The Happiness Project – Really?

I recently read Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”.

  I admit, when I first looked at it, I thought, “Really?  Somebody has to have a project about happiness?  It was really the subheading that caught my attention – I’m always up for singing in the morning and cleaning out closets.

One paragraph with Gretchen, and I was hooked.  I love her conversational, this-is-your-good-friend-tellin’-it-to-you-straight style.  She lets the reader see her, warts and all, and you just love her all the more.

More importantly, Ms. Rubin writes about something everyone wants more of – Happiness.  Joy.  Satisfaction.  Contentment.  Like addicts looking for our next hit, we all want to feel another surge of elation, one more assurance that we are going in the right direction.  And we want it to be natural and rooted in our own lives.

Enter Gretchen’s many resolutions.  She begins with her Personal Commandments (individual code of ethics that every person lives by) and proceeds to her Secrets of Adulthood (facts of grown-up life every one learns along the way).  These are different for each individual, and lead to the highly personal Resolutions.

Resolutions can be big or small, last a day, a week, a year, or a lifetime.  She differentiates resolutions from goals, however.  Goals are something you ultimately achieve and quit striving for.  Resolutions are life-long practices.

Gretchen’s Twelve Personal Commandments

  1. Be Gretchen. (yourself)
  2. Let it go.
  3. Act the way I want to feel.
  4. Do it now.
  5. Be polite and be fair.
  6. Enjoy the process.
  7. Spend out.
  8. Identify the problem.
  9. Lighten up.
  10. Do what ought to be done.
  11. No calculation.
  12. There is only love.

There’s several of Gretchen’s Personal Commandments I agree with, but had to add a few of my own:

  • When people show you who they are, believe them. (Borrowed from Maya Angelou)
  • Stop wasting time with the wrong people.
  • Do what ought to be done.
  • Believe in Perpetual Kindness.

Of course, as we age we (hopefully) grow.  That’s where the Secrets of Adulthood come in…

  • The days are long, but the years are short.
  • Turning the computer on and off a few times often fixes a glitch.
  • It’s okay to ask for help.
  • You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you LIKE to do.
  • What you do EVERY DAY matters more than what you do ONCE IN A WHILE.
  • Soap and water removes most stains.
  • It’s important to be nice to EVERYONE.
  • You know as much as most people.
  • Over-the-counter medicines are very effective.
  • What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you — and vice versa.
  • People actually prefer that you buy wedding gifts off their registry.
  • Houseplants and photo albums are a lot of trouble.
  • If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.

I would dare to add:

  • You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.  (Best kindergartner wisdom I ever heard.  Useful for cupcake icing color disappointments and adverse health diagnoses.)
  • The kind thing is always the right thing.  (Thank you, Mom.)
  • Never apologize for your intelligence, talent, or happiness.

Once you’ve outlined your Personal Commandments and identified your Secrets to Adulthood, now you can formulate a few Resolutions.  They could be the internal kind, like “Combat environmental negativity by re-framing my comments in a positive manner”.  Or the more noticeable “Get rid of things that don’t work”.  No doubt, like Gretchen, you will find that some are easier to keep than others (but keeping one of her handy Resolution Charts will greatly enhance your odds).

Because of the wild popularity of her book, she now has a fully-interactive website ( and even better, a customizable Happiness Project Toolbox so you can get started with your own little happiness project.

You can log in to your personal inspirational quotes, images, and books.  Keep a one-sentence journal.  Join a Group Resolution, and just generally find new ways to be a little bit happier.  At the very least, you’ll be more mindful of what you and others are doing to make your personal space the best it can be.

I love it, and invite you all to give it a try.  There’s sure to be some nugget or pithy wisdom that you can incorporate painlessly into your everyday life.  And you’ll be that much happier you did.