Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Happiness Project, allow me to introduce you to my friend, Reality

I recently finished Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project. It was a good book...except for the fact that it made me feel awful.

Ok, slight overstatement.

There were a lot of generally good ideas in the book and nuggets of information that actually made me realize I am not alone when I make outlandish resolutions (like to start a blog...for example). But some of her anecdotes for happiness made me wonder how on earth I ever had a happy day in my life.

I finished the final chapter feeling challenged and anxious, inadequate and insecure. The charts, the "Splendid Truths" and the rules and requirements that are placed around deriving one's happiness seemed too strategic and forced and too complex and laborious to provoke happiness.

I felt as though her solutions for happiness were artificial constructs that provided her with a time stamped Visa to the country of happiness, but that she would never quite figure out how to get that passport (so poetic, I know).

She approached the attainment of happiness as I would a business-related presentation- using a formulaic strategy that required preparation, forethought, and action.

That, to me, is not happiness...

The subtext in The Happiness Project was more compelling. To me this reveals the commonly misinterpreted equation that perfection=happiness. But sadly, reality doesn't allow for perfection in everything and therefore, for those of us who have this algebraic formula genetically inscribed in our DNA, we are constantly left with a feeling of unhappiness or inadequacy.

Everyday I have to remind myself that it is usually quite the opposite; perfection doesn't necessarily equal happiness. It potentially means painful attention to detail, stressful second guessing, bar-setting, anxiety...

I am "type A" to a "T". Like the author, I aspire to have some elements of perfection in my life. I often make lists and add "to dos" that I have already done solely for the opportunity to cross items off my list and earn that sense of accomplishment. I get carried away with listing, organizing, accomplishing, doing, achieving, etc and I will admit that more than once while reading the book I thought that I should make a resolutions chart.

But the more I thought of the requirements the more I realized that they would only add to my innate anxiety and stoke the coals of my over-achieving nature. Instead, after reading the book, I am reminded of two quotes that I really should embrace more.

The first quote is from Patricia Moreno, the creator of an exercise practice known as Inten-Sati.

I am doing my best. My best is enough.

If I am stressing out, getting anxious, losing my temper or feeling like I am not making other people happy (for example, my boss) I have to tell myself that I am doing my best and that I am my ultimate judge and I tell myself that my best is enough. Maybe not for you, but for me.

The next quote was said by a former boss when we would spend days working on a proposal and it was time to submit.

Pencils down.

Although this meant to stop working on a pitch and to submit as is, I found this saying so refreshing. To me it meant that I have done all that I could possibly do in the time provided and that it was time to move on to the next project without regrets from the previous. I could easily spend hours revising and editing but there comes a point when you just have to hit "send" and move on. Or, in my personal life, when you just have to stop sweeping, mopping, organizing, folding, blogging and say...pencils down.

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