Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Do you have to be happy already to care about happiness?

As you know, I'm so thankful to Gretchen Rubin for her wonderful book, The Happiness Project. If you think I write about it a lot here, you should hear me in person! All my friends know about this book.

And the reactions I get are intriguing. When I bought the book, at Third Place Books during a break from the dancing one Friday night, my dance buddy took one look at it and said, "Grim." I guess the music must have started up then, because I never asked him what he meant. I still plan to ask.

At, perhaps, the other end of the spectrum, I was fascinated to learn that one of the friends I visited in California, someone who never heard of Gretchen Rubin, has been conducting his own sort of happiness project. I never thought of him as a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I guess he'd say he was. But in the past several months, he has been reading about happiness -- he finished a book called Flourish while I was there -- and practicing it. He seemed fine to me before, but noticeably better now. And yet, I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's halfway through his own copy of Gretchen's book by now.

Why do the happiest people get so excited about happiness? And why do others disdain it?

I notice that I always preface my enthusiasm about Gretchen's book with a recitation of her other accomplishments: Yale Law School, clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor, wrote books about Churchill and Kennedy. Because, as she herself says, there's an idea abroad that a concern with happiness marks a person as lightweight. 

Gretchen says, "Some people associate happiness with a lack of intellectual rigor....There's a goofiness to happiness, an innocence, a readiness to be pleased. Zest and enthusiasm take energy, humility, and engagement; taking refuge in irony, exercising destructive criticism, or assuming an air of philosophical ennui is less taxing."

What do you think? Is it trivial to put attention and effort into getting happy?

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All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies