The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin is the best book I’ve read this year. (True Confession - I even liked it more than the latest book by Charlaine Harris, who is my current favorite escape novelist.) A combination of self-help book and memoir, you can’t help but be happy when you read about someone spending a whole year working on becoming happier! What excited me about the book, even beyond its ability to evoke happiness, was Ms. Rubin’s application of a process approach (similar to process approach used for quality planning and quality improvement) in her quest for happiness.
So what was the process for Ms. Rubin’s happiness project? First, she did her basic research (secondary research in the quality jargon). She read widely – positive psychology, philosophy, biography, and history. Using what she learned, she defined happiness – what it is and what it isn’t. She identified some overarching principles for her happiness project (activities I’d call defining the scope of the project). Continuing to define her project, she identified the subjects she wanted to cover and the time frame for covering the topics. (No good quality guru forgets to have a project plan!) Ms. Rubin developed resolutions for each month. Resolutions needed to be concrete and measurable. Each evening she used her chart to record whether she was meeting her resolutions. (Reader, please let me know if you would like some references on process control charts.) Each month she set out to try various ways of improving happiness. Some worked and some didn’t. She continued with what worked. (Pilot projects are an effective way to test a theory – what works in one situation doesn’t always work in another.) At the end of the year she concluded that she was happier.
What worked best for Ms. Rubin to achieve this goal?
1. Learning about someone else’s successes and failures was a better catalyst for change than studying a theory. Some ways she learned from others included
a. Reading biographies and memoirs. For Ms. Rubin those about Saint Thérése of Lisieux and her memoir Story of a Soul were very meaningful
b. Asking for feedback and experiences through her blog. She actually self-published a book of her blog posts (learn more on the happiness project web site http://www.happiness-project.com/ )
c. Encouraging feedback from her husband, family and friends through-out the project
2. The resolutions chart was the single most effective step she took to make sure she was following through on her resolutions. By the way, follow-through was the hardest part for Ms. Rubin. (Implementation is often the hardest part of a quality project too.)
3. The feeling of greater control that resulted from identifying resolutions and then following them was a critical element to Ms. Rubin’s increased happiness.
Summer calls for a vacation from our usual business reading and I would recommend The Happiness Project as a the perfect summer break. Reading about someone becoming happy simply made me happy. If you are one of those personality types questing for examples of ways to improve, the processes followed by the author are useful tools both in and out of the office. Enjoy. Be Happy.