air! What's not to love about a tiny art town in the mountains of New Mexico? Well, one day I intend to write a book answering that question, but suffice it to say, when we moved, I brought my chronic depression and poor writing habits along.

Fast forward three years. The house in Taos was sold and we were back in central Ohio. Hubby would have preferred California or Hawaii, but I was convinced only Ohio would do. And guess what? Writing wasn't any easier back in Ohio.

Don't get me wrong. I benefit from a good change of scenery every once in awhile, especially if said change of scenery lacks internet connection. But I don't kid myself that a geographic cure will fix the problem. Writers need to be able to write when it's time to write no matter where they find themselves. For several years the best writing spot was whatever doctor's office waiting room I found myself in as I accompanied my mother on her visits to a variety of physicians. I'd take earplugs or headphones and my laptop. I'd tune out the other patients and caregivers and write. I didn't have a choice. I was getting my M.F.A. and the deadlines weren't flexible!

The moral of the story was put eloquently in the blog article quoted above. Wherever you go, there you are. If you can't write in your three-bedroom ranch in central Ohio, chances are you won't be able to write in the mountains of New Mexico.

What about you? Have you ever attempted a geographic cure? Have you ever been lured into the notion that "ideal conditions" could solve your woes? As always, I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

How To Write a Book

I couldn't have said it better so I'm just going to link to a "mini-rant" posted by Patti Digh on Sheila Bender's website.

My personal favorite, "Sit the hell down and write." Amen, sista!