01 Aug 2010

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I read this very popular memoir a few weeks ago with mixed reactions.

First, there is the inevitable “You are so blessed, why in the world are you telling me what to do with my life? Don’t you have a nanny to fire or something?” Of course, her writing style is humble and she acknowledges that fervently maximizing happiness is an endeavor of the privileged, but come ON. She’s a full-time writer slash stay at home mom who clerked with Sandra Day O’Connor in her lawyer days, and a quick Google reveals that her kindly husband is the son of one of those Goldman Sachs guys who got fired with a bazillion dollar severance the other year.

Come ON!

Anyway, I had some issue with the book besides my Upper Middle Class Lifestyle/Middle Class Paycheck jealousies. The writing was fairly boring. Every month, she tackled an aspect of her personal happiness by making any number of small changes. Then she’d discuss each change in turn, rarely returning to the habits to discuss their efficacy, how they fit into her life, et cetera. It was writing that lacked drama. Earnest, humorless nonfiction.

But even though I mentally tore down her premise and dismissed her writing abilities, damn it Gretchen Rubin, I still found myself wanting to fill out my own Ben Franklin checklist. I pored over what I would change in my life for a few hours, brainstorming, until I realized that I seemed not particularly interested in being happy. I just wanted to be perfect.


So I’m trying to step away from the anal-retentive self-monitoring for now (yesterday’s post being um… let’s just not talk about it). But especially given this upcoming One Year In Boston-iversary, I’ve been thinking a lot about leisure time, joyful activities, the things I do For Fun, and would never give up. Why do we enjoy something for days, weeks, months, and then abandon that joy? Sometimes I think all my endless self-improvement attempts are really just some kind of guilty self-punishment for enjoying anything, because if it’s fun, it must be bad for me. Sure, I don’t play The Sims anymore, or watch much TV, but wasn’t watching TV fun?

When I moved, I had to abandon a lot of my daily joys. Mostly because I went into voluntary poverty – no more shopping at Barnes & Noble, no more fancy new electronics, spontaneous road trips, new clothes. I also left some things behind, like those pesky Sims games, and my sisters, who are without a doubt the quickest way to find joy in a day that is otherwise bereft.

Other things were just forgotten. Things that were cheap or free, that I just forgot about.

So I’m making two auditory resolutions for the rest of 2010.

1) I will listen to a new album every week.

Not a mix CD. Not a Youtube video. Not that same Sufjan Stevens CD I’ve burned into my eardrums for years. Not necessarily something hot of the charts, or even from this decade, but something I’ve never listened to. Something fresh.

2) I will listen to an NPR program every week.

I miss having a car radio!


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