Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

subtitled Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.  Check out Gretchen Rubin's blog here.

Since I don't consider myself the most spiritual of individuals, if I ever decided to pursue my own happiness project, I probably would have gone about it the way Ms. Rubin did, i.e. with lots of checklists and lots of research.  It would probably feel a bit forced but I would ultimately convince myself that it was worth it in the end because one of the quotes I would have discovered in my research would have said so.

I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek here.  While The Happiness Project was an enjoyable read, I found it to be a bit too academic and not organic enough.  Too many quotes and sayings and teachings influenced Ms. Rubin's project and her thinking.  The book sometimes feels like one quote after another that Ms. Rubin is tying together.  Elizabeth Gilbert does a similar thing in Eat, Pray, Love but somehow it felt a little more natural.  Maybe because Gilbert's approach to her own happiness project was less planned.  Nonetheless,  I feel the Happiness Project was indeed a noble project but at the same time I had some nagging concerns.

See, obviously Ms. Rubin has means (both financial and otherwise).  There's really no way your everyday, daily-to-work, breaking-a-real-sweat-to-pay-the bills, it's all on your shoulders kind of person could have pulled off a similar project--at least not that extent.   I look at my own life, recognizing how incredibly blessed we are that we can afford to be a single-family household, and note some things that seriously put a damper on my happiness.  I love to read and write but being the one primarily responsible for running my household and taking care of my children, I have precious little time to do it.  There is no extra in our budget to hire a babysitter and I don't really have any family close by that I could ask to watch the kids for a four or five hour stretch.  So as I'm writing this blog, this is what I'm dealing with:  it is about 15 minutes past the time I should be putting the boys to bed but I am trying my darndedst to get this piece done.  Z2 has pooped yet again and he is stinky all the way to the high heavens.  Z1 is playing basketball in the house again even though he's been told numerous times not to.  Z2 then starts climbing all over me so I push him aside trying to get another sentence in.  I hear some loud crash in Z1's room followed by an "Oh, no!"  Turns out Z1 has hit and broken the wall clock with his basketball.  Now I am about 30 minutes late in the bedtime routine and worried about what this clean-up is going to look like.  (((Sigh))) I type in the last few sentences and hit publish, exhausted by the effort and wishing I had those quiet moments in the library  with a laptop like Ms. Rubin so I could write in relative peace.  (Compared to all the ruckus going on while I try to write, I think I wouldn't mind the lady next to me in the library constantly sighing.)  For me, doing the things that make me happy means not doing other things that would make me happy.  Our late evening last night translated into me missing my beloved yoga class this morning although  it could be argued that at least I'm investing in my happiness by taking yoga classes in the first place.  My writing pushed out my yoga class, although I will practice at home today.  Adding these extra sentences to this blog post is again eating away at my time to practice before Z2 gets up--actually, he already got up but the hubby managed to get him back down which bought me some time--I should really be practicing not writing--but I love and need to write!  It's a constant juggling act trying to fit in the things I know would make me happier into the limited time  have and to do those things within the limited budget I have. 

Now, I will totally agree that there are practical things we could each do to make ourselves happier every day.  And I most totally agree that we are in control of our own happiness.  But for most of us, the things that we think would make us happy are often just out of our reach (most often because of finances) or too difficult to finagle.  For most us, we simply don't know exactly what will make us happy yet we strive thinking that if we could just get that promotion, that new phone, one more child, we'd be set only to find out when we get it that we're still feeling a lack.  I think that was the biggest thing I took away from the excellent documentary This Emotional Life.  

But Ms. Rubin gives it an honest shot and I think she comes to the same conclusion I've come to:  that to be truly happy the only requirement is to be who you are.  BE YOURSELF!  Now that is a high and lofty goal if you think about it because we've spent so much of our lives trying to be who we are not.  Trying to fit into boxes that others have created and insisted that we fit into.  It may take an entire lifetime to get to the very bottom of who we are but it is an important undertaking, I think.  And for that reason, I admire Ms. Rubin's efforts.

And as Ms. Rubin rightfully points out:  our happiness in turn makes those around us happy and if those around us are happy then we will be happy.  But I, being a daughter of immigrants, can never shake the feeling that our happiness in America often comes at the cost of the happiness of those in less affluent locales like Nigeria (although many will argue that Americans aren't that happy anyway).  Ms. Rubin's way of handling that issue was to say that people can be happy in any situation essentially but then when they have more money, they can really focus on the things that bring them happiness since they're not focused on the knitty-gritty of survival.  Well, of course.   That made me a bit uneasy, though.  I think it's a very American/Westernized way of being but at the same time I recognize that within my small sphere of existence, there's nothing I can personally do to influence the happiness of someone living in abject poverty.  Hell, I can only do so much to influence the happiness of my own flesh-and-blood child.  So I guess I kind of agree with Ms. Rubin surprisingly:  I better start focusing on my own happiness. 

Also, Ms. Rubin concludes that another important aspect of happiness is the "atmosphere of growth," i.e. feeling like you're making progress toward a goal and not necessarily the accomplishment of that actual goal.   On this point, I can't argue.  One of the thrilling things for me in my yoga practice is watching advanced yogis do things.  I know I couldn't possibly put my foot around my neck but it is fun and makes me happy to keep working toward it.  Yoga is also great in this regard because once I reach that goal, there are many, many others to work toward.  That's why they say yoga is a journey and not a destination.  And that's why it rings so true that the point of any journey is not the end but the process. 

As usual, if you read the reviews there are people whining about how the book is narcissistic and yadda, yadda, yadda.  Well, yeah.  She even says it is very self-centered but that a project completely focused on her own happiness could only serve to improve the happiness of all those around her.  What's the harm then in undertaking such a project?  My spiritual practice is self-centered yet I know that the higher I can make my vibration by studying and praying, the better off everyone around me is.  It's supposed to be self-centered.  Gandhi said it best:  Be the change you want to be in the world.

The book didn't offer any brand new insights or inspire me to start my own Happiness Project but it did indeed make me want to think about little things I can do to bring more joy and happiness into my life.  A word of thanks instead of complaint.  Singing a song instead of mumbling.  Deciding to stay at home even though there are "fun" activities happening.  Meditating on ways to infuse my day with things that bring me more joy (because just because those things bring everyone else joy doesn't mean that will be the case for me--another salient point Ms. Rubin makes--Be you!).  Just a general commitment to be mindful about ways to infuse my days with more happiness, playfulness and laughter.  Because as Ms. Rubin says:  the days are long but the years are short.  How true!

This was a good book--an interesting read.  I had to rush through it though because I couldn't renew it since it had a hold on it.  It's quite popular.  I guess everyone is looking for ways to achieve happiness.  Ain't nothing wrong with that.

Edited 05.20.10
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
I hope you enjoy my musings that I share with you here on my blog. If you would like to use any written content on my blog, please ask and/or reference my blog correctly. Thank you.