I am re-reading The Happiness Project, a nonfiction book by Gretchen Rubin.
I stumbled across Ms. Rubin’s blog several years ago, before the book was published, and while she was actually doing the project. I looked forward to reading it each day because it seemed like she always had something interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring to say. Most of the posts were about being happier, obviously, but they were specific with insights from literature or science. I found myself applying some of her rules and advice in my life. As the publication of the book got nearer, I became really excited to read it and actually ordered it in hardback! This is a big deal for a cheapskate like myself!
As 2011 recently rolled over to 2012, I found myself wanting to make some resolutions. Actually, I found myself wanting to be happier, and I thought living differently might help me achieve that. It’s not that I’m UNhappy– I love my life! But I am often frustrated, tired, and distracted, and I always feel like I could be doing better if I were just trying a little harder. I have three children and a demanding job, plus a house and yard my husband and I have to take care of. There are always chores that need to be done, and I never seem to get enough sleep.
Ironically, I felt like I was too frazzled and tired to think straight enough to make resolutions that would help me be less frazzled and tired and think straighter. (Ironic. See what I did there?)
So I found myself wanting to re-read The Happiness Project. In the book, Rubin tackles a different topic each month and makes resolutions related to that topic to help improve her happiness. January is energy, February is love, March is work, and so on. Throughout the book she talks about other people’s theories of happiness and reports on how her efforts worked out for her.
So I picked up the book last night and read the first three chapters compulsively. I already felt more clear-headed and had a better idea of where to start. On almost every page there was a passage I wanted to discuss in class. Try this one from pages 35-36:
To feel more energetic, I applied one of my Twelve Commandments: “Act the way I want to feel.” This commandment sums up 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. For example, studies show that even an artificially-induced smile brings about happier emotions, and one experiment suggested that people who use Botox are less prone to anger, because they can’t make angry faces. The philosopher and psychologist William James explained, “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.” Advice from every quarter, ancient and contemporary, backs up the observation that to change our feelings, we should change our actions.
This kind of blows my mind. We all think we act angry because we feel angry, right? But there’s evidence to suggest that if you act differently–calm and patient instead of angry– you can actually change the way you feel. You can make yourself less angry by NOT punching things. Whoa.
As I re-read this fun book, I plan to make my own resolutions chart for the year, focusing on one major resolution or area per month. I think there’s an app for that so I won’t have to keep up with an extra notebook. I’ll let you guys know if I end up happier or not.