In The Happiness Project, Gretchin Rubin drew from both ancient philosophy and the latest science to explore what makes us happy, what makes us unhappy, and how we can become—if not happy—at least happier in our day-to-day lives.
Rubin defines a happiness project as "...an approach to the practice of everyday life." She identifies three stages in the process, beginning with the preparation stage, where you "identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, remorse." The second stage involves making resolutions about specific actions you can take to increase your happiness. The final stage is that of keeping your resolutions. In The Happiness Project, inspired by Benjamin Franklin's "virtues chart," Rubin followed her progress systematically for a year, focusing on one new topic each month. As each month progressed she strove to follow the resolutions not only of that month, but of all the previous months, until by December she had incorporated new habits around twelve over-arching themes.
In Happier at Home, Rubin focuses her happiness tools on things that make her happier at home. She chose September as the beginning for the new project for "...September, too, marked the start of a new year, with the empty calendar and clean slate of the next school cycle." Instead of a twelve-month project, she restricted herself to the nine months of one school year and prepared to explore her relationship to her possessions, her marriage, parenthood, her inner self, time, her body, her family, and her neighborhood.
The result is a delightful and inspiring look at what makes a life worth living. Her insights are simple yet profound. In a culture where we are driven to buy more and more stuff, and are constantly trying to organize, purge, simplify, Rubin cuts through to the heart of the matter in two simple sentences:
"Cultivating my possessions, then, wasn't a simple matter of organization, elimination, or accumulation; it was a matter of engagement. When I felt engaged with my possessions, I felt enlivened by them, and when I felt disengaged from them, I felt burdened."
It isn't owning stuff or wanting stuff that is the problem. It's having stuff we don't use or enjoy. "I want to love my possessions, and yet not be mastered by them," she writes. She put that into practice by, among other things, committing to cleaning as she went along, de-cluttering shelf-by-shelf and drawer-by-drawer, using up replaceable items like pretty soaps, and clearing surfaces so they could be used for activities and not for storage.
Rubin's ability to encapsulate her ideas into memorable one-sentence phrases is impressive. I found myself repeating her mantras to myself: "Happiness is not having less; happiness is not having more; happiness is wanting what I have." "Happiness doesn't always make me feel happy." "Resist happiness leeches." "Respond to the spirit of a gift." "Technology is a good servant but a bad master." "Embrace good smells." Over and over again, her keen observations and balanced perspective made me think about things differently. I was inspired to come up with my own list of personal mottos and to map out my own happiness project.
It is easy to see why The Happiness Project and now, Happier at Home, have become and remained best-sellers. Rubin's blog, newsletters and online charts keep her fans focused on their own resolutions, on their own paths to live a happier life. Best of all, Rubin gives us all permission to be ourselves, and to approach our own projects in our own ways.
Gretchin Rubin began her career in law, graduating from Yale and Yale Law School before clerking for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal before turning to writing full time. She is the author of several books including the New York Times best-sellers, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. She now encourages others to start their own projects to increase their levels of happiness through her blog, newsletters and e-tools. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.
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