Friday, July 8, 2011

If you're happy and you know it...

It’s amazing how much you can discover about yourself by reading about someone else’s discovery of him or her self. I recently started reading “The Happiness Project,” a reflective account of Gretchen Rubin’s yearlong journey to becoming a generally happier person.

What’s interesting about Rubin’s self-improvement project is that she isn’t an unhappy person to begin with. She makes a point to stress that she is actually quite content with her life when she comes up with the idea. But she acknowledges that she could be happier – if not at least more appreciative of her good fortune – by making some small, yet positive changes. As Rubin puts it, “the days are long, but the years are short,” and life is too short to not make the absolute most of it.

So, for each month of the year Rubin picks a different aspect of her life to focus on improving, such as marriage, parenting and work.

From the first page, I knew I’d learn a thing or two from Rubin. Though we don’t have much in common circumstantially, Rubin and I have strikingly similar personalities. We both tend to nag our significant others, blow small incidences out of proportion, and desire – or even expect – praise for the good we do.

One chapter I found particularly motivating was “March: Aim Higher,” in which Rubin focuses on work, and becoming more efficient and open to a challenge. Like myself, Rubin tends to second-guess herself and her ability, and in effect, she ‘s hesitant to take on a challenge. So, she decides to start a blog – which she ultimately gets much satisfaction from – but I could relate to her reluctance. She writes,

“Pushing myself, I know, would cause me serious discomfort. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. When I thought about why I was sometimes reluctant to push myself, I realized that it was because I was afraid of failure – but in order to have more success, I needed to be willing to accept more failure.”

I found that a really interesting and true statement: happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. I think people forget that sometimes, including myself. Those who are lucky enough to say they love their jobs often don’t feel any less challenged, or even less overwhelmed, than the rest of us. But in the big scheme of things, the satisfaction that they receive at the end of the day translates to happiness.

So as I make my way into my final semester of grad school, and then the real world, I’ll try to keep that in mind. Being happy doesn’t necessarily create happiness. Defying the limitation I tend to place on myself, learning from failure and ultimately succeeding creates it. And while it may not be easy or comfortable, I think that kind of satisfaction is what makes a life worth living.

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