As I write this, I’m bedding down for the night on a carpet of pine needles & a sleeping pad with a slow leak. I haven’t showered in days, and I’ve been little miss gloom-and-doom for months. Basically, I’m the Prince of Darkness to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Rubin likely wouldn’t let me sit on her furniture, and she definitely wouldn’t want me planning her vacation, or making dinner (I had beer & cookies tonight), or unloading my rain cloud on her. But her advice is so simple it’s working even in my life.
Rubin begins The Happiness Project by framing herself as normal and mostly content. She has an adorable husband named Jamie, two kids, a law degree, and a swanky loft in New York City. Her motive in The Happiness Project is to milk the happiness in her life for all it’s worth.
Camped in the dirt & under the stars, I feel mostly happy for the first time in a while. One of Rubin’s tips helped me get there: act the way you want to feel. I wanted to feel happy. Lucky for me, so did the person I’m riding with. We laughed, a little nervously at first, until it caught some momentum and we actually started feeling happy. We cried a little too. When happiness is your baseline, though, sad is a lot less debilitating.
One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
Times were different in 2009 when Rubin wrote The Happiness Project. The world was not in a pandemic, civil rights uprising, and can’t-deny-it-any-longer climate crisis. Rubin slept pretty well most nights; her house was fairly organized. Small gains in these areas, her research told her, would make for an even happier life. So she spent a full year making happiness out of her daily habits.
Improving on my happiness was not where I was at when I read The Happiness Project. My goal was more to find a little peace of mind while not totally self-destructing on 4 or 5 hours of sleep & living out of disorganized piles I hadn’t yet found places for in my new living arrangement. Rubin’s Happiness Project, I soon learned, works even for those of us living in a state of life-brought-to-a-halt-during-a-pandemic because her tips are practical and down right boring. Seriously. When life turns upside down, boring becomes comfort and security.
Look for happiness under your own roof.Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
In my favorite chapter, Rubin gives advice on de-cluttering & minimizing junk. First, she describes the excitement of cleaning out her closet, then she writes about the fun she had team-purging her husband’s closet. The joy Rubin finds in getting rid of things is contagious. I am now setting the most boring goal of my life: someday, clean out a closet with someone who loves you. Before the pandemic, I would have rolled my eyes at this idea. Today, I mean it.
My first round of closet clean out felt pretty good. Checking it off my to-do list felt even better. After I was laid off, I went for round two of closet purging, and thinking about never again having to wear frumpy clothes while listening to administrators pontificate was—seriously— thrilling.
Closet Purge Thought #1: “Goodbye ugly tunic & slacks! I no longer stand with the oppressive literary canon of profit driven academia.”
Closet Purge Thought #2: “Goodbye ugly skirt! Never wearing you to another faculty meeting where the one or two times a year I try speaking up about a student related issue I’m cut off by someone with more publications sharing about the crumpets they made to go along with a class assignment.”
Obviously, these thoughts didn’t get me anywhere in my progress out of unemployment, but the closet cleaning felt productive and therefore really, really good.
Studies show that one of the best ways to lift your mood is to engineer an easy success, such as tackling a long-delayed chore.Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I also found Rubin’s tips for better sleep useful: get rid of any electronics or clocks with bright lights, tidy up before bed, & schedule time to get ready—& cozy—for sleep. These suggestions for happiness are a good place to start, especially when I’m feeling really, really scattered. Simple tasks like these allow me to be a robot with an intention: no need to think, just do, and this will bring you some happiness. Unfortunately, I still fall off the sleep wagon every few nights because my head won’t stop spinning from so much change. But Rubin’s simple strategies are there for me the next night, so it’s easy for me to keep trying, even in my world as the Prince of Darkness to type A happiness.
What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
A Happiness Project for life during a pandemic would be useful. Rubin, though, claims we should all start our own happiness projects. She says her memoir of a year spent finding more happiness is intended to encourage others to work on their open happiness projects
So I guess I’ll start my happiness project now, from my current sleeping bag nest on a carpet of pine needles, next to a field of lupine.
Enthusiasm is more important than innate ability, it turns out, because the single more important element in developing an expertise is your willingness to practice.Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I can DO ANYTHING I want, but I can’t DO EVERYTHING I want.Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I enjoy the fun of failure. It’s fun to fail, I kept repeating. It’s part of being ambitious; it’s part of being creative. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project