The Happiness Project

by Gretchen Rubin

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 24, 2024
The Happiness Project
The Happiness Project

Learn how to boost happiness through practical techniques like the "two-minute trick" to sleep better, family strength training, and clearing "psychic clutter." Discover a balanced approach to ambition and parenting joy. Read the in-depth The Happiness Project book summary.

What are the big ideas?

Two-Minute Trick to Return to Sleep

The author provides a practical technique for falling back asleep quickly known as the 'two-minute trick.' This is a novel approach addressing the common issue of interrupted sleep, which is often overlooked in sleep hygiene advice.

Strength Training as a Family Activity

Unlike the typical solo endeavor, the author promotes strength training as a communal family activity, enhancing both physical health and family bonds, a unique take on fitness routines.

Psychic Clutter Clearance for Mood Boost

The concept of 'psychic clutter,' representing mental and emotional distractions, is introduced. The author's method of clearing this clutter significantly improves mood, offering a fresh perspective on managing mental space.

Sing to Set a Positive Tone

The author suggests singing in the morning to set a cheerful mood for the day, a simple and unique approach to starting the day positively, impacting interactions and mood.

Fog Happiness from Parenting

Introducing 'fog happiness,' the author discusses the profound, albeit often unrecognized, joy derived from parenting. This insight shifts the focus from the immediate joy to a deeper, lasting sense of fulfillment.

Frame Ambition Within Happiness

The author explores the dynamic between ambition and happiness, advocating for a balance where pursuing goals does not detract from happiness but enhances it. This nuanced approach encourages a harmonious pursuit of professional and personal aspirations.

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Two-Minute Trick to Return to Sleep

The two-minute trick is a clever strategy the author devised to quickly fall back asleep when waking up in the middle of the night. The technique involves imagining that you need to get up in just two minutes and go through your morning routine. This exhausting mental exercise is often enough to make you drift back to sleep.

Waking up in the night can be frustrating, as your mind starts racing with thoughts and to-do lists. Rather than letting this happen, the two-minute trick redirects your focus. By picturing yourself having to immediately get up and start your day, your brain becomes preoccupied with this imagined scenario, causing you to fall back asleep.

This simple yet effective technique harnesses the power of visualization and mental distraction to overcome insomnia. Instead of lying awake worrying, you actively engage your mind in a tiring mental task. The author found this approach highly useful for quickly returning to sleep when waking up in the middle of the night.

Here are the key examples from the context that support the insight about the "two-minute trick" to return to sleep:

  • The author describes a technique she developed where "if I woke up in the night, I'd tell myself, 'I have to get up in two minutes.' I'd imagine that I'd just hit the snooze alarm and in two minutes, I'd have to march through my morning routine. Often this was an exhausting enough prospect to make me fall asleep."

  • The author explains that this "two-minute trick" was one of her "most useful getting-to-sleep strategies" that she had invented herself.

  • This technique addresses the common issue of waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to fall back asleep, which the author experienced.

  • The "two-minute trick" works by creating a mentally exhausting prospect that helps the author fall back asleep, rather than dwelling on being awake.

So in summary, the "two-minute trick" is a practical, author-invented technique that leverages mental imagery to quickly induce sleepiness and help the author return to sleep after waking up in the night. This provides a novel approach beyond typical sleep hygiene advice.

Strength Training as a Family Activity

The author presents strength training as a family activity, rather than a solo endeavor. This approach enhances not only physical health, but also family bonds.

The author convinces her friend, mother-in-law, and husband to join the same gym and strength training program. This creates a shared experience and social support around the fitness routine. Rather than working out alone, the family members motivate and encourage each other.

This communal approach to strength training is a unique take on typical fitness routines. It allows the family to improve their physical well-being together, while also strengthening their relationships. The author demonstrates how an individual health goal can be transformed into a family activity that benefits everyone involved.

Here are the key examples from the context that support the insight about strength training as a family activity:

  • The author convinced her friend Jamie and her mother-in-law Judy to start going to the same gym and doing the 20-minute strength training workouts with her. This shows how the author promoted strength training as a shared family activity.

  • The author notes that the "only disadvantage was that it was expensive", but her husband Jamie pointed out that "We're spending more to get a shorter workout", indicating they viewed the cost as worthwhile for the benefits of the shared activity.

  • The author states that within a month of starting the strength training program, she had "convinced Jamie and my mother-in-law, Judy, to start going to the same gym." This demonstrates how she actively brought her family members into this fitness routine.

  • By making strength training a shared family endeavor, the author was able to enhance both the physical health benefits as well as strengthen family bonds through this communal activity. This is a unique approach compared to typical solo fitness routines.

Psychic Clutter Clearance for Mood Boost

Clearing psychic clutter - the mental and emotional distractions that weigh us down - can provide a significant mood boost. The author discovered that tackling the visible clutter in her home also helped address the "invisible, but even more enervating, psychic clutter of loose ends" that made her feel "weary and guilty." By methodically working through her to-do list and organizing her physical space, she was able to clear her mind and experience a sense of inner peace and upliftment.

This insight challenges the common assumption that happiness comes solely from external factors. The author found that by taking control of her immediate environment and addressing nagging tasks, she could directly influence her emotional state. Clearing psychic clutter allowed her to feel more energized and serene, freeing her up to focus on the activities and relationships that truly mattered to her happiness.

The key is recognizing that our physical and mental spaces are interconnected. Disorganization and unfinished business can create a subtle but persistent drain on our mental resources. By dedicating time and effort to decluttering and streamlining, we can create a calmer, more focused mindset that supports our overall well-being. This approach offers a practical, empowering way for individuals to take charge of their happiness.

Here are the key examples from the context that support the insight about clearing psychic clutter to boost mood:

  • The author was "weighed down by the invisible, but even more enervating, psychic clutter of loose ends" and had "a long list of neglected tasks that made me feel weary and guilty whenever I thought of them." This psychic clutter was draining her energy and mood.

  • By "tackling the visible clutter first," the author discovered that "clearing clutter will boost their happiness" and help "clear away the detritus in my mind." Clearing the physical clutter had a positive impact on her mental state.

  • The author created a "five-page to-do list" to tackle unfinished tasks that were "draining my energy and making me feel guilty." Systematically addressing these nagging tasks provided "some relief" and improved her mood.

  • Even though some tasks were difficult to complete, the author had to "accept the fact that some nagging tasks would never be crossed off my list." Just making the decision to regularly do these tasks, like wearing sunscreen, was an important step in clearing psychic clutter.

  • The author found that "putting things in order is very calming, and doing something physical makes me aware of being tired." The act of physically organizing and tidying up had a calming, restorative effect on her mood.

In summary, the key examples illustrate how the author's systematic approach to clearing both physical and mental/emotional "clutter" led to significant improvements in her overall mood and sense of well-being.

Sing to Set a Positive Tone

Sing to Set a Positive Tone

Start your day with singing. The author found that singing a verse or two in the morning had a cheering effect, helping her feel happier. By acting happy, she made herself feel happy. Singing served as a simple yet powerful way to set a positive tone for the day and impact her interactions with her children.

The author recognized that it's easier said than done to maintain a lighthearted mood, especially when dealing with the challenges of parenting. However, she discovered that singing helped her resist slipping into a hectoring tone and instead approach the day with more levity and laughter. Even when faced with frustrating situations, the morning singing put her in a better frame of mind to respond constructively.

Incorporating this small but meaningful ritual into her daily routine allowed the author to tap into her children's natural joy and energy, further boosting her own mood. The simple act of singing together created moments of pure fun and connection that carried through the rest of the day. By making this a habit, the author was able to infuse more positivity and playfulness into her parenting.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about singing in the morning to set a positive tone:

  • The author notes that "as soon as I started, I saw that singing in the morning really had a cheering effect. I'd become a true believer of the 'Act the way I want to feel' commandment; by acting happy, I made myself feel happy. After singing a verse of 'I've Got a Golden Ticket,' I found it easier to resist slipping into a hectoring tone."

  • The author describes a morning where she was dealing with a swollen eye and a child's diaper rash, and her older daughter was upset about being late. Instead of yelling, the author "started singing 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,' until an embarrassed Eliza hushed me up." This shows how singing helped the author maintain a positive mood despite the stressful circumstances.

  • The author explains that making jokes and "reframing" chores as enjoyable also helped her stay in a "Sing in the morning" mindset throughout the day, illustrating how this simple act of singing set an upbeat tone.

Key terms:

  • "Act the way I want to feel": The idea that behaving in a certain way, like singing, can influence your actual mood and emotions.
  • "Reframing": Changing your perspective on a task or situation to view it more positively.

Fog Happiness from Parenting

Parenting provides a unique form of happiness that the author calls "fog happiness." This refers to the profound, yet often elusive, joy that comes from raising children. While the day-to-day tasks of parenting may be filled with frustration and drudgery, the overall experience of having children bestows a deep, transformative happiness.

The author notes that when asked about their greatest source of happiness, many people cite their children or grandchildren. This suggests that the happiness of parenthood transcends the immediate, moment-to-moment experience. It is a more profound, enveloping sense of fulfillment that surrounds the parent, even if it is difficult to pinpoint at any given time.

Just as fog obscures clear vision yet alters the atmosphere, the happiness of parenting can be hard to grasp directly. Yet it permeates the parent's life in a powerful way. The author's insight highlights how parenting provides a unique form of contentment that may not be obvious in the daily grind, but nonetheless shapes one's overall sense of well-being and joy.

Examples from the Context to support the Key Insight of "Fog Happiness" from Parenting:

  • The author describes "fog happiness" as the type of happiness derived from activities that "don't really seem to bring much happiness at all—yet somehow they do." This captures the profound, yet elusive, joy of parenting.

  • The author reflects on a party where the host was "bustling around the kitchen, juggling the preparation and presentation of the three major dishes he was serving to thirty people." When the author asked if he was having fun, the host said "Mm, not really right now. I'll have fun when it's over." This illustrates the disconnect between the immediate experience and the deeper sense of fulfillment.

  • The author notes that many enjoyable activities like "throwing a party, giving a performance, writing" are accompanied by "procrastination, dread, anxiety, nervousness, annoyance" yet still provide a deeper happiness. Parenting is likened to these activities - the "negative may swamp the positive" in the moment, but the overall experience brings "tremendous fog happiness."

  • The author describes her daughters Eliza and Eleanor in loving detail, highlighting their unique personalities. Yet she acknowledges that she often got so "focused on checking off the items of my to-do list that I forgot what really mattered." This illustrates how the immediate challenges of parenting can obscure the profound joy.

  • The author's "goal for April" was to be "more tender and playful" with her daughters, to create a "peaceful, cheerful, even joyous atmosphere at home." This demonstrates her desire to more fully embrace the fog happiness of parenting.

Frame Ambition Within Happiness

Harness Ambition to Fuel Happiness

The key is to frame ambition within happiness. Ambitious goals and personal fulfillment are not mutually exclusive - in fact, they can reinforce each other. By pursuing challenging objectives that align with your passions, you can experience the thrill of growth and achievement while also boosting your overall happiness.

Paradoxically, the unfamiliar and unexpected can be important sources of happiness. Tackling novel tasks stimulates the brain, evokes intense emotions, and slows the perception of time, creating a richer, more satisfying experience. Rather than avoiding risks, embrace them when they push you towards your goals.

However, ambition should not come at the expense of your well-being. Happiness should guide and sustain your drive, not the other way around. Maintain a positive mindset, celebrate small wins, and don't be afraid to adjust your course if necessary. The ultimate aim is to find fulfillment in the journey, not just the destination.

By striking this balance, you can harness the power of ambition to fuel your happiness. Ambitious goals become a means of self-expression and personal growth, not just an end to be achieved. This approach unlocks the true benefits of striving for excellence - a profound sense of purpose, mastery, and joy.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of framing ambition within happiness:

  • The author was apprehensive about starting a blog, worrying it would "consume" too much time and energy. However, she decided to pursue it as it would provide "a big happiness payoff" through challenge and novelty.

  • The author notes that she was "much more likely to take risks, reach out to others, and expose myself to rejection and failure when I felt happy." Feeling unhappy made her "defensive, touchy, and self-conscious."

  • The author's research revealed that "many creative, influential people in the arts and public life score above average in 'neuroticism' (i.e., they have a greater propensity to experience negative emotions); this discontent arguably urges them to higher achievement." However, she also found that "people tend to think more flexibly and with more complexity when they're feeling happy."

  • The author's happiness project helped her "bring more energy, creativity, and efficiency to my work life" without abandoning the familiar and routine that she enjoys. She aimed to "stretch myself to tackle a work challenge that would force me to navigate unfamiliar territory" while also finding ways to work more efficiently.

The key is balancing ambition and challenge with maintaining happiness, rather than letting ambition detract from overall well-being. The author demonstrates how she was able to frame her professional goals within a broader pursuit of personal happiness.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "The Happiness Project" that resonated with readers.

The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It's more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

When someone is consistently happy, they are often overlooked and underappreciated. People tend to take them for granted, assuming they don't need support or care. In reality, being lighthearted and cheerful requires effort, kindness, and discipline. Happy individuals become a source of comfort for others, but their own emotional well-being is frequently ignored.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Time seems to drag on when we're in the midst of daily struggles and routines, but looking back, we realize how quickly life has passed us by. The fleeting nature of childhood and youth is particularly striking, as what feels like an eternity of sleepless nights and endless tasks becomes a cherished memory in hindsight. It's essential to appreciate the present moment, no matter how challenging it may be, for it will soon become a distant memory.

Never start a sentence with the words 'No offense.

When communicating, it's essential to be mindful of the tone and impact of our words. Phrases that start with a disclaimer, like "no offense," can come across as insincere or even aggressive. Instead, focus on expressing your thoughts and opinions in a clear and respectful manner, avoiding language that may lead to misunderstandings or hurt feelings.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "The Happiness Project"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What is the primary purpose of imagining you need to get up in two minutes as part of the two-minute trick?
2. How does the two-minute trick help avoid racing thoughts and worries during the night?
3. What method is used in the two-minute trick to address difficulties in falling back asleep?
4. In what way does the two-minute trick serve as a sleep aid without actual physical activity?
5. What are the benefits of involving multiple family members in a strength training program?
6. How does turning a fitness routine into a family activity differ from individual fitness routines?
7. What can be considered a challenge of making strength training a group family activity, and how can it be justified?
8. What are the benefits of addressing both physical and mental clutter simultaneously?
9. How does organizing physical space impact one's mental state?
10. Why is it important to accept that some tasks may never be completed?
11. What role does the to-do list play in clearing psychic clutter?
12. What is the effect of singing in the morning according to the text?
13. Why did the author find singing useful in dealing with parenting challenges?
14. How does singing in the morning affect interactions throughout the day?
15. What concept suggests that one can influence their emotions by their actions?
16. What does 'reframing' mean in the context of the text?
17. What does the term 'fog happiness' metaphorically refer to in the context of parenting?
18. How is the happiness derived from parenting comparable to a party host's experience during a busy event?
19. Why might the positive aspects of parenting be overshadowed by everyday challenges, according to the concept of 'fog happiness'?
20. How can ambitious goals enhance personal happiness?
21. What role does handling novel tasks play in enhancing happiness?
22. Why is it important to maintain a positive mindset when pursuing ambitious goals?
23. How can ambitious goals threaten personal well-being and how can this be mitigated?
24. What are the benefits of framing ambitious goals within the context of personal happiness?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "The Happiness Project". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How might you adapt the two-minute trick into your nighttime routine to improve your ability to fall back asleep?
2. What mental strategies similar to the two-minute trick could you test to tackle sudden wakefulness at night?
3. How can you involve your family members in your fitness or health goals to create a more engaging and supportive environment?
4. What are some specific ways you can reduce mental and emotional distractions in your daily life?
5. How might organizing your living or working space impact your mental clarity and focus?
6. How might singing in the morning influence your day-to-day interactions with family and coworkers?
7. In what ways can incorporating singing or humming a tune into your routine improve moments of frustration or stress?
8. How can you identify and appreciate the subtle, transformative joys in your daily routines, especially those that seem mundane or challenging?
9. How can embracing challenges that initially seem daunting improve your perception of personal and professional growth, possibly leading to greater happiness?
10. What measures can you take to ensure that your drive for success is fueled by a genuine pursuit of happiness, without compromising your well-being?
11. How can you balance the excitement of new experiences with the comfort of the familiar in your daily routine to foster a happy and fulfilling life?

Chapter Notes

1: January: Boost Energy Vitality

  • Importance of Sleep: The author emphasizes the importance of getting enough sleep (7-8 hours per night) for boosting energy and happiness. She shares strategies like keeping the bedroom dark, using the "two-minute" trick to fall back asleep, and taking Ambien when needed.

  • Benefits of Exercise: The author discusses the numerous benefits of exercise, including improved health, clearer thinking, better sleep, and delayed onset of dementia. She shares how her father's approach of requiring her to run for 20 minutes a few times a week helped her develop a regular exercise habit.

  • Strength Training: The author decides to start strength training, which increases muscle mass, strengthens bones, and improves body shape. She finds a 20-minute, efficient strength training program at a local gym and convinces her husband and mother-in-law to join her.

  • Importance of Walking: The author starts using a pedometer and discovers the benefits of walking, including triggering the body's relaxation response, providing an energy boost, and improving mood. Walking also helps her think more clearly.

  • Tackling Clutter: The author recognizes that household disorder and unfinished tasks are draining her energy and happiness. She methodically tackles clutter in her closet, drawers, and other areas, finding it very satisfying. She develops strategies like the "one-minute rule" and "evening tidy-up" to maintain order.

  • Clearing Psychic Clutter: In addition to physical clutter, the author addresses the "psychic clutter" of unfinished tasks and neglected responsibilities, finding that crossing these off her to-do list provides a significant mood boost.

  • Acting More Energetic: The author applies the principle of "acting the way you want to feel" by consciously adopting more energetic behaviors, such as speeding up her walk, pacing while on the phone, and engaging more actively with her children. This helps her actually feel more energetic.

2: February: Remember Love Marriage

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Marital Satisfaction Drops After First Child: The arrival of a new baby and teenagers puts significant pressure on marriages, causing a spike in discontent and bickering between spouses.

  • Focusing on Spouse's Faults vs. Virtues: The author realized she was focusing too much on her husband's faults while taking his virtues for granted, which was negatively impacting their relationship.

  • Changing Oneself, Not the Spouse: The author learned that she could only work on changing her own behavior, not her husband's, in order to improve their marriage.

  • Differences in Male vs. Female Intimacy: Research showed that men and women have different ideas of what constitutes intimacy, with women preferring face-to-face conversation and men feeling close through shared activities.

  • Avoiding "Dumping" Emotions on Spouse: The author recognized that her husband was not the best listener for her emotional venting, and resolved to find other outlets rather than burdening him.

  • Expressing Appreciation and Affection: The author made a conscious effort to show more physical affection, give small thoughtful gestures, and express appreciation for her husband, rather than taking him for granted.

  • The "First Splendid Truth" of Happiness: The author developed a formula for happiness - feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, all in an atmosphere of growth. This encapsulated her key learnings about the multifaceted nature of happiness.

  • Accepting Spouse as They Are: The author realized that trying to change her husband was futile, and that she needed to simply love him as he is in order to have a happier marriage.

3: March: Aim Higher at Work

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Happiness and Work: Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness. Happy people tend to be more productive, cooperative, and effective leaders. Work can provide many elements necessary for a happy life, such as growth, social contact, and a sense of purpose.

  • Choosing the Right Work: Passion and enthusiasm are more important for mastery and success than innate ability. It's important to pursue work that aligns with your true interests and desires, rather than trying to "fake it" at activities that don't genuinely engage you.

  • Launching a Blog: Starting a blog was a key goal for the author's happiness project, as it provided novelty, challenge, and an opportunity for growth. Despite initial anxiety and frustration, the blog ultimately became a source of happiness through the sense of accomplishment and connection with others.

  • Embracing Failure: The author learned to "enjoy the fun of failure" by reframing failures and rejections as opportunities for growth, rather than dreading them. This mindset allowed her to take more risks and pursue more ambitious goals.

  • Asking for Help: The author formed a "writers' strategy group" to provide accountability, support, and advice - demonstrating the importance of building a community and not being afraid to ask for help.

  • Working Efficiently: The author experimented with techniques like working in 90-minute blocks and squeezing in 15-minute bursts of productivity to make the most of her time and feel more in control of her workload.

  • Enjoying the Present: The author had to consciously remind herself to "Enjoy now" rather than constantly anticipating future happiness after achieving her goals. She recognized the "arrival fallacy" - the belief that reaching a goal will bring lasting happiness.

  • Handling Criticism: The author proactively reached out to a reviewer who had criticized her work, demonstrating an ability to handle criticism gracefully. This helped her feel more secure and able to enjoy her work without anxiety about potential criticism.

  • Balancing Ambition and Happiness: The author grappled with the relationship between ambition and happiness, recognizing that while ambition can sometimes undermine happiness, being in a happy mindset also enabled her to take more risks and pursue her goals more effectively.

4: April: Lighten Up Parenthood

  • Sing in the Morning: The author found that singing a cheerful song in the morning helped set a positive tone for the day and made it easier to resist slipping into a hectoring or irritable mood when dealing with her children's morning routines.

  • Acknowledge the Reality of People's Feelings: The author learned from parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish that it is important to acknowledge and validate children's feelings, rather than dismissing or contradicting them. This approach was much more effective at soothing her children's frustrations than trying to argue or reason with them.

  • Be a Treasure House of Happy Memories: The author made a concerted effort to capture and preserve happy family memories through photographs, mementos, and family traditions. This included creating organized storage systems like photo albums and file boxes to keep these keepsakes accessible.

  • Take Time for Projects: The author recognized the value in allowing her children to fully engage in and savor the process of projects and activities, even if they seemed inefficient from an adult perspective. She learned to "enjoy the process" rather than rushing to complete tasks.

  • Fog Happiness: The author grappled with the concept of "fog happiness" - the idea that some activities that don't seem inherently joyful in the moment can nevertheless provide a deeper, more profound sense of happiness and fulfillment. Raising children was one such activity for the author.

  • Reframing Chores: The author found that reframing mundane tasks or chores as enjoyable activities could significantly improve her mood and attitude towards them. For example, she reframed planning her daughter's birthday party as a fun project rather than a burdensome errand.

  • Happiness Range: The author realized that while her fundamental nature hadn't drastically changed through her happiness project, she was able to push herself towards the higher end of her innate "happiness range" by incorporating more positive habits and eliminating sources of negativity.

5: May: Be Serious About Play

  • Finding and Embracing Your True Interests: The chapter emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and embracing your genuine interests and passions, even if they don't align with societal expectations or what you wish you were interested in. The author realized that her love of children's literature was a source of joy, despite feeling that it was not "grown up" enough.

  • Starting a Children's Literature Reading Group: The author started a children's literature reading group, which became a significant source of fun and fulfillment for her. This group allowed her to connect with like-minded individuals and explore her passion for children's books.

  • Exploring New Interests and Going "Off the Path": The author made a conscious effort to explore new interests and go "off the path" by reading unfamiliar magazines, starting a "Happiness Box" collection, and engaging in other activities that were outside of her usual routine. This helped her discover new sources of enjoyment and creativity.

  • Embracing Silliness and Playfulness: The author recognized the importance of incorporating silliness and playfulness into her daily life, as studies show that this can increase happiness and foster positive emotional contagion within a group.

  • Differentiating Between Types of Fun: The author identified three types of fun: challenging fun (rewarding but demanding), accommodating fun (requires effort but strengthens relationships), and relaxing fun (easy and passive). She found that challenging and accommodating fun tend to bring more long-term happiness.

  • Accepting Limitations and "Being Gretchen": The author acknowledged the sadness that can come with accepting one's limitations and not being able to enjoy all the experiences the world has to offer. However, she embraced the idea of "Being Gretchen" and focusing on the things she genuinely enjoys, rather than trying to be someone she's not.

  • Happiness in the Face of Adversity: The chapter explores the idea that taking steps to build happiness can be valuable not only in the context of ordinary life, but also when facing major life challenges or catastrophes. Readers shared their experiences of finding happiness and joy even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

6: June: Make Time for Friends

  • Importance of Social Bonds: The author's happiness research and the views of philosophers and scientists emphasize that having strong social bonds is a key contributor to happiness. Studies show that having at least 5 close friends to discuss important matters with is associated with being "very happy".

  • Remembering Birthdays: The author resolved to remember friends' birthdays by compiling a comprehensive contact list and using an online service to send birthday reminders. This simple act helps maintain connections with friends.

  • Being Generous: The author identified several ways to be generous, including "helping people think big", "bringing people together", "contributing in her own way", and "cutting people slack". Doing good deeds boosts the giver's happiness.

  • The Second Splendid Truth: The author realized that "one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy" and "one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself". This insight clarifies the relationship between altruism and happiness.

  • Avoiding Gossip: The author resolved to avoid gossiping about others, as it can be hurtful and the "spontaneous trait transference" phenomenon means that the traits we ascribe to others can become associated with us.

  • Making New Friends: The author set a goal of making 3 new friends in new social situations, which helped her be more open and make the effort to connect with people. Maintaining a social network is important for happiness.

  • Importance of Physical State: The author found that her physical state, such as getting enough sleep, exercise, and not letting herself get too hungry or cold, had a significant impact on her happiness and ability to keep her resolutions.

  • Heightened Awareness of Faults: While the happiness project made the author more aware of her shortcomings, she recognized that this awareness, though sometimes uncomfortable, would lead to long-term improvements in her behavior and happiness.

7: July: Buy Some Happiness

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Money and Happiness: The relationship between money and happiness is complex. While money alone cannot buy happiness, it can contribute to happiness when used wisely. The significance of money to an individual's happiness depends on their personality, how they spend their money, and their relative wealth compared to others.

  • Indulge in Modest Splurges: Spending money on things that align with one's happiness goals, such as strengthening relationships, promoting health, and creating a more serene environment, can boost happiness. However, the happiness boost from purchases is often temporary due to the hedonic treadmill.

  • Buy Needful Things: Being an "underbuyer" who delays or avoids making necessary purchases can lead to stress and disorganization. Buying needful things, even if they are not the most exciting purchases, can contribute to overall happiness by reducing frustration and creating a sense of security.

  • Spend Out: Letting go of the need to keep score, save things for later, or demand praise and appreciation can lead to greater happiness. Spending out one's time, energy, and resources on others and on experiences that bring joy can create a sense of abundance and generosity.

  • Give Something Up: Forgoing certain purchases or activities that provide temporary happiness but also lead to guilt or regret can boost overall happiness. Identifying and eliminating these "happy/unhappy" behaviors can free up resources and mental space for more fulfilling pursuits.

  • Happiness Project Challenges: Even with a focused effort to improve happiness, there will be difficult days when the happiness project feels ineffective. Perseverance, self-compassion, and seeking support from others are important in navigating these challenges.

8: August: Contemplating the Heavens

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Contemplating Eternity and Mortality: The author decides to focus on "Eternity" in August, which involves reading memoirs of catastrophe and death to gain perspective on the preciousness of ordinary life. This helps the author cultivate a contented and thankful spirit, and prepares her to face adversity.

  • One-Sentence Journal: The author starts a one-sentence journal to capture fleeting, precious moments that would otherwise be forgotten, amplifying the effect of happy experiences.

  • Gratitude Notebook: The author keeps a gratitude notebook, listing three things she is grateful for each day. This helps her appreciate the fundamental elements of her life and the good fortune she has narrowly avoided.

  • Imitating a Spiritual Master: The author decides to imitate Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a Catholic saint known for achieving holiness through the perfection of small, ordinary acts. This inspires the author to act happy and enthusiastic, even when she doesn't feel that way, for the benefit of her loved ones.

  • Happiness and Unhappiness: The author explores why some people are resistant to or even disdainful of happiness, seeing it as trivial, unintellectual, or a way to control others. She concludes that happiness takes effort and discipline, and that acting happy can be more selfless than being unhappy.

  • Coping with Bad News: When the author's sister is diagnosed with diabetes, the author's resolutions help her maintain perspective, feel gratitude, and prepare to face future adversity with courage.

9: September: Pursue a Passion

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Pursue your passion: The author recognized that her true passion was reading, writing, and making books, and she made a conscious effort to integrate these activities into her daily life, rather than treating them as "extras" to be fit in when possible.

  • Write a novel in 30 days: The author participated in a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, which was a significant undertaking but ultimately very rewarding and contributed to her "atmosphere of growth."

  • Make time for reading: The author gave herself permission to read whatever she was genuinely interested in, rather than feeling obligated to read only "important" or "worthy" books. She also culled her book collection to focus on the books she truly enjoyed.

  • Forget about results: The author allowed herself to take notes and work on personal projects without worrying about the practical applications or end results, recognizing that this type of open-ended exploration can be valuable in itself.

  • Master new technology: The author explored self-publishing platforms and photo book creation tools, which allowed her to pursue her passion for bookmaking in new ways and gave her a sense of satisfaction from learning new skills.

  • The Fourth Splendid Truth: The author realized that you can't be happy unless you think you're happy, and conversely, you are happy if you think you're happy. This suggests that actively reflecting on and cultivating one's happiness is an important part of the process.

10: OCTOBER: Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness: The author learned about the importance of mindfulness, which is the cultivation of conscious, non-judgmental awareness. Mindfulness can bring many benefits, such as calming the mind, elevating brain function, and making people happier and less defensive.

  • Koans: The author became intrigued by Zen koans, which are questions or statements that cannot be understood logically. Reflecting on personal koans, such as "He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him," helped the author think in new ways and ignite her imagination.

  • True Rules: The author identified her own set of "True Rules," which are mental rules of thumb that she uses to make decisions and set priorities. Examining these rules helped her become more aware of when she was applying them and ensure they were guiding her towards her true priorities.

  • Stimulating the Mind: The author tried various activities, such as hypnosis, laughter yoga, drawing, and dancing to music, as ways to stimulate her mind in new ways and enhance her experience of the present moment.

  • Food Diary: Keeping a food diary, although difficult to remember, made the author more aware of her "fake food" habit and allowed her to successfully give up these unhealthy snacks, which she found to be a significant source of guilt and discomfort.

  • Happiness Bully: The author realized that she was at risk of becoming a "happiness bully," constantly lecturing and pushing her friends to adopt happiness-boosting practices, like clutter clearing. She recognized the need to be more mindful and less judgmental in her approach.

11: November: Keep a Contented Heart

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Cultivating a Lighthearted, Loving, and Kind Attitude: The author realized that to stick to her other resolutions, she needed to focus on cultivating a positive attitude characterized by lightheartedness, loving-kindness, and enthusiasm. This involved making conscious efforts to laugh more, use good manners, and give positive reviews.

  • The Importance of a "Heart to be Contented": The author was struck by the diarist Samuel Pepys' observation that happiness requires "a heart to be contented." The author acknowledged that she tended to be more discontented, ambitious, and critical, which was not helpful in most areas of her life.

  • Laughing Out Loud: The author made a concerted effort to laugh more, both at herself and at humorous situations. She found that forcing herself to laugh often led to genuine laughter and a more lighthearted mood.

  • Improving Manners and Reducing Argumentativeness: The author recognized that her low agreeableness score manifested in thoughtless habits and a tendency to be argumentative, especially when drinking alcohol. She made an effort to be more considerate, polite, and agreeable in her interactions.

  • Giving Positive Reviews: The author challenged herself to be more enthusiastic and less critical, realizing that it takes more courage to embrace something wholeheartedly than to be dismissive. She also recognized the importance of "shielding the joyous ones" in her life.

  • Finding an Area of Refuge: Acknowledging the human tendency towards a "negativity bias," the author developed the concept of an "area of refuge" - a mental space to which she could retreat when dwelling on negative thoughts, such as recalling fond memories or imagining uplifting scenarios.

  • The Interconnectedness of Attitude and Behavior: The author found that by consciously cultivating a more positive attitude, her actions and behaviors also became more positive, creating a reinforcing cycle of "do good, feel good; feel good, do good."

12: December: Boot Camp Perfect

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Boot Camp Perfect: The author tried to follow all her resolutions perfectly for the month of December, but still did not manage to keep all of them. However, even on her "bad days", she was able to take constructive steps to improve her mood, leading to "good bad days".

  • Positive Impact on Others: The author was gratified to discover that her blog had inspired others to start their own "happiness projects", and that it had a positive impact on their lives. This gave her a sense of purpose and happiness.

  • Measuring Happiness: The author's friends questioned whether she was actually happier, since she did not do any systematic measurement. However, the author knew she was happier based on her subjective feelings and the positive changes in her life and relationships.

  • The Four Splendid Truths: The author identified four key elements of happiness: feeling good, feeling bad, feeling right, and an atmosphere of growth. Addressing these elements, especially reducing negative feelings, was crucial to her increased happiness.

  • Spousal Changes: The author noticed positive changes in her husband's behavior, such as him taking on more tasks and being more thoughtful, without her nagging him. This contributed to the overall happier atmosphere in their household.

  • Resolutions vs. Goals: The author realized that resolutions, which require constant effort, are more effective for happiness than goals, which can be achieved and then abandoned.

  • Importance of Self-Knowledge: The author recognized that truly understanding oneself and building happiness on one's own nature is essential, and an ongoing process.

  • Gaining a Sense of Control: The author realized that her happiness project was partly about gaining a greater sense of control over her life, which is a key element of happiness.

  • Appreciating the Present: The author learned to appreciate the present moment and the "little things" in life, rather than always striving for the future, which contributed to her increased happiness.


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