I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin after hearing about the book while listening to a podcast in the car on a trip with my wife recently. If you would like the 1-minute distillation, below are the main takeaways in bullet form:
- We all have an inborn disposition that sets us within a happiness range, however, through our actions we can push ourselves to the top or the bottom of the range.
- You will succeed at meeting your goals if they are concrete, measurable, and you have both accountability and some sort of reward.
- The concept of accessibility means that information you use often is easier to recall. If you remind yourself often of your goals it is more likely you will keep them.
- I incorrectly assume I act the way I feel. The truth is I feel a certain way because of the way I act. I must learn to act the way I want to feel.
- It does not matter what you feel inside. People only see your actions.
- You have to find what is fun for you. Just because an activity is fun for someone else does not mean you will or should enjoy it. Accept what you enjoy doing and don’t devalue it compared to what others like doing.
- Keep a Resolutions Chart to track how well you follow through with your resolutions. You have to follow through to see change happen otherwise your resolution has no significance.
- Goals and Resolutions are different. You meet a goal but continue to keep resolutions indefinitely.
If you read this book with the goal of finding out what will make you happy as an individual, you may be disappointed. Rubin is pretty clear about this in the part at the beginning of the book called “A note to the reader.” I would bet the majority of readers do not read that part and may have missed it; nevertheless, she does call this a “project.” The bottom line is that this is a book about her project, what she tried, and what she learned. If you or I were to try a similar project, the resolutions we would choose would likely be different than the ones she chose. Happiness is not a one size fits all sort of emotion and I believe that is for the best. All of that being said, it is still very interesting and encouraging to read about all the resolutions she made to maker her life happier. I certainly gained enough insight from this book that I would recommend it to a friend.
One of my favorite ideas from the book is about acting how we want to feel. Rubin notes in her book “…one of the most helpful insights that I’d learned in my happiness research: although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act.” This also works in relation to our thoughts. We need to think about ourselves the way we want to feel. I once heard Craig Groeschel, one of my favorite pastors, say, “Your life will always move in the direction of your strongest thoughts.” I think this is true. When I am at work and I begin to get behind on my plan for the day, people seem to keep coming by to ask me questions and interrupt me, I begin to respond in frustration towards my co-workers, and I begin to think how lousy my day is going. At this point I have just decided for myself that my day will be bad.
When I feel frustrated, I act frustrated, and my day ends in frustration. However, what I should do is when I find myself feeling frustrated I should act calmly and choose to not allow frustration to rule my thoughts. It is far easier to believe that I have no control over the outcome of my day than to take ownership of my actions, my thoughts, and decide to have a good day. This is why one of my resolutions for 2018 is to read a personal mission statement each day. One of the statements on my list is to “maintain as positive attitude. The man who wins is the man who thinks he can.” I believe that by reading a personal mission statement each day I can equip myself to believe these things about myself and help my life move in the direction I want it to.
Another concept I found very helpful from the book was about making and keeping resolutions and goals. Part of Rubin’s project was to create a Resolution’s Chart where she documented her progress and success at keeping her resolutions. This chart was a good way to make sure she capitalized on the concept of accessibility which is the idea that the more we remind ourselves of our goals and resolutions, the easier it is to recall them and follow through with them. Although I have been doing something similar to this for many years, Rubin’s Resolution’s Chart helped me to apply this idea to other areas of my life.
I am an evangelical Christian and for years I have kept a daily Bible reading plan. The reading plan is a schedule that lists the date, the book of the bible, and the number of chapters to read each day. When I follow through with this plan each day, I am able to read the entire bible in a year. A small time investment each day makes a big difference over time. This sets the tone for my day. Since reading The Happiness Project I have applied this concept to my diet and to fitness as well. I now have a chart which shows the days of the week as the column headings and the resolutions read, exercise, and diet as the row headings. So if I meet all my resolutions in a day I get a RED! There is also something very satisfying about putting and X or check in a box and seeing lots of checked boxes at the end of the week. I keep this chart at the front of my daily planner so that I am reminded of my goals and resolutions each day.
One final idea that I found a lot of truth in is the idea that what is fun for someone else may not be fun for me, and vice versa. This may sound trivial on the surface but once I thought about it more deeply, I found that I do not always live by this in my own life. As Rubin described in her book, I tend to overrate the hobbies and passions that others have and underrate the things that I enjoy to do. One of her Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.” I find this to be true. If I find myself with a free hour on a Saturday afternoon, more than likely I will sit down with a good book and read. I may also put on some running shoes and drive over to the greenway for a run. I definitely will not go out to my car, pop the hood, and “work on my car.” This is an activity that I have always found fascinating and wished that I enjoyed, but I do not. I may do this with a friend if it is something they enjoy doing, but it is not likely something I will do on my own. I am learning that I do not need to convince myself that reading or working on my car is a better hobby or passion. I just need to experiment and find out what my passions are and stick with them.
Overall I found this book fairly helpful and applicable, even though many of the resolutions are not ones I would make myself. Rubin has obviously read a lot and uses a lot of quotes in her book, which I find enriches her content. Her writing is also pretty humorous so if you decide to read the book you will likely find yourself laughing out loud. Rubin also makes up lots of words or phrases throughout the book, which fit as definitions for situations and ideas in her life that we can all relate to. Here are just a few examples: boomerang errands, fog happiness, challenging fun, accommodating fun, relaxing fun, satisficer, and maximize. I think we would all do well to start our own happiness projects.