Book of the month: February

“I am happy - but I’m not as happy as I should be. I have such a good life, I want to appreciate it more - and live up to it better. […] I complain too much , I get annoyed more than I should. I should be more grateful. I think if I felt happier, I’d behave better.”

Does this resonate with anyone? I often feel this way. I have so many privileges, that most people in this world just dream of. More than just the basics of a roof over my head and food on the table, I have a wonderful family, supportive friends, and I do what I love for a living. Yet, I often fall into a hole of self pity, being annoyed at the little things, and just feel like life and happiness have been sucked out of me.

“People are very adaptable, and we quickly adjust to a new life circumstance - for better or worse - and consider it normal. Although this helps us when our situation worsens, it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges. This “hedonic treadmill”, as it’s called, makes it easy to grow accustomed to some of the things that make you “feel good”, such as a new car, a new job title, or air conditioning, so that the good feelings wear off.”

Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” has been on my bookshelf for a while. In January I decided, now is the time. It’s a new year, I get to set new intentions for 2018, I will finally read this book. And as with every book you read - it came at the perfect time of my life. A lot of things have happened these last few months, that just made me realize, I need to bring the joy back. The passing of loved ones, decisions on how I ease back into working more, and overall bickering at home made me crave tools to change this. And Rubin delivers!

“I tidied, I cleared, I organized, I turned off the light. I sang in the morning, I laughed out lout, I acknowledged people’s feelings, I left things unsaid. I blogged, I asked for help, I pushed myself, I showed up, I went off the path. I wrote in my one-sentence journal. I met with my writers’ strategy group and my children’s literature reading group. I listened to my hypnosis tape. I didn’t eat fake food. I bought needful things.”

“The Happiness Project” follows a year of happiness research in Rubin’s life. She basically takes all the tools, all the studies done on happiness, and creates a resolution chart. Every month she tackles a different area in her life:

  • January: vitality

  • February: marriage

  • March: work

  • April: parenthood

  • May: leisure

  • June: friendship

  • July: money

  • August: eternity

  • September: books

  • October: mindfulness

  • November: attitude

  • December: happiness

For each area, she tries every tip out there, writes about what worked for her, and what doesn’t. She then adds the new month’s resolutions to the last month’s one in the hopes of getting closer to more happiness in her life. Of course happiness can’t be measured on a scale, but she does check in with herself every month to see if a tool made her feel more happy and brings more joy or if it was purely a waste of time, effort, and money.

Rubin writes with so much enthusiasm and honesty, it makes you feel like you are sitting with your best friend over a glass of wine hearing her talk about her latest project. ​​

"To be happy, I needed to generate more positive emotions, so that I increased the amount of joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, gratitude, intimacy, and friendship in my life. That wasn't hard to understand. I also needed to remove sources of bad feelings, so that I suffered less guilt, remorse, shame, anger, envy, boredom, and irritation. Also easy to understand. And apart from feeling more "good" and less "bad", I saw that I also needed to consider feeling right."

So many little bits and pieces really resonated with me, but the most important one was feeling right. Feeling right in your life. Feeling right in your job. Feeling right in your relationships. Technically, I should feel happy with the friends I have, but some just seriously drain me. I decided to let some fade away, while I try harder to keep the ones that light me up, in my life. It has made a huge difference to how I feel.

“The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. 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.”

A whole topic Rubin really tackles well is the selfishness of being happy. It’s kind of the same selfishness I talked about when it comes to self love. Being happy is hard work, so is taking care of yourself. But both are necessary to live a more fulfilled life, especially when you want to help others. No one wants to be around someone, who is constantly unhappy and sad. Lifting someone else out of that misery and helping them live a better life is truly a skill you need to work on.

Rubin also writes about how inviting more happiness into your life helps you deal with the downs that are inevitably coming your way. Just because you work on more happiness in your life, doesn’t mean that there won’t be sad moments. Having tools to get happy again on hand will help you to come out of these sad moments much quicker though.

“You hit a goal, you keep a resolution. “Run a marathon” makes a good goal. It’s specific, it’s easy to measure success, and once you’ve done it, you’ve done it. “Sing in the morning” and “Exercise better” are better cast as resolutions. You won’t wake up one day and find that you’ve achieved it. It’s something that you resolve to do every day, forever.”

Perhaps this book can help you set new intentions for yourself this year. It’s the right time to read it - now! I promise you, you will take away from new ideas of how to incorporate more happiness into your life. The top things I have tried are:

  • Leaving things unsaid: if it’s not kind, don’t say it

  • Taking time for projects with Baby Zand: we are currently expanding our herb and lettuce garden together, we make play dough from scratch, and hold tea parties for her stuffed animals. And it’s soooo much fun!

  • Give myself permission to not finish a book: seriously, no matter how much I would hate a book, I would always finish it in the hopes that something good will come out of it. It’s such a small thing, and it has given me so much more joy when it comes to my passion of reading books.

  • And finally “be me”: Rubin created her twelve commandments together with her resolution chart. These overarching principles were her way of helping her to keep her resolutions (like “Do it now” or “Enjoy the process”). One of them was “Be Gretchen”, and that hit home. Sometimes I try to be someone else in the hopes that I will get to their end point, their happiness, their success. It never works, and now on a daily basis I remind myself to “be Martina”

“Acting happy, and even more, being happy is challenging. Furthermore - and it took me a long time to accept this perverse fact - many people don’t want to be happy or at least don’t want to seem happy (and if they act as if they’re not happy, they’re not going to feel happy).”

Pick up this book today. You will definitely come out with a few tools to create more happiness in your own life. And isn’t that what we all want?

For more information:

Gretchen Rubin:

on Instagram: gretchenrubin

on Facebook: GretchenRubin

Buy your copy of “The Happiness Project" on Amazon

#healthtips #selflove #rituals