Monday, February 15, 2010

My Happiness Project - thoughts about THE BOOK

Mondays here at Loving My Children's Gifts are devoted to finding your happiness, inspired by Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project.  

Gretchen recently posted a request for help on her own blog.  She asked that anyone conducting their own happiness project through groups, blogging, or elsewhere consider doing a review of her book - so that others can learn more about it.  Considering the emphasis I'm putting on the book, blog, and ideas therein, I am happy to oblige.  Plus, who doesn't love giving their opinion?  

As a whole, I found the book inspiring.  That should come as no surprise to any of you who read my Monday posts.  Gretchen uses wit, self-deprecating humor and heavily relies on research to support her theories.  In short, my kinda gal when it comes to writing style and delivery.  

Gretchen uses a month by month approach, giving details about her resolutions each month.  I didn't learn until the book that each set of resolutions is meant to carry over every month, so that by the time December rolls around (if you start in January), you could be what she termed "boot camp perfect," because you will have been doing some resolutions for months.  She also strongly suggests keeping them charted.  This can be done easily on a spread sheet and printed.  She emailed me samples of her resolutions with a template.  I've just copied the template and taped it into a notebook with room to take notes and keep a food log every month, for example.  

Specific Examples (from the book - I've tailored my year from hers - see below)

January  - boost your energy month (clean closets, go to bed earlier, do something hard on to do list daily)
Februrary - love (with significant other - quit nagging, don't expect praise, give proofs of love)
March - work (ask for help, work smart, enjoy now)

And so on, through the entire year.  

Throughout the book she admits worry that some would find it selfish or condescending.  Where does she have the authority to write an entire book telling others to be happy?  Why would anyone care about the little things she did over the course of a year - wouldn't people find it boring or worse, condescending?  

It is in this humility that she brings the concepts alive.  Maybe I would have become discouraged, or even annoyed by her seemingly endless amount of time to accomplish all of this (compared to my own paltry 2-3 hours per day of "work" time, for example) and put the book down.  But I found myself drawn in by her own admissions of "what makes me special?" and became determined to create my own project, on a different scale from hers.  

For example, I won't do what she does and write an entire novel in a month.  While my passion for writing has been re-ignited, I don't have that capability in this calendar year.  But I am devoting time in one of my months to developing some book ideas I've had - research, outlines, etc.  And that's the beauty of the book - everyone can benefit from a happiness project of their own, no matter the scale.  You create your own project.  

I absolutely agree with her that a project of this level must be monitored.  She talks extensively throughout the book about how she didn't want to try this (actually couldn't) by taking a months long sabbatical somewhere.  She wanted to do it at home, with her family - she wanted to discover if a person could discover happiness "in their own kitchen."  

This resonated deeply with me (and many others I'm sure).  So many people aren't in a position to go away and "find" their happiness, like Billy Crytal in the movie City Slickers, or Thoreau at Walden Pond.  And truly, I don't want to live my life waiting for our vacations to enjoy life, yearning to "get away from it all" to feel fulfilled.  

THIS is my life, right now.  If changing a few small things every month can help me appreciate the moments, then I'm all for it.  But I can't just SAY I'm going to change myself - doing the resolutions on paper is important - no, paramount, to having success in this project.   

If you read the book and don't do the resolutions, you'll still feel good after reading it.  It's that kind of uplifting book that makes a person feel like they can tackle the mundaneness of life.  Your experience will be much, much richer, however, if you take steps to DO resolutions for your own project, rather than just read about it.  

One final note:  Gretchen wisely points out that you never know what's around the corner.  You don't know "when the phone's going to ring" with a call that could change your life forever and make you look back and say "before X, that's when I was actually happy.  I just didn't know it and didn't appreciate it then."  So true, isn't it?  I talk a lot on this blog about the little things in life that can be so hard, so seemingly difficult in an otherwise blessed life.  I don't know what's coming for us - but something will.  And that's not being pessimistic - it's acknowledging life - everyone has life changing moments, events that occur that you often can't prepare for.  To try and prepare for these inevitable changes by taking the steps to improve your outlook NOW really calls to me as a human being.  

Bottom line of the world's longest book review?  Buy it.  Enjoy it.  Try to do it - no matter the scale.  Often just making an effort makes you feel better.  And feeling better helps with contentment and happiness.  

As always, I welcome your thoughts.  :)  
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