The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is a chronicle of the author’s exploration of happiness- what causes and gets in the way of it, and how to cultivate a happier, more fulfilling life. Through a yearlong project to to hone happy skills, she uses current research, personal experience, and plenty of lit references to make a convincing argument that the practice of happiness is something we should all make a priority in our daily lives.
This is not a book that you can just read a blog post about. You have to actually read it. And you should, you really should. (It’d be a great book club book!)
But to get you started, here are 10 favorite lessons for discovering and living a happier life:
- Act the way you want to feel. When striving to feel a certain way (more energized, more confident, or perhaps just more happy), it’s effective to act the way you’re trying to feel. Our actions have a lot more control over our feelings than we give them credit for. (More evidence of that here and here.)
- “Be Tina.” Actually, technically it’s “Be Gretchen,” but same thing. Be yourself, without the expectation that you “should” be a certain way. Accept your interests and values and strive to live them fully. For example, Gretchen tried to conceal her love of children’s literature, but after embracing it she started a children’s lit book club and found many friends interested in joining it. What do you enjoy or value that you could more actively make part of your life?
- Lighten up. Approach life with a sense of lightness. Have fun. So often we tell ourselves that we’ll have fun “later.” Find a way to have fun now, with what you’re currently doing. Listen to fun music while you do the dishes, treat yourself to a homemade chai latte while you sit down and do your taxes.
- Do it now. It’s amazing how often we avoid tasks that take less than one minute to do. Apply the “one-minute rule” and just do it now- take out the trash, schedule the appointment, look up the recipe for the treats you’ve been meaning to bring to work.
- Identify the problem. If something’s getting you down, don’t overlook it and let it keep getting to you. Acknowledge the problem, determine if there are any underlying problems, and invest in a solution.
- Let it go. Some things you can’t change. You really just can’t. So let it go, do what you can with you have, and carry on.
- Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings. It’s amazing how much better you can understand someone, and how much more effectively you can communicate with them, if you take the time to acknowledge the reality of their feelings. So often we stay trapped in our own perspective and respond to others with the mentality that they can’t possibly feel a certain way if we don’t feel that way. Not so.
- Enjoy the fun of failure. Part of being ambitious and creative is trying, and sometimes failing. The acceptance of failure is a necessary part of growth. Some would say, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. In fact, Thomas Edison did say, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison was very clear that failure helped drive his innovation.
- Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Do what you can with what you have (that seems to be a theme of happiness!). Waiting for perfection just leads to inaction. Recognize when you are good at something without expecting yourself to be perfect at it. Likewise, recognize and appreciate when someone or something else is good, even if it’s not perfect.
- Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. Some things that will eventually improve your life may not make you happy right away. Starting an exercise regimen is grueling but leads to better health and body image, which bring happiness. Studying for a degree or certification can be stressful but will eventually lead to career opportunities that can make you happy. It’s important to invest in happiness, even when it’s not instant.
“Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.” – W.H. Auden
This is the point of The Happiness Project: learning who you are and accepting yourself for that, while also learning how to make positive changes in your life through better habits and intentions.