The Happiness Project

27 April 2015 Comments Off on The Happiness Project


Doesn’t sound like much of a project, does it? Happiness seems easy enough. It should come naturally. Still, author Gretchen Rubin decided to improve her life by conducting a 12-month-long experiment focused on 12 aspects of her life that would make her “sing in the morning, clean [her] closets, fight right, read Aristotle and generally have more fun.” Upon achieving success, she decided to sell her findings in the form of a book: a self-help book on how to “change your life without changing your life.”

I read “The Happiness Project.” It’s quite funny that I did, because I had spent a considerable amount of time (like, a few years) mocking my poor big brother for reading these kinds of books. Or rather, sticking snippets of them on the mirrors in his house—motivational quotes, like “Be better today.” That particular one is as made up as it sounds; I eventually made him take them down, so I don’t actually remember them anymore. Oh, the irony: who could possibly have known I would need one years later for a piece I was writing on a “motivational” book I myself had read?

I now understand, though, why my brother was so into the post-its on the mirrors. Happiness doesn’t in fact come naturally. We need to work for it. We need to think positively. We need to remind ourselves to take things lightly. We need to remember that in tough times, we should take life one step at a time. One step, then another. One more step. Look down at the ground, feeling your legs move. See your feet. Feel them moving on their own. Feel the jolt your upper body gets every time you lift the extremity. It is extreme: it’s no longer a part of you. Oh, look, there goes the other one. You’re no longer commanding them. It’s just easier to continue moving than it is to stand still. And suddenly, you’re there.

A big part of happiness, though, is the prospect of the next stop. What’s the point of being “there” if there’s nowhere else to go? Why not just roll over and die? We are, in our origins, a nomadic species. We want to keep moving. We want to feel our growth. That’s one of Rubin’s points, called her “Splendid Truths of Happiness.” There are eight of them. This one says, “To be happy, think about feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.” Not succinct, but it makes its point. We want to feel good, obviously. But even if we feel good, we sometimes don’t feel “right.” This is what a lot of self-exploration stories, such as “Eat, Pray, Love,” are based on. It happens because when we feel “good,” we may ignore the fact that we don’t feel right. Feeling good is something we’re taught. We learn to feel good about certain things, even if we don’t necessarily care. Feeling right, on the other hand, we always know, deep down.

I like that feeling bad is a part of the equation. We sometimes do feel bad, and that’s okay. If we didn’t feel bad, we wouldn’t know when we felt good, and perhaps more importantly, we wouldn’t be able to deal with the feeling. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Life is what we make of it. On a cold day, I’m actually more likely to try to trade the lemons for cocoa and make some hot chocolate. Who wants lemonade without the Sun? Not me. I would drink the hot chocolate out of a huge mug with a large rim, the kind they make to be sold as gifts. It would cover my entire face while I was drinking. And a nice warm sweater… ah, the joy.

The little things matter. They matter very much, whether they’re for ourselves or for others. It’s not just that little things make us happy, but also that the magic word “happiness” is made up of little things. As Gretchen Rubin points out, a big part of happiness is finding the energy to be happy—sleep well, exercise and, sometimes, act the part until it’s real. Another big part is to maintain some order in your environment. We feel happier without the clutter and the mess. I, personally, feel much better if I don’t have to move a pile of clothes from my bed to my chair and back several times a day. I also feel much better if I’m dressed in relatively new, clean clothes as opposed to not changing my PJ bottoms for weeks because “no one will see me anyway.” It’s not about them, it’s about me.

Except that it is also about them. Our environment isn’t just our house; it’s our friends and family, too. To be happy, keep them happy. Do the little things: call, get an extra cup of coffee, remember birthdays… just do it; it’s not that hard.

I realize I’ve gone off topic more than once in this piece. That’s a sign, though. Happiness, joy and ecstasy are feelings that we all look all over for, and that we should look for, since “there is nothing lost, but maybe found, if sought” (not Rubin). But, despite Rubin’s experiment, I don’t think we need to kill ourselves with the effort to perfect happiness. When you find a happy moment, let go of the search and seize it. You can pick up where you left off later. As she would agree, however, “be a keeper of happy memories.” It maximizes the effect of the moment to be able to look at a photograph, a ticket stub or a note (sadly, no one writes letters anymore) later. Souvenirs are horcruxes—they let you go back, if only briefly. Anyone who doesn’t know what a horcrux is should read a bit of Harry Potter. I don’t care how old you are, it will make you feel good.

This piece is filled with so many sidetracks that it actually reveals little about the book—and maybe that’s not so bad. If you’re feeling down, and if the seven Harry Potter novels would take too much time to read, read Rubin’s book. It’s easy, it’s light, it’s useful. It offers a lot of good tips. To close, I’ve got got three questions (from the book) for you to ask yourself during moments of trial:

1. What would I do if I weren’t scared?

2. Imagine the eulogy: how do I want to be remembered?

And my personal favorite,

3. If you can’t get out of it, get into it.