Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thinking Happy

 I don't know why I can't seem to get a post here on my blog these days. I've been working on this one for days, but each time I log out without publishing. I don't think it has to do with this particular post or anything.

 Anyway, I just finished reading Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin and honestly, I can't stop thinking about it. I read her first book, The Happiness Project a couple of years ago, but largely, I didn't implement much to my life. I know why.  I read this book while deep in the trenches of life with the twins. I wasn't exactly unhappy, but I was/am struggling with to find some sort of balance for our family. I was failing miserably and I didn't think I had time to ponder increasing my happiness. How wrong I was. I continued to be frustrated.

I didn't get the impression that Rubin was unhappy herself, but I believe it took some deep introspection to determine that she could be happier and that her habits could be contributing to what I'll call sub-par happiness. This so-called sub-par happiness is what really got me thinking deeper about happiness and how to achieve it. Happiness is work, but it can/should be happy work. Her journey to happiness, in essence, is a journey of knowing one's self.

Throughout her first book, she identified a set of personal commandments that would be more like principles to live by. Her first commandment is simply: Be Gretchen. The first time I read "Be Gretchen" I suppose I thought it too broad to really mean anything. Be Gretchen? What's that supposed to mean? This is the tricky part. I only really understood it once I read her second book. Be Carmen. Be Carmen? Don't I already know who I am? Yes and no. When I started to think about this, I thought about all the things I think I should like or be interested in, but just am not.  Like skiing. I live in Colorado. I should ski. Everybody loves skiing. I should love skiing. Right? No. I don't have any interest in skiing. Once I let go of the notion that I should like skiing, I was relieved. I am finally being Carmen. In addition to Rubin's 12 Personal Commandments, she also has a list of Eight Splendid Truths and  one of those truths is that "I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature". Why is it so challenging to be ourselves? Understanding who we really are in contrast to who we think we should be is at the crux of the whole thing.

I think a scene in The Runaway Bride illustrates this point very well. Richard Gere goes to the small town to interview all of the jilted grooms. Richard Gere asks each groom how Julia Roberts' character likes her eggs. They all answer the same way. She likes her eggs the same way they do. Richard Gere gets many different answers. Later on in the movie, she tries all the egg dishes- scrambled, poached, etc. to determine exactly how she likes them. It took work for her to determine something as simple figuring how she liked her eggs cooked.

Somewhere along the way of motherhood, I think I started to think, albeit unconsciously, that I didn't matter much. Motherhood involves sacrifice and somehow, I may have intuited that I wasn't nearly as important as my children. I wasn't some martyr or anything like that, I simply forgot to be me. I had to dig deep and get re-acquainted myself. I realized that there was nothing selfish with this idea of "being Carmen".

So, this time around while I ponder happiness, I realized that Gretchen Rubin had a couple of other things that truly made me sit up and pay attention. These things, I might add, were also an education into my own character. Rubin talks about the notion of "spending out". I don't think I have a miserly nature as Rubin thinks of herself, but I definitely saw myself in her description of "saving" things for some better day in the future. It makes no sense. For instance, I used to save all of my "good clothes" and wear all my worn junkie stuff. I couldn't stand the notion of wearing out my good stuff. This didn't just apply to my clothes. It was books. It was dishes. It was everything. I never wanted to crease book spines. In short, I wanted my stuff to stay, nice and perfect. When I was a kid, my sister used to say that my room looked like a museum. Simply, I didn't want to use my good stuff. Of course, by the time I decided that I could wear my "good clothes" they were mostly out of style and I wouldn't wear them anyway. "Spending out" has to do both with using the things we have and enjoying them. Once I relaxed and decided that my books didn't have to stay in pristine condition, I enjoyed my books much more. Once things stopped being off-limits, I started to take pleasure in having things. It's way less work to use them than to save them for some ambiguous day in the future that may not come. In the end, it's just stuff. I realized that this is a weird thing that most people wouldn't even understand, but I realized that this one thing was not contributing to my happiness. So, I started wearing all of my clothes, bending the covers on my books, and in general deciding to use something or give it to someone who would. Rubin has a chapter in The Happiness Project on just this thing. I've discovered those small things that hinder deeper happiness.

These seemingly little things are the big things. Happiness is work, but it should be happy work. Check out Rubin's website, The Happiness Project for more on happiness. There's something for you there. I promise.

Here are Rubin's Splendid Truths. They seem like common sense, but seeing these ideas all together and taken as a whole really gives a clearer picture.
First Splendid Truth
To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
Second Splendid Truth
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.
Third Splendid Truth
The days are long, but the years are short. (Click here to see my one-minute movie; of everything I’ve written about happiness, I think this video resonates most with people.)
Fourth Splendid Truth
You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
[Many argue the opposite case. John Stuart Mill, for example, wrote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” I disagree.]
Fifth Splendid Truth
I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature.
Sixth Splendid Truth
The only person I can change is myself.
Seventh Splendid Truth
Happy people make people happy, but
I can’t make someone be happy, and
No one else can make me happy.
Eighth Splendid Truth
Now is now.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I've been thinking about this since you posted and since our FB conversation. I downloaded the book sample but haven't been able to get to it, LOL! I hope things are easier for you this spring.