I just finished reading a book that made me think. Happiness is a research interest of mine – particularly the way choices we make, such as consumption and giving, impact our feeling of happiness. Gretchen Rubin spent a year trying out ways to make herself happier (which ranged from giving up “fake food” to keeping a gratitude journal and collecting bluebird figurines). But can you guess the very first thing she did, in January, the first month of her project?
She simplified her life. She pared down her possessions, made time for sleep, and pursued more energy in the quest to be happier. She wrote that she “craved an existence of order and serenity,” and in pursuit of it, Rubin tackled clutter and gave it clever names – “aspirational clutter” is that which we intend to use but never do (I count several of my cookbooks in this category; they found new homes this weekend). My own great weakness -gifts and hand-me-downs – she named “freebie clutter.” She described the satisfaction, immediate gratification, and feeling of “needing another hit” of paring down. That feeling has kept me going this whole time! That said, one thing I find bothersome about many blogs and books advocating decluttering is the emphasis on throwing things away. Landfilling your stuff doesn’t reduce clutter – it just makes it everyone’s problem. Please consider whether it can be reused or recycled – if an item has any life left in it, donate it to a thrift shop, sell it on Craigslist, give it to a friend, turn it into something else, put it in the recycling bin. Trashing it should be the last option, not the first.
Paring down and having more energy was only the first step in Rubin’s Happiness Project. She worked on her marriage by trying to quit nagging her husband and by acting more loving, she started her blog in an effort to improve her happiness with her work and conquer a new challenge, she tried to be more generous, lighthearted and kind, and to pursue her passions, such as books. Books are a passion of my own as well: check out my “to read” stack!
Rubin had a list of personal commandments to guide her on the way, a list of resolutions for each month, and a chart where she measured her adherence to her resolutions. This chart, she found, helped her the most in pursuing her happiness goals. On the whole, she found that her project worked: at the end of the year, she really was happier, and being happier made her a better mother, wife and friend, proving that the pursuit of one’s own happiness or emotional well-being is not a narcississtic goal. Removing sources of bad feeling, such as guilt over nagging her family, boosted her happiness even more than pursuing good feelings did. I’ve found that to be true in my own life -happiness and pleasure are often spontaneous and unpredictable, but I can predict the things that will make me feel bad (unfinished tasks, looming deadlines, clutter) and address them proactively. She also found that experiences, like going somewhere new, boosted happiness more than purchasing things. I like that: to be happier, explore the world, and try something new! My own happiness has definitely been boosted by going to new and beautiful places, especially with the people I love:
I’m going to try out some of Rubin’s resolutions – I’ve already started trying to get more sleep. She notes in her sleep research that cold extremities often lead to waking during the night. Inspired by her, I’ve started wearing socks to bed, and it’s been revolutionary – I’ve slept through the night for two weeks straight! I’m going to try writing my own rules to live by and resolutions, but I think the socks are indicative of something I believe to be true: when it comes to happiness, it’s often the little things that count the most. I won’t be trying all of her ideas – especially not the ones that involve buying more stuff- but I do think the book was worth the read, and her blog is well worth checking out as well! Anybody want to join me in trying out some of her resolutions, or writing some of your own?