The Pursuit of Happiness


October 16, 2012 by Vicki

        What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? What can you do to instill more happiness in your day-to-day life? These are the questions at the heart of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. She devotes a year to her happiness project and devotes each month to a particular topic. Some of her topics include vitality, marriage, friendship and mindfulness. I found the book uplifting and inspiring. Personally, I am starting my own happiness project with very different concerns and issues, but basically following her format.

In this book club, we have seen issues surrounding happiness before such as in “The Love Children” and “Eat, Pray, Love.” It seems to be a recurring and important theme to the sanity and development of women. Yet, Gretchen Rubin talks about how many people found her focus on happiness trivial. Why would this belief occur? Why do we assume that we must sacrifice our happiness in order to create a good life?

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin talks about how she worried that her quest for happiness was selfish. She, eventually, realized that her happiness had an immediate and direct effect on the happiness of her family and friends. Thus, her quest for a happier life lead to those she cared about also having a happier life. I think we, as women, put our own happiness at the bottom of our priority list. When we do address our need for happiness, we look for quick fixes such as a chocolate bar or a shopping trip or a trip to the salon. All of these provide short bursts of happiness but do not really address the cause of the unhappiness in our lives. They are band-aids not cures.

For myself, I discovered that in ignoring my own happiness I only hurt myself and other people. I ended up misunderstanding the behaviour of a friend simply because I was not honest with that friend. I have been cranky and miserable because I have not allowed myself to pursue my own interests. I have lost contact with dear friends because it was easier than attempt to work out our differences.  Many of these activities, I was not aware I was doing. I simply acted in the best interests of my family, instead of acting in accordance with my own happiness. Is pursuing your own happiness selfish? At first, it maybe selfish, but in the long term, it serves the entire family. At least, that’s my opinion. What do you think? Is pursuing your own happiness selfish or not? What do you do to make yourself happy? What could you do to instill more happiness in your life?

One of the activities that Gretchen Rubin recommends for increasing happiness is removing clutter. I have been clutter-clearing for as long as I can remember. My mom is a hard-core believer that if you haven’t used it in 6 months, you throw it out! I, on the other hand, suffer from a mild case of pack rat. I like having my things around me and associate comfort with certain objects. My brand of clutter clearing has been removing the things that no longer have any resonance with me. I have my grandfather’s watch that he wore until the night he died and I will NEVER get rid of that. I will, however, throw out an ornament I packed away and never took back out. I fully admit that removing clutter can give a temporary sense of achievement and relief. I, however, have also experienced the grief of discovering you actually needed or wanted something that you threw out.  Do you find getting rid of clutter increases your happiness?

I really enjoyed The Happiness Project and believe that it could help a lot of people. I think women can take lessons from Gretchen Rubin’s focus on happiness. I also think that happiness is a much bigger issue or topic then we easily admit. I think our downplaying happiness as a trivial concern reflects an imbalance in our society. The same imbalance that leads to us believing happiness is being comatose in front of the television. Television is an easy fix and does not require asking yourself  “what do I want?” What is your opinion on happiness?

5 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Kate says:

    Good morning Vicki, I agree with what you have said about happiness. How, we, as women, tend to put our needs and happiness at t he very bottom of our list of priorities. I also agree that if you are not happy those around you suffer for it. It is difficult, though, to figure out what makes you happy, especially if it is a new idea to you. I guess that is why Ms. Rubin took a whole year to figure it out. I wish you luck in your quest.

  2. RM Luffman says:

    Happiness of self Vs. Happiness of Family, eh? Alright *rolls up sleeves*

    I had spent the ages of 18-24 trying to make my Family (parents, siblings, spouse, inlaws) happy. It took some majour upsets for me to finally stop putting someone else’s, ANYone else’s happiness above my own, to finally learn to be just a tiny bit self centred. Which, by the way, is a very healthy thing to be.

    I have always been the type of person to be able to seek joy in the small things, like a good book, my favourite movie, a comfy sweater, Mom’s best recipes, or simply a peice of music (I’m currently listening to a Playlist entitled ‘Celtic Christmas’), but it took a lot of effort to figure out how to make myself truly happy. Being helpful, useful and productive have been the common threads in the grand design of my own personal happiness.

    Faced with the reality of my declining health (See, I have been confronted with the challenge of finding other ways of being helpful and productive, and have struggled with the balance of putting my own needs, mentally, emotionally, and physically above the ‘demands’ of those around me.

    Now to answer your question about personal happiness vs. happiness of the familiy unit.

    You are part, if not half, of the Family Unit. If you’re not happy, the Family is not happy. You smile and nod and go through the motions, but meanwhile, there is an undercurrent of unsatisfaction and frustration. And we all know what the inevitable end of that is. It may not be the destruction of a family, but the blow ups that occur when the scale suddenly tips too far to the side of frustration are cataclysmic and can sometimes takes days, weeks, even months for the ripples to fade.

    Bottom line. You can’t make anyone else truly happy if you’re not happy yourself. Unhappiness is just as contagious as Happiness. Some people just have a better buffer against the scowls they pass on the street. Just as almost no one can resist a smile when confronted with one.

  3. Kate says:

    Yes, RM Luffman..being helpful, useful and productive certainly help towards personal happiness but ‘helpful’, is once again taking care of others. I, too, have been thinking about this idea and to lovingly detach from ‘family’ can give you the freedom to live your life and that is necessary, I think, for personal happiness. Just a thought.

  4. shaunagh61 says:

    Hey I found Jane Austen brought me happiness. Check out my blog!

  5. […]       After reading The Pursuit of Happiness, I decided to make an action plan for myself to change the aspects of my life that I was not happy […]

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Hi, I'm the blogger behind Boudicabooks. Tour around the site and hop into the discussions. This site discusses life as a woman. The site also hosts a Book Club that investigates the lives of women through novels by women, about women, and for women.
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