The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

 8/10 – I found this book quite enjoyable with a lot of takeaways and actionable items that I can implement into my life.

Gretchen starts the book explaining how it she will be recounting her own personal Happiness Project and she starts with her personal commandments i.e. Let it go, Do it now, Enjoy the process, etc. that meant something to her. These were meant to help her keep her resolutions – the changes she wanted to make in her life that she believed would lead to increased happiness.

She created various resolutions for each month and then divided it into themes for the month e.g. January was to boost energy and she would do this by sleeping earlier, exercising better, etc. She explains how an important aspect of happiness is managing your moods and one of best ways to lift your mood is to engineer easy successes i.e. tackle a long-delayed chore. I think this makes a lot of sense. I know that personally I love creating ‘To do’ lists and then crossing things off. I will put super simple things like ‘take out the garbage’ and then when it is done I feel so good about crossing that sucker off!

We should try to Fight right – tackle only one difficult topic at a time, ease into arguments (don’t blow up immediately), avoid bombs (you never…you always…), know how to bring it to an end, make repair attempts,

To be happy: think about feeling good, feeling bad, feeling right in an atmosphere of growth. You need to acknowledge all of these feelings in order to cultivate more happiness. Thinking about feeling good will enable you to generate more positive emotions. Thinking about feeling bad will enable you to remove feelings such as guilt, anger, etc. I also agree with this – you have to acknowledge these negative feelings otherwise you will suppress them and not deal with the underlying issue. 

People are adaptable – we quickly adjust to new life circumstances and consider it normal – this is a good thing when things are bad but when things are good, we get used to it and begin to expect/get accustomed to these things so the “feeling good” aspect wears off and it becomes what we view as normal. I think this is huge in the developed world. For example, we start to freak out when sending an email takes longer than 3 seconds because we have grown accustomed to expect instantaneous delivery when in reality we are SO fortunate to have these technologies at our finger tips!

Enthusiasm is more important to mastery than innate ability – most important element in expertise is willingness to practice. (and this is why I cannot seem to keep up with the piano…). Challenge and novelty are key elements to happiness – brain is simulated by surprise and successfully dealing with unexpected situations gives sense of satisfaction. This is a Paradox of Happiness: we seek to control our lives but unfamiliar and unexpected things are important sources of happiness. Challenge brings happiness because it allows you to expand your self-definition – you become larger.

Enjoy the now – the “arrival fallacy” = the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you will be happy – this is a fallacy because though you anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate. This makes total sense because as humans we then think “okay what next?” And we set our next goal and then start towards that. Therefore we need to enjoy the now and the whole process of reaching each goal!

Fog happiness – surrounds you and transforms the atmosphere but cannot be examined. This is the happiness you get from activities that don’t seem to bring much happiness at all when closely examined, yet somehow they do. i.e. having children, hosting a party, tc. which sometimes seem more stressful than anything!

4 stages of happiness (to get the most happiness out of an experience):

  • Must anticipate it
  • Savour it as it unfolds
  • Express happiness
  • Recall a happy memory

You can amplify or diminish any happy experience depending on how much attention you give it. The absence of feeling bad does not equal happiness – you must strive to find sources of feeling good. One way is to make time for play: a satisfying activity, no economic significance, no social harm and does not necessarily lead to praise or recognition.

Ask yourself: What do I find fun? What do I look forward to? Find energizing? Not feel guilty about?  You can choose what you do you but you cannot choose what you like to do. It doesn’t matter what you wish you were like, the truth is that you are who you are.

“Fun” falls into 3 categories:

  • Challenging fun: most rewarding and demanding – creates frustration, anxiety and hard work and energy but pays off with most satisfying fun
  • Accommodating fun: strengthens relationships, builds memories, takes effort, organization, coordination with others and accommodation
  • Relaxing fun: little coordination or preparation involved i.e. watching tv; passive

Challenging fun and accommodating fun bring the most happiness but require the most effort

Gretchen also dives into the topic of money. She writes of 3 factors that shape the significance of money to people:

  • It depends on what kind of person you are – different people have different life values
  • It depends on how you spend you money – some purchases contribute to happiness more than others
  • It depends on how much money you have relative to the people around you and relative to your own experience

Money (and health) don’t buy happiness but no money and bad health definitely bring unhappiness.

There are two kinds of people when it comes to money:

  • Satisficers – these people make a decision once criteria are met i.e. as soon as find hotel that meets criteria, stop looking and book it
  • Maximizers – these people want to make the optimal decision and want to examine every option/alternative
    • Satisficers are happier because maximizers spend lots of time and energy reaching decisions and often anxious about if make the best/right choice

Spend out: stop savings things for a good occasion/special occasion/no reason. This is HUGE for me. I have actually gotten much better at this over the years but I definitely remember a time when I would “save” every good body lotion I had or best blouse for a “special occasion”…that never seemed to come…

Mindfulness – becoming aware of yourself/your surroundings/your actions makes it easier to change the automatic choices/behaviours you make – stop walking on automatic. It is the cultivation of conscious, nonjudgmental awareness. Stop multitasking and pay attention to what you are doing in the moment. Benefits of mindfulness are: it calms the mind, gives clarity to experiences, helps break unhealthy habits, sooth and lift moods. For example, stop texting when talking to someone…pay attention to that person!

Gretchen highlights the Truths that she has discovered: (#1-4 are from the book and #5-8 from her website)

  • #1 To be happier you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, feeling right in an atmosphere of growth
  • #2 One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.  One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.
  • #3 The days are long but the years are short.
  • #4 If I think I am happier, I am happier.
  • #5 I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature.
  • #6 The only person I can change is myself.
  • #7 Happy people make people happy, but I can’t make someone be happy, and no one else can make me happy.
  • #8 Now is now.

 

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Overall I really enjoyed this book. Her writing is engaging and enjoyable to read. I do recommend this book and would love to hear if you have read it or if you have started your own Happiness Project! And if you have not, maybe now you will 🙂 

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