Last night, I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. In some ways, her story is very much like the Happiness Project—she decides to change her life to see if she can boost her happiness. Except in her adventuresome case, she moves for several months to Rome to study Italian, then to India to practice meditation in an ashram, then Bali to visit a medicine man, while I’ve stayed parked in my own kitchen.
It’s a great book, and Gilbert has many fascinating adventures and insights. She eats a lot of pasta, travels to many cities, meditates, makes new friends, learns a lot about herself, and in my favorite section of the book, raises money to buy a house for a woman and her children. But boy, her happiness project wouldn’t have made me happy.
More and more, I’m realizing how unique each person’s happiness project must be. The secret to making yourself happier is to realize what’s right FOR YOU (though no matter what your personality, you’d better include a supportive social network in your blueprint). For example, travel makes Gilbert very happy; I’ve never had wanderlust.
Another difference between our happiness projects is our starting point. Gilbert is profoundly unhappy and starts her travel year out of desperation. She’s going through a difficult divorce, plus she’s breaking up with a new love. She cries all the time, she’s taking antidepressants, she can hardly eat. My story is much less dramatic.
I worry that people will find my account boring for that reason, because the stakes are too low—no divorce, no 700-pound weight loss, no dysfunctional, abusive family. Maybe people will find me unsympathetic. “Why is she spending so much time trying to be happier? She admits that she was pretty happy before she even started!”
As it turns out, most Americans say they’re happy. In a recent survey, 34% of Americans described themselves as “very happy” and 50% described themselves as “pretty happy.” That’s 84%, and that’s a lot.
Desperately unhappy folks know they need to make changes. But I hope that my happiness project will show people that it’s worth the effort to make changes, even if you’re “pretty happy” already.
I’ve been surprised by how much work it is to be happy, but I’ve also been surprised by what a boost I got from the steps I’ve taken. And I’ve really come to believe that even if you’re already pretty happy—or if you don’t believe in thinking about your life in terms of “being happy”—it’s worth taking the trouble to be happier.
If not for yourself—for other people. Happier people are more helpful, more flexible, more altruistic, more energetic, and more likeable. Their happiness helps other people feel happier. So by taking the trouble to make yourself happier, you’ll make others happier too.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s transformation is remarkable. I marvel at how much she went through—both before her Eat, Pray, Love adventure, and during it. But you don’t have to wait until you can move to Rome, or live in an ashram, to start a happiness project. The ruby slippers are on your feet right now.
Many thanks to Tim, who out of sheer generosity fixed the color in my blog photo. Tim, I hope your good deed has made YOU very happy—that’s the “do good, feel good” effect.