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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has been a blockbuster bestseller. It spent more than two years on the New York Times Best Seller list including hitting number one, has sold more than 1.5 million copies, and has been published more than 30 languages. It has even become a movement with project groups spreading across the country.
The book is the story of the author’s personal happiness project. It provides the tools to help you create and track your own project and also acts as a compelling inspiration for the readers to try and boost their happiness. After all, everybody can benefit from adding some more joy to his life or appreciating what he already has.
Gretchen’s happiness project wasn’t aimed to make an extraordinary change like moving to a new country or pursuing a different career. She wanted to change her life by finding more happiness in her own kitchen. In her own words, “I am happy, but I’m not as happy as I should be. I have a good life, I want to appreciate it more, and live up to it better. I complain too much. I get annoyed more than I should. I should be more grateful. I think if I felt happier, I’d behave more. Indeed, happy people make better friends, colleagues, and citizens.”
Gretchen found out that she was more patient, more forgiving, more energetic, more light-hearted, and more generous. Working on her happiness made not just her happy, it boosted the happiness of the people around her.
Since many of the greatest minds have tackled the question of happiness, Gretchen researched a huge amount of literature in areas like religion, science, philosophy, and biographies. Inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s virtues chart, she designed her own version of his scoring chart, a kind of calendar in which to record all her resolutions and give herself a daily check mark for each resolution.
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, 12 months in the year provide 12 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 years’ 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. She found out that one of the best ways to lift your mood and boost your mental energy is to engineer an easy success such as tackling a long-delayed chore.
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. With 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 things that annoyed her. When thinking about happiness in marriage, you may have an almost irresistible impulse to focus on your spouse, to emphasize how he or she should change in order to boost your happiness, but the fact is you can’t change anyone but yourself. When you give up expecting a spouse to change, you lessen anger and resentment and that 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 in order 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, focusing on work that brings more energy, creativity, and efficiency to a work-life. In order 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.
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, and she knew nagging and yelling weren’t the way to achieve that. She found out that singing in the morning has a cheering effect and makes it easier to take a light tone with your naughty little ones. She resolved to make her family a treasure house of happy moments and give it the time it needs.
Regularly having fun is a key 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 that have no economic significance and don’t lead to praise or recognition. Take time to be silly. Don’t let yourself become a gloomy, boring, sad person.
No matter what they’re doing, people tend to feel happier when they are with other people. You need close long-term relationships. You need to be able to confide in others. You need to belong. Gretchen focused on strengthening her friendships by remembering her friends’ birthdays, being generous, showing up, avoiding gossiping, and making 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 reached the conclusion that if money is to enhance her happiness, it must be used to support aspects of life that themselves bring happiness to you.
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 greatly increased appreciation for her ordinary existence. Every day in life seems so permanent and unshakable but it can be destroyed by a single phone call. The realization that the days are long, but the years are short made her strive to live fully in present and appreciate the seasons of life.
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 as a real priority instead of an extra to be fitted in at a free moment. If you feel overwhelmed by the question, what’s your passion? Try instead, what did you enjoy doing as a 10-year-old or what would you do on a free Saturday afternoon? In Gretchen’s case, that meant everything related to books, reading, writing, even making them with her hands.
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 and stay in the moment and to keep away from automatic behavior. She experimented with all sorts of practices: laughter yoga, hypnosis, drawing classes, et cetera. One should find his or her own way.
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, easier to be demanding than to be satisfied. Hit on several specific aspects of your attitude that you want to change, but also work on cheerfulness.
After piling on resolutions for 11 months, in the last month, Gretchen would follow all of her resolutions all the time, aiming for perfection. It was tough and demanding. She didn’t have even one single perfect day during December, but she kept trying because her resolutions made her truly happy whenever she did them. The process of constantly reviewing resolutions and holding yourself accountable each day surely has a huge effect on your behavior.
At the end of her one-year-long happiness project, Gretchen reached a conclusion on the nature of happiness, “One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.”
What did you learn from the book summary of The Happiness Project? What was your favorite takeaway? What are you going to put into practice first? Is there anything you disagree with? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.