“I never know what I think about something
until I’ve read what I’ve written.” –William Faulkner
Of late, I have done a little research on that somewhat slippery subject called “happiness”. I am not really sure how I feel about this whole happiness deal, so taking a cue from Mr. Faulkner, after I write this, I will reread it and find out. It seems we all have a set point for happiness, or a happiness meter if you will, and it is not calibrated very high. Moments of happiness are not the hard part: if something good happens—we are generally happy. But sustained happiness takes work.
Scoffing at happiness as a goal is not a very good way to be happy. If you think that it is not a worthy ambition, you are not the only one. Robert Louis Stevenson said that, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” One of the references I used in my happiness research was Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project”. While I would like to claim it as part of my own research, the quote by Stevenson is part of her Happiness Manifesto. Here are a few other points she makes in her Manifesto that I particularly liked:
• 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.
• The days are long, but the years are short.
• You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
• “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” — G. K. Chesterton
• What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you, and vice versa.
• Outer order contributes to inner calm.
• Happiness comes from …wanting what you have.
• You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.
The other thing Gretchen learned in her search for happiness was to “be Gretchen”, and she found out that being Gretchen involved accepting that while she may not like highbrow music, she does like music; that while not watching television is considered intellectual, she did like watching television; and that if she tried something new and did not like it, she could quit, because it was not true to who “Gretchen” is.
In fact at the very forefront of her “Happiness Project” was the quest “to be Gretchen”. For some reason many of us are afraid to admit who we really are and what we really like and pretend to be more sophistocated than we are . A friend of mine whom I had not spoken to for decades told me that she remembered that I liked sitcoms. I was taken aback. Of all the things she could remember about me, the fact that I liked sitcoms stuck out in her memory? Actually, I was not taken aback–I was, if truth be told, insulted. But then I thought about it. I do like sitcoms. I like clever repartee, a short story that has a beginning, middle and end, and something that takes my mind off the more serious side of life. So, if I have learned nothing more from The Happiness Project than to accept who I am, even it is does not meet my own supposedly erudite standards, then I have at least taken one step towards happiness.
Gretchen’s book is a journey, but not the sort undertaken by Henry David Thoreau who moved to Walden Pond for a couple of years, or even Elizabeth Gilbert who travelled to Italy, India, and Indonesian and wrote the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” to find their bliss. Gretchen attained happiness without leaving home. In her own words she said: “I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my kitchen”.