Lately I have been reading all of these books on happiness. It started with the Happiness Project. My friend Sarah was reading it last year and it looked pretty interesting. My turn came on the library wait-list a little while ago and so I was finally able to read it. It was decent, although nothing too earth shattering. I did find myself identifying with the author, Gretchen Rubin. I have always thought that I was the only person who took copious notes on every book I read--including fiction. Turns out that other people (or at least one other person) share that same quirk.
Basically she takes a year of her life to increase her happiness. She reads and researches the topic and then attacks it Benjamin Franklin style. There were a few pieces of wisdom in the book, but not as many as I had hoped for. One thing she talked about has really become apparent in my life lately. She said that frequently her happiness is based on her mood which is generally based on something as insignificant as how tired, hot/cold, or hungry she is. I actually had just read the book when I went to visit my sister and I noticed how whenever Elle would start getting cranky, Megan would instinctively ask about those things, "Are you hungry?" or "Does someone need a nap?" I wonder why we stop worrying about those things when we become adults. Sometimes I am in the worst mood and all I need is a glass of ice water for me to chill out. Am I the only adult who is still like this?
Rubin provides a pretty good bibliography with all of her research and so I continued my reading. Those books had a lot more to offer--especially The How of Happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author, pretty much writes Happiness for Dummies. Again, this might be obvious to the rest of you, but she explained how we have to make a conscious decision to be happy. It's like exercise or learning a new skill--it comes easier to some than others, but it is something we all have a lot of control over.
I feel like there is this reluctance to be happy in life because it means you are naive or oblivious. Then again, who really likes being around a pessimist all day? I think I always struggle with that seemingly-polarized relationship. (Plus, I find that I am very strongly influenced by those around me--I'm happy when I'm with optimists and less happy when I'm with pessimists.) Lyubomirsky summed up my dilemma quite nicely, "[Optimism] is not about providing a recipe for self-deception. The world can be a horrible, cruel place, and at the same time it can be wonderful and abundant. These are both truths. There is not a halfway point; there is only choosing which truth to put into your personal foreground."
I like that. I guess it is a polarized relationship after all. But, it's also our individual choice. Sometimes just knowing you are in control of something makes all the difference in the world.
It's funny how when you start thinking about something, you begin to see it every where. (I've always wanted to create a good word for this phenomenon.) I guess if I am being honest, my interest in happiness began when I was reading President Hinckley's biography. (I have this goal to read a biography of every single prophet. So far I've only read two!) He was such an incredible person, but I was most impressed at his outlook on life. It made me want to be around him because he made me feel better and happier about things in my own life. I think that is such an incredible talent. Of all the books I've read, I think his life is the best resource on happiness. I've noticed that my journals and scriptures are littered with quotes from President Hinckley and almost every single one has to do with happiness. Here are just a few of his wise words:
Through all of living have much joy and laughter, life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.
Stop looking for the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.
Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Walk with faith, rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart concerning things divine.
Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others...By and large, I have come to see that if we complain about life, it is because we are thinking only of ourselves.
And my personal favorite:
You can be smart and happy or stupid and miserable. . . it's your choice.
That pretty much just sums it all up, doesn't it? The funny thing is, life goes on whether we are happy or not. I don't mean to say that we should aim at being happy all of the time no matter what difficulties we are facing. I just like what President Hinckley says, "Stop looking for the storms of life." There really is so much good in the world and in our lives for us to be happy about.
p.s. I wrote this mostly for myself, but maybe someone else will find it interesting. Could one of you please remind me of everything I have learned about happiness come the cold, cold days of February? Thankyouverymuch!