closing the book (or THP: my own afterword)

(This is the last part in a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  To start at the beginning, click here. Additionally, for my personal take on seeking joy as a believer in Christ and seeking happiness as it pertains to this book, click here.)

In my previous post on the last chapter of The Happiness Project, I asked myself a question: “How has Gretchen’s attempt to ‘change her life without changing her life’ changed how I view my own happiness?”

In a sentence: I think I’m more aware of who I am, what makes me happy, and how my behavior affects those around me.

After reading the book, it’s surprising to see how Gretchen really did change her life simply by identifying some core ‘facets of life’ and then assigning tasks that would help her quantify an improvement in her mood.

On the one hand, I’d LOVE to jump right into designing my own happiness project.  On the other, being less than two weeks away from having a baby (!!!) makes that unwise (at best) and impossible (at worst).  However, before I let this topic fall back into the recesses of my brain, I want to review my take-aways from each chapter and think on what commandments, truths and secrets of adulthood resonate the most with me.

Items in italics and marked with an * denote Gretchen’s own that I’d like to adopt as well; items in bold are mine.

My Commandments:

  1. Be Holly.* (as it applies to my own preferences and personality)
  2. Act the way I want to feel.*
  3. Do it now.*
  4. Enjoy the process.*
  5. Identify the problem.*
  6. Lighten up.*
  7. Be authentic. (as it applies to relationships, integrity, etc…)
  8. Find joy in all circumstances.
  9. Eat real food.
  10. Do hard things.

Secrets of Adulthood:

  1. Most decisions don’t require extensive research.*
  2. Bring a sweater* and a SNACK.
  3. By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished.*
  4. Restarting the computer/phone/gadget often fixes a glitch.*
  5. You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you like to do.*
  6. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.*
  7. Always bring something to read/do should you have to wait.
  8. Move more than you don’t.
  9. A made bed instantly makes your bedroom look cleaner.
  10. If you really love something, don’t wait for it to go on sale.
  11. Flossing really does prevent cavities.
  12. Introducing yourself to a stranger isn’t as scary as you think it is.
  13. Taking five minutes to tidy before bedtime will save a lot of time in the morning.
  14. Drink lots of water, wash your face at night, and moisturize.

True Rules:

  1. If the answer to a marriage proposal isn’t a RESOUNDING ‘yes,’ it’s ‘no.’
  2. If it has to be done your way, do it yourself.
  3. “Flexibility is the key to air power” … and a great many other things.
  4. Location, location, location.
  5. Growing up is hard to do.

I really enjoyed coming up with these, and while most of them aren’t completely original to me, they are most certainly true.  Growing up really IS hard to do, but looking back and thinking on what I’ve learned over the years shows me how far I’ve come and what a little introspection can do.  The best part is that I can keep ‘collecting’ commandments, secrets and rules as they come to me!  I even started following #secretsofadulthood on Instagram for fun.

Now, for the quick-and-dirty chapter wrap-ups.  I’m listing them with Gretchen’s own titles from the book, and linking to my blog posts about each one.

January (Boost Energy): I need to go to bed earlier and my workouts could use a little more “routine” (once I’m ready after baby).  Obviously, both sleep and exercise are going to change drastically over the next year as our baby grows.  Thankfully, I have a pretty good handle on clutter, but could benefit from bringing less into the house and thinking about the TYPES of clutter Gretchen identified.  I loved her ‘identify the problem’ and ‘do it now’ commandments.

February (Remember Love): No nagging Andrew!  (Easier said than done.) Remember to make hugs last for six seconds or longer (to promote the release of oxytocin and serotonin) and that ‘love is an action.’  With new baby on the horizon, I know our relationship will change in the coming weeks and months.  I envision having MORE love as I see my husband become a father, but also struggling with SHOWING love as I adjust to life with a newborn and myself as a new mother.

March (Aim Higher): I need to get serious about my writing.  I can’t believe I wrote that post almost a year ago, and while I have had fits and spurts of increased writing/professional activities, overall there has been no real change.  (In my defense, I got pregnant and am literally days away from having a baby.  Clearly, the timing is a *little* off.)  I already have a second nutrition seminar at church lined up for October (taught my first one a couple weeks ago), and up next I’ll be working on a book proposal (!!!) for an idea I had recently. I’ve also been ‘consulted’ as a dietitian for nutrition-related quotes in online articles here and here, which I’d like to do more of as well. I think the most useful bit from Gretchen’s chapter was that she found she could work in shorter increments of time, which is something I need to put into practice, too.

April (Lighten Up): This was a great chapter for me to read.  Pregnancy has, strangely, lightened me up a lot, but even before that I was taking measures to get more enjoyment out of life.  I tackled big and small projects like organizing sentimental cards into a pretty box and landscaping the backyard. I also learned a lot about the importance of simply acknowledging another’s feelings.  Lastly, it helped me identify that I need a lot of free/flexible time in order to both be productive and act lighter in general.

May (Be Serious About Play): My biggest takeaway is that I need to remember the difference between “being productive” and ACTUALLY “having fun.”  Crazy, I know. I tend to equate removing to-do items with a degree of happiness because I truly enjoy accomplishing things.  Recalling what I liked to do as a kid (reading and writing) has been a good reminder of where I should start to find my own playtime. In fact, I’ve very much enjoyed reading books in preparation for baby.

June (Make Time for Friends): Being a good friend is perhaps my biggest strength.  I’ve invested time and effort into maintaining myriad friendships, and enjoy having strong relationships that have stood the test of time. I did like Gretchen’s point about ‘being generous’ with others, and how it’s more than a matter of money or help, but rather can also extend to giving them the benefit of the doubt.

July (Buy Some Happiness): Yes, money CAN actually increase your happiness.  Not only does having it take away the worry about not having it, but–used wisely–it can contribute to our happiness.  For me, that’s been some recent ‘modest splurges,’ such as last fall’s landscaping project (an investment in our home and quality of life for years to come), as well as the prenatal yoga classes and chiropractic appointments I’ve had during pregnancy (not critical for pregnancy but certainly healthy, helpful and very enjoyable). This chapter also reminded me not to ‘pink raincoat’ something, which means to save/hoard the item until it is no longer useful.  It’s something I fall victim to, instead of enjoying the nice things I have.  Lastly, and this will warm Andrew’s heart, I need to give up ‘spontaneous spending.’

August (Contemplate the Heavens): Admittedly, this wasn’t my favorite chapter.  I did, however, need to be reminded to ‘be present’ more, and that acting happy (Second Commandment: ‘Act the way I want to feel.’) for the sake of another’s happiness is a worthwhile and selfless act of love and kindness. I think what I wrote the first time says it all: ‘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.’

September (Pursue a Passion): I continue to struggle with where my passions, at least professionally, lie.  (See March, above, for more.)  I think I’ve at least identified (Fifth Commandment: ‘Identify the problem.’) that because I grew up in a performance-based home, I’m very hung-up on accomplishments and productivity, which often prevents me from writing. Also, I also identified that the ‘atmosphere of growth’ (Gretchen’s First Splendid Truth and my Tenth Commandment: ‘Do hard things.’) is critically important to who I am. Earlier this year, I was reading Brené Brown’s ‘Dare to Lead’ in a book club and chose ‘growth’ as one of my personal values. So, despite my lack of forward progress on the professional/writing front, I do feel that identifying my own values and motives has increased my happiness and WILL help me move ahead.

October (Pay Attention): Gretchen examined her ‘true rules;’ I’ve come up with some (above). My biggest takeaway from this chapter was simply to be a better listener.  I’m not a good listener, and it’s because I struggle with interrupting and staying present, both of which I would improve by practicing better listening.

November (Keep a Contented Heart): I’ve come to love a quote by G.K. Chesterton that Gretchen uses throughout the book: “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” Yes, for me, it is hard to be light.  I’m not naturally silly or spontaneous or even fun, but The Happiness Project has shown me how important those traits are to not only life, but also to my husband.  He’s pretty easygoing and lighthearted, and often points out how my seriousness gets in the way of having fun.  I also thought it astute that she drew a connection between being comfortable (for example, having brought a sweater for when she gets cold) and the ease with which that allowed her to show kindness to others.

December (Boot Camp Perfect): For one month, Gretchen attempted to keep ALL of her resolutions.  While she admitted to failing to keep them all (who could?), she said simply trying to ended up making her happier.  She also reviewed the first four of her ‘splendid truths,’ which was a nice chance for me to review them after having finished the book. I think they all make a lot of sense, and if I strive to remember them in everyday life, I imagine they will help me to keep happiness (both mine and others’) in mind.  Additionally, she said her Resolutions Chart was helpful because it kept her ‘on task’ in pursuing happiness; perhaps a few aptly placed sticky notes might serve the same purpose in my house?  Lastly, she said learning to ‘Be Gretchen’ was one of the most important aspects of the project.  I’ve also spent time since beginning the book last year thinking about what it means to ‘be Holly.’  In many ways, that’s accepting things about myself that I don’t like, such as my low threshold for stress.  In other ways, it’s embracing other aspects of my personality that I am proud of, like my desire for growth or my ability to be a good friend.


“Take responsibility of your own happiness, never put it in other people’s hands.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Click here if you’d like to get resources from Gretchen’s website to do your own ‘happiness project.’


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