January 1, 2015

Book Review: The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

A memoir of Gretchen's yearlong pursuit of happiness.  She talks a lot about being aware of things that make her happy and making efforts to make herself and those around her happy.  Each month she chose a different area to focus on (Vitality, Marriage, Work, Parenthood, Leisure, Friendship, Money, Eternity, Books, Mindfulness, and Attitude) and chose resolutions for how to pusue happiness in those areas.  She looked at practical small things she could do to increase her happiness.  Anything from reducing clutter, to getting up 15 minutes earlier, to giving items away, to making 3 new friends.  One of her commandments that she started with and came back to several times throughout the book is "act the way I want to feel."  This idea had a big impact on me.  At first it sounds strange and she even acknowledges that the idea sounds like being fake.  But a lot of her findings showed that your perception of how happy you are is really what dictates happiness (more than events, surroundings, activities, relationships, etc.) and when she was faced with something that did not seem like something she would enjoy, she decided to act the way she wanted to feel and it would usually improve her mood and the activity. She also unpacked the idea that "happiness doesn't always make you feel happy" throughout several of the chapters.  Meaning that things that make us happy in the long-term don't always make us happy right now, but sticking with them brings ultimate happiness.  The author describes herself as a "reverent agnostic" so our worldviews are quite a bit different.  So I definitely would not model everything after her and there are some areas that I wouldn't focus on as much... but as a whole I thought this book was very eye-opening and gave me a lot to think about in terms of my relationships and my attitude.  First of the commandments to "be Gretchen" i.e. things that make me happy won't be the same things that make others happy and that's okay.  It's okay to pursue my own interests and not pursue things that don't interest me even though I feel like they should.  She also addresses the fact that the idea of a Happiness Project seems selfish at first glance, but that her goal was to improve to happiness of those around her.  I felt like most of her monthly goals focused on happiness within her relationships and as such I saw how this wasn't really a selfish aim for the most part

Highlighted Quotes
"I have an idea of who I wish I were, and that obscures my understanding of who I actually am.  Sometimes I pretend even to myself to enjoy activities that I don't really enjoy, such as shopping, or to be interested in subjects that don't much interest me, such as foreign policy.  And worse, I ignore my true desires and interests."

"It's rare to achieve something that brings unadulterated pleasure without added concerns.  Having a baby.  Getting a promotion.  Buying a house.  You look forward to reaching these destinations, but once you've reached them, they bring emotions other than sheer happiness.  And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals another, yet more challenging goal.  There's another hill to climb.  The challenge, therefore, is to take pleasure in the 'atmosphere of growth,' in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present.  The unpoetic name for this very powerful source of happiness is 'pre-goal-attainment positive affect.'
When I find myself focusing overmuch on the anticipated future happiness of arriving at a certain goal, I remind myself to 'Enjoy Now.'  If I can enjoy the present, I don't need to count on the happiness that is (or isn't) waiting for me in the future.  The fun part doesn't come later, now is the fun part."  

“That’s why, as part of my resolution to ‘be generous,’ I meant to cut people slack.

“...by doing a better job of acting happy when I knew that my happiness would make someone else happy.  I didn’t want to be fake, but I could make an effort to be less critical.  I could look for ways to be honestly enthusiastic--about foods that weren’t necessarily my favorite things to eat, activities that weren’t my first choice, or movies, books, and performances with which I could find fault.  Usually I could find something to praise.”

“It’s easier to complain than to laugh, easier to yell than to joke around, easier to be demanding than to be satisfied.  Keeping ‘a heart to be contented,’ I expected, would help change my actions.  I hit on several specific aspects of my attitude that I wanted to change.”

“In Eleanor Porter’s enormously successful 1913 novel, Pollyanna, Pollyanna plays the ‘glad game’: whatever happens to her, she finds a reason to be glad about it.  My own game, ‘Pollyanna Week’ would be a solid week of no negative comments.”

“My biggest happiness boosts had come from eliminating the bad feelings generated by my snapping, nagging, gossiping, being surrounded by clutter, eating fake food, drinking, and all the rest.  In particular, it made me happier to be in better control of my sharp tongue.”

No comments: