Backstory – about five/six years ago, my life ignited into a wild dumpster fire. The things that I considered to be constants in my life, things I could rely on – like my career, my health, my relationships – were burned to the ground and I was challenged to start again. A big part of that journeyslog were books. Lots and lots of books. Trying to read my way back to “normal” became my focus. Along the way I’ve picked up some good stuff and I’ve read some total trash. I’m starting a periodic series to give a little taste of some of the books I read and what I thought and whether it was useful to me. I’m not likely to talk about too many books that had no value to me because I don’t want to spend my energy that way, but I’m also not saying that I won’t.
Maybe I can save you some time.

To say that The Happiness Project was a life changing book for me would not be underselling the effect it had on me in the slightest.

It came into my hands at the beginning of my midlife Unraveling (thank you, Brene Brown for that term) when my life felt completely fucking nuts. I’d spent my life attempting to keep all the flaps tucked in on my Tent of Life and, for sure, those bastards were all flapping in the wind at that point. A control freak’s nightmare.

I’m not entirely certain but I think I read about Gretchen Rubin on line and decided to get her book. It was during my eBook phase and I remember I devouring it the minute it finished downloading. The timing couldn’t have been better. That book was a godsend.

I mean, here was Gretchen, saying that if I looked at my life and pinpointed areas where it could be better, developed a plan and tracked the data, I could make myself happier. There was science behind it. She was encouraging tracking and data. It was a siren song to my little organizer heart. And further proof (to me) that all I needed to do was pull on my bootstraps harder and I could get myself out of this quagmire of emotion I’d found myself stuck in. I could project manage my way to a happier life. Sweet Jesus, that was amazing news.

I lit a candle to St. Gretchen and set about preparing my spreadsheets. Rubin endorses a mildly OCD (I mean that in a loving way) method of focusing on one particular aspect of your life that you’d like to feel happier in each month and then identifying actions you can take each day that will move you closer to happiness. And at the end of the day, you track it – like, you put a freaking check mark next to the things you accomplished. You like, give yourself an A. It was a brilliant strategy for a pleaser like me. As I write that all out, I see that it sounds kind of crackpot, but to a drowning woman looking for a process it was a life line. (Also note: This is a pretty reductive explanation of her methodology, mostly because if I get into it I could write for days about it. I mean, her Secrets of Adulthood were a revelation to me.)

My personality skews a bit towards Rubin’s in that I thrive when living within strict discipline. Until I rebel against it, which inevitably happens. But man, I sure love the discipline for a while. I dutifully reflected on my year and created tracking forms and filled them out for an entire year in advance.

When I think back on it, I picture my hanging off a pull up bar and how through sheer force of will I was going to do a Happiness Pull Up. I exerted so much effort and focus on making myself happier. I envisioned a domino effect: the kids would get happier, my husband would follow, it would ripple out into the universe. I would be the wings of the butterfly that started the happiness cyclone on the other side of the world.

Don’t for a second think I am knocking this approach – far from it. I endorse it. It gave me a sense of control and order and purpose when I needed it like water. I learned so much from it and I did, indeed, become much happier. My attention turned outside of myself, instead of internally wringing my hands because everything wasn’t “perfect”, I looked for small things I could do to make my kid’s lives better. I devised surprises for my husband to make his life easier and to make him feel more cared about. For the first time in a long time, I made the effort to consider what I wanted my life to look like, not what society wanted or my parents expected, but what sounded good to me. That was revolutionary.

Slowly, but surely, I did that Happiness Pull Up.

For the last several years I have planned out my Annual Happiness Project. I delight when I pull out a new checklist at the beginning of the month and discover that my December self somehow knew that I’d need to make friendships and connection a priority in May, or that November would be a great month to invest in evolving my relationship with my kids.

As a result of the focus intentional living, I am undeniably happier. This is also the year that I’m putting the Happiness Project on hiatus. As much as I’ve gotten out of it, it’s time for me to be slightly less dependent on checklists and trust that I’ve learned to be more intentional and internalized what makes me happy. Everyone needs to evolve. Even control freaks who adore data.

So yes, I highly recommend The Happiness Project – read it, but also try living it. What’s the worst that could happen? You’re happier?