Wednesday, April 7, 2010
One of my multiple New Years’ Resolutions was to read more for pleasure. Around the time I made this resolution a friend invited me to join a book club; I enthusiastically accepted. Our first month’s selection, The Help, was a great starting point. I found myself sneaking in reading time, unable to let the characters or the book out of my reach. It reminded me how much I love to read. Then came the second month, I will not bash the book but will tell you it didn’t grab me. I was trying to like it as you would try to like a friend of a friend, you want to be polite but you would never have picked it or them. To make matters worse, I had been hearing a lot about another book, The Happiness Project, and really wanted to read it. I had gone from not reading, or only reading about food and nutrition, to a literary love triangle of sorts.
I went away for the weekend with my book club book and The Happiness Project, unsure what I would read. On my way to Vermont I received an email inviting me to an event called “Happier Hour” with a special guest speaker named Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project. I sent an RSVP accepting the invitation and started the book that night. In this book Ms. Rubin embarks on a self-imposed year of happiness training tackling a different subject each month. There was so much in this that appealed to me. As a planner and organizer, I loved the systematic approach. While I had thought others may find this forced or unappealing the standing room only crowd at Happier Hour and the books’ major success tells me I was wrong. I was also intrigued by a statement in the very beginning of the book where Ms. Rubin wonders “how could I set a higher standard for myself as a wife, mother, a writer, a friend.” Self improvement or doing a better “job” is something I find myself thinking about constantly. I also think it’s what’s lurking behind many of my sessions with clients. After all, when it comes to feeding our families and ourselves, don’t we all want to set a higher standard?
As soon as I started reading I wanted to know if Ms. Rubin was going to tackle food or nutrition as part of her project. I scanned the chapter headings but didn’t really see anything. As I read on, I realized that although food isn’t immediately addressed, many of the points raised could very well apply to eating.
1. Time: when she contemplated her happiness project Ms Rubin realized “if I wanted a happiness project, I’d have to make the time.” This, to me, is relevant to any important aspect of our lives we may have marginalized or just not prioritized. It isn’t really about having time to food shop or exercise or cook it’s about deciding the pursuit is worthy of your time.
2. Clutter: I was also intrigued that one of the first subjects tackled by Ms. Rubin is clutter. I don’t know if that is the first thing that comes to mind if I were, prior to reading this book, asked to list the keys to happiness. I do, however, think that clutter can get in the way of happiness and clutter can have insidious effects on other parts of our lives. Clutter and overeating are amazingly similar and the subject of a book I am currently reading called Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? By Peter Walsh.
3. Accountability is discussed in terms of a group Ms Rubin formed with other writers. Accountability to a meeting or to other people gives us the impetus to do things we may not do for ourselves. As much as I think I’m good at what I do, I know the accountability of an appointment does wonders for my nutrition clients. Clients who come more progress more.
4. The Arrival Fallacy factor. Ms Rubin quotes another author and says “arrival fallacy is the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination you’ll be happy.” This was one of the most memorable passages in the book for me on so many levels and I think a way we all postpone our happiness. In my daily work, I could call this the weight-loss or diet fallacy and may well be why people regain weight they have lost.
Finally, on page 252 Ms Rubin discusses food in a chapter on mindfulness. I braced myself for some compelling wisdom on food and happiness. Ms Rubin then writes “I also wanted to apply the principles of mindfulness in a much less elevated context: my eating habits.” Ouch! Did she say “less elevated”? I reread it a few times and in fact she does. I shoved my sensitivity aside and read about Ms Rubin’s experience with a food journal (helped though she didn’t necessarily comply) and her efforts to work on a “fake food” habit (bravo! now I would love to show her how much more happy she’d be without Diet Coke). I still found myself with questions about food and happiness: What about happiness derived from shared meals and time cooking with others? Or what about happiness obtained via increased confidence from weight loss or feeling better via better digestion or increased energy? I realize these questions weren’t part of Ms Rubin’s happiness journey but they’re definitely areas I’d like to explore.
This is a book I have endlessly earmarked and can see myself going back to and rereading certain parts. As I read I found myself nodding and applying certain realizations Ms Rubin had to my own life. Most importantly, I received a life-changing tidbit of advice that I have already implemented. Rubin writes “I did, however, vow to stop reading books that I didn’t enjoy” and I will too.
Do you like the idea of a happiness project? Would food or exercise play a part in your “project”? Do you have thoughts on the “arrival fallacy” or even on reading books you don’t enjoy?