Though her books include biographies on John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill, she found her niche when she decided to take a year to explore happiness, an endeavor she chronicled in her No. 1 New York Times and international best seller, 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.
Since its publication by HarperCollins in 2011, millions of people around the world have been using this book to guide them in their own pursuit of a more blissful life. Here are some of Rubin’s most inspiring insights in four key areas that can help you embark on a Happiness Project of your own and answer the question, “What makes you happy?” with actions instead of words.
How do you know when it’s time to make a change in your professional life? Rubin recognized it by the jealousy she felt when she read about those with her dream job. “I don’t like to admit it, but when I was working as a lawyer and I read [about people in] my alumni magazine with cool law jobs, I felt mildly interested,” she says. “But when I read about people with cool writing jobs, I felt sick with envy.”
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Rubin set about becoming one of those individuals whose careers she coveted. But how do you get started when you want to make such a drastic change? “Try to enter into the culture,” she advises. “Who is it, and what are they doing? Try to learn and enter into the fray. There may be opportunity there.”
That means joining professional associations, informal groups and online communities of people already doing what you want to be doing. It also means speaking up within your own circle because you never know where a connection may lead you. “Start talking to people about things that interest you,” Rubin urges, as a way to bring your professional dreams to life. Surrounding yourself with what you love can help attract opportunities to engage in it. “It sounds kind of magical and weird, but this actually happens to a lot of people I know,” she says.
Beyond offering contacts and ideas, other people can support you and help you stay on track when you’re pursuing a new career—or any goal, for that matter. “If you’re trying to make a big change, it can be really helpful to have an accountability partner or be in an accountability group,” she stresses. Rubin herself has two accountability partners. “They’re helping me get clarity on what I’m thinking about and helping me stick to whatever it is I say I’m going to do,” she explains.
As children, we’re surrounded by opportunities to make friends, from the classroom and the schoolyard to soccer teams and the church choir. It just comes naturally. As adults, though, we may be hard-pressed to meet people with whom we connect. “A major happiness challenge for adults is friendship,” Rubin says.
This can be due to the fact that many people move away from their hometowns or where they went to school, creating a scenario where they are newcomers and all alone. And even if you do have a social network where you live, adult responsibilities—work, school and family—may leave little room for anything else.
Connecting with other people takes effort, but Rubin believes it’s worth our while. “Anytime we’re thinking about spending our time, energy or money, things related to relationships are probably a good choice,” she opines. “Whether it’s going to a party or a reunion, joining a book group or talking to a neighbor, those efforts to connect with other people really pay off for happiness.”
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Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
Whether you’re looking to meet new people or trying to keep up with your old pals, an easy way is to join a group. “It can be anything that’s fun for you,” Rubin says, from the standard book clubs and Bible study groups to gatherings around more unique interests, such as classic movies or golden retriever training. These types of organized groups provide a ready-made social network. “It sounds funny to talk about efficiency in friendship, but seeing a lot of people at once [enables you to] maintain a lot of relationships at once,” she says.
One more way to add to your social circle is to tap into people you already know. “Friends of your friends are more likely to be your friends,” notes Rubin. Even if you move to a new city, your old roommate’s childhood friend who also lives there is likely to welcome you into her fold because of your common connection and the innate trust that brings.
“Our physical experience always influences our emotional experience,” says Rubin. In her opinion, this is as true of the body as it is of where we work and dwell. So, sleep- and exercise-deprived individuals living and laboring in cluttered surroundings are unintentionally sabotaging their chances at happiness.
When you’re run-down, it can be hard to muster enough energy to get through the day, let alone tackle a grueling new lifestyle regimen or wrestle with your overrun home and office. But Rubin contends that this is exactly what we need to do to get our happiness in order.
When it comes to taking care of yourself, “Exercise helps you in two ways,” she says. “It calms you down and it energizes you.” You don’t need to be a triathlete or a Zumba fanatic to reap the benefits, though. “Just a little bit is so much better than none. It can be a 15-minute walk. You don’t have to do a spin class.”
While a well-kept body benefits you emotionally, so does an orderly home and work environment. “There’s something about outer order that contributes to inner calm and inner energy,” she says. That means de-cluttered closets, basements, offices and refrigerators are more than just aesthetically pleasing. “Over and over, people tell me that getting control of the stuff in their lives frees them in some way,” she says.
As adults, recreation can take a backseat to duty and responsibility. But when everything on your to-do list is an obligation, you end up shortchanging your chances of fun and happiness. “You should be able to look at your calendar and anticipate something that brings you pleasure,” Rubin asserts. “If you feel like you’re doing for other people all the time, it’s easy to start feeling resentful.”
A great way to introduce more amusement into your life is to—counterintuitively—schedule it. “Fun feels like it should be spontaneous and easy, but it takes discipline,” notes Rubin. “It’s [natural] to think leisure is what you do when everything is done, but you’re never going to get to it. You have to really say, ‘I’m going to set aside this time to have fun.’”
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Some people, though, are so mired down in commitment that they can’t even recollect what activities bring them pleasure. “It’s very easy to forget how much you love something,” she says. If you’re struggling, Rubin suggests thinking about what you did for fun when you were 10 years old. “Maybe you liked baking, walking the dog or digging in the garden.” For her part, as a young girl Rubin enjoyed coming home from school and creating books with her favorite quotations and images, a labor of love that is echoed in her work as a writer.
Whatever the activity is, find it—and do it. “It’s totally worth it,” she says. “Your life is so much richer [for it].”
Whether you’re working on getting more bliss from your career, your relationships, your physical surroundings or your free time, go forth and take charge of your own happiness, for your own good and the good of those around you. “People feel like it’s selfish to worry about their own happiness, but studies show that people who are happy live longer and are more altruistic,” insists Rubin. In effect, the world becomes a better place—one happy person at a time. There’s nothing selfish about that.
So, come on. Get happy!
In this issue