Seven Ways Gretchen Rubin and The Happiness Project Helped Our Family Become Happier

By JoAnn Rash

I love Gretchen Rubin. I bought her book, The Happiness Project, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, for 25 cents at a discount book sale (which, by the way, made me happy.) Written over ten years ago, I did not think much of this book at the time, but hey, for a quarter I will try reading just about anything.

For me it started out a bit dry. Rubin explains why she started The Happiness Project and delves into the research that supports her plan for tracking her resolutions. Once I got past that, though, I was hooked. Rubin lists her Twelve Commandments, such as, there is only love and be polite and be fair, to help her keep her resolutions and stay on track. She also lists her Secrets for Adulthood, such as you don’t have to be good at everything and it’s important to be nice to everyone. Bring a sweater is also on that list.

Every month, for a year, Rubin focused on an area in her life that would help her become happier. January’s resolution was “Boost Energy,” February was “Remember Love,” March was “Aim Higher,” and so on. For each resolution, Rubin created a short list of things that she could do to that would boost her happiness.

I decided to try some of those things. And, spoiler alert. I am happier. But, not only that. My family is happier, too. How do I know this? I never shared with them what I was reading or that I, too, was starting my own little happiness project. I simply just started doing some of the things that Rubin wrote about that resonated with me. And, I noticed that we fought less. We argued less. We laughed more. We said yes more. We started having more fun. We became happier.

All of Rubin’s Twelve Commandments, Secrets of Adulthood and resolutions are not going to be for everyone. Many fans of Rubin have come up with their own ideas for happiness. This is not a one-size-fits-all project. But amongst them, I did find seven pearls of happiness wisdom that have made a huge impact on our family.

  1. Be Gretchen. Or, in my case, Be JoAnn. This is huge. To be happier, you really must be yourself. And, to be yourself, you must understand that the things you like, and dislike, are going to be different from everyone else and that is the most okay thing in the world. This is what I emphasize with my children. Be you. Be happier.
  2. Toss, restore, organize. I started doing this over the past two years and decided to up my game while reading Rubin’s book. My family is much happier without piles on the counter and junk on the floor. We are happier knowing where things are when we need them and where things go when we are done with them. Calm has replaced frantic in how we function in our home. This will take time and will not happen overnight. But each time you organize and bring order to a drawer, know that your family will be happier when they open it and find what they need. And, you will be happier because they know where to put it away.
  3. Tackle a nagging task. Our yard, front and back, has been nagging at us for years. Yardwork and gardening bring us absolutely no joy. And, going back to number one, we are now okay with knowing that these things bring so many people joy. And, now, we can stop feeling like it should be joyful for us, too. But it still nags. We hired landscapers at one point. And, that made us happier. But after my job loss we reluctantly had to let them go. While reading Rubin’s book, I decided that it was time to tackle this nagging task. We created a vision board of all the things that we wanted completed in our yard. And, one-by-one, we started marking them off the list. Now, the task of yardwork and gardening, while ongoing, is much easier. We are using our yard more; we are spending more time together outside as a family and we have beautiful spaces to enjoy. Our family is happy outdoors. What task is nagging you? Take care of it.
  4. Quit nagging. This was tough but the most rewarding, not only for my family but for myself as well. We needed to make some changes to an account in which my husband is the executor. I gave the information to him and asked him to take care of it on his day off. For most of the day the task sat uncompleted and I spent the day resisting the urge to nag. By late afternoon I resolved, again, to not say anything. I reminded myself that the world would not end if the task were not done this week. A few minutes later, my husband was on the phone taking care of the task and the relief I felt for not nagging him made me so incredibly happy. I am sure that he was happier, too. You will find that the less that you nag the more everyone takes care of what they need to.
  5. Find more fun. We are neck deep in the Covid-19 pandemic and have been hard-core isolating due to a child with asthma and my 88-year-old dad. This is the opposite of happy. Finding more fun has taken a lot more work on my part and I still have much more to do. Fun has never been that easy for me and I struggle to find ways to bring it in to our home. But when I do, there is magic. So, we are spending more time playing games together, having movie nights and binge-watching TV, making fun foods for dinner and neat-to-eat-treats, shooting hoops, and enjoying our yard. I am saying yes more to fun ideas and I am trying to remember why I even said no to them in the past. I am laughing more and when I laugh more, my family does too. Having more fun is the best way to create happiness.
  6. Help people think big. And, along with this one, a fan of Rubin’s shared, choose the bigger life. I have always been a big idea person. Love them. Love writing them down. And I love sharing them. Even if the person receiving the big idea does not think much of it, I am always happier when I share them. And big ideas are not necessarily what one would consider big. But they always have the potential to be game changers. When I share a big idea with my family, and the game is changed, they are happy. Encourage your family to think big and to choose the bigger life. There is happiness in reaching for the stars.
  7. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Each day that I choose to be light makes it easier for my family to choose to be light. The moment I choose to be heavy is the moment that my family becomes heavy. It happens that fast. Choosing to be light is much harder and can take a little longer to spread. Our kids looked at me as though I had lost my ever-loving mind the first time that I did not freak out about something that normally would have pushed me over the edge. They had to wonder if I was for real. They still give me that look sometimes, and I know that they sometimes wonder what has happened to their mom. Like being heavy, being light is contagious. And it feels good. And, that will make you happy.

There is much about 2020 that is not happy. Loss and changes abound. But, my hope, after reading The Happiness Project, is that my family can look back on 2020 and think, not only was it not so bad, but we were also happy.

To find out more about being happier, Gretchen Rubin and The Happiness Project, visit gretchenrubin.com.

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