Barely 36 hours after I got off a plane in New York, I was back on a different plane heading back down south. It felt like I spent as much time in airplanes or airports as I did anywhere else this weekend, but it did give me a chance to do something I’ve been trying to do for weeks now: finish my book!
Susannah gave me this book for Christmas, but it sat on the bookshelf for a couple of months before it was put to any use. At the time, I was still in the middle of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, and I started reading The Hunger Games as soon as I finished that, so I didn’t get to start The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin until my visit to Savannah last month.
Rubin, the author of this book, is a writer living in New York City with her husband and two daughters – by all definitions, a relatively average person (well, except for the Ivy League education and the Manhattan apartment). In fact, she was very generally happy, except that she realized one day that she probably could – and should – be a lot happier. So she spent a full year tackling this goal in an extremely systematic manner. Each month was dedicated to a different area of life contributing to happiness: marriage, attitude, vitality, parenthood, as some examples. She chronicled her progress, her successes and many failures, and what she learned along the way.
This book is AMAZING. It’s entertaining yet informative, encourages morality and virtue without being too preachy, inspiring while still being down-to-earth. It’s really about being conscious of your surroundings and aware of your own contributions, and how, as the book jacket says, “the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.”
This sounds slightly silly and rather lofty even as I write it. I’m not one for self-help books or the newest fad of enlightenment. The Happiness Project is just about making the most of your very ordinary life, which I think is a nice idea.
One of my favorite things about this book is that it is just so very quotable, both first- and second-hand. As soon as I finished reading the last page, I flipped back to the beginning and started again, this time with highlighter in hand. The author did copious research on happiness (most of which sent my psych-major brain into excitable overdrive) and constantly references philosophers, politicians, theologians, and writers who mused on the subject. She also mentions how keeping record of her favorite quotes gave her a source of inspiration to return to, and that’s something I definitely relate to.
In college, my friend Ben had covered the entire four walls of his teeny tiny bedroom with neon sticky notes, each with a different quote he had come across and enjoyed. There were quotes on love, humor, leadership, education, and almost anything else imaginable. Even though I liked many of them as well, they were Ben’s quotes, not mine – but I loved the thought that he was surrounded by them anywhere he looked. I have a collection of my own favorite quotes now, and even though the effect of a OneNote document is not quite as grand as a room full of sticky notes, I still like to look at it.
I don’t gravitate toward the idea of molding a year of my life around charts, rules, and regulations, but there are many things that I took away from this book, and even since finishing it on the plane yesterday afternoon, I’ve had a chance to try a few of them out.
Act the way you want to feel. The author makes this happiness commandment early in the book, so I actually got to test-drive it before I’d even finished. It’s amazing how effective this is. Planning an entire bridal shower long-distance and flying 500 miles for less than two days to put it on was no picnic, and I found myself feeling stressed out and even mildly resentful by the day of the shower. I didn’t want to be such a brat, though. I wanted to feel accomplished, have fun, and be gracious – so I acted that way, and it only took about fifteen minutes before I actually was all those things.
Cut people slack. I don’t have a terribly hard time doing this normally, but it never hurts to be reminded of it. Now this story is downright stupendous. About halfway through the two-hour drive from Newport News back to the Outer Banks, I made a pit stop at McDonald’s because I need a mocha frappe or I was going to keel over and die (hey, it’s in my blood). I ordered a small one and stepped out of the way to wait. The place was crazy busy and many customers were visibly impatient. I was hungry, I felt gross from being on airplanes all day, but I thought of my book and I told myself, “Cut people slack,” so I chilled out and smiled around at everyone like a goon. I also noticed that the lone guy working the counter was whistling and in good spirits even as he zipped around at lightening speed. After a while, when a man behind me cut in line to get his order in and a lady in front of me stormed off proclaiming that she could not possibly wait any longer, the whistling counter boy caught my eye, handed me THE HUGEST MOCHA FRAPPE I’ve ever seen, and whispered, “I made you a big one – thanks for waiting!” I would like to personally thank the author of The Happiness Project for my colossal cup of frozen chocolate heaven.
Indulge in a modest splurge. There’s a section in this book all about money, and the author argues that, contrary to popular belief, sometimes money can buy happiness. One of her money-related challenges to herself was to cut out frivolous spending that only led to buyer’s remorse, and to instead put her money towards something that she had avoided splurging on but which would actually contribute to genuine happiness. I think this goal of spending mindfully and purposefully is a good one, so when I finally made it home from the airport, I dropped my bags and headed right back out to Kmart to buy something I’d been telling myself was not worth the money for a long time: a king-size cushy mattress pad. It cost me about $60, which is why I’d been avoiding it, but the two nights since I got it have convinced me that it was well worth it! It is insanely comfortable and I no longer feel like I am a hundred years old when I get up in the morning.
The days are long, but the years are short. This is the realization that spurred the author to embark on her Happiness Project in the first place, and this one really resonated with me. Even as I sit here typing this, my feet hurt and my eyelids are closing after what I feel was a very long day at work. However, when I think about the fact that I’ve been a college graduate for nearly a year when it feels like I should still be there, that the days of being a kid that I remember so vividly were actually twenty years ago, I realize that it’s true. The days are long, but the years are short.
Why do my reading-related posts always end up being so long? I just love writing book reviews, I guess. The point is, go pick up this book. I think it’s going to make me a nicer person – and the fact that it got me a gigantic mocha frappe upgrade for free should be incentive enough, right?
And once I’m finished reading this book for the second time (something my dad says he will never understand), I’m back on the lookout for additions to my ever-growing reading list. Any suggestions?