When I first picked up Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project at the library, I had a vision of recreating my own Happiness Project. Every month I would pick different goals (or resolutions as she calls them). Turns out it’s easier to fantasize about that when you’re reading Rubin’s book then it is to actually pull it off. Nevertheless, I have been casually working on some of my own Happiness Project goals and I’m actually starting to see a difference.
In case you’re not familiar with it, The Happiness Project is a book based off a blog, in the grand tradition of Julie and Julia and the like. Gretchen Rubin spent a year studying happiness, trying to apply what she’d learned to her own life, blogging and then writing a book about it. She picks a theme every month and works on different goals within that theme. She wrote about the ways that it improved her life, and some of the ways that it didn’t. I found the book very inspirational. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a sucker for self-help life-improvement power of positive thinking things. So, you know, your mileage may vary. I am always looking for ways to make myself happier. I have depression, it’s true, but in my mind my depression is separate from unhappiness. I can be unhappy and depressed. I can be happy and still feel mildly depressed. I can be not depressed and still feel unhappy. I don’t know how to describe it, but they are two different states of being that can co-exist or not. Rubin makes a point of emphasizing that The Happiness Project isn’t about “just cheer up” mantras for people who are clinically depressed, that said I think that my depression is kept at bay when I am working at things to make me happier. Since I feel like my life is stagnant right now, I was interested in reading her book to see if I could get any inspiration from it, and I found that it really resonated with me. A lot of what Rubin talks about struggling with, the things that make her “unhappy” are also things I find make me unhappy.
Like I said, my initial goal was to make a list of all the things I wanted to work on and really set out to do my own Happiness Project replication. But it turns out that that was too depressing (see how they are different?) and I just couldn’t bring myself to make a list of all the things I wanted to work on because it felt too much like making a list of everywhere I feel like I am failing. I decided to be more informal about it. One of the things that really stood out for me in The Happiness Project was her discussion of how she chooses to interact with other people, and how trying to be a more positive and friendly person in her interactions with other people has had the result of actually making her feel more positive and friendly.
So, here’s a secret. I kind of don’t really like other people. Other people are rude. They annoy me. They do dumb things. Ugh. Since I am *ahem* working from home right now, my interactions with other people are actually pretty limited. I don’t have to encounter people on a daily basis, but I feel like instead of making me more tolerant when I am out and about in the world, I have actually become less so. I find myself walking around, or going to a store, or going to the gym and just becoming more and more baffled at how people are so inconsiderate. It makes me angry and I have completely lost any tolerance for it. I end up embarrassing my boyfriend by shouting at people riding their bikes on the street and making myself unnecessarily irate without accomplishing anything positive. It’s not healthy and it’s most definitely not making me happy. So my Happiness Project goal in the past month is to just be less rude, passive-aggressive, and prone to anger when in public.
Outside of home, the place I spend the most time is the gym. Sometimes at the gym I like to use their “Express Line” weight machines, which are a series of 8 weight machines meant to be used in a 22-minute circuit. I like this configuration because it’s fast and it gives me structure and I can do 220 lb. leg presses and that makes me feel like Super Woman. But. Soooome people do not use the Express Line in the manner it was intended. Even though there are many other weight machines at this gym that are not in a circuit. Even though they do the same thing and are not called “Express” these people will use the Express machines out of order and they’ll sit on a machine for-freaking-ever in between sets. It drives me nuts and it screws up my routine. Also a lot of them seem to misunderstand that the point of weight machines are to put actual weights on it. That has nothing to do with my workout, but it annoys me. So usually when I come across someone who is misusing the Express Line I will glare at them, I will stomp around, I will huff and puff and sigh and generally act all dramatic. If I say anything, it’s usually probably a little rude because I am irritated. And inevitably, I leave my workout feeling annoyed that I didn’t get to complete a whole circuit and dwelling on the selfishness of gym-goers. Enter: The Happiness Project. “What if,” I thought to myself, “I know this is crazy, Self, but what if”¦ we start asking nicely to use the machine. I wonder what might happen?” So, twice I have gone to the gym and there has been someone sitting on the machine in between their sets. Instead of my usual Big Bad Wolf routine, I have put on my sweetest smile and asked very politely if I could work in. And you know what? They let me! They let me work in! One guy even ended up going to use a different, non-Express machine (as he should). I felt good! I felt happy! I felt like I could continue to use the machines and work my way up to 250 lb. leg presses! What a miracle!
These are small, minor changes I’m making. But as Gretchen Rubin points out, the whole point of The Happiness Project is to make small changes to improve her life, without having to change her whole life. It’s so manageable! I didn’t get unnecessarily aggravated at the gym and it paid off. Instead of walking home from my workout thinking about how much I hate other people, I’m walking home on an endorphin high.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get organized or un-depressed enough to think I want to take a complete inventory of my life and what I want to improve, but for now I’m happy to just work on”¦ being a little happier in little ways. That’s a challenging enough project, anyway.