Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gretchen Rubin Takes on the Happiness Challenge

We're all experts in misery. But if we want to get unstuck and get to well, we need to acquaint ourselves with the concept of happy.  An article in the Dec 21 New York Times reports on an academic study that found that New York ranks last in happiness. Perhaps Buffalo or Albany was over-represented in the study. But no, New York’s neighbors Connecticut and New Jersey - the two richest states in the nation - were nearly as miserable.

So, can a New Yorker achieve happiness? And should we be paying attention?

Gotham's Gretchen Rubin (pictured here) decided to take up the challenge. Gretchen is a highly-regarded author who spent a year "test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study I could find, whether from Aristotle or St Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah."

The result is her new book, The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

In her blog of the same name as the short title to her book, Gretchen observes: "The biggest challenge of a happiness project isn’t figuring out what resolutions I should make, but actually sticking to my resolutions. ... "

Ah, resolutions. These brief extracts from her blog hint at what to expect from Gretchen’s eagerly-awaited book:


I've written before about my resolution to Get more sleep, and I'm bringing it up again, because I'm truly convinced that this is one of the first aspects of life to tackle when you start a happiness project.

It's easy to become accustomed to being sleep-deprived, but it's not good for you. Many researchers argue that not getting enough sleep has broad health consequences, such as raising your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity, but in addition to those, it has a profound effect on your happiness.

One study showed that a bad night's sleep was one of the top two reasons for being in a bad mood at work (the other? Tight work deadlines). Another study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for your daily happiness than getting a $60,000 raise. ...


I have a friend who is a yoga instructor and a friend who is a strength-training trainer. I asked them if they recognized any warning signs in people who are likely NOT to stick to a resolution to start exercising.

They both agreed that there are warning signs. ...

“Well, afternoons don’t work. And I can’t do mornings. I can come Tuesdays at noon, but not this Tuesday. Or next Tuesday...”

The President of the United States works out almost every day! If people really want to exercise, they find the time.

“I’ll squeeze it in at lunchtime. I can just run out between meetings.”

This person hasn’t acknowledged to himself that exercise must be its own priority, and if he doesn’t do that, it’ll always get shoved to the bottom of the to-do list. Which means it won't happen.

“I can’t wait to start. But first, I need to buy some new clothes. And some new shoes. And a mat. And I want to read up on it, too.”

I had a roommate like this. She loved shopping and everything involved in the preparation stage. But once she had all the stuff she needed for yoga or roller-blading or whatever, she lost interest.


When you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed, it’s tempting to try to pick yourself up by indulging in a “treat.” Unfortunately, a guilty pleasure is often just that – an ice-cream sundae, a cigarette, an extra glass of wine, an expensive splurge, and other treats give a short-term boost, but then just deepen your blues as guilt and remorse set in.

I realized that one of my personal “treats” is the decision not to pick up after myself. Instead of trying to tidy as I go, as I usually do, I let small tasks mount up. “I can’t possibly be expected to do something like that,” I tell myself. “I’m too busy/too frazzled/too upset/too rushed. I deserve a break.”

The problem is that, in the end, the mess makes me feel worse. Maybe I enjoy a tiny buzz from flinging my coat onto the hall floor, but the disorder just makes my bad mood deepen. (Plus it’s not nice for anyone else, either.) On the other hand, serene, orderly surroundings make me feel better. Outer order brings inner calm.

Now, instead of “treating” myself to a mess, I make a special effort to keep things tidy when I’m feeling low. ...


The Happiness Project is shaping up as one of the must-reads for 2010. You can pre-order on

Much more from Gretchen in blogs to come ...


Gretchen Rubin said...

Hi John- I saw the nice mention of my blog, and book, The Happiness Project, here. I very much appreciate those kind words and you shining a spotlight on my work! Thanks and best wishes, Gretchen

John McManamy said...

Thanks, Gretchen. Stay tuned for a book review. :)