Monday, April 11, 2011

My Happiness Project

Those of you that know me at all, even just a little bit, know that I love to read. Those of you that know me even better know that books tend to inspire me and that it seems to be a regular occurrence that I pick up a book that will have some deep impact on me in the time that I read it. Some people would call this a coincidence, but I like to think there's more at work.

In spring of 2009, I read Eat, Pray, Love while on a beach in Mexico. Life was great - I was happy with where I was, where I was going, and the people I had beside me. In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert owns her unhappiness, confronts the causes, attempts to change her life, and eventually leaves for a one year, multi-country, soul-searching expedition. While reading the book, deep down I felt a longing for that sort of freedom - not to take a year off to travel, but to devote a significant amount of time to my own happiness.  However, I was laying on a beach in sunny Puerto Vallarta; I didn't let my thoughts go too far, but the seed was planted.

In winter/spring of 2010, I read American Wife and Committed. My life was nearing a crossroads at this point - I was on schedule to graduate, move to Milwaukee for grad school, and get married. On the outside, I was happy. I had everything going for me. But that happiness was not reflected on the inside, where fear, doubt, and insecurity were growing. I picked up American Wife at Barnes & Noble because I enjoy reading books that are somehow tied to a real person. American Wife is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush. I wasn't expecting anything more than a fun, interesting book. However, very early on I started finding my own self in the book. Alice, the main character, is questioning herself and her relationships. What are her motives for being in this relationship? Does she want her life to go in this direction? I recognized these questions, and was then brought back to that seed that was planted while reading Eat, Pray, Love and I found myself confronting my own feelings. Reading Committed was an interesting choice. It is the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love and Gilbert uses it to explore the history and social meaning of marriage. Did part of me want to read this book to get my life (and feelings) back on the track everyone expected it to take? Or did I read it because I wanted affirmation that I was not ready for this commitment? I'd say a little bit of both. What this book did for me is give my subconscious reason to look for happiness. When I found it, I knew my decision was made. I did not get married. I did not move to Milwaukee.

This is all old news to you if you know me. However, I bought a new book on Friday and started reading it this weekend. I immediately felt a connection to the book. I don't think it's a coincidence that in the last few months I've been reading the blogs of friends, acquaintances, and strangers wishing I could make my life sound like theirs and then finally decided to give it a try...and then I buy The Happiness Project.

The Happiness Project is the story of Gretchen Rubin and her 12-month dedication to finding more happiness in her life. I am a happy person, anybody that knows me knows that and I wouldn't ever say otherwise. However, my life has changed drastically in the last year and I haven't really sat down to take inventory of what I have now. Rubin used all sorts of studies on happiness to begin her happiness project. I'll use some of those studies too. But what came to my mind in the first 25 pages of the book was Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. I studied, dissected, and analyzed this pyramid about half a dozen times in college and always came to the same conclusion: this guy knows his shit. So my happiness project will be centered around Maslow's pyramid. That's all I really know right now. I want my happiness project to have meaning and purpose, so I'm going to take my time formulating what it will look like. But for now, I at least know where I'm starting.