Happy seems to be quite in vogue these days. Between books like The Happiness Project and major merchandise deals surrounding Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, the culture of happy is just…wow. It’s a money maker. It’s a life changer. It’s a mover and a shaker. OK, enough with the rhymes, but you get the picture. Happiness and its pursuit have been a dominant theme in contemporary pop culture. Being a hopeless optimist, I’m actually kind of glad that it’s “cool” to be happy now. I get tired of the constant negativity and “angst is in” mindset. Although, I do wonder how all of these happiness projects and pursuits actually affect the way we think about happiness. Do more people now think they’re unhappy? Are they motivated to actually do something about it?
Let’s take Eat Pray Love for example. Now, I didn’t read the book (started to; didn’t like Gilbert’s writing style) but I saw the movie. All in all, it’s a feel good story. Woman realizes she’s not happy, travels the world, eats pasta, meditates, and has lots o’ lovin’ with a Brazilian. Not a bad deal. However, for many people, this pathway is simply out of reach. It’s also not going to fix every woe.
I have to give Gilbert credit – she does say that her path wasn’t the only one out there and not everyone has to do what she did to be happy. I totally get that and kudos to her for reminding us that we don’t have to quit our jobs, abandon our possessions, or fly halfway around the world. But we are an impressionable people. We see things we like and we tend to mimic. Believe me, after seeing the film, I had the sudden urge to hop on a plane, train, or automobile and just GO. But I can’t. I have responsibilities…and a severely limited bank account.
Eat Pray Love does do something good. It tells you that it’s OK to make mistakes. It’s also OK to pursue happiness on our own terms in a way that fits. Best of all, it’s OK to indulge a little and give back to others in ways that go beyond money, emotion, and advice. Gilbert gave us a lot to think about. She also gave us a motivation to go out and actually ACT on our urges for happiness. Plus, if you’re into such things, there’s quite a bit of Eat Pray Love merchandise out there for the taking. Reed diffusers, wall hangings, and such.
There’s also Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I read this book and absolutely loved it. She told us how hard it can be to make positive changes in our lives. She also gave us concrete examples on how we can make ourselves more happy without having to make major adjustments or sacrifice. Her vision of happiness can be a bit more within reach for most people. At the same time, she also takes on a HUGE project in order to make herself happy. She gives herself a year to focus on different aspects of her life. She frequently tracks her progress in lists, charts, and journals. She puts a lot into sticking with the project. I give her tons of credit. What she did was not easy.
But what I liked so much about her approach was that she did lots of little things and she made changes that many of us can conceivably make. Take for example her buying of large glass jars to store some of her children’s little toys. She cleared away the clutter and turned a mess into something visually appealing and interesting. It takes creativity to make that happen, but a few small purchases and some time later, she had a life that was considerably decluttered. Personally, I find it hard to declutter. I get sentimental about my things and tend to let things pile up. I’m also awful when it comes to tossing paper rubbish. I’m notorious for leaving piles of mail around the house (just ask Brent). The point is that her book gives very actionable steps while at the same time reminding us that happiness projects come in all shapes and sizes. Her project may not be the right fit for anyone – which is why the Happiness Project Community is so darn cool. She gives you some tools, ideas, and inspirations and lets YOU choose the project and the path. Good stuff.
All of this happiness talk got me thinking about my own happiness. For the most part, I’m very happy. Even when times are at their worst, I’m pretty happy. But like most people, I tend to get caught up in fear and perception. I get afraid and compromise myself. I second guess a lot. I also probably care too much about what other people think. Strike that. I definitely do.
So, I’m going to let you in on a little something I’ve been doing for the past week or two. I’ve been keeping a happiness journal. Each day, I write down the 5 things that made me happiest throughout the day (I couldn’t pick one). Hopefully, this should help me evaluate what things really make me happy and what things don’t. It’s been quite amusing – and enlightening.
Here’s to more happiness in our lives, no matter where the kick in the ass comes from. Maybe you’ll see a movie or read a book. Maybe you’ll check out The Middle Finger Project. Maybe you’ll decide to take a trip or live in a tiny house. Who knows? All I can say is that I hope the happiness culture keeps up. I think we all may become better for it. Happy has a whole lot of power behind it.