I may have forgotten my knickers, but I packed quite a stack of books to take on holiday, and ended up reading only one: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
It started well enough, with the familiar topic of decluttering, and I was full of enthusiasm for all the areas of my home I would tackle on return from my holiday, fired up with evangelical zeal. And I did it too - on the very day we arrived home, I filled yet another black bag full of tat and hauled it to the bin at the end of the road!
But Chapter Two was about "Marriage" and I regret that reading it made me feel brittle and unhappy. The final sentence of this chapter had me set the book aside for a while: "When you give up expecting a spouse to change (within reason), you lessen anger and resentment and that creates a more loving atmosphere in a marriage." Excuse me? You want me to accept whatever crap my metaphorical partner throws at me because I have no right to expect him/her to change? Uh uh no way, honey. What is this? Stepford Wives? That was my instant reaction - I may have calmed down since then.
I think she may mean:
"If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it."
Which brings me to the main issue I had with this book: I did not like the people in it.
This has been a recurrent problem of late. Wuthering Heights? What a bunch of bad-tempered social misfits! The Crimson Petal and The White? Dearie me, are there no redeeming features to any of these characters?
But it has gradually dawned on me that I don't have to like the people to gain something positive from this book / any book. In this case, Gretchen and her metropolitan NY "stunt life" (her words not mine) were grating at times, but she put her finger on some important truths which I can apply to my own circumstances. Things like: "Act with energy", "Smile", "Do it every day"...
In my week away I did not drink disgusting lattes every morning, or wolf down a KitKat at 9am to set me up for the day. Instead I was off up the hill, with the dog in hot pursuit, rain or shine. And I felt a lot better. Just moving makes a difference. Act with energy! Who knew?
And I monitored my responses to conflict when FL was feeling lousy on his post-Dexy-downer and I tried harder to be kind instead of defensive when he criticised me for a perceived inadequacy. NOT the same as the Stepford Wife reflex, but definitely better for our relationship than inwardly sighing or sniping straight back.
Some of her ideas are not for me. I do NOT think it would add to marital harmony if I shouted: "Milk!" at FL instead of the more long-winded: "Could you please get some milk while you are out, darling?" In this case, her recommended use of fewer words would lead to short-tempered words, I suspect! But reading about her experiments with spirituality / collecting bluebirds / dealing with fractious toddlers was almost always interesting. She certainly made me think.
Back at work, and I am filled with the resolutionary spirit. I have taken my cafetiere to work, to make my own coffee instead of drinking half a pint of barely-flavoured brown cow juice every day. I have started making a packed lunch instead of grabbing the same boring sandwich from the Tesco petrol station. I am doing this for lots of reasons: to save money, to eat more healthily and to free up my lunch hour to do something more interesting than trailing up the road to the garage... I am not sure what that thing is yet, but it will come to me!
So... should you read this book? Yes, why not! Just don't blame me if you find yourself setting up a permanent Halloween photo gallery / shrine or making laminated placemats for the grandparents with "10 reasons why you love them"... err... maybe not!