The happiness project: What transformed an ordinary woman into an extraordinary one?

The happiness project: What transformed an ordinary woman into an extraordinary one?

Are you happy? Could you be happier? Gretchen Rubin was already “pretty happy” when she asked herself those very questions. 

In search of the answers, she started her own pursuit of happiness, which eventually became a New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project. She has now written a second book, Happier at Home, based on the idea that the home is the foundation of happiness. [email protected] spoke to Rubin about why happy people work more hours each week, how to make and keep happiness resolutions, how to ward off the three happiness leeches and how to start your own Happiness Project.

Here’s an edited version of the transcript.

[email protected]: As part of the Happiness Project that led to your book of the same name, you spent 12 months exploring your own happiness. What made you decide to embark on that adventure?

Gretchen Rubin: It was this very inconspicuous moment of my life. I was stuck on a city bus in the pouring rain, and I didn’t have anything to distract myself with. I looked out the window and thought, ‘What do I want from life anyway?’ I thought, ‘I want to be happy.’ But I realised I didn’t spend any time thinking about whether I was happy or how I could be happier. In a flash, I thought I should have a happiness project. I saw I was going to have rules and charts and lists. I went out to the library the next day and got this huge stack of books about happiness and started researching. I wanted to find out what are the things that everybody says you should do to be happier. If I tried them, could I actually make myself happier? That’s how I got the idea to do the Happiness Project.

[email protected]: How did you deal with skepticism about the project – from your husband to people at cocktail parties?

Rubin: Well, it’s funny; I got a lot of pushback. Some people argued that I was so ordinary and boring that no one would be interested in what I had to say. Other people argued that I was so idiosyncratic that no one would ever be able to identify with me. Some people denied that happiness exists at all. My husband was bracing himself for what he could tell was going to be this giant, all-consuming project. He’s sort of a martyr to happiness, I would say.

But it was actually very helpful because whenever people would argue against me, it really helped me clarify what I thought. Why did I think it was important to work on happiness? Or why did I think that happiness even existed? Or why did I think that what I experienced in trying to be happier would be helpful to anyone else? Why did I think that anyone else would be interested in the kinds of things that I undertook for my own Happiness Project? It was actually very helpful, although I did often respond with a lot of belligerence to that opposition.

[email protected]: And you were pretty happy to start with. Was it worthwhile to make yourself even happier?

Rubin: Yeah, I think that’s one of the reasons that a lot of people identify with me. Because most people say that they are pretty happy or very happy. All around the world, most people say that. I was pretty happy when I started. I was struck by how possible it was, even for someone who was pretty happy, to make myself happier by just doing very ordinary, manageable, simple things that didn’t take a lot of time, energy or money. There was really a lot of low-hanging fruit – things that once I thought about it, I could do pretty easily and added a lot to my happiness. Just things like starting a children’s literature reading group or going to bed on time. Very small things ended up having a very powerful effect.

[email protected]: Your sister actually teased you that you were approaching the question of happiness in such a dogged, systematic way. What was your approach?

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