As promised, I’m going to blog my thoughts as I work my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I’m only through the first chapter, but I’ve already discovered my major problem where it comes to being happy: I am not really sure what makes me happy.
I know what brings me pleasure, and I can even point to moments of contentment, and the rush of uncovering something no other reporter knows and bringing it to light is freaking AMAZING … but are those things really happiness? I’ve passed on the wisdom before regarding the difference between happiness and pleasure (at least where moral issues are concerned), and if you ask 10 different people to define “happiness” you’d get 10 different answers, methinks. Hence the need for individual happiness projects; what rings my bells, may not ring yours. Yet, like folks who’ve said they know obscenity when they see it, Rubin says (and I agree) that we probably each know happiness when we see it. Problem is, at least for moi, I don’t pay close enough attention.
So, that’s the first step: Setting aside some time to think about what really TRULY makes me happy. And that thinking can make you a little crazy, Rubin writes. From the book:
“…as I thought about happiness, I kept running up against paradoxes. I wanted to change myself but accept myself. I wanted to take myself less seriously – and also more seriously. I wanted to use my time well, but I also wanted to wander, to play, to read at whim. … I was always on the edge of agitation; I wanted to let go of envy and anxiety about the future, yet keep my energy and ambition.”
“The laws of happiness are as fixed as the laws of chemistry,” Rubin writes, but even if one isn’t making up the laws from scratch, one needs to wrestle with those laws in light of one’s particular circumstance to develop a happiness plan and then figure out steps to implement that plan in one’s life. Use the research – i.e. one of the most important elements to happiness is social bonds – and find a way to apply that to your life. Then, baby stepping it, add something else that is particular to your happiness and figure out a plan to get more of that in your life.
For instance, I now know that work is key to my happiness; life after the closure of the Citizen has taught me that. But since I’ve not found fulltime employment, I’ve found that if I treat my training as “work” it increases my happiness as if it were a job. Not perfect, but in the right direction.
One of the best parts of Rubin’s first chapter was her list of Secrets to Adulthood. (Some of the secrets in the book are not included in the online link above and so I mention them here: Bring a sweater; do good, feel good; and people actually prefer that you buy wedding gifts from their registry.) Another great insight was her discovery that one goal of her happiness project was “to prepare for adversity – to develop the self-discipline and the mental habits to deal with a bad thing when it happened.” She didn’t want to wait for a crisis to remake her life. I think that’s great advice, although, for me, being unemployed has turned out to be more of a crisis than I imagined, so I’m going to start where I am.
If you’re wondering just how happy you might be, you can take the Authentic Happiness Inventory Questionnaire (you have to register online to take it), but keep in mind Rubin’s words: you don’t have to be unhappy to start a happiness project. You just have to want to make a change. And for me, for this week or so, I’m going to just focus on writing down the times I feel happy (and unhappy) and see if I can come up with a list of what makes me happy so I can move onto the next section of the book where resolutions are developed out of those happiness goals.
POSTSCRIPT: I just got back from riding seven miles on the Rillito River bike trail, something I’ve wanted to do ever since we moved to Tucson 10 years ago. I went with my rock-n-roll son, and at one point I heard myself say, “This is great, I’m so happy!” Upon reflection, I realized I am always happy when I’m enjoying outside exercise, if I’m with family or friends. So, that’s top of the aforementioned “What makes me happy” list: Exercising outside with family or friends.