Robin handed me the book “The Happiness Project,” and like a moth to a flame I was drawn to the subtitle, “Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.” The book is by Gretchen Rubin.
I love the discipline of committing to something for a year and currently have that “2016-not-shopping-for-apparel” thing going. The not-shopping project has also morphed into a “cleaning-out-closets-and-any-other-extraneous-stuff-I-can-find” project. I was a bit ambivalent about starting the Happiness Project book knowing that I would want to do it right now and wondering if I could.
Then it came to me, perhaps I could be happy and not shop at the same time. I know that with the not-shopping project for the first week I was OK. Then for about the next 21 days I was totally miserable. Rehabilitation centers say it can take 21 days to break or make a habit and then one extra week to see if it sticks.
I did get a T.J. Maxx card for my birthday and an Easter dress with shoes in my Easter basket, and that helped a lot — and since then it’s all be fairly smooth. My closets are cleaned out, and I’m not anxious to fill them up again. So maybe I could start the Happiness Project.
I could see myself having the same conversation with Sam that Gretchen had with her husband. He asked, “You’re not unhappy, are you?”
Gretchen responded, “I am happy … but I’m not as happy as I should be. I have such a good life, I want to appreciate it more — and live up to it better.”
Gretchen’s sister said, “I don’t think you realize just how weird you are, but … in a good way.”
The first chapter is filled with research Gretchen did on happiness. Gretchen (I don’t really know her personally) and I both have a legal research background so that sucked me in as well.
I loved the research she did on Plato, Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin and even fiction writer Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” and then winding through the world’s major religions, to scientific studies and popular culture.
Benjamin Franklin had a “virtues” chart where he plugged in 13 virtues he wanted to acquire and scored himself daily.
Another thought I dwelt on was the “set-point” theory. “… a person’s basic level of happiness doesn’t fluctuate much, except briefly.” We all have a happiness range.
“It seems obvious that some people are more naturally ebullient or melancholic than others and that, at the same time, people’s decisions about how to live their lives also affect their happiness.”
So, if your natural disposition is set within a certain range and then the decisions you make about stuffing your closets or not stuffing your closets could help push you to the top of your happiness range, well, that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?
Shannon Bardwell’s column appears in The Dispatch on Mondays. Email reaches her at email@example.com.