Book: “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

happiness
“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin (2011, Harper)

“The Happiness Project” is Gretchen Rubin’s report of her year-long exercise to increase her happiness through self-discovery and trying various activities.

Rubin describes how she started with small “happiness resolutions”, with different (and more difficult) ones each month.  For December, she decided to try to keep to all her resolutions from the whole year.

Rubin challenged herself to find out what her ‘rules’ were and how following them (or not) changed her happiness.

A part that stuck out to me was “you can’t choose what you like to do, you can only choose what you do“.  What Rubin means is that forcing ourselves to do things we strongly dislike because we think we ‘should’ doesn’t increase happiness.  For example, Rubin wants to be the kind of person who listens to cool jazz music rather than pop, perhaps because she feels that as an adult and professional that she ‘should’.  But she doesn’t.  So why did she force herself to listen to music she dislikes rather than accepting she likes what she does?  Discovering this and accepting it provided a great example of how she could take control of her happiness.

Of course, some tasks are unavoidable.  Rubin tries to reframe them and view them in ways that don’t drag down her mood.  She finds ways to see pleasure in even mundane things, until the habit becomes second nature.

Rubin is flexible with her time and wealthy in a city with lots of opportunities, so her experience may seem unachievable.  This book is less a “how to” guide than a “this is what I did” description.  However, it might give some ideas of how to carry out your own “Happiness Project”, in ways that suit your lifestyle.

What rules do you live by?  What do you do because you think you ‘should’ rather than because they make you happy?  Are these things you can stop, or reframe?  What made you happy to do as a child (acting, painting, singing?), and what caused you to stop?  Could you start again?

You can read a sample chapter of The Happiness Project here.

You can read Gretchen Rubin’s blog here.

New Year, New You? Not necessarily…

Image courtesy of Teerapun at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At this time of year so many of us make New Year’s Resolutions that are meant to change to way we look, feel and behave.  However, it’s also pretty common for them to fail.  So what can you do?

I’ve written before about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-limited).  SMART goals are a brilliant way to decide what you want to achieve and plan how to do it.  It’s also a useful way of breaking down bigger projects into smaller steps.

But if you’ve written out your SMART goals and still aren’t getting anywhere, what then?

First of all… why are you doing this?  Where have your goals and resolutions come from?  If a goal is based on the wishes of someone else, it can be more difficult to achieve.  Especially if you don’t really want to! You might decide the goal isn’t actually right for you at all, which might have consequences (good or bad) for your relationship with the person.  Or you might have to work a bit harder to appreciate how achieving the goal could end up being a good thing for everyone.

What will be the final outcome, and how will it help you?  So many people, for example, resolve to lose weight.  How will that help you, long-term?  What part of your life have you put on hold until you are ‘thin’ – and what stops you from doing it now?  Are other goals actually holding you back this way?

Do you really want this, or are you doing something you believe you “should”?  Perhaps you have an image in your head of the kind of person you ‘should’ be, but is it who you really are?  I am a big believer in the idea that self-acceptance is the first step towards happiness.  Two of my favourite quotes come from Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy.

“We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”

and

“It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function. This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.”

That is why I have said “Not necessarily” in the title of this post.  The quotations above mean that you are far more likely to make lasting changes that benefit you if you can start by accepting yourself as you are.  That can be difficult and scary, as it may mean looking honestly at parts of yourself you would rather not.  You might have flaws you have been trying to hide.  You might even be hiding good things about yourself, because it can be just as scary to think about what showing those things off might mean!

So what do you want to do?

Things that make you happy

While browsing online, I found an image that really struck me.  It said “Make a list of things that make you happy.  Make a list of things that you do every day.  Compare the lists.  Adjust accordingly.”  This fits in with my blog post of last week.

How many of us don’t make time for the things that make us happy?  Of course, we all have to do things every day that maybe we don’t want to… but in between, are we really doing all we can to maximise our happiness?  Do we perhaps make excuses instead?  Or perhaps we aren’t recognising those happy events for what they are?

“Positive Psychology” teaches us that, in general, the number of positive events in our daily lives is more than the number of negative events.  However, positive events and emotions tend to be much more subtle and easy to miss – negative events have a greater impact and it is easy to fall into the trap of focussing only on those.

So, what makes you happy?  Is it on both of your lists?  Can you find the time and energy to include happy events in your daily life… and notice them?