January – The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I recently told you guys that I would be reading a book a month for the next year and what better way to hold myself accountable to that than to write a blurb about each one that I read? The first book on my list was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, aptly subtitled Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

I recently told one of my co-workers that I, like Gretchen and her happiness project, was starting a project of my own, to read a book a month for the next year; he asked me what ones I would start with, and I told him I had picked the first three: The Happiness Project, You Are A Badass, and Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant To Be. He looked at me and asked, genuinely, “Are you only going to read self-help books?” I felt immediately self-conscious; was I in need of self-help, wasn’t I already happy, what did I need to change about my life? But, after reading my first book, I could confidently answer him, “I think so…” I’m sure I’m not the only one who looked both ways before walking toward the self-help section of the bookstore, I wanted to make sure I didn’t see someone I knew, in fact I didn’t want to see anyone at all, but the thing that all self-help books seem to have in common – they’re about bettering your life, and changing the way you think about it, and maybe we could all use a little bit of that, I know I can happily admit that I can.

The first thing that struck me about Gretchen was her honesty; she openly admits that the things we think, so surely, will make us happy, often times leave a lot to be desired – this is exactly how I feel about grad school. Yes, of course, I am beyond proud of myself, and I feel accomplished having gotten in, but I thought getting into graduate school would change my life, I don’t remember actively thinking that somehow I would instantly make more money, or be more, or feel like more, but I think I did, and when none of those things happened, I felt like I was sold short.

The truth is: getting into grad school didn’t change my life; I have to. Gretchen writes, “In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar describes the ‘arrival fallacy,’ the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy…The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because, though you may anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate” (84). The arrival fallacy, me and grad school; I’ve arrived, I’ve succeeded, but I feel more self-doubt than when my application was submitted and I awaited an answer!

As someone who’s worked in leadership for most of my job-having days, I’ve been told countless times that I need to be less bubbly, or even meaner, stricter, less people pleasing, less chatty, more serious, but Gretchen gave me a boost. She writes, “Happier people also make more effective leaders. They perform better on managerial tasks such as leadership and mastery of information. They’re viewed as more assertive and self-confident than less happy people. They’re perceived to be more friendly, warmer, and even more physically attractive” (70). I wonder if the boss who once sat me down and told me I needed to be feared by my employees and not loved by them is reading this – I doubt he is.

So what’s the point, what did Gretchen teach me? Well, in her words, not mine, “I could change my life without changing my life” (289). That’s exactly what I’m aiming for, that’s why I’m embracing self-help because I want to change my life without changing my life, I just want to look at it differently, I want to apply a happiness filter to all I have and all I am and embrace whatever comes; I listened to a Podcast recently (Unlocking Your Success Code) and the thing that stuck with me the most was the idea that things aren’t happening to you, they’re happening for you, good or bad, to help you grow, to help you evolve; so listen to the universe, know what and who you are grateful for, and remember you deserve it all!

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