Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany on the subway that she had a great life, but she wasn't as happy as she could or should be. This lead her to research what seems like anything ever written or said about finding happiness, and ultimately set specific goals for herself to try and be happier. I think the concept is genius and the book entertaining to read. I enjoyed both the research she presents and her personal experiences. It is honest, inspiring, and really interesting. I recommend it.
I have an ongoing discussion in my head and with other people about whether or not you can really, truly change. I've probably engaged you in a conversation about it. Gretchen's assumption that she could consciously make decisions, or a whole series of them actually, and change her level of happiness totally sparked my interest.
Gretchen sets up a birthday tracker online to remind her to send birthday messages to her friends and family, she cleans out her closet and other cluttered areas of her house, she works hard to stop nagging her family members and she starts a collection. Each month she has a theme like, "Be Serious about Play" or "Remember Love" and then sets a few specific goals to focus on in that category. She diligently keeps a chart for herself and gives herself a star when she is successful. This reminded me of Ben Franklin's attempts to rid himself of his vices and reach perfection. She's a bit more realistic. Some of her goals were things I think I might try, while others were not appealing to me. I love that she tries to push herself to try new things, but then realizes that they aren't working or are making her less happy, and abandons them.
She decides to keep a one sentence a day journal. I struggle to successfully journal, and I love that no pressure attempt. She also realizes that if she really wants to nag less, she's going to have to work more. Do the little annoying tasks around the house that are bothering her, instead of nagging someone else to do it. I can relate to this and I've been TRYING to do the same. I also liked the reference she made to studies about friendships. (She references many different studies, books and experts--but I didn't find it annoying.) She says, "Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter, you are far more likely to describe yourself as "very happy." I like this. I rarely have a huge crowd of friends, but the few close ones I have are great for me, and definitely contribute to my happiness.
She also says, "One reason that challenge brings happiness is that it allows you to expand your self-definition. You become larger...Research shows that the more elements make up your identity, the less threatening it is when any one element is threatened. Losing your job might be a blow to your self-esteem, but the fact that you lead your local alumni association give you a comforting source of self-respect." Amen. I think about this all the time with my kids. They've got to have more than one thing that makes them feel good about themselves.
I also like that she takes on being happier as something you can accomplish by make deliberate choices and expending effort. "Some people are unhappy because they won't take the trouble to be happy. Happiness takes energy and discipline." It really is easier to criticize, find fault and complain than it is to have enthusiasm, support others and work hard to improve things. "Being critical has its advantages, and what's more, it's much easier to be hard to please. Although enthusiasm seems easy and undiscriminating, in fact, it's much harder to embrace something than to disdain it. It's riskier." This was a good reminder of me. I used to think of myself as a very positive person, but if I'm honest, I know that I'm much more cynical and critical than I was 20 years ago.
Of course there are parts of this book that kind of bugged me. Her over-use of the mantra "Be Gretchen," got on my nerves. It seemed trite and not very helpful. But obviously it was helpful for her. There were also several things she works on that were surprising to me because I couldn't relate to them.
Another really true issue she addresses is how our need for perfection or fear of failure cripples us and prevents us from improving ourselves. I know this is a theme addressed often, but it always rings true with me. She quotes Voltaire, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." I love that.
And ultimately I would agree with a statement that Gretchen Rubin makes on the first page of this book. "I often learn more from one person's highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. I find greater value in what specific individuals tell me worked for them than in any other kind of argument--and that's true even when we seem to have nothing in common." That is why I liked reading this book and why I believe it has been so successful. In the same way we testify in church, ask our friends for advice on facebook or value stranger's product reviews, we like to hear what others think. We like to share experiences and learn from each other. It makes us happy!