I was having a life crisis…we have all had one. Big or small they happen. With life’s ever-present ebb and flow of circumstance and change it is hard not to get caught up in the waves of influence. Last year brought a few life shaking changes to my life and I will admit…I had a crisis. I was turning 30, we were moving to an unfamiliar place and I was diagnosed with a chronic illness all within a matter of months. When so many things that I thought defined me were taken away, I grasped to find meaning in my existence. I wanted to be busy again, doing things that I liked to do. I wanted to accomplish something before I was too old to establish myself in a career. Most of all, I just wanted to be happy.
And it was then that The Happiness Project seem to just fall in my lap. With her lists and diagrams and rules the author, Gretchen Rubin, seemed to be a good fit for me. I function well with having structure. Knowing ahead of time that this book was not coming from a Christian perspective thoroughly intrigued me. I had read plenty of Christian books about joy and happiness and fulfillment but I was curious to get a view from the other side, to see how a person who does not have Christ deals with life and seeks to find happiness. I did not intend for the book to give me answers to my problem but I did intend to find some inspiration or pattern to follow.
But the intrigue soon wore off and was replaced with frustration. I found myself actually shouting at the book at times…”Don’t you see…you are doing the opposite of what you should be doing. You have to find joy outside of yourself and you keep searching farther inward!! Agh!!” And then I’d put the book down for a while and pick it back up again in a couple of weeks to give me time to calm down. The author described a scene from her life where, finally, in trying to find happiness she tried to make someone else happy by throwing her mother-in-law a birthday party. She took time to find all of her mother-in-laws favorite things…presents, food, decor…but by the end of the chapter she had concluded that she could never make anyone else happy so she needed just to focus on making herself happy and basically live her life just for her. I felt she had completely missed the point. It seemed to me that she was happier when she was just trying to please her mother-in-law but it was when she spent too much time worrying about how it all made herself feel, she sunk into bitterness and frustration. I felt that if she had just served her mother-in-law and seperated her own feelings from it, she could have been much happier with the situation.
And though I found myself being frustrated with her I could easily make a reflection on my life. My search for joy was never as pure as I intended it to be. I often serve others for the sake of making myself feel better. I often makes sacrafices just so I can receive recognition or some tangible reward. I often do things for other people so I can get something in return. And I know God is the ultimate joy and yet I avoid Him and even when I take time to worship him or reflect on Him it is for my own personal gain…I want joy so I turn to Him.
The structure of the book was easy to read and often very insightful and funny. And though I would not agree with her terms that border on obsessive and legalistic…I would support the intention of making a whole life change by taking small steps and changing one thing at a time. Too often I have wanted to write more or spend more time outside or be more intentional about spending time with people…but I attempt to make the changes all at once and fail to stick to anything because I have overwhelmed myself.
The chapter on spirituality was particularly interesting to me. I have spent my whole life intrenched in Christian culture and beliefs. I have had very few non-Christian friends and have never asked a lot of questions to them about religion. So to get a glimpse into the life a someone who is practically a spiritual blank slate created so much curiosity. Everyone is searching for something to make them feel fulfilled. Everyone wants the hole within them filled with something.
In the midst of criticism, I did find a profound nugget of advice that propelled me forward in my own search for personal growth. I have spent most of my life being spread thin between an extensive list of hobbies, interests and jobs. But recently I have become overwhelmed and frustrated with my lack of focus and expertise. Because I had failed to be more specific about what I liked to do, I was merely mediocre at everything and I felt stretched between too many activities. It was in a complete moment of exasperation that I stumbled upon the answer to my folly. I read, “What did you like when you were a child? What you enjoyed as a ten-year-old is probably something you’d enjoy now.” (p.120) And in that moment a dim picture flashed in my head. A ten-year-old me lying in the tiny space of a closet under the stairs, scribbling furiously, lost in the world of my writing endeavor. By the time I had finished, I had far exceeded the one page requirement for class. I had stapled multiple pages together full of colorful drawings and rich vocabulary. This was pure happiness to me…and because of this book, writing is the avenue I have chosen to pursue.
Though I will not be following the particulars that were laid out in this book any time soon, in all, the book was very interesting. I learned a lot about the world’s view of happiness and it challenged my mind to think on my own Christian perspective of happiness. The pattern set out in the book is a good resource for making change in your life, but the premise and final conclusions made were contradictory to the Christian beliefs of sacrifice and humility. I would recommend reading this book with caution, having a firm stance on biblical joy and happiness.