Happiness is a Book.
by Jo Keroes
Ah. A New Year (note the caps). A time for resolutions kept and un.
In this spirit, l can’t resist offering my own resolution: read more books. The platform doesn’t matter. Kindle, i-phone, or good old paper and ink - just read. Read more for pleasure and the exploration of new worlds; read more to learn, to entertain new ideas or even to revisit old ones, like New Year’s resolutions.
In this regard, consider The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin’s entry into what’s threatening to become the topic du jour- happiness. Rubin may in fact be among the bandwagon leaders, since she has a busy blog and website devoted to happiness projects, along with lots of fans. Everyone, it seems, has resolved to be happier. A former lawyer who clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, Rubin opted for an early career change and became a full time writer. Contemplating her life as a successful professional in a happy marriage with two adorable children, she realized she nonetheless suffered from a vague malaise, a feeling that she could appreciate her good life more than she did, could feel moregrateful more consciously. Taking stock of herself, she wanted to be less critical of her husband and kids, to nag less and acknowledge kindnesses more, to “change the lens through which [she] viewed everything familiar.” Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert’s adventuresome year of eating, praying and loving, of casting off an old life for new and exotic experiences, Rubin’s year isn’t about extraordinary change. She wants to find “more happiness in [her] own kitchen.” So she studies the sages of happiness, from Greek philosophers to the Dalai Lama to contemporary positive psychologists, and smoothly cites their wisdom as she recounts her quest. Worried that working on her own happiness might be considered too self absorbed, she discovers that happy people are more likely to act altruistically, to be more interested in social problems and to volunteer more often than unhappy ones.
And so, beginning in January, she charts a year’s worth of resolutions and tackles one each month, eventually arriving at the year’s end marathon that includes them all: ask for help; give proofs of love; cut people slack; lighten up; cultivate a willingness to be pleased; act as you would like to feel. Astonishingly, she actually uses the resolution chart and accountability checklist she devises to keep her honest, testifying to what we all know too well, that small efforts consistently made add up and bring results. It’s the consistency that counts. Rubin knows that what she’s doing isn’t original, but placing resolution- making in the context of happiness, of a project, generates new interest in what we already know, possibly making it more effective, not just for her, but for readers who might be inspired to embark on projects of their own. She also knows, and stresses here, that what makes one person happy does no more than that: it makes that particular person happy. In fact, one of the most useful of her resolutions is to accept what gives her pleasure even if she wishes that something else did. In her case it’s books – reading them, writing them, researching them, making them. It’s not travel or adventure or salsa dancing. Accepting one’s own likes and dislikes, accepting who one is instead of trying to figure out what one ought to like or be, makes one a whole lot happier. It helps her to accomplish a good deal during her year.
Though the book is occasionally repetitive (as sticking to resolutions must inevitably be), Rubin is an engaging narrator and guide and her self-help memoir might very well motivate other selves to take another go at resolutions. It’s a new year, after all.