I got a large response from my post last week about being stressed... many empathized, while others criticized me for not using the “work” that was making me stressed as fuel for the blog… As in, Waaa Waaa Waaa… What do you have to complain about?
And yes, I agree. What DO I have to complain about? I have a great life, that I wouldn’t have any other way. A life I worked hard to build, just the way I wanted it…. that’s why it bothers me that I still have a cloud sitting on my shoulders! And it’s not depression, I know depression. It’s what I called a modern age malaise, a fog of to dos and virtual FOMO(Fear Of Missing Out)ed-ness constantly chirping in my ear. I know it’s all silly. And thats why I want to make it go away.
Enter author Gretchen Rubin, whose book, The Happiness Project, I stumbled upon in the airport. Actually, its been on my to do list for a while, but it never really struck my fancy until this Friday, as I was fleeing my life for a weekend of stress relief. Funny how that happens.
Gretchen finds herself in such a similar predicament to the one I felt last week.
“I had much to be happy about. I was married to Jamie, the tall, dark and handsome love of m life; we had two delightful daughters, seven-year-old Eliza and one-year-old Eleanor; I was a writer, after having started out as a lawyer;I was living in my favorite city, New York; I had close relationships with my parents, sister and in-laws; I had friends; I had my health; I didn’t have to color my hair. But too often I sniped at my husband or the cable guy. I felt dejected after even a minor professional setback. I drifted out of touch with old friends, I lost my temper easily, I suffered bouts of melancholy, insecurity, listlessness and free-floating guilt.”
“I wasn’t depressed and I wasn’t having a midlife crisis, but I was suffering from midlife malaise- a recurring sense of discontent and almost feeling of disbelief. “Can this be me?” I’d wonder as I picked up the morning newspapers or sat down to read my e-mail.
“The words of the writer Colette had haunted me for years: ” What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” I didn’t want to look back at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe and think “how happy I used to be then, if only I’d realized it.”
Within two pages I think: Holy shit, this woman nailed it!!!! If I think about it, I can’t imagine a life I would rather have, and yet, sometimes I’m dreading the day to day of my life, and worse, I’m cranky. While I don’t share her feeling of “Can this be me?” in a bad way, I do fully recognize all the time, that yea, life doesn’t get much better than this.
Over the course of 1 year, Gretchen sets out to make herself happier, systematically, by bettering herself in different areas like energy, marriage, children, and lightening up etc… She makes charts and graphs, and basically works on this project like the nerdiest school nerd of all time. And the project isn’t about running away from your life, al a Eat, Pray, Love (a book that never resonated with me), its about enjoying the life you have and being the best version of yourself that YOU can and want to be. Part of that is to accept who you are and who you are not…
Gretchen basically goes through her problem areas and tries to work on them, one by one. I’ve identified my main problem:
I am VERY unorganized. I used to think it lead to controlled chaos and that I just wasn’t a control freak. I thought it was ARTISTIC. Now I feel like this:
“Unfinished tasks were draining my energy and making me feel guilty. I felt like a bad friend because I hadn’t bought a wedding gift. I felt like an irresponsible family member because I’d never gotten a skin cancer check (and I have the super fair skin that comes with red hair). I felt like a bad parent because our toddler, eleanor, needed new shoes. I had an image of myself sitting in front of a hive shaped laptop, while reminders in the form of bees dive-bombed my head, buzzing, ” Do me!” “Do Me!” while I slapped them away. It was time for some relief.”
Gretchen nailed it again. My mental and physical clutter (she discusses that too!) is weighing on me and leaving me with this constant nagging feeling. Thats why I have a stomach ache when I wake up in the morning, there is already 100 things I didn’t do! This is, as far as I’m concerned, my biggest and worst flaw. AND thankfully, its something tangible that I can work on.
Another things that bothers me about myself: I can be negative. I am critical and yet I take criticism very hard.
I particularly liked these passages about criticism:
“Why was it so deliciously satisfying to criticize? Being critical made me feel more sophisticated and intelligent- and in fact, studies show that people whoa re critical are often perceived to be more discerning. In one study, for example, people judged the writers of negative book reviews as more expert and competent than the writers of positive reviews, even when the content of both reviews was deemed to be of high quality.”
“Giving positive reviews requires humility. I have to admit, I missed the feeling of superiority that I got from using puncturing humor, sarcas, ironic asides, cynical comments, and cutting remarks. A willing-ness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence- easy to deride as mawkish and sentimental.”
I like to think I can give praise where praise is due, but it is something that I work on. And I think as women, we all suffer from this a bit.
I loved these passages about enjoying the Fun of Failure– and though she doesn’t link them in her book, I have always thought that criticism and gossip is usually linked with the speaker’s own fear of failure.
“Pushing myself, I knew, would cause me serious discomfort. Its a Secret of Adutlhood: Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. When I thought about why I was sometimes reluctant to push myself, I realized that it was because I was afraid of failure- but in order to have more success, I needed to be willing to accept more failure. I remember the words of Robert Browning: “Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
I’d known that, obviously, and I have overcome fear of failure many times: every time I expose myself in a blog post, or try something new, I’m trying to squelch my fear of failure, and my fear of rejection. I have a nervous feeling RIGHT NOW, about how I am exposing myself emotionally like this and whether the readers will respond! And Gretchen actually wrote those words in reference to starting her blog!
Many other things in Gretchen’s book were things I had taught myself years ago:
I’d learned this many years ago, as a 20 year old, along with:
But the thing that makes me tear up every time I look at it is:
A one sentence knife to the heart. Ultimately, these terrible and awesome years of young child rearing will be gone before I know it. And they will never be babies again… It’s a painful thing to be a parent. To MISS a child that is still in your arms, to miss that child now, for the future. It’s a weird and twisted thing, to leave the beach one summer and think, next year, I’ll be bringing back a different child. It’s not sad, its happy, but its still sad. So ultimately, I want to be more present in the actual moments when I’m with my children. When Cookie was around a year old we used to go for neighborhood walks. I would take her once a day, with no cell phone, to walk around and look at the different things in our hood… I need to reinstate screen free time with my kids. We get it in bits and pieces, but we need chunks. Basically, I need to learn to compartmentalize. When I’m with my kids, be with my kids. When I’m working, be working. (Thats not from the book, that’s from me.)
Gretchen talks about how all statiscs and reports show that people are actually less happy when they have small children living at home with them, but when asked, say that their children are their primary source of joy! She says the studies are wrong and again delivers this tip:
Of course I hate changing diapers, but the cumulative affect of being a mother makes me very happy. She talks about raising a family as a kind of fog happiness: like the hostess of a party, DURING the party, it doesn’t seem enjoyable as you bustle about. But the time and fog around and after the party makes you undoubtably happy.
There are so many other moments in Gretchen’s book that are helpful:
She talks about how money CAN buy you little bits of happiness, when you use it properly. She talks about overcoming her under-buying habit to stockpile toilet paper, so that her family will never run out!! Using money for projects with her kids, and using money to make her home a happier place. She talks about taking time to loosen up, laugh more, play more, try new things, form groups with like minded people… and living your life in an ATMOSPHERE OF GROWTH. Thats something that resonated with me, I’ve always been one to enjoy learning things, experiencing things, challenging myself. In fact, I feel shriveled up inside when I don’t get to do something creative every day. Thats part of the reason that I have the blog.
I’ve also always felt that the blog allowed me to enjoy my own friends more… Why? Because by finding like minded people around the world to share in my passions, I could stop pressuring the people around me IRL to be people who they weren’t. I could stop blathering on about wallpaper to people who didn’t give a crap- and I could stop being disappointed that they didn’t care, now that I knew people who did. (Remember the rule about “What’s fun for you may not be fun for someone else?!”)
I really could go on and on about the different moments and lines in the book that touched me, but I’ll cut it short until I work on myself some more…
Basically: I HIGHLY recommend the book, if you are, like me, an average person who has a happy life. A happy life that you want to enjoy more. Without doing anything crazy, leaving the country, or finding religion. It’s about finding and not denying who you are.
Many of you asked me for a book review, and so here it is! Have you read The Happiness Project? Thoughts?!!?
Oh, one more thing: I’m not a very spiritual person, but I do believe in the power of a mantra, visualizing goals and yes, “The Secret”, The Secret being – know what you want and visualize it clearly. Keep it at the front of your mind and it will come to you, not because of the cosmos, but because of your own will power making it happen… All that said, I’ve always been SO INSANELY critical of anyone with a quote or word printed out ANYWHERE in their home: EAT, DREAM, SLEEP, LIKE -FOREVER, I’ve mocked you in my head… and now all I want to do is print out mantras and paste them on my walls. Go figure.
OK- now you can spill it. And be kind to me, I’ve bared my soul. And if you aren’t interested in this, I’m sorry too. But since I’ve texted everyone in my phone telling them to read this book, I couldn’t not share it with you.