It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these happiness project posts. A lot has happened: the holidays, house projects, getting pregnant…the later months of 2018 were quite the whirlwind. But, I’m back at it and determined to finish this book, and these posts!
In chapter eight, Gretchen discusses ‘eternity,’ which she calls ‘the heavens.’ She does identify herself as a ‘reverent agnostic,’ and explains that both her childhood and current family life lack spiritual traditions. To each his (or her) own, and I admire her interest in ‘things eternal’ despite not growing up in a deeply religious household.
In stark contrast, I would describe my upbringing as incredibly religious. We went to church on Sundays, youth group or some other age-appropriate Biblically-based activity some other night of the week (for most years anyway), and Jesus and the Bible were discussed in our home almost daily. Being a Christian meant having a relationship with Jesus, real and personal, and wasn’t something we simply talked about on Easter or Christmas. We prayed before meals, we discussed sin and its consequences, and many of the rules in our house stemmed from our faith.
Gretchen says that research shows that spiritual people tend to be happier, which sounds reassuring at the outset. However, ‘spiritual people’ is a pretty broad term, and the last time I checked, the divorce rate amongst church-goers versus non-church-goers was about the same. This makes me sound pessimistic. I’m not, I promise. It makes sense that people who have some belief in a ‘higher power’ of some sort would then have a more optimistic outlook.
Gretchen went about ‘contemplating the heavens’ by reading books written by those facing death and gleaned a few gems I think we can all benefit from remembering. She started appreciating her own body, simply because it was healthy. Preach it, sister! Truer words were never spoken. Also, she tried to be more disciplined to live in the present, citing an example of being with her young daughter as she played on some steps. It would have been easy in that moment, she explained, to read the paper. But she chose to pay attention to her daughter’s antics.
She also started a gratitude journal, which is another quality we could all use a little more of. In today’s society of free two-day shipping and living beyond our means, it’s so easy to continue wanting more and more. It’s harder now than it’s ever been to be satisfied with what we have. While I often express gratitude, I would say that I have struggled with comparison and contentment my entire life.
Lastly, she set out to ‘imitate a spiritual master.’ She chose Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She was a Catholic nun born in France and who died at age 24 of tuberculosis. She has an interesting story, and after reading about her in The Happiness Project, my curiosity is piqued and I’d like to read more about her, too. Gretchen became fascinated with the nun’s ‘little way,’ which was simply “for the love of God and my Sisters (so charitable toward me) I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.” How simple, yet so profound. Gretchen is right when she asserts that it is easier to be ‘heavy, hard to be light.’ Her goal was to act happy, even if it wasn’t her first instinct, in order to make someone else happy. I like that she also added the importance of not being fake (I’m nothing if not genuine), but that she could be less critical. Oh Gretchen, you’re speaking to me here.
If you think about it, it really IS harder (and incredibly selfless) to act happy when you don’t feel that way. And your happiness might truly make a difference to someone, be it your mother or a small child. Gretchen’s imitation of Saint Thérèse makes me think of two well-known idioms. “Kill them with kindness,” and “fake it till you make it” both apply in this scenario. Being kind, or at the very least masking your displeasure, gets you way further than would a sour attitude, and acting how you want to feel (addressed earlier in The Happiness Project) is the fastest way to get there.
Bottom line: Contemplating the heavens is an individual journey, and one worth going on. In the meantime, put a smile on your face, a spring in your step and let your thankfulness be evident to those around you.