Life gets busy. Has The Happiness Project been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
The Happiness Project covers a year of Gretchen Rubin’s pursuit of what she wants to obtain from life: happiness. Therefore, as a form of scientific research, she spent a whole year trying to maximize her degree of happiness. For each month, she allocated herself tasks to engage with that she believed would make her happier. The Happiness Project summarizes the tasks that worked for her so you can also follow your own happiness project.
About Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin is a writer on subjects of habits, happiness, and human nature. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Better Than Before, Happier at Home, and The Happiness Project. Rubin’s books have sold more than two million print and online copies worldwide in over thirty languages. On her daily blog, GretchenRubin.com, she reports on her adventures in pursuit of habits and happiness. On her weekly podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft, a Los Angeles-based television writer.
“The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly light-hearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.”– Gretchen Rubin
How to Create a Happiness Project
Identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement. Then, make resolutions that include concrete actions that will boost your happiness, and finally, keep your resolutions. Focus on a different subject each month. Twelve months in the year provide twelve slots to fill. For the first month, attempt only January’s resolution. In February, add the next set of resolutions to the January set. By December, you’d be scoring yourself on the whole year’s worth of resolutions. Use Gretchen’s 12-month happiness project as an inspiration to create your own personal one.
She decided to start the year by focusing on energy with the reasoning that more vitality will make it easier to stick to a resolution. That included more sleep, more exercise, mental and physical decluttering. Outdoor activities raise our energy level and help us improve our thinking. It’s been proven that light is good for the psyche and stimulates serotonin and dopamine production, two hormones responsible for feelings of happiness. Rubin also found out that one of the best ways to lift your mood and boost your mental energy is to engineer an easy success like tackling a long-delayed chore. The happiness associated with these successes should energize you. Subsequently, feeling energetic will improve your self-esteem and ability to engage with more tasks.
A good marriage is one of the factors most strongly associated with happiness since it shapes one’s daily existence. It provides support and companionship that everyone needs. Your marriage doesn’t have to be in trouble for you to focus on nurturing it. Over the years, we all fall into some bad habits that better be changed before they become destructive. For Gretchen, these habits were nagging, criticizing, asking for praise but not giving one, snapping, being less considerate to her partner than she was of other people, focusing on details that annoyed her. When thinking about happiness in marriage, you may have an almost irresistible impulse to focus on your spouse and emphasize how they should change to boost your happiness. Still, the fact is you can’t change anyone but yourself. Initially, Rubin expected her husband to listen more, care more, and notice her needs more. However, she actually realized the changes she could make within the relationship significantly improved her relationship. When you give up expecting a spouse to change, you lessen anger and resentment. This creates a more loving atmosphere in the marriage.
Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness. First, a human being needs to be productive to be truly happy. Second, work occupies so much of our time. Another person’s happiness project might even focus on choosing the right work. For Gretchen, it was focusing on work that brought her more energy, creativity, and efficiency to work-life. To have more success, she embraced the fun of failure and accepted it as part of being ambitious and creative. She also fought her impulse to pretend to know things she didn’t know and learn to ask for help. Instead of choosing an area where she had an innate ability, she decided to engage with blogging. She was enthusiastic about this field. Rubin believes that enthusiasm trumps innate ability, as enthusiasm fuels your willingness to practice. Hence, Rubin suggests:
- Launching a blog.
- Enjoying the fun of failure.
- Asking for help.
- Work smart.
- Enjoy now.
Our children give us the happiest moments of our lives and, at the same time, are also a tremendous source of worry, irritation, expense, inconvenience, and loss of sleep. Gretchen’s goal for the month was to become more tender and playful with her daughters. She wanted a peaceful, cheerful, and even joyous atmosphere at home. She knew nagging and yelling weren’t the way to achieve that. She found out that singing in the morning had a cheering effect and made it easier to take a light tone with her children. She resolved to make her family a treasure house of happy moments and give it the time it needs. Rubin concludes this chapter by offering several approaches she adopted, that you could also adopt, to lighten parenthood:
- Sing in the morning.
- Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings.
- Be a treasure house of happy memories.
- Take time for projects.
Regularly having fun is a critical factor in having a happy life. Work on your play. These are the activities you do in your free time because you want to do them for your own sake, which has no economic significance and doesn’t lead to praise or recognition. Take time to be silly. Don’t let yourself become a gloomy, boring, sad person. Remember that something another person finds enjoyable won’t necessarily work for you. Finding happiness with your happiness project is also about finding your own path and experimenting. For May, Rubin suggests engaging with the following Happiness Project tasks:
- Find more fun.
- Take time to be silly.
- Go off the path.
- Start a collection.
No matter what they’re doing, people tend to feel happier when they are with other people. Plus, the strongest predictor of life satisfaction is your interpersonal relationships. You need to nourish long-term relationships. You need to confide in others. You need to belong. One of the best ways to do this is by helping others to think big and feel good. Essentially, Rubin focused on telling people they should do what they want. In doing so, she learned the most effective way of making yourself happy is by making others happy. Rubin suggests the following tasks to engage with in June:
- Remember birthdays.
- Be generous.
- Show up.
- Don’t gossip.
- Make three new friends.
Gretchen decided to buy herself some happiness by indulging in a modest buying splurge from time to time. Her favorite was a children’s book collection. This month, she concluded that if money is to enhance her happiness, it must support aspects of life that bring happiness to you. Rubin differentiated between underbuyers and overbuyers. Underbuyers are people who only buy when they need something, while overbuyers fill their house with things that they often end up throwing away. Similarly, Rubin also differentiates between spenders and keepers. Spenders enjoy what they buy, while keepers aim to keep objects for the distant future. However, this means keepers do not enjoy their purchases until they are outdated or they have died. These concepts are not only relevant to money but also ideas. Rubin admits she used to be an idea keeper. She would have valuable ideas and save them for the future. However, she learned it is better to spend your ideas and trust your ability. Finally, Rubin differentiates between buyers and discarders. Buyers try to squeeze every tiny bit of value out of products. Alternatively, discarders remove objects when they no longer provide value. Try to learn to be a discarder. Rubin discovered that, for her, a significant part of her energy was sucked up by junk that was sitting around for ages, waiting for her to sort it out and just piling up higher and higher. One study claims that sorting out unnecessary details regularly saves up to 40 percent of housework.
In August, Gretchen turned to the spiritual realm. She decided to heighten her awareness of the brevity of life by reading memoirs of people facing death. As a consequence of reading these accounts, she found herself with a significantly increased appreciation for her ordinary existence. Every day in life seems so permanent and unshakable, but a single phone call can destroy it. The realization that the days are long, but the years are short, made her strive to live fully in the present and appreciate the seasons of her life. Rubin suggests the following tasks to engage with in August:
- Read memoirs of catastrophe.
- Keep a gratitude notebook.
- Imitate a spiritual master.
September: Pursue a passion
Recognize your passion. Make time for it and find ways to integrate the activity into your ordinary days. Dedicating the month to a passion means treating it as a real priority instead of an extra to be fitted in at a free moment. Suppose you feel overwhelmed by identifying your passion. In this case, consider what you enjoyed doing as a 10-year-old. Alternatively, consider what you do on a free Saturday afternoon. In Gretchen’s case, that meant everything related to books, reading, writing, and making things with her hands. Rubin recommends the following mini-projects for September:
- Write a novel.
- Make time.
- Forget about results.
- Master a new technology.
The cultivation of conscious, nonjudgmental awareness brings many benefits in terms of happiness. One highly effective way to practice mindfulness is through meditation. Gretchen couldn’t bring herself to do it. She sought to find other strategies that would help her pay attention, stay in the moment, and keep away from automatic behavior. She experimented with all sorts of practices: laughter, yoga, hypnosis, and drawing classes. Although she couldn’t find her way in October, she still recommends you find your own way. The monthly tasks for October are:
- Examine true rules.
- Stimulate the mind in new ways.
- Keep a food diary.
“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.”– Gretchen Rubin
In November, Gretchen focused on her attitude. She wanted to cultivate a light-hearted, loving, and kind spirit. It’s easier to complain than to laugh, easier to yell than to joke around, and easier to be demanding than to be satisfied. Hit on several specific aspects of your attitude that you want to change and work on cheerfulness. The monthly tasks for November are:
- Laugh out loud.
- Use good manners.
- Give positive reviews.
- Find an area of refuge.
After piling on resolutions for 11 months, Gretchen would follow all of her resolutions all the time, aiming for perfection in the last month. It was challenging and demanding. She didn’t have a single perfect day during December. Still, she kept trying because her resolutions made her truly happy. The process of continually reviewing resolutions and holding yourself accountable each day has a huge effect on your behavior.
“It’s about living in the moment and appreciating the smallest things. Surrounding yourself with the things that inspire you and letting go of the obsessions that want to take over your mind. It is a daily struggle sometimes and hard work but happiness begins with your own attitude and how you look at the world.”– Gretchen Rubin
Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.
New to StoryShots? Get the audio and animated versions of this summary and hundreds of other bestselling nonfiction books in our free top-ranking app. It’s been featured by Apple, The Guardian, The UN, and Google as one of the world’s best reading and learning apps.
Related Book Summaries
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
Ikigai by Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana
Make Your Bed by William McRaven
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie
The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
Feeling Good by David Burns