Editor’s Note: My friend Jessie is a mom of two in Seattle. When we were neighbors, she once raved to me about how Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, had impacted her. So recently, I asked Jessie to share how, four years after reading it, the ideas in Gretchen’s book continue to influence her life. After hearing her response, I asked her to write something up that I could share here. This is what she wrote:
Have you ever noticed how we always seem to put off happiness?
Although I never thought about it consciously, that was me. In fact, I used to operate like a lot of us do.
For example, maybe you’ve heard yourself saying or thinking the same things I did:
- “When this is done, I’ll be happy.”
- “When I own that, I’ll be happy.”
- “When I weigh less, I’ll be happy.”
Like most of us, I behaved as if happiness was a destination at which I’d one day arrive.
But The Happiness Project changed my thinking. While reading it, I realized that I could choose happiness, and live into it, in any moment I chose. As I started taking control of my thoughts and actions, and implementing some of the practices in the book, I have become much more satisfied with my life.
I hope you hear that as good news, because there really are practical things we can do each day to increase our happiness.
Some of the actions I discovered were obvious good choices: “go to sleep earlier,” “exercise better,” “enjoy now,” “sing in the morning.” And others, for me at least, were counterintuitive at first: “tackle a nagging task,” “enjoy the fun of failure,” “don’t gossip,” “give something up.”
Personally, adopting the mantra “enjoy now,” has made one of the biggest differences in transforming my thinking. Today I take pleasure in gradual progress, and not just the moment of crossing the finish line. I’ve even developed my own ‘Jessie Commandment’: “Today is my favorite day.” I say it so often nowadays my neighbor made me a mug with the saying on it :)
Even more significantly, the happiness project experiment affected my entire family.
Many of the resolutions in the book have turned into habits in our home. The “one minute rule” and the “evening tidy up” are implemented in my home daily. If a task can be done in under a minute I won’t postpone it. And almost every evening I take ten minutes and walk around the house tidying up. As the book points out, putting things in order is very calming which helps with my sleep and mornings are more pleasant when there is order—both affecting my happiness and that of my family.
Once I realized how I could manipulate my happiness by doing certain things like clearing clutter, acting lighthearted, getting more sleep, or reacting only with love, I started really focusing on these things daily and they have become part of me and happiness definitely followed.
And don’t forget about having fun!
People who have fun are twenty times as likely to feel happy. That truth really struck me. Now, I actively seek fun and find fun as often as I can. As Rubin discovered, it’s okay to be silly and it’s good to go off the path and do the unexpected. These are key sources of happiness.
- Throw water balloons with your kids.
- Visit the roller skating rink together.
- If one family member has to work, surprise him or her with lunch.
- Share popsicles with your neighbors.
Choosing happiness is about both actions and attitudes. No one is happy if they don’t think of themselves as happy. I knew what I needed to do: laugh more, be kinder, stop being critical, be cheerful. But sometimes, even if I knew the action I should take, my attitude was not aligned. So, even if I didn’t FEEL like it, I ACTED like it. And my feelings would eventually catch up!
Every day you can choose happiness. Today can be your favorite day!
By the end of the book Gretchen Rubin had showed me the desire to change was meaningless if I couldn’t find a way to make the change happen. I knew I had to build my happiness on the foundation of my character, and really understand Jessie. I had to recognize what makes me happy, not just what I thought would make me happy or what makes other people happy.
Happiness is very personal. This happiness project put me in control and with a greater feeling of control I gained happiness. On a daily basis I appreciate my life right now just as it is and that makes me happy. I know I am in control and I know what to do.
When we make intentional small daily choices, happiness begins to follow. It was true for me, and I believe it can be true for you, too.
Jessie’s experience is not unique. Gretchen’s book has been a big hit because so many people who develop the kind of happiness habits she suggests do discover that they enjoy their lives more.