The Pursuit Of Happiness

Happiness sounds like an easy goal... but it's not.

I still can’t believe that we have exactly two weeks until 2013 ends. The year went by real fast for me, but it also managed to dole out extreme highs and lows in both work and personal life. Most of 2013 fucking sucked, to put it bluntly.

This “early” on, I’m setting goals and making resolutions (they’re actually two different things, explained by the author of the reviewed book below) for the coming year, as well implementing several changes in how I live. (No, decreasing alcohol consumption isn’t one of those changes. Hah.)

I also did something a few months ago that I never thought I’d do ever again. I always thought that happiness would manifest only with the right circumstances, opportunities and people; that it occurs over time; that everything would just fall into place. Throughout the past few years I’ve realized it’s a really long process that starts with good ol’ me — and I haven’t really taken the time to do that.

Happy campers! Photo: “If you’re happy and you know it, Clap your hands” by Kate Ter Haar. Source: Flickr

So I did what a book nerd would do: get a self-help book.

Don’t cringe; don’t look at me like that. Besides, self-help books are way cheaper than therapy. I think the last self-help tome I ever read was Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, way back in high school. (Now that company sells soup and other food items too. Yeah. Seriously.) I don’t quite know why, but I avoided the self-help section since then, and not just because I had no interest at all in what I called organized religion-driven drivel. I was also given copies of The Purpose-Driven Life and The Secret years ago, but I… ummmm… regifted them. 😜️

This “new” one, I liked, and for many reasons. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Finished reading it a few months ago, but I’m writing about it (and keeping it relatively short) only now.

Personal project turned global movement

Help thyself.

Yep. It’s the very popular memoir/self-help book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve been hearing a lot about the book for a few years now, and I figured it’s worth a shot. An unplanned side trip to Bibliarch in Glorietta 3 while waiting for my number to come up at a telco customer service booth led to me taking a mass-market paperback copy home. I couldn’t help it; the cover looked so damn happy. And it was positioned right at the cashier. Hello, impulse purchase.

First: if you have rapidly deteriorating eyesight like me, please get a large-print copy. The print on the “pocket-sized” mass-market edition’s too small for this granny, and it took me a long while to finish reading it. My fault for not asking the salesman who loved to stay just a few paces behind me for another edition.

Here’s a perfect example. I couldn’t help but make that classic Spice Girls/Wannabe reference. #sorrynotsorry

Another thing — it’s a great book, but this lifelong pessimist had to take a few weeks-long breaks from it. All that happiness talk seemed to be too much for me at times. 😜️ That, and my tendency to inappropriately tease, mock and judge really came out for a while there. “That’s your problem? Really?” (Related: First-World Problems vs. Third-World Success memes) Then again, what’s insignificant for some may be monumental for others.

I think what I loved the most about The Happiness Project (aside from the pleasant lack of religious drivel) is that it doles out advice and tips without being judgmental, condescending and strongly prescriptive. Rubin makes it clear early on that what worked for her may not work for others, and that readers should try different things to see what fits their personalities and lifestyles. No one has identical sets of problems, and no one will come up with identical solutions or templates. It’s a good change from the standard idiotic “this is the way things are done, and how things will always be done!” insistence of many people and publications. The end of the book also includes reminders and tips on topics discussed in earlier chapters, including starting your very own “Happiness Group”.

She also emphasized that while her book can help most people, those suffering from varying degrees of depression will need more focused treatment, and that she doesn’t offer a cure for the serious condition. As she said in this old blog entry:

My Happiness Project is aimed at what I would call “ordinary unhappiness.”

Rubin’s writing style and her frequent references to her own life (all of this began as a personal project, after all) also kept me reading page after page. It’s like meeting a close girl friend who you haven’t seen in years for extended coffee and cocktails: it’s a long, very easy and amusing conversation, peppered with revelations and needed doses of practicality. Even if we’re two very different people, I can still relate to her on some levels, and get her point of view. This accessibility and relatability is vital for those battling unhappiness, regardless of duration.

Additionally, it was refreshing to see specific methods applied to someone’s daily life and circumstances. Sometimes it’s tough to gauge which advice can be applied to normal life and which aren’t applicable at all. And then sometimes you find out the hard way that the long-prescribed way is actually a ginormous crock of crap.

There were plenty of instances when I couldn’t help but laugh while reading; simple solutions and changes can be done for long-standing problems, and I actually uttered “oo nga no!” so many times I’ve lost count. There were also a lot of tips and tricks that I’ve known and used for years (like going on an extreme, days-long spring cleaning/purging session when unhappy) — and were explained in depth by Rubin. I just needed reminders. Bonus: now I also understand why the cited methods work.

I didn’t find much to gripe about for The Happiness Project. Also can’t say that it completely changed my life, but it has certainly given me a better outlook and understanding of a few matters. Right now I’m taking baby steps, and not inclined to spend a full year doing what she did. Also picked up a lot of lessons through this book, which I hope I can sustain in 2014 and longer:

  • It’s not selfish at all to think of my own happiness. For those who value me as much as I value them, my happiness affects theirs and vice versa.
    • Related: Don’t ever let others’ severe unhappiness impact my happiness. Also, some people exploit unhappiness (p.217), so I need to look out for that. I can already name a few people who exploit it real well.
  • Never expect others to make me happy. I have to make the changes myself, incrementally if needed.
    • Related: Never expect that others are as happy as I am.
  • If I’m not happy anymore, or if it looks like the situation won’t ever change for the better, I have to walk away. And I can’t make excuses for others’ behavior.
  • Don’t waste time on people who don’t love me back, don’t have time for me, don’t value me, and/or don’t want to stay.
  • Never ignore other people’s feelings. Or mine, for that matter. Recognizing them will lead to different outcomes.
  • Don’t be so serious all the time.
  • Try out new things; be open to new people and experiences.
  • Pursue more personal interests, and stop evaluating and criticizing so much.
  • Spend much more time with happy people.
  • “Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy.” (p.79) Also, being happy is harder than being unhappy.
  • I need to stop being so blunt and aggressive all the time. Basically, kailan ko matuto maging malambing. (Eeeeeek.)

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
Paperback, HarperCollins
Buy: National Book Store | Fully Booked | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks

I guess this is the first time that I’m featuring only one book on this seldom-updated book blog. It was supposed to be a two-book deal, but I had to stop at some point. The bulk reviews will be back for future updates.

Let me explain. I like reading interior design/home/shelter magazines, with Real Living a longtime favorite. One of the people featured in a back issue named The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton as a favorite read of hers. Figured I should check it out and read it, too.

I tried – and failed.

So I bought it on Amazon and began reading it right after The Happiness Project. The writing styles couldn’t be more different, and I just couldn’t adjust. Rubin went for a conversational style (which I love), while for me, de Botton has more of an academic and philosophical style — which I used to handle well, but can’t really do so these days. I repeatedly zoned out while reading it, and eventually lost interest. I’ve since realized that I can’t force myself to do things I don’t want to do, or don’t quite agree with me, so I simply gave up on it and moved on to another book.

I do love the point he makes: architecture and the things that surround us have an impact on who we are, and how we live.

I didn’t finish this one, but maybe de Botton’s other books on travel, work, sex, and religion will be more for me. And maybe I’m just about looking at pretty interior design photos and not so much about the stories behind and opinions about the structures they’re in. I may read it again in the future, but not right now.

If you’re interested in the book, check it out and buy it through the links posted below.

The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton
E-book, Vintage International/Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Buy: National Book Store/Kobo Books | Fully Booked | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Book Depository