Can you learn how to be happier from a book?
I have been reading around the subject of happiness for about the last five years to see whether it’s possible to learn how to make choices that make you happier. The best two books I’ve read on the subject for a while are Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Both have given me a whole stack of lessons and ideas that I am now trying to put into practice.
Happier is full of ideas of how to approach work differently to get the most out of it, and so it gets the most out of you. It’s helped me identify what I find frustrating at work and why. I also particularly liked the idea of a Venn diagram of meaning, pleasure and strengths and finding what is in the overlap.
The biggest lessons for me from both books were to be myself, to get the balance right between living in the present and striving for meaningful ultimate future goals, to enjoy the journey more than reaching a destination, and that working to be happy isn’t a selfish goal. I particularly liked the lines from Happier: ‘THIS IS IT – all there is to life is the day-to-day, the ordinary and the details. So focus on getting those right. This is all there is to it.’
The Happiness Project reminded me what I find fun, and as Gretchen Rubin points out, what you find fun is often what you found fun when you were a child. Which for me was, and still is, reading, writing, going to museums and galleries, walks in the countryside, visiting historic houses and travelling to different countries. There are though, a few things that I love now that I hated then. Running is definitely a case of being glad to have tried something new that was initially very far outside my comfort zone. It’s now one of the things I get the most satisfaction from and where I most experience a state of ‘flow’. Which again reminds me to do it more often whenever an extra half an hour in bed is tempting me to put it off.
It also emphasised for me the importance of eating right, exercising and, most importantly of all, sleep. I have finally learned that if I don’t get enough sleep I quickly become unhappy. I can’t get satisfaction from work, I don’t eat properly, I then get frustrated that I am eating badly, and can quickly spiral into being fed up.
Despite all these valuable lessons, I still get frustrated, blue and down from time to time. But it’s definitely getting easier to remember that it will pass and to re-focus on what’s important. It seems that it is possible, as Gretchen Rubin says, to change your life without changing your life.