I really enjoyed Gretchen Rubin’s account of the year she spent working out how to be happier. Her realisation that “the days are long, but the years are short” led her to take a very organised, well-researched and practical approach to the tricky objective of increasing her happiness levels.
The book offers a whistle-stop tour of ideas and techniques from a wide range of sources which you could then look into more and develop further, depending on which areas inspire you: from mindfulness and spirituality to exercise and diet, from making friends to spending money. Along the way, Gretchen Rubin forms some key theories about the nature of happiness. I found this one particularly useful: “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth”.
So firstly we need to identify what makes us feel good, bad and right. Obviously, understanding what makes you happy and unhappy is really important, but how much time do we spend considering this? A question that came up for me was: What is fun and how do I have it? Having fun sounds like a key element of happiness and yet I wasn’t even sure how to define it, let alone know when or how I had it… do you need to laugh to have fun? Can you have fun on your own? Can reading a book or watching TV ever be classed as fun? (Some people manage it on Gogglebox…) Similarly, building awareness of what makes you feel bad can lead to motivation to move away from, or develop strategies for dealing with whatever that is. And 'feeling right' is all about living in line with your values - which will be different for everyone - and are very useful when understood.
The “atmosphere of growth” is another interesting concept. We hear lots about mindfulness and living in the present - enjoying now rather than believing you will be happy if/when something happens. But trying to be content in the moment can also make you feel a bit passive, like you should just go with the flow, deal with what happens to you and never try to achieve or change anything. Gretchen Rubin realises that for her at least, it is necessary to have a goal to work towards, but that it is vital to take pleasure in the journey, in the progress towards a goal rather than attaching happiness solely to the achievement of a goal. I found this really useful in terms of coaching, which is usually goal-orientated, and I will certainly be reflecting on how I can support some of the people I work with to enjoy the journey, even if I still haven’t worked out quite how I have fun…