After many, many recommendations, I finally got around to reading The Happiness Project this month. I was pleasantly surprised. Gretchen Rubin doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all formula, and in fact acknowledges that one just doesn’t exist, but it is really interesting to follow along her own project. I’m usually a little skeptical of these “stunts” (I also recently read Julie and Julia, which wasn’t nearly as good), but Rubin exudes a smart self-awareness that I think many project undertakers lack. I usually list books on online swap sites once I’ve finished them, but this one is a keeper…I wonder what will stand out to me when I pick it up again in the future.
I’m generally a pretty happy person. Almost too happy, if you ask some people. Part of me is just wired to be unbelievably optimistic and smiley (joyful, you might say…but more on that further down). But even so, happiness doesn’t always come easy. I do think that you can take actions to make yourself happier…it isn’t something you should leave up to other people. Some of the points in this book really can be useful for applying to your life when you’re feeling slightly down.
Here are some of the points that really stuck out to me.
Find more fun. Rubin mentions a subway poster as a reminder to explore your surroundings.
“It was a photo of a Chinese food take-out container sitting on top of two videos. The caption read, ‘If this is how you spend your time, why are you living in New York?’”
As a Miami newbie, I try to remind myself of this regularly. This city is amazingly diverse and just about everything is new to me, but it’s so easy to sit at home with my laptop and Netflix.
Help people think big.
One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.
True and true. Criticize if you want, but I think the whole “fake it ’til you make it” shpeal works pretty well. I’ve even convinced myself of things I didn’t think were true until I tried it.
Maximizers v satisficers
Maximizers want to make the best decision and will research the heck out of something before taking action, while satisficers take action quickly once their (sometimes very high) criteria are met. I believe everyone has some mix of both; I know I do. In clothing shopping, I’m definitely a satisficer…if it’s in my size, in my mentally-fixed price range and fits the requirements I want, I’ll get it. I’m a super-fast shopper. To a point. Larger purchases I’m much less sure about and want to maximize my purchase. I’ve spent the last six months searching for the perfect wall art to go above my couch…so long, in fact, that some of my original options are no longer available. I’ve been living out of plastic dressers for the past 10 years, because I find it hard to commit to furniture (it just feels so…permanent).
But I tend make quick decisions on what I want in life, on a large scale. I made the decision to quit The New Professional in about two hours. I made the decision to bring back the blog in about the same amount of time. Granted, the consequences of these decisions were in no way life-changing. The decision to go freelance was made in about a day, and I’m withholding my next life decision until I’ve given myself a full year to really make the most of this opportunity. I’ve made some permanent life decisions pretty quickly, too…K was the first guy that asked me out on a real date, and I’ve never looked back.
Rubin surmises that satisficers are likely happier than maximizers, due to the fact that they are more confident in their decision and get satisfaction from their outcomes much quicker. I can see how that’s true, since I am much happier with the things I’ve already taken action on (career, marriage) than the things I haven’t (those plastic dressers!). I don’t think people should rush into decisions they’re not comfortable with, but if you’ve already found what you want, why keep looking around? (This doesn’t apply to everything…for example, I don’t think one should ever stop keeping an eye out for career opportunities, even if they are happy with their current job.)
Think yourself happy.
You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
You’re happy if you think you’re happy.
That person with the job, comfortable living situation and loads of loving friends? They might not be happy. If that’s you, think about why you aren’t happy…the answer might be more addressable than you think. Yes, you can convince yourself that you’re happy. Don’t be a victim of your own mind.
Happiness should not be confused with joy, although sometimes they overlap. Happiness comes and goes, like a mood. Happiness can be knocked askew by tragedy or hardship. Joy is a state of the heart, something that emanates from within, and is much more than just plastering a constant smile on your face or chirping positive platitudes. I believe joy comes from God and that no person or circumstance can take it away.
This is not how Rubin defines joy, however; she identifies joyous people are those who are “consistently good-tempered and positive.” Though she doesn’t identify a source of joy, I think she nails some other points on the head about how people often want to unload their problems on joyful people or knock them down. It’s hard to watch other people be positive when you just know there’s nothing positive about a situation. But what if you saw things from their point of view?
In the end, Rubin asserts that yes, she is happier at the end of this project. How does she know? She feels happier. Good for her. And I feel sort of happier after reading her book. I’m not moved to try a Happiness Project of my own (check out her starter kit here if you want to), but the book did reinforce a lot of my opinions that happiness is indeed within your control. The key to happiness is to start doing. Doing what is up to you and your personal circumstances and where you want to be, but if you don’t change something, the likeliness of your unhappiness changing is also nil. You don’t have to set your own guiding truths, but just think about where you want to be, and one (just one) action you can do to help you get there. One step at a time.