The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin wanted happiness in her life. Learn to appreciate what you already have/own. ‘As soon as I have some free time, I should start a happiness project.’

She dedicated a year of life to trying to be happier. ‘People teach what they need to learn.’ She was both trying find spiritual growth and a life more dedicated to transcendent principles as well as an attempt to extend her driven, perfectionist ways towards life. It is possible to further one’s happiness beyond one’s set point. Genetics accounts for about 50%, 10 to 20% based on life’s circumstances and the remainder is based on how the individual acts and thinks. It is not necessary to define happiness as once you know when you’re feeling happy, that’s good enough.

The opposite of happiness is unhappiness and not depression. The next step is trying to figure out how to make you happier. It is more common to find people making progress on their goals if they are well documented. Go to therapy if you want to find out the root causes of your behavior. Her twelve elements were marriage, parenthood, friends, eternity, attitude, work, play, passion, energy, money, mindfulness, books and leisure. Tackle only 1 element each month.

From her secrets of adulthood: ‘People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think.’ ‘Do good, feel good’. ‘It’s important to be nice to everyone.’ ‘By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished.’ ‘You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.’ ‘What you do everyday matters more than what you do in a while.’ ‘You don’t have to be good at everything.’ ‘If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.’ ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.’

It is only necessary to make minor adjustments to your life without changing it totally. Aristotle: ‘Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.’

Chapter 1: January [Boost Energy – Vitality]

Go to sleep earlier. Exercise better. Toss, restore, organize. Tackle a nagging task. Act more energetic.

More energy helps you achieve your goals/tasks better. In a virtuous circle, research shows, being happy energizes you, and at the same time, having more energy makes it easier for you to engage in activities. Outer order, like being neat, can bring inner peace. If you try to act energetic, you can become more energetic. Sleep is the new sex. Getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for a person’s daily happiness than getting a $60000 raise. Even a tiny light from a digital alarm clock can disrupt a sleep cycle. People who exercise are healthier, think clearly and sleep better. Providing an extrinsic motivation can backfire especially when intrinsic motivation is not developed fully yet. Exercise is a great way to snap out of a funk. Walking is great.

Some believe that their physical surroundings influence their spiritual happiness. Do what ought to be done. Too many choices can be discouraging and paralyze people. Stating a problem clearly often suggests its solution. Sometimes, though, the most difficult part of doing a task was just deciding to do it. ‘Act the way you want to feel’. Even an artificially induced smile brings about happier emotions. To change our feelings, we should change our actions.

Chapter 2: February [Remember Love – Marriage]

Quit nagging. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. Fight right. No dumping. Give proofs of love.

Marital satisfaction drops substantially after the first child arrives. Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of relationships are stonewalling, defensiveness, and criticism and contempt. Learn to focus on the virtues of others and not just their flaws. ‘There is only love’.

G.K. Chesteron: ‘It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.’ ‘What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while.’ Nothing kills the feeling of friendship and passion more than nagging. Nagging is excessive interference. Learn to be more appreciative of what others do. ‘Lake Wobegon fallacy’ describes the fact that we all fancy ourselves to be above average.

In an ideal world, neither party ‘assigns work’, yet the family can still function as a unit. ‘You have to do that kind of work for yourself. If you do it for other people, you end up wanting them to acknowledge it and to be grateful and to give you credit. If you do it for yourself, you don’t expect other people to react in a particular way’. Learn to lighten your attitude. How a couple fights matters more than how much they fight. People have a ‘negativity bias’, meaning their reactions to bad events are faster, stronger, and stickier than our reactions to good events. It takes at least five positive marital actions to offset one critical or destructive action. Happy people generally are more forgiving, helpful, and charitable, have better self-control, and are more tolerant of frustration than unhappy people. Hearing someone complain is tiresome whether you’re in a good mood or a bad one.

One of the great joys of falling in love is the feeling that the most extraordinary person in the entire world has chosen you. ‘To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right.’ Generate more positive emotions and less negative ones. William Butler Yeats: ‘Happiness is neither a virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.’ You can’t change anyone but yourself. When you give up expecting a spouse to change (within reason), it creates a more loving atmosphere in a marriage.

Chapter 3: March [Aim Higher – Work]

Launch a blog. Enjoy the fun of failure. Ask for help. Work smart. Enjoy now.

The happy outperform the less happy at work. When you help others, others tend to help you as well. Happier people also make more effective leaders. Being happy can make a big difference in your work life. Passion is a critical factor in professional success. People who love their work bring an intensity and enthusiasm that’s impossible to match through sheer diligence. DO what you truly want to do. Challenge and novelty are key elements to happiness. The irony is that the unfamiliar and the unexpected are important sources of happiness. ‘People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think’. Anothony Trollope: ‘A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.’ One reason that challenge brings happiness is that it allows you to expand your self-definition. When crisis comes, it’s the fun part. Sometimes, people do better with less time. Know the ‘arrival fallacy.’ It is a fallacy as you might anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate. Enjoy now. Don’t dread criticism. Have an effective strategy to deal with criticisms. If you’re feeling down, a good rest will make you feel better.

Chapter 4: April [Lighten Up – Parenthood]

Sing in the morning. Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings. Be a treasure house of happy memories. Take time for projects.

Children do bring happiness. ‘Fog happiness’ refers to general happiness and not focusing on a particular task alone, as it alone might not make you seem happy. Wake up with a good morning song. Lighten up. Cracking a joke really helps to lighten up the mood. The days are long, but the years are short. Write it down. Don’t feel as if I have to say anything. Don’t say ‘no’ or ‘stop’. Wave my magic wand. Admit that a task is difficult. Acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return. Recalling happy times helps boost happiness in the present. Squeeze out as much happiness from a happy event. Anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory. The anticipation of happiness is sometimes greater than the happiness itself. ‘You’re only as happy as your least happy child.’

Chapter 5: May [Be Serious About Play – Leisure]

Find more fun. Take time to be silly. Go off the path. Start a collection.

One way to feel good is to make time for play. ‘A holiday of work, but work which was play.’ Examples include making crafts, reading overseas blogs, books, language classes etc. Find more fun. People all have different ideas of fun. Some people prefer solitary, quiet things. Form an interest group to do the stuff you like. Studies show that each common interest between people boosts the chances of a lasting relationship and also brings about a 2% increase in life satisfaction. Pursue what is truly fun for you. What you enjoyed as a 10 year old is probably something you’d enjoy now. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. There is time for both pursuing and accepting. ‘We are doomed to choose and every choice may entail an irreparable loss.’ Taking the time to be silly means that we’re infecting one another with good cheer, and people who enjoy silliness are one third more likely to be happy. Goof around occasionally. Don’t have to try to make yourself like things, but do the things you already like.

There are 3 types of fun, challenging fun, accommodating fun (doing something with your friends which you might not like doing) and relaxing fun.      

Chapter 6: June [Make Time for Friends – Friendship]

Remember birthdays. Be generous. Show up. Don’t gossip. Make three new friends.

Strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to happiness. Friendship is as well. ‘Of all the things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.’ Everything is more fun in company. Strengthen old friendships, deepening existing friendships and make new friends. Try to remember birthdays. Be generous. Happiness is often boosted more by providing support to other people than from receiving support yourself. Do good, feel good. Help people think big. Bring people together. Contribute in your own way. Cut people slack. Help people think big. One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself. Bring people together. ‘Bring another friend’. Contribute in my way. Cut people slack. Forbearance is a form of generosity. Show up, eighty percent of success is showing up. You need to make consistent efforts for your friendships to work.

Familiarity breeds affection. Mere exposure can work to warm your feelings to a particular person. Don’t gossip. Gossip helps to reinforce community values but can only bring about short term happiness. Both men and women prefer to gossip to women, because women are more satisfying listeners. It is best to avoid gossiping altogether. Try to mention only the good things. Making a new friend is tremendously energizing. They provide an entrance to new interests, opportunities and activities. When you enter a new situation, aim to meet 3 new friends. By acting more friendly, you will make yourself friendlier. Even acting friendly will even make introverts happy. When introverts push themselves to act more outgoing, they usually enjoy it and find it cheering. First impressions count. One could smile more frequently, actively invite others to join a conversation, create a positive mood, open a conversation, try to look accessible and warm, show a vulnerable side and laugh at yourself, show a readiness to be pleased, follow others’ conversational leads and ask questions. Most people like to talk about themselves.

Chapter 7: July [Buy Some Happiness – Money]

Indulge in a modest splurge. Buy needful things. Spend out. Give something up.

There is relationship between money and happiness. It helps satisfy basic material needs. ‘Money doesn’t buy happiness’. However, people in richer countries feel happier than those in poorer countries. Most people rate themselves as mildly happy. Once basic needs are satisfied, one can only feel that happy. Can money help buy happiness? Yes it can. It depends on what kind of person you are, it depends on how you spend your money and you fair relative to others. Being healthy doesn’t guarantee happiness. Money is most important for those who are feeling bad. Use money to further your development/relationships. Money spent wisely can support happiness goals of strengthening relationships, promoting health, having fun etc. The quick fix of happiness turns into a longer lasting unhappiness. Spend money on the things you value. Material growth can be satisfying. It is better to be progressing to the summit rather than to be at the summit. ‘Best is good, better is best.’ Maximizers vs satisficers. Most people are a mix of both. Spend Out. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. Charity giving causes higher income. Those who are seen behaving charitably are likely to be elevated to leadership positions. Give something up. Make a decision and sticking to it helps provide happiness.

‘Happiness and misery consist in a progression towards better or worse; it does not matter how high up or low down you are, it depends not on this, but on the direction in which you are tending.’ Samuel Butler

Chapter 8: August [Contemplate the Heavens – Eternity]

Read memoirs of catastrophe. Keep a gratitude notebook. Imitate a spiritual master.

Spiritual states such as elevation, awe, gratitude, mindfulness and contemplation of death. Buddha: ‘Of all mindfulness meditations, that on death is supreme’. Read memoirs by people facing death will help you appreciate life better. Cherish health and appreciate ordinary life. Gratitude is important to happiness. Gratitude fosters forbearance. When you admire someone, the traits that they have are actually are in a nascent and unrecognized stage in yourself. Knowing what you admire in others is a wonderful mirror into your deepest, as yet unborn, self. It is possible to achieve great virtue ‘without going beyond the common order of things.’ ‘It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.’ Being happy is challenging. Happiness takes energy and discipline. ‘I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.’

Chapter 9: September [Pursue a passion – Books]

Write a novel. Make time. Forget about results. Master a new technology.

Making time for your passion will bring a tremendous happiness boost. Starting a project and following it up to the end can give a substantial boost in happiness. ‘Enjoy the fun of failure.’ Create an atmosphere of growth. Life is not way too short to follow your passion. Working hard for something that you are passionate about is so satisfying and adds genuine happiness. Make time. The best reading is re-reading. Forget about results. Make your passion enjoyable and don’t worry about results. Master a new technology. ‘Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so’. You must make the effort to take steps towards happiness by acting with more love, finding work you enjoy and all the rest.

‘You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy. You’re happy if you think you’re happy.’ Gretchen Rubin

Chapter 10: October [Pay attention – Mindfulness]

Meditate on koans. Examine True Rules. Stimulate the mind in new ways. Keep a food diary.

Mindfulness is the cultivation of conscious, non-judgmental awareness. It calms the mind and elevates brain function etc. One way is through mediation. ‘Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?’ ‘What was your face before your parents were born?’ A koan is a question or a statement that can’t be understood logically. One of the true rules is that ‘If you’re willing to take the blame, people will give you responsibility.’ The things that go wrong often make the best memories. Stimulate the mind in new ways. Use a password that indicates the goal you wish to strive towards. Novelty and challenge bring big boosts in happiness. Listening to music is one of the quickest, simplest ways to boost mood and energy and to induce a particular mood. Listening and dancing to music can boost your feelings of mindfulness. Keep a food diary.

Chapter 11: November [Keep a Contented Heart –Attitude]

Laugh out loud. Use good manners. Give positive reviews. Find an area of refuge.

It’s time to focus on your attitude. Keep a heart to be contented. Laugh more. Be kinder. Improve your manners. Laugh out loud. Laughter can boost immunity and lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. It feels great if you manage to make someone else laugh. Listen and laugh. X is the new Y. Sleep is the new sex. Laughing at yourself means you have to give up your pride, your defensiveness and self-centeredness. Use good manners. The five personality traits are extroversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness to experience. Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness. Don’t just argue for the sake of arguing, especially when you are not familiar with the subject matter. What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you. ‘Always make water when you can.’ Enthusiasm is a form of social courage. It is possible to be critical in a positive manner. People have a ‘negativity bias’: we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good. It takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one critical or destructive act.

Chapter 12: December [Boot Camp Perfect – Happiness]

Boot Camp Perfect.

Stick to your goals and resolutions. You need to look in your life and think about feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Novelty and challenge are key sources of happiness. Little things can make a person happy, it doesn’t matter how expensive the item is. Robert Louis Stevenson: ‘There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy’. Keep a resolution chart to keep track of your progress. Following through on your resolutions are the hardest part. You hit a goal, whereas you keep a resolution. The feeling of control is an essential element of happiness. You can change your life without changing your life.

7 tips on getting a quick energy boost (Go outside into the sunlight; go for a brisk walk; act with energy; listen to your favourite upbeat song; tackle an item on your to-do list; clean up; drink some coffee)

7 tips on how money can buy you happiness (Strengthen social bonds; end marital conflict; upgrade your exercise; think about fun; serenity and security; pay more for healthy food; spend money on someone else)

7 tips for making someone like you (Smile; be easily impressed, entertained and interested; have a friendly, open, engaged demeanor; remember trait transfer; laugh at yourself; radiate energy and good humor; show your liking for another person)



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