Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Happiness Project

I was reading an must have been at the chiropractor's, because it doesn't seem reasonable that it would be in Fortune or Businessweek...about this woman who decided that she was going to spend a year actively making her life happier. You can actually read her blog here. I was intrigued by this because I am not a particularly happy person. I know I have a good life, and I appreciate this fact, but I am not particularly happy about it.

I attended a breakfast meeting last month at which we discussed optimism and pessimism, which do not exactly equal happiness, but certainly seem correlated to it. Happiness seems to be a growing science...okay, science might be too strong of a word, but it seems to be a growing area of interest. I've read a number of articles about happiness, and I own Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. I've even read it. Clearly, reading a book about happiness has not made me a happier person, but reading does make me happy.

Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, like me, knew her life was basically good, but she still wanted to be happier about it. The gist of one of her early blogs is that she doesn't want to look back on her life and realize that it just wasn't as much as it could have been.

I want to be able to look back on my life and see a life worth living. My husband thinks this makes me sound semi-suicidal, which is not at all what I mean. Right now, looking at what I've done with my life, I'm not sure that it's worth living, which is not at all to say that it's worth dying. I look back and see that I've done a lot of things that I was supposed to do that I didn't really want to but I either didn't know what, if any, alternatives there were, or I didn't know what else to do.

I think part of my problem is that I am not, by nature, a particularly curious person. (Curiosity has, in fact, been linked to happiness). This is somewhat strange: given how much I LOVE to read, one might think that I'd like to learn new things, or at least be curious about events or places I read about, or maybe even want to know more about the authors I love to read. Not so much. So I've been working on asking Why? or Why not? more.

I'm 30 years old. My husband and I both have jobs with responsibilities. I've been to grad school. I've been rejected from jobs and by sweethearts. I've got really good friend who will give me really good advise when I ask. Hell, some of my friends will just make the decision for me if they see that I'm not getting anywhere. I've got a crazy, but wonderful family,who always manages to be on my team, even if they think I've changed the sport halfway through. I'm pretty sure that I've had enough life experiences to make decisions on my own, even if they go against the norm. And when this fails, I know that I have a group of family and friends who will offer advice, or help me back out of whatever mess I've managed to get myself into.

Why? or Why not? are important questions to ask because it is really, really easy to let other people think for you, which, I'm pretty sure has led to a lot of my unhappiness. I know this sounds like I'm blaming others, which I'm not, or at least I'm not trying to do. I know this also goes exactly against what I said a paragraph ago when I said I had friends who would make a decision for me if I really couldn't. Let me clear up this last bit first. I have friends who are capable of making decisions. Which means if I'm hemming and hawing between two dresses, they'll say, oh just get the blue one. Sometimes they even say something clever, like, it matches your eyes. Or, sometimes they'll make a decision without even asking me first. As in, I found this great Cuban restaurant we can go to on Friday. Perfect! Even if the food sucks, at least I know the company will be good.

On the other hand, people will say things like, now that you own a home, you should start gardening. Why? I don't like being out side. I don't like being dirty. Why would I want to spend my precious free time doing both? Or, and this really annoyed me, although I know that wasn't the intent of the speaker, one of my friends commented that I should really look at getting a new car due to the cash for clunkers thing. Why would I want a new car? I drive a 2007 Corolla. I'd hardly call that a clunker. And I have no intention of trading it in. It's a great car, and I intend to drive it until it commits vehicular suicide on the side of the road. And this is another one of my favorites: you have a yard; you have to get a dog. Nope. I'm pretty sure that no part of having a yard mandates that I also have a canine. Why would I want a dog? They're hairy. They poop a lot. And, oh yeah, they give me hives.

I'm sure I do just as much doling out of random advise as the next person (the big difference is, I'm right). So I guess the first order of business is for me to try not to give so much unsolicited advise. The next step is to figure out what I should and should not listen to. I think this has become harder and harder with the increasing types of media to which we're exposed. And sometimes this is a really good thing. I love that Amazon has reviews on everything. But I'm just as likely to buy a new camera, for example, on the advise of a friend as I am based on 100 reviews on Amazon.

It seems I've gotten off-tangent quite a bit. I apparently do a lot of very circuitous thinking. So here's maybe a good example of why asking why is important. My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe in early 2010. Rome and Zurich in particular. That might seem a bit random, but it's not: we have friends in both of those cities. But people keep telling me to go to Barcelona. Neither my husband nor I have any actual interest in going to Spain in general, or Barcelona in particular. But since people keep suggesting it, it seems like a good time to ask why (although we still may never go to Barcelona).

I think if I started questioning more things I'd be happier because I'd end up doing less stuff that I didn't really want to just because someone else thought it was a good idea. However, I also think that if I spent less time doing stuff I don't want to, in general, I'd be happier too. And I'd probably have more time to do things that I like to do, which in turn would make me even happier. We'll just have to see how this pans out for me in 2010.

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