Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reading: The Happiness Project

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."
~Mary Engelbreit
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!


Lizzi said...

Having just come back from a very 'healthy lifestyle ' holiday - and feeling the benefits - I too, am fired up to keep the changes.
Perhaps we need to read this post every Monday morning.
Good luck, I believe, to change your habits, you need to replace a bad habit with a good one - so you are right on track.

agirlinwinter said...

Thanks for the review. I downloaded this to my Kindle ages ago and never read it. Some of it sounds cringeworthy, but it seems like there are some interesting ideas as well as reminders to do the things we know we ought to do anyway - exercise, eat better, etc. I can't abide 'Wuthering Heights' but I did like 'The Crimson Petal and the White' even though the characters are so unlikeable.

Twelfthknit said...

Hmmm. I would like a book that has practical ideas yet doesn't have the obligatory 'spirituality' chapter. It sets my teeth on edge. I have a sense of wonder about the universe. I frequently cause pavement pile-ups (piles-up??) while I (literally) stop to smell the roses. But 'spiritual'? anyway...one of the simplest/hardest things for me which does make a difference is the de-clutter/organise mode. And cleaning. with respect to the latter I have a Google Doc in which I note down things to clean and then mark them when they are done. I know, crazy, eh? BUt when I remember that the top of the bookshelves haven't been cleaned for 5 years (oops...) if I don't write it down somewhere it'll be another 5 years before I remember them.

What also makes me happy is having nice textiles around me, hence my recent curtain panel section.
Re the organisation, I have bought a label machine (woot!) and now I am labelling everything. With my very bad memory this is helping a lot: now I know where my winter warm underwear is, because I have labelled a shelf for it. I know where my swimming costume is, because I have labelled a section for sportswear. I won't have to keep buying yarn needles/sewing needles because I have the sectionalised box labelled and I am putting it back when finished.

Finally, 46vand getting organised. What is the world coming to?

Twelfthknit said...

(eta...not saying that no-one else can be 'spiritual'...I would just like a bit less of it for me)

Franca said...

Yes! wuthering heights! they're all so annoying! I also just read the catcher in the rye and he annoyed the bejesus out of me.

That milk advice is the most random thing I've ever heard. I'm actually actively trying to be nicer by wrapping requests in longer sentences, so this is well weird!

Linda C said...

I thought of when I received an email informing me that YELLOW from lemon to canary to mustard and all else in between is the choice for Spring, 2013. A year ahead , weren't you? I would make a clever comment about your psychic powers but I don't know to spell the word. Remember, the LBD is YELLOW in 2012!


jessica said...

Like you and Lizzi, I am back from a rejuvenating vacation and determined to make some changes! While away I realized how much sugar can affect me (makes me jittery + numb), which I don't realize if I'm having a steady stream of it, so out with sugar unless it's a goodie I baked myself or offered as a gift (I mean, I need to be realistic!) But I think that what we eat can haVe a huge impact on us, so good for you for bringing a lunch and making your own coffee!

As I've gotten older, I've tried to me mindful of separating my reaction to an event, from the event itself (like you + FL in his post-Dexy-downer). So tricky ... yet subtley powerful ...

I'm trying to limit my blog reading to once/week or so, but yours is definitely on the list! Just want you to know why I haven't been commenting much, but I'm off to get nice and caught up now :-).

Hope you're doing well!