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.

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