Writer Gretchen Rubin had a life even Blair Waldorf would envy: a great career, an adoring financier husband, two precious daughters running around her Upper East Side home, and not one, but two degrees from Yale. But why wasn’t she enjoying it more? In a quest to get more fun out of everyday life, she embarked on a so-called “Happiness Project,” which has since turned into a best-selling memoir. After combing through six months of research—everything from classical philosophy to contemporary literature—Rubin fine-tuned her findings into a year’s worth of monthly resolutions, which she applied to her own life. February, for instance, was devoted to marriage, and Rubin tasked herself with the following goals: “Quit nagging. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. Fight right. No dumping. Give proofs of love.”
If her approach to boosting happiness seems complicated and clinical—don’t worry, her account of the yearlong endeavor is anything but. The Happiness Project is honest, charming and refreshingly free of preachy self-help speak. Best yet, it’s packed with practical advice on how anyone can find get more joy out of life. Rubin happily took time to chat with The Frisky. See what she had to say after the jump.The Frisky: In The Happiness Project, you promote taking small steps to change your life for the better. But when there is so much that needs attention—My diet! My messy closet! My temper!—how do you avoid getting discouraged?
Gretchen Rubin: The key is starting with something very small, very manageable and concrete—like organizing your closet. You’ll really be able to see the effect of what you’ve done, and every time you walk by that closet you’ll get a little boost. Also, it’s always a good idea to start with taking care of your body. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not going to have the energy to do other things.
The Frisky: You tackled a different area of your life every month, which is seriously impressive. But for lazy folks like me, can you recommend one simple resolution that will make us happier?
G.R.: One thing that really boosts happiness is strong relationships with other people. So, maybe make a resolution to have lunch with a friend once a week, or make sure you have one fun plan every weekend, or join a group. During my project, I joined or started 11 groups, and found it was a great way to see a bunch of people at once and do something fun.
The Frisky: Speaking of relationships, you write a lot about how happiness plays into your marriage. But how do you think happiness factors into dating?
G.R.: One myth is that people find happy people annoying, when in reality people prefer to be around happy people. So, if you’re single, think about your own happiness and do the things you need to do for yourself to be happier. It will make you more attractive to other people.
The Frisky: Personally, I can’t stand to be around sulky, unhappy people. They are my biggest pet peeve! How do I not let them get to me?
G.R.: I get that question all the time. There’s something called “emotional contagion,” which refers to the fact that people catch emotions from each other. Unfortunately, bad moods are more infecting than good moods. A lot of happy people try to distance themselves from unhappy people because they feel like it’s very taxing, like they are trying to “pop your bubble” or bring you down. And that’s too bad, because those unhappy people would probably like to be happier, but they’re doing it in a way that’s pushing people away from them. I think that’s another reason to try to be happier: When you’re happy, other people are happier to be around you. And if you’re less happy, people don’t want to be around you as much and that just intensifies your feelings of unhappiness and defensiveness and isolation.
The Frisky: In your personal effort to be happier, you took on an “Extreme Nice” challenge, during which you were extremely nice to your husband for one week. On the surface, this could come across as a little bit Stepford Wife-ish, and it made me wonder if women place a bigger premium on happiness.
G.R.: That’s an interesting question. I think “Extreme Nice” would work very well for men, too—because it’s just a good tool to show you how much you do that isn’t nice. You’re not really aware of it until you try to be so nice! In terms of the difference between men and women, I’ve certainly talked to a lot of men who have given a lot of thought and effort to happiness. But it might be true that women are more concerned about other people’s happiness.
The Frisky: So in the day-to-day lives of American women, what do you think are most common enemies of happiness?
G.R.: Again, one is not getting enough sleep. Another is not taking the time to have fun yourself. It’s easy to think about what’s fun for other people, but if you’re not doing something that’s actually fun for you, it’s not going to boost happiness.
The Frisky: I know you’re a voracious reader, but you also say that catching a favorite TV show can boost your mood. What shows and movies make you happy?
G.R.: Right now I’m catching up on Season 5 of “Lost,” to get ready for the new season. I also love science-fiction, so I love all of the Harry Potter movies, the “Twilight” movies, and “True Blood.” And “Avatar”—I loved.