What happens when you have it all and yet you still aren't happy?
Gretchen decided to actively find ways to improve her happiness. She set up Commandments and Virtues, like Benjamin Franklin's Thirteen Virtues, that would guide her happiness. These included the ever vague, but also inspiring, 'Be Gretchen'.
And she established a blog to track her progress; a blog that grew and grew as more and more people joined her project. If you are to take anything from Gretchen Ruben's project, it's how she impressively grew to have one of the US's most popular blogs in just a few months from a simple concept - happiness. As a blogger, I was totally blown away by that. Mainly because she implies she put minimal effort into the blog in the book.
Everyone wants to be happy. And if they are happy, to be happier. It's easy to buy into the idea; I mean I did when I purchased the book.
But how did Gretchen do it? With simple, track-able goals. She started in January, and tracked every single month's achievements, experiences and enlightenments. Having 3 or 4 goals per month that feed into a wider over-arching theme of the month, happiness becomes achievable. Or at least your goals do.
They're goals we can all work on as well.
- Don't expect praise or appreciation
- Do things for yourself not others
- No nagging
- Work smart
She finds that growth, or more specifically, spiritual growth is the key to happiness. It makes sense. as this WB Yeats quote sums up exactly where and how I get my happiness from.
"Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing."Everything seemed to be going very well for Gretchen. But when May came along, it was humanising to see that not everything she tried turned out so well. Her 'fun' project was met with a lack of enthusiasm, or fake enthusiasm that didn't ever turn into something real. Up until
May, it seemed she had found an almost-too-perfect manifesto for creating happiness.
It was an important lesson that the road to happiness is paved with downs as well as ups.
Gretchen explores all sorts of routes to happiness throughout her year - like how happiness essentials such as gratitude and mindfulness are religious or spiritual in their nature. Despite the declining numbers of church goers in the Western World, maybe spirituality does have a role to play in happiness?
She also looks to volunteerism and charitable giving. I always feel great about myself after I've spent time doing good for a charitable cause, or even just doing something nice for a friend. You can't argue with doing good for others as a way to find happiness.
But another odd experiment Gretchen tried early on was de-cluttering. I was surprised at how helpful Gretchen found clearing out her unused items, unworn clothes, and creating more space, so I decided to try it myself. I de-cluttered and gave two full black bin bags of my clothes to charity. I hadn't worn some of them for years, or ever. Why I had kept them for so long I didn't know.
And do you know what? It felt like a weight had been lifted and I did feel much freer, just like Gretchen said de-cluttering made her feel.
The book is a great read - whether you are into self help books or not. Gretchen is honest, and every month she learns what works and what doesn't. But she also points out that what is successful differs for everyone. While Gretchen was a bit of a hoarder and needed to de-clutter, not everyone is and not everyone can find happiness that way. She also teaches the importance of 'thinking you are happy'. It sounds silly, but if you think that you are happy, then you are. And maybe happiness really is that simple?
Now that I've finished the book, I feel really inspired to start a project of my own. While I do feel fairly content with where I am in my life right now, there are a lot of nagging problems that pursue me, such as my self-doubt, my anxiety and . These are obstacles to happiness. I don't think a happiness project per se will work for me, but some form of self-improvement is necessary for the next stage of my life. I've started to read a lot around the topics; overcoming anxiety, happiness, and general self-improvement.
Stay tuned to the blog to see what I discover!