March 2, 2017

book: the happiness project

This was a book I started for book club way back in October. I finally finished it a few weeks ago.

Image result for happiness project

I just wanted to record one thing that really resonated with me about being happy. One of her "rules to live by" was to "Be Gretchen"--to be herself. I think that's a lesson we all have to figure out on our own in life. And the sooner we do, the better. I just think I spent too much time in high school and in my 20s worrying about other people and what they thought--what was cool, what was "in", what activities to join, how I appeared to other people, was I liked, and generally comparing myself to others. I'm quite certain that is one hundred percent natural and most of us do it. And in many ways it serves us to think about this and helps us navigate social situations and make friends.

But when I want to be more deliberate about my own happiness I think it can be summed up to "be yourself". To stretch ourselves and improve ourselves. But to do it in our own way. On our own path.

For example, I really love reading. But I don't have to pretend I love reading some highly intellectual or award winning books when what I really love to read is children's lit and the classics. And notebooks and pens make me really, really happy. And I hate playing team sports but I love yoga. And I enjoy a nice long walk, but running long distances just doesn't do it for me. Or I used to try to hide it that I do not like chocolate. But really I just don't like it.

Just stuff like that. And it's just better to embrace it. To figure it out and embrace it.

I love this quote by CS Lewis. "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret, and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am 50 I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

It's important to acknowledge what we enjoy, not what we wish we enjoyed. And not hold ourelves to someone else's standard.

In the book, there is also a quote by Michel de Montaigne that says, "The least strained and the most natural ways of the soul are the most beautiful; the best occupations are the least forced."

That makes me think that creating more happiness in our lives means taking our ordinary days and fitting in the things we naturally love. Being deliberate.

Sure it also means stretching ourselves and pushing ourselves out of our content little boxes.

Like William Butler Yeats said, "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing."

But that stretching and that growth looks different for everyone. We just need to be doing something.

To quote Benjamin Franklin, "On the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious about obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet as I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it."


Just a few days ago, my general conference talk reading was of the address given by President Russell M. Nelson entitled "Joy and Spiritual Survival".  I thought that was very timely that I came to it next since I had just started writing my thoughts down here on this post about the Happiness Project book.

Now I still think the Happiness Project book is a great book and gets you thinking about some specifics and habits in your own life. But I also think how pretty spectacular that a prophet of God can write a pretty short article about joy--something even greater, and deeper than happiness-- and remind me of this simple yet profound truth and my spirit is touched and my mind is enlightened and the truth of it just resonates deeply through me. Happiness can be fleeting, but joy is powerful and we can feel it even when we are experiencing challenges and or bad days.

What I would add to the Happiness Project book, if I could do that little thing of adding to books myself, is this said by President Nelson:
"My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.
When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, which President Thomas S. Monson just taught us, and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. We feel it at Christmastime when we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”9 And we can feel it all year round. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy!....
Joy is powerful, and focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives.  ...
If we look to the world and follow its formulas for happiness,27 we will never know joy. The unrighteous may experience any number of emotions and sensations, but they will never experience joy!28 Joy is a gift for the faithful.29It is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ.30
He taught us how to have joy. When we choose Heavenly Father to be our God31 and when we can feel the Savior’s Atonement working in our lives, we will be filled with joy.32 Every time we nurture our spouse and guide our children, every time we forgive someone or ask for forgiveness, we can feel joy. 
Every day that you and I choose to live celestial laws, every day that we keep our covenants and help others to do the same, joy will be ours."
I want to be happy. I want to feel that deep joy. So my own happiness project is simple right now. It includes making sure I am taking time to study (gospel and other topics) each day (with my notebooks and pens!). I will be dancing in the living room with my family more. And I am making a really big effort to meet new people and participate in groups that do things I love, like book clubs and yoga at the church. And mostly, as President Nelson invites us to do, I want to do things that help make the Savior and his atonement even more real to me.