The Intentional Pursuit of Happiness

Review: The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, & Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence

I have had countless people recommend Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project to me so I was already intrigued. One day while my ex-boyfriend and I were on our anniversary trip to Napa County, we stopped at the most incredible bookstore in Petaluma (Copperfield’s Bookstore) that was filled with new and used books. I found three amazing titles on sale (each for less than $10, score!) that I had been wanting: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips, and of course, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I was so excited to find these. Wandering through bookstores is one of the things in life that makes me the happiest. When I got home, I knew I wanted to get to these books ASAP. I ended up starting Big Magic first, because I’ve heard such great things and I love Elizabeth Gilbert.

But after I started it, I found myself extremely curious about The Happiness Project. In my own life, I’ve also started taking action to make myself feel better (emotionally, mentally, and physically) by participating in Rachel Hollis’s Last 90 Days Challenge. You can read all about it in my first blog post when I reviewed Girl, Stop Apologizing. But the basics are that for the last 90 days of the year, I do her 5 to Thrive items every single day: drink half my body weight in ounces of water, write down 5 things I’m grateful for, move my body for at least 30 minutes, wake up an hour earlier than usual and use that time for myself, and give up one category of food that I know I shouldn’t be eating. I’m not even quite halfway through the 90 days yet, but I can already tell you that I feel better than I ever have before. So, I knew that Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project was all about her doing her own version of intentionally seeking happiness for a full year.

I couldn’t wait to finish Big Magic to start it so I decided on the next best thing: to listen to the audiobook! I know that some people don’t think that audiobooks count as reading, but for those of us with busy lives, they are the perfect way to get in more books that we want to read but may not be able to get to. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the career that I do. I work for an incredible company estimating on large multi-million-dollar construction projects. But this means that I spend 8+ hours a day estimating on my computer, staring at construction plans & drawings all day. I love it, I truly do. And a bonus to this job is that I can listen to music while I’m working and better yet, listen to audiobooks! Yes! This means I can be “reading” for the entire 8-hour work day while getting my work done! It’s a win-win for me! My favorite types of audiobooks to listen to are non-fiction, personal development books. I love these books and I find that I get even more motivated listening to the author read them aloud and I feel even more motivated to work hard at work! The Happiness Project ended up being perfect for this.

Gretchen Rubin is a writer from New York City. She left a career in law clerking for Sandra Day O’Conner to pursue her passion to become a writer. She began to ask herself if it was possible to intentionally make herself happier. She decided to embark on a yearlong mission to design a life and take specific action in order to become happy. Is this possible? Can you come up with a plan and just decide to be happy, and then actually feel true happiness? The answer that she found (and I too, found this year) is YES. Gretchen’s project was far more ambitious than just 90 days though. She settled on actively pursuing happiness for a full year. She makes clear that her action plan is specific to her and that anyone can do their own happiness project, and that everyone’s personal project would look different based on their own lives, needs, and dreams. For Gretchen, she focused on a different area each month: January – Vitality, February – Marriage, March – Work, April – Parenthood, May – Leisure, June – Friendship, July – Money, August – Eternity, September – Books, October – Mindfulness, November – Attitude, & December – Happiness. To be successful and keep herself grounded, she gave herself Twelve Commandments to keep in mind throughout the process, such as “enjoy the process….lighten up….there is only love” and another list she calls “The Secrets of Adulthood” including helpful life lessons such as “It’s ok to ask for help…Bring a sweater…Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” These basic principles helped to guide her journey and stay grounded.

Every month, she kept a short list of action items to be able to tackle the overall theme of the month. She refers to each of these action items as resolutions. This helped her to keep them at the forefront of her mind and attempt to pursue them with intentionality all month long and then to continue to pursue them in the months that followed. She found that although she didn’t always keep her resolutions 100% of the time, by remembering her commitment she was able to continue on and improve in those areas far beyond what she had before. And after her year was over, she truly felt happier!

I learned an incredibly valuable lesson this year from both Gretchen Rubin, Rachel Hollis, and a few other authors as well: you are the only one that can make yourself happy. There are life circumstances that are out of our control. I know this as well as anyone. I cannot control that I have anxiety, I cannot control that I experienced difficult childhood trauma that resulted in PTSD, I cannot control that my perfectly beautiful, healthy mom went to bed one night over Thanksgiving weekend and died in her sleep, I cannot control that the trauma of that night compounded my existing PTSD and made it more complex. But do you know what I can control? I can control my daily habits, I can decide to pursue things that I already know make me happy, I can seek help in the form of a therapist, I can talk to my family, friends, and boyfriend when I need support. But the biggest lesson that I learned is that I have to be INTENTIONAL. I can’t just say “I’m sad, life has been so hard, when will I ever be happy again?” I have to say “I’m going to actively do things to MAKE myself happy. No one can or should do it for me.”

One of my favorite Rachel Hollis quotes is “If you’re unhappy, that’s on YOU.” That may sound harsh to someone that has experienced life’s difficulties and traumas. But I am here to tell you that it is true. I was grieving and very unhappy for a while even though I had beautiful things in my life. But I was spending time trying to self-soothe and to make myself feel better in the moment. I was not actively doing things that were actually good for me. Once I realized that there were simple things that I could choose to do every day, I felt so powerful. I realized that I’ve been yearning to feel happy again. While Rachel Hollis’s ideas were about specific daily habits and Gretchen Rubin’s ideas were about creating a plan for the year and building on what she learned, the overall idea is intentionality. You have to have specific things in your life that you are doing that will make you happy ON PURPOSE. No one can do them for you. As Gretchen Rubin says towards the end of the book: “After all my research, I found out what I knew all along: I could change my life without changing my life. When I made the effort to reach out for them, I found out that the ruby slippers had been on my feet all along…” Both Girl, Stop Apologizing and The Happiness Project are great personal development books because they truly help to give you an actual action plan. So many books seek to be helpful by introducing powerful concepts, but these books give you specific action items that you can do right now to change your life. And that is endlessly powerful.

Here are a few of my favorite resolutions that Gretchen pursued during her year of her Happiness Project:

  1. Toss, restore, organize
  2. Tackle a nagging task
  3. Fight right
  4. Launch a blog (oh hey!!!)
  5. Work smart
  6. Take time for projects
  7. Take time to be silly
  8. Be generous
  9. Keep a gratitude notebook
  10. Make time

Check out all the awesome books referenced in this post!!!

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This Book Changed My Life Forever. No, Seriously.

Review: Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing & Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis

As most women do, I struggle with a truly horrible habit: I am constantly saying “sorry”. I say “I’m sorry” and apologize for EVERYTHING. I apologize for almost bumping into someone in Target, for asking a family member for something I need, and even for what I perceive as inconveniencing anyone at all, even in the most minor of ways. My ex-boyfriend constantly told me to stop apologizing because I have nothing to be sorry for. And the thing is: I know this! But as women, we feel this need to over apologize for everything. I am constantly working on stopping this habit but it has been ingrained in me since childhood.

One day I saw a Facebook ad for a new book that was coming out called Girl, Stop Apologizing and I immediately took a screenshot and sent it to my (then) boyfriend telling him, “Wow, this looks like a book written for me!” I looked up the synopsis and decided that I needed to read it ASAP. The day the book was released, I went to my favorite Target location and purchased it immediately. I did not know much about the author Rachel Hollis so I did a quick Google search and realized she also wrote the New York Times Bestseller Girl, Wash Your Face. I saw that several of my sorority sisters and friends had read this so I looked into her further and saw how much she has helped women with her honesty, relatability, and tangible advice for living your best life as your truest self.

I started Girl, Stop Apologizing as the second book in my “12 Books in 2019” goal I had set for myself and was instantly captivated by what she had to say. Rachel discusses her successes and failures in building her career and personal life and gives true step-by-step advice on how to achieve your goals. She laid the book out in three easy-to-read parts titled “Excuses to Let Go Of”, “Behaviors to Adopt”, and “Skills to Acquire”. In each section, she includes a chapter for each excuse to let go of, behavior, and skill needed to stop apologizing for who you are and to start pursuing your dreams.

Of all the topics that she covered, the one that struck me the most was the idea of habits. She discusses a set of five daily habits she has called the “5 to Thrive”. These include drinking half your body weight in ounces of water, moving your body for 30 minutes, waking up an hour early to use the time for yourself, giving up one category of food to prove that you can, and writing down five things you are grateful for. As simple as these things are, they are tasks that have to be done with intentionality. On her social media platforms, she was promoting a challenge called “The Last 90 Days” where from October 1st through the end of the year, you complete every one of the 5 to Thrive items every single day. The idea is to start the new year off as your best self, rather than waiting until January 1st to start an unrealistic goal after recovering from the holidays. If you can change your habits, you can change your life.

I was skeptical but I was looking for a life change of some sort. My life was going ok. On the surface it was great: I’m living in a house with two incredible friends, I have the job I set out for and I’m learning every day, and I have an amazing family. But over a year of unresolved grief from the traumatic loss of my mother and childhood hardship, coupled with a severe lack of self-care was causing me to feel stuck and like I was not able to enjoy my life as much as I should be able to.

I found a therapist that I love who challenged and encouraged me to take small steps towards my health and wellness. When I read about the Last 90 Days Challenge, I knew this was EXACTLY what I needed. I’m currently writing this post on October 26th which means I’m not even a third of the way through the challenge but I can already tell you that it is truly and utterly life-changing. Yes, it sucks to wake up early, to make it a priority to workout even when I don’t want to, and it’s super inconvenient to have to run the bathroom all day long because HELLO, drinking that much water means that’s what happens. But I have never felt better in my entire life.

I know what you’re thinking: “You mean to tell me those little things changed you after only 26 days?” Yes, they did. And I’m not even a third of the way done with this. The power of this challenge is in the habits. Doing these little things every day is what got me to prioritize my health, my mental state, and my overall well-being. I start my day early, but with gratitude. During my one hour every day I list 5 specific things I’m grateful for, do some goal setting journaling, plan my day, meditate, and read a non-fiction personal development book. Then I get ready for work and start my day coming from a place of taking care of myself. I drink water ALL DAY LONG and I get in a great 30-minute workout after work. I am happier than I’ve been in so long and probably ever. There is such power in taking care of yourself intentionally and doing things that make you feel good. I am better able to show up for my life and others when I take care of myself and pour into my wellness. Whatever form this takes for you, I hope you find a daily routine or ritual that fulfills you every day with gratitude, self-care, and intentionality and you will start to see all the beautiful things in your life to appreciate fully.

This book is great for all women, honestly, but especially if there is something that you dream about in your life but you just don’t know where to begin. Personal development is something that everyone should strive for but sometimes books on the topic are more abstract or concept based and don’t always tell you exactly what methods to use to grow. Rachel Hollis give true tangible tools to use in your every day life and teaches her readers to create a road map to achieve big, audacious dreams using exactly what they have right now with who they are and their own tenacity.

Have you read Girl, Stop Apologizing? If so, what did you take away from it and what are some of your big dreams and goals? If not, do you plan to read it? I also did end up reading Girl, Wash Your Face. Let me know if you would like me to cover that as well!

And don’t forget: Your existence is to be celebrated. Don’t you ever apologize for it.