Monday, March 01, 2010

On Being Happy

So I've been reading this book:

In it, Gretchen Rubin spends a year of her life trying to cultivate more happiness in her life by making small(ish) changes in her day to day routine. Nothing, she says, as sweeping as Elizabeth Gilbert's pilgrimages to Italy, India and Indonesia in Eat, Love, Pray. Which is good, because as much as I loved that book, it did little to inform me in any practical way about how to find happiness. But in making small changes, committing to certain "commandments" and resolutions, Ruben lives a more mindful, and therefore, happier existence from one January to the next.

Each month she takes on a facet of her life, creates a list of resolutions and goes about her daily life with those resolutions in mind, making each an established habit before the month is out. Thus far, I've only read her introduction (in which she clarifies that before starting this project she was not unhappy, but lived without a real recognition of or true appreciation for the happiness she did possess) and her first month, in which she works on the element of "energy" in her life--getting more of it, using it more effectively and considering how taking steps to increase her energy levels through better sleep and exercise impacted her sense of happiness.

It's not super fantastic literature. But it is an interesting read, and inspiring. Like Ruben, I'm not necessarily unhappy, but I tend to live my days without really taking stock of my happiness, or taking advantage of it in any real way. I'd like to actually feel my happiness more readily and recognize it more easily in the moment.

So I've decided to take on my own "happiness project" of sorts. Ruben herself has worked the book into a Happiness Project challenge , but I don't think I'll be following that. I did really like her first chapter on Energy, so I will be starting to implement for myself some of the changes she made--getting more sleep, exercising some every day, reducing clutter, tackling the nagging tasks, and my personal favorite-- "acting like you have energy." When I first read that, I laughed and thought "well that is just ridiculous," but the reality is so often I give into the "I'm so tiiiiiiired" feeling that comes by mid-day that I spend the rest of the day lounging or half-assing it with Ethan ("sure I'll go outside and play with you. Mommy will sit here on the bench while you run around, honey"). How much more energy, and thereby happiness, would I find if I hauled my ass off the proverbial side-line and participated more in my life, even when I didn't really feel like i?

Starting tomorrow, I will be heading to bed earlier--10pm, reading until no later than 11pm. It will be tough for me, as I am a total TV-aholic and will sit slack-jawed in front of the TV until I've lost all sense of reality. But I know that more sleep and more reading will invariably make me happier than watching TV--let's face it, I'm not watching Masterpiece Theater. My quality of life will not be greatly improved by knowing which bimbo the Bachelor chooses at 11pm tomorrow night; but an extra 50 pages of a good book and an extra hour of sleep? I can see how that would up my happy tank.

I will attempting to do the other things Ruben did in her "January" as well; but in addition to that, I will also be starting a gratitude journal, that little gem introduced to us by Sarah Ban Breathach via Oprah way back in the '90's. Back during one of my epic depressions in the '90's a therapist insisted I start a gratitude journal, even if the only thing I could find to be grateful for on any given day was that I made it through a 50-minute class without breaking down in front of my students. That was something to be grateful for. Surprisingly, ending every day by jotting down at least three things for which I was grateful made a HUGE impact on me and I believe it really did go a long way to helping me change my perspective and dig out of the sadness. So think of how much it could boost my happiness when I'm not even a weepy hot mess to begin with?!

I will also be participating in "Half Full Fridays" because I love the idea of rounding out the week by looking on the bright side. That's got to be good for the happy, right?

None of it is huge. A few minutes here, an added effort there. But I hope that just by writing these things down and committing to small changes, I will be more fully aware of the happiness that exists in my life and open the doorway to greater happiness in my future.


Maureen said...

I'll have to pick this book up. I'm not "unhappy" either but I definitely think it's easy to lose sight of the good things in life sometimes.

I used to work out all the time but about two years ago I stopped making the time for it. A couple of weeks ago I made myself get up off the couch, leave the house and go the gym and I've been doing it a few times a week so far. I can't even begin to tell you how much better I feel. I mean, I'm totally sore and a little cranky about that part, but I feel happier, and I'm sleeping better. Who knew?!

Sarah said...

LOVE the half full fridays-- I'm going to do that, too!

we zombie out on the couch every night, too.

Corinne said...

The gratitude journal is a great idea, I think I'll start one tonight.

I've heard about this book on a few other blogs, but I haven't read a review that's been as honest as yours. Thank you :)

Erin said...

I love this idea! And this book will now be on my reserve list at the library - thanks!

Tiffany @ Lattes And Life said...

I've been hearing a lot lately about Ms. Rubin and her book (probably because she recently spoke at a Mom Blogger conference). Sounds like it's sort of helpful....I like the idea of little, practical tips. I can so relate to giving in to that sleepy feeling instead of mustering up the energy to fight it. I'm struggling today...the baby had me up last night, and I'm a complete waste the whole next day when she does that. But I'm going to try not to let myself wallow too much this afternoon!!

Emi said...

I like the idea of the gratitude journal. My instructor for cardio craze at the gym always has us think about something we are grateful for a the end of class as we are stretching and cooling down and I find myself thinking of not just one thing but many... so thanks for the idea.. :-)

lonek8 said...

great ideas all, and good for you! I too am struggling with being mindful and present in my life instead of coasting on autopilot. And I'm totally suggetsing this book for my next book club pick since they keep picking downers

Anonymous said...

Your post has been sending an insane amount of traffic to my blog. Thanks for the link! I'm looking forward to reading your Half Full Friday post this week.