I’m pleased to say that I finally found time to read a book! The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin had been on my list for a long while, so when I found this pretty limited edition cover from kikki.K, I decided to get reading.
The Happiness Project documents Rubin’s year long experiment to make all aspects of her life happier. She explores the psychology of happiness and recounts her experience in a series of anecdotes and life changes throughout the year. The book was written along side Rubin’s blog, so she injects the project with feedback from her readers along the way and offers practical tips.
Each chapter addresses a different area of Rubin’s life from relationships, parenting, work, socialising and even death. Whilst some of the chapters were not particularly relevant to me at this point in my life (parenting for example), I really related to the discussion on how we approach work and what enters our mind as we try to work with a happy outlook.
Here are my (lengthy) thoughts on the chapters and topics that really spoke to me:
Happiness and work
Rubin notes that passion is a critical factor in becoming successful, and that it is impossible to match this through sheer diligence. She continues to note that enthusiasm is more important to mastery than inate ability. If you are more eager to practice something, you will have a competitive advantage. I look at this discovery from the perspective of running a business from your passion. I wholeheartedly agree, but I also feel that the success factor is about your ability to communicate your passion. I almost feel as though you can’t measure your success unless there is someone there to interact with or observe it. Like if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?! Are you really successful if no one witnesses it? I often think about the idea of how appearing busy gives people the impression that you are successful. But of course we make our own definition of what success is.
She continues the work discussion advising us to enjoy the fun of failure. Noting how the fear of rejection can hold us back. I can certainly relate as everything I’ve ever done that was out of my comfort zone, has felt scary to me. But it feels like it is the best way to improve and grow as a business owner so I try my hardest to push through.
I also liked her thoughts on accountability and asking for help when you need it. She formed a goals group when embarking on projects and I too have found that approach to be a useful tool for making progress. This led to more discussion about productivity and how one can change the way they think about productive time by testing their own assumptions. People tend to work better when they have less time and batching tasks is the way I work for my business on most days!
Rubin encourages her readers to take pleasure in the atmosphere of growth and to strive for ambition and happiness existing together. I find that this comes easily as I’m usually happy when working towards my dream life! However, her suggestion of overcoming anxiety when looking towards the future comes less easily.
Networking, Relationships and Happiness
I consider myself an extrovert, so I found it interesting to hear Rubin’s thoughts on being an introvert and how this can affect networking situations and relationships. She noticed that her anxiety was reduced when she connected with other people and spoke of how connecting with others can lift ones mood.
Not surprisingly, her efforts to strengthen social bonds were the most fruitful for her happiness. The most valuable bonds that I have made with friends in my 30s have actually been new relationships and I think this is down to me being more sure of myself and happy with who I am. She concluded that if the people who mattered in her life were happy, she was happy.
Networking was an area which made Rubin more aware of her faults, meaning she felt more disappointed when things didn’t go well. Handling criticism was another topic she touched on which led to me thinking about failure and rejection again. A number of things haven’t necessarily gone my way in this business malarkey, but I make a concious effort to move on as quickly as I can and to keep a positive outlook. Much of that is possible because I have worked hard to build a support network.
Money and Happiness
The ‘money can’t buy happiness’ saying was discussed in an entire chapter. The idea that status and success is symbolised by money, the idea it can buy time, how it can create power and relationships. It can also excuse us for the things we are lacking. Rubin noted that money makes us yearn for lives with meaning, comfort and joy.
My motivation in starting my business was not to make money, it came from a true passion to make, which I discovered when I finished studying. Over time, the motivation for growing the business has changed and I see money as playing an important role in my happiness. Eventually I’d like to make my business a full-time endeavour without any day job on the side. And in order to do so (and to really be happy in my working life), I will need to make money and be financial stable. So money is not buying my happiness, but it will enable the journey to happen. Money makes life easier, it gives us freedom and choice. My original passion for the business is still there, but it is now with an added motivation to make money to live comfortably. I guess at specific moments in your life, money has a different role and significance.
Don’t even get G and I started on how difficult it has become to leave the rental market in Cambridge to become home owners. That’s a whole other blog post for sure!
It is true that people are most likely to reflect on their happiness when they are actually unhappy. One of Rubin’s theories was how you can bank happiness to ‘navigate to your happiness destination when you need it’. I’m not sure how much I agree with this – of course one can think back to a happier time, but in the depths of sadness, can you really ‘retrieve’ or navigate to happiness? I’m sure those suffering with depression do not find it as simplistic as this.
Last Autumn I went through a period of a couple of months where I felt really low. Of course I didn’t want to feel unhappy, but I did and I couldn’t figure out why (and I still don’t know, which is often the case with my anxiety issues too). If the above theory were true to the masses, surely there would be less unhappy people in the world? Perhaps I misinterpreted the idea……..
At the end of her project, Gretchen Rubin reported that she did feel happier in her life, because she had made a concious effort to improve her mood in so many ways. She documented her happiness, she was aware of her behaviour, she lived, she pushed for more meaningful moments and she was happy. She concluded that happiness was about being mindful and being in control.
The book has brought the topic of happiness to the forefront for me. I had already began to think about my ‘dream life’ after this, but the book has given me even more motivation to do what I love and to appreciate what brings me happiness.
I’m thinking about making these kind of book reviews into a little blog series, would you guys be interested in that? I read the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying recently and have a lot to say about that one and how non life-changing I think it is!
In the related posts list below you can find some other posts I’ve written on the topic of happiness, and don’t forget to check out my positivity postcards in the shop too. It would make me really happy! 😉