I highly, highly, highly recommend The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. It is the memoir of a thirty-something woman's year-long attempt to increase her happiness. I saw so much of myself in the author. She wasn't unhappy to begin with; she just felt like she wasn't appreciating her life enough:
I had everything I could possibly want---yet I was failing to appreciate it. . . .She set up a happiness resolutions chart (a la Ben Franklin's Autobiography), where she tracked her progress toward different goals each month. (Most of the goals were very specific, but each month had a general theme: marriage, parenting, work, fun, etc.). This methodical approach appeals to me greatly. Gretchen has a website where you can set up your own charts and other resources; I think I might try it.
I didn't want to keep taking these days for granted. The words of the writer
Colette had haunted me or years: 'What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish
I'd realized it sooner."
Two major themes of the book really affected me:
- You aren't happy unless you think you're happy, and, conversely, you're happy if you think you're happy. This was a big realization to me. A huge part of happiness is believing that you're happy and acting accordingly. I always figured that I act happy when I feel happy, but really I have much more control over it than that. Why not act happy, and therefore be happy, now?
- Happiness is work, and it's not always as easy as it looks. Gretchen talks about how it's so much easier to be negative, critical, and cynical than to be upbeat, energetic, and encouraging. She discusses how we assume naturally happy people are that way effortlessly, but, in reality, they likely work hard to maintain that happiness—especially in the face of negative people who try to bring them down.
Several of Gretchen's specific goals struck a chord with me, as well:
- Tackle a nagging task. She wrote a 5-page to-do list of all of those little things she never seems to get around to and crossed them off one by one. I don't think my list would be 5 pages, but there are several little things (like getting renter's insurance) that I need to do. Remembering them takes so much mental energy; why not just do it now?
- Enjoy now. She discusses the arrival fallacy: the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you'll be happy. This is rarely true because (1) you've been anticipating the destination so long that it is already built into your happiness and (2) the destination brings more responsibility. This is a big one for me. I'm always looking forward to the next thing (in high school, college; in college, marriage; in my job, a new job). I'll never have this time in my life again; I should enjoy it now.
- Cut people slack. "Fundamental attribution error is a psychological phenomenon in which we tend to view other people's actions as reflections of their characters and to overlook the power of situation to influence their actions, whereas with ourselves, we recognize the pressures of circumstance." Busted again. I am really going to work on giving people the same slack I give myself.
As you can see, this book gave me a lot to think about. I could go on and on, but Gretchen explains it much better than I can. If you have any interest at all, I highly recommend getting the book. I'm going to be working in the next few weeks to come up with some "happiness resolutions." I feel like my list of goals before I turn 25 is a start, but I want to set goals for my attitude, as well as my actions.