Great Read: The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project on The Sent

While it sounds like an overstatement, I can confidently say that The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin made me think more about my life and how I live it than any book I have read in the last ten years. This book was a best seller 5 years ago, but I somehow missed it when it first came out, although I do remember one of my best-read friends telling me I had to read it. Rubin’s voice and personality resonated with me, and I really appreciated how completely candid she is on the topic of happiness and how oddly difficult it is to achieve it. Her book was part scientific study, part autobiography, and part comedy as this type-A former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delves into the challenging work of making what is an already good life into one that is really and truly happier. This isn’t a “rags to riches” story, but one about someone who by all measures seems to have it all. And then she has an epiphany that she is blessed, but sort of coasting along feeling fine when she wants to feel great. For 12 months she hones in on her flaws and focuses on making changes that she feels are relevant to her happiness. Each month she tackles things like friendship, hobbies, health, and family relations. I loved that Rubin, a list-maker by nature, regularly walks the reader through stories and anecdotes about what she does to achieve a greater sense of happiness. Then at the end of each chapter she always creates a “cheat sheet” or list to synopsize the bullet points of her month – what worked and didn’t. The great take-aways for me (for those who may not read this book but are looking for a jolt of happiness in their day-to-day) are below. The bold phrases are Rubin’s observations or proofs. What is in italics is how I interpreted her discoveries.

To be happy, you need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

This was the basic thesis for the book. The first thing you need to do as you move towards a life with more happiness is to assess what you do that makes you feel good and do more of it. You also need to assess what makes you feel bad and do less of it. And all the while you have to realize that there is growth in both of these things. Taking on and letting go.

If you don’t believe you’re happy, you’re not happy.

Sometimes a positive attitude can shift things. If you wake up each day and say, “I am happy.” you are much more likely to start to truly feel it. Power of positive thinking baby.

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.

We all slip up. It doesn’t make sense to judge yourself on the day you eat a half a chocolate cake. Instead focus on the 6 other days that week that you ate relatively healthily.

You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.

Even if everyone you know swears by meditation – it isn’t worth embracing the trend if you don’t enjoy it. Not everything is for everyone. 

If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.

You have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone from time to time to really grow. Growth is key to happiness. Failing and rejection both hurt fiercely, but it is from them that we often achieve the most growth.

To be happy you don’t have to reject your life. You can change your life without changing your life, by finding more happiness in your own kitchen.

Not every day and everything we do has to be a major change. Sometimes small changes to the way we already do things is enough. And sometimes the keys to our happiness are staring us right in the face from the life we are leading. We just need to hone in on them.

Sleep and regular exercise boost energy and make it easier to feel happy.

No need to comment on this one. It’s pure truth.

Happiness has a particularly strong influence in marriage, because spouses pick up each other’s moods so easily.

Um. Hello. This one speaks for itself. Grumpy Lindley means sad John (my husband). Grumpiness wears off on others. Trust me. 

Experts say that denying bad feelings intensifies them; acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return.

Some times you just need to acknowledge your feelings, good or bad, and move on. This doesn’t mean you should bark out harsh feelings as they come to you. Think about them, process them, and then share them with a trusted confidant and make your peace with them. Holding a grudge is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Each member of a family picks up and reflects everyone else’s emotions — but of course you can’t change anyone’s actions except your own.

If you parent from a happy place you will see it change the way your children act. You can’t force them to act the way you want but you might see them change on their own because they are emulating you.

Research shows that regularly having fun is a key factor in having a happy life; people who have fun are twenty times as likely to feel happy.

When was the last time you played tag with your kids? Went cliff diving with your friends? Karaoke? Ping pong? You are never too old to act young. 

I can DO ANYTHING I want, but I can’t DO EVERYTHING I want.

Having your cake and eating it too isn’t always an option. Sometimes you have to prioritize and make choices. 

You need close long-term relationships, you need to be able to confide in others, you need to belong.

My darkest days are the ones when I convince my self I am alone on this complicated journey. I am blessed with great friends and family, but sometimes I lose sight of that. Negative patterns or mantras that have been with you a lifetime are very hard to break. These thoughts of loneliness rob you of happiness. Have faith in your people, confide in them, and hold tight to your relationships. They matter.   

Give without limits, give without expectations.

I too often give with the hope that someone will  notice. I require a lot of affirmation. Time and time again a few sage advisors in my life keep reminding me that giving with expectation will always lead to disappointment. Giving for the thrill of bringing happiness to others is what it is all about. 

Gratitude is important to happiness.

Gratitude means you are realizing the good that is unfolding in your life. When you realize the good, you will be more happy. 

It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet, everyone takes the happy person for granted.

I’ve realized that even though I hate to admit it – often my natural inclination is to be negative, judgmental, and heavy-hearted. After reading this book I realized how selfish that kind of attitude can be. I want to be a beam of light. A happy person who people look forward to seeing because my energy lifts them up. This book certainly gave me some food for thought about getting more happy. 


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