Books Magazine

The Happiness Project Read Along — Wednesday Discussion

By Joyweesemoll @joyweesemoll
cover of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project is the Read Along book for The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge of 2014

Welcome to the first discussion session for The Happiness Project Read Along! This week we’re talking about the first three chapters. Join us in the comments or post on your blog and add it to the link list below.

1. The first question is borrowed from The Happiness Project Reading Guide at HarperCollins. Gretchen argues throughout The Happiness Project that striving to be happy is a worthy, not selfish, goal. Do you agree? Do you think that Gretchen was right, or not, to devote so much time and attention to her own happiness? Do you spend much time thinking about your happiness?

I bought this argument from page 14:

Contemporary research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likable, more creative, more resilient, more interested in others, friendlier, and healthier. Happy people make better friends, colleagues, and citizens.

Those findings match my personal experience. When I’m happier, I’m less selfish, not more so. It makes sense to get the happy part right, even if it takes some alone time, so that I can function in more generous ways when I’m out and about in the world. Besides, I’m an introvert. I need my alone time — I might as well spend some of it thinking about what makes me happy so that when I’m in extroverted mode, I have more to give.

2. Of the three topics covered in the first three chapters (Vitality, Marriage, and Work), which area would you like to improve the most in 2014? Why? Would some of the techniques that worked for Gretchen work for your situation?

Work is my major focus right now because I have a big project I would like to complete in 2014. But, I have pretty good structures in place for that — most of them having to do with vitality and energy. So, I find myself surprised that I have the most post-it notes in the Marriage chapter. My marriage is great. So great, I take it for granted (excuse me a moment while I give Rick a smile and a kiss).

What is not so great is our ability to complete projects that we have to do together. We’re both introverts, we both have interesting projects of our own, and it’s just hard to get ourselves on the same page at the same moment to get something done.

The story about how Gretchen took charge of her mother-in-law’s birthday party was instructive. She thought she might resent taking over a job that wasn’t really hers, but it turned out to be satisfying for everyone. I think I need to take charge of more things, even things that aren’t really mine. If they’re bugging me, then they might as well be mine. It doesn’t mean that I need to do all the work, it just means that I need to be the instigating force. I can do that.

3. What idea from the first three chapters of The Happiness Project could use today that would likely make you happier?

I got myself out of a bad mood more quickly by remembering The First Splendid Truth at the right moment.

The First Splendid Truth: To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. (p. 67)

I was feeling bad, but it was because I was trying something new in an atmosphere of growth. This was good on two counts — I’m not always aware that I’m feeling bad and I felt better as soon as I realized it was in the service of growth. I suppose a faster way to an improved mood would be to embrace Gretchen’s mantra that it’s fun to fail. But I’m unconvincing when I say that to myself. So, I’ll stick with “It’s fun to grow and that means trying new things to see if they work.”

4. What idea from the first three chapters of The Happiness Project are you pretty sure wouldn’t make you happier at all, even if it seems to work for Gretchen?

The exploration of a different theme per month is too long term to contribute to my happiness, as I discuss in the next answer.

5. What do you think of the structures that Gretchen uses to facilitate her Happiness Project? Would something like a Resolutions Chart help you? What about the concept of tackling a different theme each month?

I’m skeptical about arranging a different theme each month. I can spend days planning some fancy system around an idea like that, only to have it falter on the first day of implementation. And then I feel bad for months because I know I had a fantasy for how I would be spending this time but I couldn’t make it work, so it’s a constant source of disappointment.

The Resolutions Chart, on the other hand, has worked for me in various forms since I read this book the first time. I’m astounded by the things I can get myself to do for a gold star, or even just a check mark on a sheet of paper.

Right now, I’m monitoring streaks — how many days in a row that I’ve done the things that I’d like to do daily. I’m on 171 days of exercise, 50 days of completing my Morning Routine, and 0 days of completing my Afternoon and Evening Routines. The long streaks are motivating and the ones that keep dropping back to 0 remind me to re-think my structures and try something new that might work better.

Are you reading The Happiness Project? What would you like to talk about? If you want an advance copy of the discussion questions for next week, let me know. I’ll email them on Saturday for our next discussion post, a week from today.

Join our Twitter Chat tonight. Most of our discussion will be on resolutions, goals, and projects and the books that support them, but we’ll have a question at the end for those of us reading The Happiness Project. We’ll be chatting at 9PM Eastern / 8 Central / 7 Mountain / 6 Pacific / 5 Alaskan / 4 Hawaiian. The hashtag is #WSchat.

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