I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s interesting bestseller The Happiness Project. In this self-described “stunt” book, Gretchen spends a year systematically working to become a happier person and to understand the nature of happiness. Gretchen frames her journey in a way that facilitates the reader’s self-reflection without becoming a workbook. At the end of the year, Gretchen decides that she is in fact happier — and perhaps, most importantly, has become more aligned with her #1 Personal Commandment to “Be Gretchen.”
In addition to her Twelve Personal Commandments and her secrets of adulthood, Gretchen arrives at Four Splendid Truths. The first Splendid Truths is: To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
I gave this some thought. Gretchen points out that we often fall into the trap of subscribing to things that make other people happy, thinking that those things should make us happy, too. Many people love good food and dining out, for example. Gretchen doesn’t. Accepting this truth is important. Why invest hours in a doll collection that is “supposed” to make you feel happy when in fact nothing about dolls resonates with you? Or taking your kids to the zoo when you really hate zoos?
I enjoyed Gretchen’s book a lot, although I found myself frequently wondering how she managed to read as many books as she did and where her children were while she worked. Her older daughter was in elementary school, but her younger daughter seemed to be barely a toddler when Gretchen started her project — and while Gretchen spent many hours reading, researching, blogging, thinking, and writing, I never figured out where the little one was during that time. Babysitter? Daycare? Of course, as a blogging writer/mother, I was eager to know how these logistics were taken care of. At one point Gretchen decides to take her older daughter out for an occasional after-school one-on-one adventure, although she struggles internally with giving up the work time. So it sounds like there was fulltime coverage for the little one. Not sure why, but given the level of detail that Gretchen shares about how she accomplished her project, I couldn’t understand this oversight. (Maybe I just missed where Gretchen spoke to childcare — if you caught something, please share!)
Naturally, Gretchen’s story prompted me to think about my own desire to be happy. While I don’t seek happiness so much as contentment, I started thinking about what kinds of things really make me feel good, bad, and right, “in an atmosphere of growth.” The growth part is important, because sometimes you have to push outside your comfort zone in order to find something new that makes you happy. The trick is being able to figure out which initially uncomfortable pursuits lead you away from being yourself, and which might end up bringing you closer.
So, what makes me feel good? What are the things that I can actually DO that make me feel good? When I first sat down to make the list, I was a little taken aback when I could only come up with 3 or 4 things. Since then, however, the list has grown:
- Reading books
- Reading blogs about creativity and motherhood
- Reading about time-management and domestic organization
- Reading most anything (lol)
- Taking photographs
- Making things
- Doing crossword puzzles
- Writing poetry
- Being outside
- Doing right by my children
- Reading aloud with my kids or my husband
- Making connections between other people
- Feeling prepared (planning, organizing, anticipating, thinking through the details)
I can’t help but notice that writing — as in, working on my novel and my nonfiction book project — isn’t on the list. What does that mean? Does that kind of writing just feel too much like “work” to make me feel good? I could say that it feels good when I’m writing and the words are really flowing and I’m not in control, but putting “visits from the muse” on my list seemed too far afield of anything actionable. You’ll also note that “running” isn’t on the list, even though I ran a half-marathon last year and subscribe to the transformative power of running. The truth is, I have never been excited about running, even though I have come to see it as a necessary evil.
What makes me feel bad?
- Domestic chaos (this is a big one for me — chaos makes me very unhappy)
- Being late (which I often am)
- Feeling like I let my kids down
- Being disconnected to my husband
- Taking on more than I can handle (uhm, yeah)
- Letting too much time elapse between creative stints
- Eating sugar
- Being overdue for exercise
When do I feel “right”?
- Choosing to be vegetarian even though it isn’t always convenient or fun
- Deciding not to share something gossipy even though the sharing might seem like connection-building
- Biting my tongue when I’m confident that I’m “right” about something factual and the other person is wrong (no point in arguing about something unimportant, is there?)
What about you? What makes you feel good, bad, and right? Where do creativity and motherhood fit into your lists? Are you able to do those things on a daily basis?
I’ll be writing more about The Happiness Project, and about living a life of intention — which is my latest objective. I may not be able to control the way life unfolds, but I can apply my intentions to whatever happens. In the broadest sense, for me happiness lies in honoring my intentions. This requires real clarity on what those intentions are. (Hence my new planner.)