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COULD WE BE ANY HAPPIER? CHECK OUT “THE HAPPINESS PROJECT”

As moms, we spend a lot of time thinking about our family’s happiness, and what might make them happier, don’t we?  Would the kids like this dance class or that one? Do they have enough friends? What vacation would be the most fun for the kids? What can I cook for dinner that the kids will like? But how much time do we really spend thinking about our own happiness? Is it selfish or a necessity to think about our own happiness?  

(Photo: Giraffe Photography)

When my own mom started reading “The Happiness Project”, it got me thinking. Could Gretchen Rubin’s book, now over a decade old, offer me any tidbits on happiness that might actually make a difference in my frazzled, harried, sometimes anxiety-filled but still mostly blessed mom life? I was willing to check it out!

The author is a mom who had already changed careers from being a lawyer to embracing her dream of being an author in hopes of finding happiness, all while raising two young kids. This made me listen up. I didn’t want to hear about bubble baths and self care from someone who wasn’t in the trenches with me, and knew what it was like to try and find happiness among the piles of laundry and cheerios stuck to the floor of the car.

Gretchen took a full year, and focused on researching happiness and conducting her own experiment to find a little more happiness each month in one aspect of her life – energy level, marriage, work, parenthood, leisure, friendship, money, spirituality, and more.  She gave herself concrete and measurable resolutions based on everything from ancient wisdom to current trends, and held herself accountable. Sounds like a lot of work, right? But her theory was, if you put in the work, will reaping the rewards of more happiness be worth it? And if mom is more happy, wouldn’t everyone in the family be more happy?  I really enjoyed following along through her journey. I especially appreciated how she incorporated the experiences of so many others to give different perspectives.  Here are some ideas that stuck with me, even months after reading the Happiness Project.

-January – The author starts with some very basic ideas. Would getting more sleep, purging, organizing, and exercising more regularly boost energy and therefore happiness? I’m sure it would. This takes more self-discipline than I usually have, but gave me the motivation to want to try.  I’m still waiting to start, maybe with the sleeping at least?

-February focused on marriage, suggesting to try to quit nagging, fight right, and don’t expect praise or appreciation. Wow. Was she living in my house? Could I go a month without nagging? She’s pretty real about how hard it was, but also some of the unintended rewards when she bit her tongue a bit more in search of marital peace.  I found this chapter very motivating and could see where focusing on being nicer and more generous to your partner could definitely lead to more marital bliss.

-I really liked April, which focused on having more fun parenting.  I forget to laugh sometimes, especially when someone is being naughty or frustrating.  When I do though, it lightens the mood of the whole house. The author’s resolutions for happier parenting include: sing in the morning, acknowledge kids’ real feelings, be a treasure house of happy memories, and take time for fun projects.  These are all things I love to do, but sometimes forget to enjoy. To me, this was the most helpful chapter. Her suggestions for acknowledging big feelings were excellent – write it down (as in “Eleanor does not like wearing snow boots! I’m going to write that down”), cuddle instead of talk, find other words besides no, wave your magic wand (or at least pretend to try), and acknowledge difficult tasks.  

A fun reminder came in the June chapter- make time for friends. How many of us are guilty of cocooning in our house with our family, and not taking time to make new friends or enjoy the ones we have. When we are busy, unfortunately time with friends gets squeezed out. This chapter was packed with great ideas. The author’s resolutions to be an encourager, stop gossiping, make three new friends, and be generous in a way that makes you happy all resonated with me, along with dozens of others.  I plan to re-read this one often.

You will have to read “The Happiness Project” yourself to find out if Gretchen really was happier after her one year experiment. It served its purpose as far as I was concerned though.

I did find myself trying to smile more, exercise more regularly, be intentional, spend time organizing and treasuring memories, reach out to friends, and in general spent a little more time doing things that might make me happier, without too much guilt. It was fun to spend a few days thinking about ways to cultivate happiness in my own life, and hopefully might help you focus on the happiness in your life too.  Check out more about “The Happiness Project” here.  

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