What I’m “reading:” The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

Hi there! and happy Monday Morning. (Ouch.)

My favorite little “business expense” is my Audible.com subscription. Once a month, on the 22nd, I get a new credit to download an audiobook. Since I have a 25 minute (but who’s counting?) commute to the office, I get to listen to my new book to and from work. Usually, I get something about mental health or positive psychology. Sometimes it’s something from one of the contemplative spiritual traditions. This month, it’s been Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. 

Ms. Rubin, riding the subway one morning, was struck by the realization that she wasn’t as happy as she wanted to be. There was nothing particularly wrong–actually, life was pretty good–she just wasn’t experiencing the happiness she wanted. So she set out to learn and try out as many tricks and habits of happiness that she could in a year. She got a bunch of books (kindred spirit: my automatic thought when in distress is “there must be a book that will help!”), written by everyone from ancient philosophers to modern psychological scientists. Then she made herself a list of goals.

I commend the book to you. More than that, I commend her method.

If you’re like me, you have your ups and downs, your satisfactions and disappointments. But most of the time, unless a moment brings intense joy or pleasure or painful sadness or unease, you just kind of go along, doing one thing after another, picking up the kids’ toys, doing your job, going to the pool or the trail or the grocery store, never really paying attention much to the larger questions.

“Is this the way I most want to be living my life?”

“Am I treating this one precious life, these few precious people with the care and attention it all deserves?”

“Am I doing what I can to savor the good, let go of the bad, and grow?”

Gretchen Rubin asked herself and answered, like I and I imagine most of you would; “sometimes.”

Here’s the magic, though. She got serious about changing it. She thought about what areas of her life bring the most happiness and set specific, measurable goals that would improve her happiness. Exercise. Organize the closets (“no!”). Make scrapbooks of the kids’ pictures. Check in with extended family regularly. Try new things. Lighten up (“YES!”).

She made a chart.

Seriously, a chart, friends. With daily check-boxes to keep her thinking of the goals she had set for herself. I love this. Take it from  guy who works every day to help people make changes: change is hard. It takes sustained, focused effort. The people in the AA movement suggest that once a person gets de-toxed from an addictive substance, they should go to 60 12-step meetings in 60 days. Of course it’s a hassle. Of course it’s all you have time to do.

But that’s what it takes.

So, for people like me who are pretty happy, but who want to really wake up and appreciate this one good life, it might take making a list and checking it daily.

I’m working on my list this week. I’ll try to put it up for you soon.

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