Books Magazine

The Happiness Project Read Along — Wednesday Discussion, January 15

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 second discussion session for The Happiness Project Read Along! This week we’re talking about Chapters 4, 5, and 6. Join us in the comments or post on your blog and add it to the link list below.

1. Of the three topics covered in chapters 4, 5, and 6 (Parenthood, Leisure, and Friendship), 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?

As I mentioned last week, work is my major focus for 2014, which makes Leisure an important counterpoint. I related to Gretchen’s struggle of figuring out exactly what is fun for me, especially since I tend to devalue what seems fun to me as being weird or not legitimate to me. Who else loves planning their life with lists, charts, and color-coding?

My most fun day last week was the one I spent compiling the list of books I might read before our possible trip to England in the fall. Fortunately, I just read at Reader Buzz by Deb Nance about a recent study that trip-planning makes people happy, so I can feel less weird about that.

2. What idea from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of The Happiness Project could you use today that would likely make you happier?

Since I don’t have children, it’s more than a little odd that the most post-it notes this week ended up in the Parenthood chapter. But, I realized that I’ve been using the bit of advice to “acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings” since the first time I read this book and it’s made a big difference in my relationship to my husband. I have a tendency to insist that people feel better without first accepting that they feel bad. I even use the “wave my magic wand” technique. Of course, a magic wand metaphor seems strange to adults, but I’ve had good results saying things like “I wish I could make your cough disappear.” That technique has the advantage of acknowledging the negative feeling while indulging my desire to fix things, so it comes naturally to me.

3. What idea from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of The Happiness Project are you pretty sure wouldn’t make you happier at all, even if it seems to work for Gretchen?

The Friendship chapter annoyed me the first time I read it, and a second reading only intensified the annoyance. The only advice Gretchen has for introverts is to be more like extroverts. Yes, studies show that introverts need social bonds, too, but that means we need much more nuanced advice about how to make friends while retaining appropriate boundaries. Never mind. If you’re an introvert, read Quiet by Susan Cain and scale Gretchen’s suggestions by at least half. And, remember, when you’re around other people, that what all those extroverts really need is someone to listen for a change.

4. Gretchen likes to collect quotes and use them in her writing. Have you run across any quotes in The Happiness Project that held special significance for you?

I loved this quote on page 147 from Simone Weil, which applies to stories and life (but in opposite directions):

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

5. At the end of 6 months, Gretchen re-evaluates and realizes that in some ways her Happiness Project has made her more aware of her faults and shortcomings and, therefore, less happy. She remains hopeful that this process will make her happy in the long run. Are you hopeful on her behalf? Are you hopeful that any changes this book prompts you to make in your life will make you happier in six months?

Another quote I liked showed up here, page 164, and gave me hope, as it did Gretchen. This one is from Benjamin Franklin:

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

I’ve been through enough self and life-improvement schemes to know that they always fall short of expectation. And, yet, here I am at the beginning of a new year, considering whether this color-coded Notecard System will be the perfect way to keep track of things in 2014. And, enjoying every moment of that contemplation.

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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