I've been picking up a lot of "stunt journalism" books these past few months, AKA where the author sets out to do one thing a day that scares her, or quit his desk job and eat his way around the world. For The Happiness Project, the author sets out to make monthly resolutions (in areas such as Family, Boost Energy, Aim Higher, Attitude, Mindfulness, and Marriage) to live a happier life. "The days are long, but the years are short" is her motto.
Upon purchase, I was immediately intrigued by Gretchen Rubin's project, but skeptical by how much change in "happiness" she could really bring to her life by setting resolutions such as remember birthdays, take time for projects, laugh out loud, and start a collection. (I tend to roll my eyes at the "live, laugh, love" Myspace-era posters that find their way into my life here & there).
I was convinced: wasn't happiness a choice dependent on circumstance, fleeting, and above all, a little selfish? I already make monthly resolutions, which tend to recycle themselves from unfulfilled resolutions of the past month, but was happiness even a worthwhile goal?
Surprisingly, Rubin does address the superficial concerns of trying to be happy, and the back-and-forth efforts of trying to "smile in the mornings," but then blowing up at her kids later that afternoon. Because happiness is a state, it's one of those things you can never FULLY achieve—something that Rubin notes at the end of her year of happiness. Yet, I enjoyed reading the monthly accounts of Rubin's very intentional efforts, and gleaning kernels of wisdom based on studies of happiness from Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Freud, and other famous authors and psychologists. For her, her happiness project included reading memoirs of catastrophe (to meditate on eternity/life/death), indulging in modest splurges, starting a children's books book club, acknowledging the reality of people's feelings, lightening up, avoiding "dumping" on others, or taking time for passion projects.
Given that I'm spending the year working in microfinance, I've been thinking a lot about money, and her chapter on Money really gave me good food for thought. While money can't buy happiness, Rubin provided a thoughtful of paragraph of things that money can be spent for/to invest in (on p. 171 + 174), such as:
I also loved the concept of "spending out," meaning using your beautiful Anthropologie linens NOW, instead of saving them for a special occasion in the future. Too often, "later" becomes "never" and you never get a chance to! In addition, instead of encouraging a big splurge (like the Prada Saffiano Cuir bag I'll never own), she encourages making a "modest splurge" if it'll really bring you that much more happiness. We frequently tend to have the mindset that spending money is self-indulgent and that we should be saving it instead, but if it's a little more money spent wisely, it can do well in bringing you worthwhile, longer-lasting happiness.
As humans who are sensitive to change, we need both spiritual and material growth in our lives. We are happy when we can measure our present vs. past, and see change for the better—whether that means looking back on the ways I've matured since a middle school naïveté (when I used emoji's like xD and :DDDD), or how someone might think back to their first car out of college.
It's always good to be in a habit of thinking how we can make life a little sweeter (hence, I'm a huge fan of monthly resolutions), and so while The Happiness Project seemed like a lot of dedicated attitude-changing tricks and sticking to little projects, I was nonetheless able to relate with the spirit of the book and think about how to intentionally be happier.