It’s been a great week at Barnes & Noble! Tonight I saw Gretchen Rubin, who wrote a recently published book called The Happiness Project. I saw the book in the bookstore on January 2 (the day after New Year’s) and made a beeline for it– the turquoise blue color on the cover leaps at you from across the room. And who can resist the subtitle– “Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun?”
The author is a former lawyer turned writer, who is married with two little girls and lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. One day, when riding the cross-town bus, she looked out the window and wondered, “What do I want out of life?” She realized that she wanted to be happy. She decided at that moment that she should figure out what to do to make herself happier– to start her own “happiness project.” She subsequently spent a year researching happiness, from sources including philosophy, biography, literature, psychology, and popular culture, and then tested the different theories by making specific resolutions and acting on them each month.
She has a different focus for each month, specifically: January, boost energy (vitality); February, remember love (marriage); March, aim higher (work); April, lighten up (parenthood); May, be serious about play (leisure); June, make time for friends (friendship); July, buy some happiness (money); August, contemplate the heavens (serenity); September, pursue a passion (books); October, pay attention (mindfulness); November, keep a conented heart (attitude); December, “boot camp perfect” (happiness).
She defines what she calls the 12 commandments: 1. Be Gretchen; 2. Let it go; 3. Act the way I want to feel; 4. Do it now; 5. Be polite and be fair; 6. Enjoy the process; 7. Spend out; 8. Identify the problem; 9. Lighten up; 10. Do what ought to be done; 11. No calculation; 12. There is only love. She also defines what she calls the “secrets of adulthood.” They’re too numerous to list here, but some of my favorites are “People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think,” “By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished,” and “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”
She states the Splendid Truths: 1. To be happy, think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. 2. One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; and one of the best ways to make other people happy is to make yourself happy. 3. The days are long, but the years are short. 4. You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy; and (corollary) you’re happy if you think you’re happy.
The reading and signing at B&N was packed– people were standing at the back. Gretchen Rubin also has a popular blog on the subject, and apparently there are groups all over the country who are developing Happiness Projects of their own. The author tapped into a need– lots of people are looking for things to do to be happier, particularly in a time of stress, war, and economic recession. Most of the ideas Gretchen proposes don’t cost money, but rather represent personal improvement steps that you can take within yourself and in your interactions with others. I learned that the idea of doing something for a year– a la Julie and Julia (cook your way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking) or the Happiness Project is called Method Journalism.
I have several thoughts about The Happiness Project. It was a lovely book to read; I think it will help people; and it gave me ideas to implement in my own life. On the other hand, you could argue that you have to reach a certain comfort in life (ie not worrying about physical safety, financial security, physical health, etc.) to have the luxuy of being able to be concerned about increasing your happiness. The author raises this concern herself and addresses it in the book. She’s not suggesting that you make yourself happy to the exclusion of doing things to make the world better; in fact, she points out that one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. And what she’s talking about seems to be of interest to others– as of now, the book is #2 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
I guess what I’m doing this year could be considered a form of Method Journalism– checking out the survivorship classes and other activities that might be helpful to fellow survivors. Maybe it’s The Happiness Project: Survivors’ Edition.