Be Happier

Posted On: 01.05.10

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Count ’em. Yup, five. Five cute little images of Gretchen Rubin‘s new book THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. Not because I like repeating images. (I do. They make me think of wallpaper and I love wallpaper.) Not because five is my favorite number. (That would be thirty-three. Because of Larry Bird. Duh.) Not because I am one of five sisters. (I am. The middle. The smartest. I kid. Believe me.) No, there are five tiny pictures because I am giving away five copies of this book this week. One each weekday.


There are voices. That’s a lot of books. Are you perchance trying to kiss up to Ms. Rubin? Are you trying to, say, buy some comment love? Are you perhaps getting a little carried away?

And to these voices, I respond. And firmly. Yes, it’s a lot of books. But my motives are pure. Wait, I don’t even have motives. Wait, are any motives pure? Doesn’t everyone have motives? What, really, is a motive?

And then, because the voices get annoyed with my sudden plunge into semantic gymnastics, they extinguish. And I’m left with thorny silence in which I should probably explain myself. Fine.

I am giving away five books because that’s how much I liked the book. I am enthusiastic about the book. I am enthusiastic about Gretchen Rubin and what she stands for. (Take that, voices.) It occurred to me though that it would be a bit bizarre to scatter these goodies around the nation – or globe (Hey, I’ve had two readers pop by from Ghana. You never know) without telling you a little about the book and why I found it so compelling.

So, here I am doing just that.

I must disclose that I have had the good fortune of meeting Gretchen a couple of times here in the big city. We were introduced by the incomparable Danielle LaPorte of White Hot Truth fame. Presumably, Danielle guessed that Gretchen and I – with our similar paths of leaving the practice of law to write – would hit it off. And she was right. (At least in my opinion. I can’t speak for Gretchen.) Gretchen has been very kind and helpful to me as I have entered this blog world. I have been an avid follower of her blog and like so many of you, I have eagerly awaited the publication of this book. (The one there are five of above.)

But. Yes, there is a but. I never told Gretchen this, but the minute I heard about her project, her apparent aim to study happiness like a science, red flags popped up for me. They waved furiously in that foreboding and figurative wind of doubt (note to self: everything in moderation. Even alliteration). I immediately thought of a quote that Gretchen happens to mention in her book and on the front page of her blog. A quote by John Stuart Mill and a theory Gretchen rejects, namely Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.

Instinctively, I have always felt that the more we strive for happiness, the more we analyze our own behaviors and emotions and existential shifts, the more miserable we become. (Maybe this is why I dropped out of my not-so-cheap Positive Psychology course a few months ago? Nope. I think it was the fact that I had seventy-eight million things on my plate and it was a pipe dream to think I could complete the class.)

So. I was utterly prepared to read Gretchen’s words – which I had no doubt would be thoughtfully and artfully conveyed – while shaking my head in fervent disagreement.

But that didn’t happen. No.

I opened the book. And read a bit. I was at my in-laws’ for Christmas, so I didn’t really have the time to devour it. It was a week to be with family. But I kept sneaking back and reading a bit more. A few sentences. A few pages. Fine, a chapter. I couldn’t stop. In every spare moment in the following days, I flipped open that bright blue book with that poetic bluebird on the cover. And, very quickly, it became clear. Gretchen was onto something. Something big. Something universal.

No matter who we are and where we are and what our circumstances are, we can do things – some smaller, some bigger – to be happier. Not Happy in that capital “H” Platonic ideal way. Just happier.

Gretchen does not only quote a bevy of great thinkers (she does, and powerfully), but she offers her own thoughts as they evolve and take shape. Nor does she hide out in the world of theory, of intangible and lofty pronouncements. She talks about practical things that made her happier. (She is very careful to note that everyone’s happiness project is ultimately idiosyncratic.) Practical, more concrete things like: get more sleep, clean out closets, sing in the morning, embrace failure. (Okay, that last one’s not super concrete, but she elaborates well in the book.)

But it’s not the litany of practical tips that grabbed me. No. It was the story. Because this book? It is a story. A story of one woman – yes, an exceedingly intelligent and educated woman who has an admittedly good life and good family – who took it upon herself to learn about that elusive thing we all covet and crave whether we admit it or not: happiness. Because let’s admit it, folks. It’s what we all want. All of us.

So, yes. I was wrong. And I am thrilled to admit that.

So, yes. I am inspired. I am a lawyer who walked away to try to write, to try to be happier. So seeing this woman whom I respect live her dream and tell her story – and be met with monumental success (she is already on several bestseller lists and on Oprah’s 2010 must-read list I believe. Not too shabby) – is exciting for me to see. And you know what? I have already started putting some of Gretchen’s goodies into practice. (You should see my closet. But not ’til Friday. I got derailed by the must-have flu of the season. Oh, and I plan to trick the girls with a bowl of frozen Cheerios in April. You must read to understand.)

So, yes. I am enthusiastic. And as Gretchen herself said on her blog just yesterday, “Enthusiasm is a form of social courage; its safer to criticize and scoff than to praise and embrace.”

So here I am, thwarting that powerful human instinct to be cynical and suspicious. Here I am, praising a woman who deserves it. A woman who is getting rave reviews from the likes of Fred Wilson, Chris Guillebeau, and The Communicatrix. (I am plenty self-delusional, but even I know that Gretchen in no way needs the clumsy words of a rookie-ish blogger and admiring acquaintance-plus. But these words are my giveaway to her. You get the book. If you are lucky.)

Here I am, embracing a book – and, really, a way of thinking – that might just make us happier. (Oh, and kissing up, buying an audience, and getting carried away. Calm down. I joke! Gretchen tells us to lighten up! She quotes British writer G. K. Chesterton more than once: “It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” )

So… that’s why there are five. Okay? Now leave a comment and win one of them! (And stay tuned for some other goodies this week including a story about a pregnancy test, my Philosophy for the New Year, and a belated birthday letter to my big girl.)


Intellectually, do you agree that we can work to be more happy with ourselves and our lives or do you instinctively side with Mill in his contention that the contemplation of happiness and its essence is a recipe for unhappiness?

***Leave a comment here today (1/5/10) before 11pm EST and you will get a copy of this book with which I am apparently a wee bit obsessed. Oh, and yesterday’s lucky winner was…Amy!***

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69 Comments for: "Be Happier"
  1. oh please oh please oh please I want one of those happy books! 🙂

    … and happy new year to you!

    (from one lawyer wannabe who walked away from the law school and is fairly unhappy about it but now I write about it and that makes me somewhat happier.)

  2. I have to tell you that I am adding this to my next bookstore trip. I have to read it now. Cannot wait to get my hands on it.

    I have spent the new year devouring books. I am looking for one with a bit more to it as I have been reading romantic novels and they are just not doing it for me.

  3. Kreddy

    Great post. I love Gretchen’s blog and expect my copy of the book to arrive today.(So I am not posting to get the free book.) Can’t wait to read it. I found your blog from a mention in hers and both make me happy.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Welcome, Kreddy! Thrilled to hear that reading my words here on ILI adds – however incrementally – to your happiness. And nice to hear that you are posting not just to win a book (which I have zero doubt you will enjoy)!

      (Not that there is anything, anything at all, wrong with commenting just to win a book!)

  4. Mo

    Leave any comment? Does this count? Nice to see Chesterton quoted, I’m a big fan.

  5. I’ll give it another shot today! 🙂

    I have to say that I really HOPE that we can work to be more happy with ourselves… I just read “happier” a few weeks ago and decided that I’m at least going to try. 🙂

  6. Allison

    I like Kreddy found your blog through Gretchen’s and love, love, love you both!
    Wonderful review 🙂

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, Allison. And welcome! It seems I am getting some terrific visitors from the lovely Gretchen. I do hope you get a chance to read her book. As I mentioned very casually above, it’s a decent read 🙂

  7. I think some people need to work on being happy, and for others it comes easily, if not naturally. How’s that for a vague answer? Kids pulling at me… but I wanted to remember to comment…

  8. OK you have *totally* sold me on this book. Please feel free to tell me I’ve won it, thanks!

  9. I think it varies from person to person. I known people who are genuinely light-hearted and consistently happy individuals. And for others I think it requires more work, which isn’t a bad thing.

    I’d love to read this book.

  10. Aisha

    I will definitely have to read this book. As for happiness, I don’t really think you can help but analyze it, at least for most people. Having said that, I do believe that happiness is a conscious act.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Welcome to ILI, Aisha. I think you make an interesting and important point, namely that it might not be ultimately up to us to decide whether or not to analyze our own levels and experience of happiness. As humans, we are arguably wired to constantly consider our own state of well-being and try to improve up on it. Interesting fodder for its own post in my estimation. Thanks!

  11. I agree with Claire. Perhaps if you over-examine whether you are happy or not, you discover more things you’re unhappy about than you realized. Maybe John Stuart Mill did this and he’s a “glass is half empty” type of guy! Gretchen is saying that you have to rise above this to be happy. Maybe the glass is half empty, but what can you do to make yourself feel better?

    I recently started a happiness project blog after being inspired by her website. (Have not read the book yet, so maybe I’ll win!!!) My blog is kind of boring, but my goal is to focus on the positive things that happen everyday even when things are bad. It’s a shot at being mindful.

    I started reading your blog before Christmas. Keep up the good work!!!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Welcome, Betsy. (Or, at least to this cozy comment box.) I don’t think your blog sounds very boring at all. I will check it out and I hope my readers do as well. I think you are right to suggest that being happy might entail a certain degree of consciousness and choice. Perhaps we must elect to focus on the positive things, to focus on the joy amidst the inevitable pain and longing and uncertainty, to feel happy. I wonder what it means to over-examine happiness? Where do we draw the line between a healthy amount of self-seeking and too much self-scrutiny? I don’t pretend to know, but it’s an interesting question.

  12. Niki

    After having cried myself to sleep last night, as a result of something I chose to get involved in that I knew I shouldn’t have, I think I really need a copy of this book. If I don’t win one, I am definitely buying one!!!

    Aidan, I am so glad you are back to blogging. I need my daily fix.

  13. Don’t you love it when a book just “speaks” to you? Your enthusiasm is wonderful!

  14. Kristen W.

    Chicago loves ILI…converting my girlfriends to avid readers. Ready for some Happy reading!


    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks and welcome, Kristen W. You know what? I love Chicago. My second favorite city. Hands down. Have tons of family and friends there. I am a big Cubs and Bears and Bulls fan… (Better stop this or I might alienate my NY readers.) Anyway, there is a little rumor that I might be coming to Chicago this spring for a book event. Will keep you and your comrades posted!

      • Kristen W.

        We can’t wait for Life After Yes–we will certainly be there to support, sharpies and cameras in tow! Love the blog and the Chicago shout-outs 🙂

        • Kristen W.

          All of this excitement over the book and I forgot to respond to the question at hand. As my impossibly quirky yet equally insightful grandmother once told me, “You lose your sense of humor, and you’re all done.”

          I think it is realistic to actively work toward finding happiness, but it’s hard and perpetual work. Finding joy in the little and challenging things, surrounding oneself with good people and partaking in meaningful activities helps. But what keeps us(me) going through those not-so-happy ruts? Why, a good sense of humor, of course!

  15. I’m so glad you are talking about this book, Aidan. I’m so excited to read it! Do you think it would be appropriate for men to read as well? I know a certain loved one that could use a happiness injection.

    Sorry if that sounded dirty.

  16. I’ve been excited to read this book since you mentioned it here a few months back. And I love that there is a bluebird on the front — no doubt “the bluebird of happiness” — because the bluebird just happens to be a lucky omen for me. Always has. The study of happiness must be in the air, because PBS is airing a three-part series this week on happiness, “This Emotional Life,” hosted by Daniel Gilbert who wrote “Stumbling on Happiness,” one of my favoring books. I caught the first episode last night, and it was excellent. The remaining two parts are tonight and tomorrow.

  17. If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands! I love your blog:)


  18. Wow. Someone seems to have gotten her energy back! 🙂

    Thanks for tuning us in to this book. I have an Amazon gift card burning a virtual hole in my pocket. Seems like I’ve found the perfect way to spend it.

    As for happiness itself, I think there’s a middle ground. We should be self-aware enough to understand what makes us happy or unhappy so that we can cultivate/eradicate those aspects of our lives. However, over-analysis can certainly backfire if you’re not careful.

  19. Kimberly

    I’ve heard so many great things about this book- I would LOVE to win and read it. Love your review (and honesty)!

  20. I am so grateful for your review because I, too, have been quite skeptical of the whole happiness attainment movement. Like you, I wonder all the time about whether thinking too much about enigmatic concepts makes them all the more elusive.

    But knowing you just a bit and trusting your judgment even more – not to mention reading Gretchen’s blog and being quite moved by her writing – have won me over. Off to add this book to my ever-growing wish list.

  21. All this enthusiasm has sold me. Casting my hat in the ring again today. Fingers crossed!

  22. It seems that it’s the focus on being happy and trying to determine what that means that causes angst. I think we can do things, on a conscious level, to feel better and to be happier, but those things are difficult to reach and then face. It’s not an easy task.

    I think…

  23. I haven’t read this book, but I do think that “real life” often intervenes when it comes to happiness. Yet I retain the belief that it is attainable – not all the time, but some of the time.

    Perhaps our challenges better prepare us to appreciate it, and to recognize the simplicity inherent in those elements of self, of others, and our pursuit of passions – that fills us with happiness.

  24. T

    I do believe that happiness is a choice. We can’t decide always what happens to us but we can decide how and if we let it affect us. (Wrote about that myself today)

    Love it! Great project!

  25. “I had a dream my life would be different from this hell I am living, so different from what it seemed. Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.” Victor Hugo

    Yes Victor Hugo said it but I know so many people who are living in a world where life has killed their dreams and thats why I would appreciate a copy of The Happiness Project. By awarding me one of the copies of this book you will not just be sharing some of the secrets of happiness with me. You will be sharing it with a multitude of people. I will read the book and then pass it on to my wife. Who will pass it on to our friend Kim who could use a more than a little happiness in her life. My brother in law is feeling sorry for himself lately so Ill make sure he has a chance to read it. From there the book will travel onto San Diego where a Russian immigrant friend, Julia will read it, she will call me 50 times while reading the book asking me to explain things to her. Then it will go to my Ballet Dancing uncle, Jo Savino (Google him) who will read it and tell me what he thought of it. Most likely he will be explaining passages to me. When he is finished with the book it will go to Seattle where the Seattle Mists (Lingerie Football League) Natasha will read it, she soaks up so much information and will love this book. When shes done with it her Mom will read it, then probably her sister. From there who knows where it will go. If you put a return address in the book, Ill make sure that whoever reads it signs there name, and writes a comment so that when the book makes it way back, you can pass them along to the author.

    So by awarding me a copy of this book, you will be giving a gift that keeps givingsort of like donating an organ because whats said in those pages will live on in the people who read them. By allowing this book to travel the country, and spreading happiness where ever it goes you will be bringing Christmas morning type excitement to a diverse group of people who would otherwise never known your kindness. This book could change some people lives for the better and how often in your life can you say that you have done that? This is your opportunity.

    Thank you.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Ron, welcome and thank you for the thoughtful comment and the great Hugo quote. I love the story you paint here of the path the book will take should you win it. Fascinating (and compelling) how you compare awarding a book to the donation of an organ. As a writer, I am very excited by the thought of ideas and stories living on in the hearts and minds of readers. You make a powerful case for giving you the book. Unfortunately, this giveaway is random. If you do not win today, I hope you leave a comment over the next few days.

      Again, thanks so much for telling an intriguing story here. I think Gretchen would be touched to read it. Maybe she will!

  26. Aidan, I am so happy you are back! And, geez, you sure came back with a bang!

    Now, for your question, happiness. I find happiness when I serve. When I forget myself. Does she talk about that in her book? Because, really, if you are feeling down, do something for someone else. I promise it works.

  27. Emily

    I will definitely read this book, whether I win or not. I am a not-yet-former attorney who aspires to be something, and someone, happier. Several external factors are actively working against my goal: the fact that this career requires me to feed off of conflict, the fact that my precious 4 month old caught her first day care sniffle (and shared it with the family), the fear that I may never be able to fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. There’s more, but I’d like to avoid wallowing in self pity today…at least not before lunch! Anyway, there are always external factors working against Happiness. But I am so blessed in so many ways (4 month old–sick or not–being the newest and best addition to this list). And I am always interested in exploring ways to not only change my external circumstances for optimal happiness, but also to tweak my inner world so that the external does not hold so much power over me on my trek to this elusive land of Happiness. Thanks for introducing me to this book. What a great way to start the year.
    Wishing you a truly Happy 2010.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Emily, welcome to ILI. I love how you describe yourself as a “not-yet-former attorney.” There is a detectable dose of optimism in those words, no? I think you hit on something big here, namely the power of external factors on happiness (which is largely an internal phenomenon). As humans, I think life involves constant tweaking of internal and external variables and this can be exhausting and confusing. I think Gretchen does a good job of addressing this.

      Congrats on your baby. Enjoy every minute. It is a cliche, but time does fly.

  28. Niki

    I’ve been thinking, in terms of relationships, I have close friends telling me that I “deserve the best.” (This ties into happiness, I think quite obviously) And this has got me thinking, what is the “best?” What if there isn’t a “best” out there for everyone? What if someone’s “best” is really just a “good enough?” Will I be happier if I spend my life looking/waiting for the “best”, if I end up with nothing? Or would I be happier if I decided I liked good enough for the rest of my life? Should I care? Does thinking about this make me miserable? (Answer: probably, yes.) Hmmmm

  29. Christine

    I have to say that I’m of the school that not questioning one’s happiness is in one’s best interest. I’m also of the school of “living deliberately”…to me, the only way to truly be happy.

    Living a life constantly striving for something, though, to me also sets up a little bit of an issue: will one recognize the happiness seeping into one’s life if one is too busy trying to reach this elusive feeling called “happiness”?

    Just live the life you imagine! (Emerson and Thoreau quotes spewing very naturally today:)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Welcome, Christine. First of all, I love Emerson and Thoreau. Quote these guys all you want here! I agree that constantly striving can make for a merciless and miserable existence. But I wonder if it is truly up to us whether we strive or not. Isn’t it part of human nature to reach – and constantly – beyond the periphery of our own bliss? I suppose it is probably within our control to limit the amount of searching and striving, but I doubt we can eliminate it altogether. Are some of us more naturally inclined to strive and seek than others? Is this a matter of biology or outlook or some inscrutable combination of both (and other things)? I don’t pretend to know, but worth thinking about. Thanks!

  30. Ok – so yesterday my comment was an enthusiastic response to seeing you back at your blog. Today’s comment is a shameless entry for this book. I am so intrigued! (fingers crossed!)

  31. Mark

    I found your blog when Gretchen recommended it on hers. Both yours and hers are excellent. I have a copy of her book and look forward to reading it soon.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Mark, welcome. Thrilled to have another visitor from Gretchen. I think you will really enjoy the book. And it’s great because it really goes well beyond the scope and substance of her blog, so even avid blog readers have tons to gain by reading the book.

  32. Anne Shirley

    Happiness might be one subject regarding which “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” which is why it’s important to “study happiness like a science.” We all think we know what would make us happy, but sometimes our intuitions are wrong about this. Many of Gretchen’s tips seem counterintuitive–in a perfect world, I would never make my bed, but Gretchen says this actually worked for many of her devotees. So, to wrap this up, yes, I do think it’s possible to be happier if our objective is happiness itself and not things we think will lead to it. Does that make sense?

  33. Stephanie

    I think we can work to be more happy with ourselves and our lives… and I hope to work on it by winning a copy of the book 🙂

  34. I’ve been following Gretchen for a while, and actually found I already did a lot of the things suggested. And just the fact that I’m following her blog (!) shows belief that we can actively work at being happier. Much of life is just perspective, and you get to choose for yourself how you’re going to look at everything. And so yes, I’m really looking forward to reading the book!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Kathy, welcome to ILI. I have never thought about it that way, but you are right: Merely following Gretchen’s blog is in a certain way its own tangible way of trying to work on happiness, a derivative happiness project of sorts. I also agree that so so much comes down to perspective and there are things we can do to (try to) alter our own perspective on things. Ultimately, I wonder how much of perspective is fixed and how much is mutable? And I wonder if this varies from person to person? I imagine it does.

  35. Chely

    I found your blog by following a link on The Happiness Project blog, and I will add it to the blogs I follow in my reader. I’ve been following Gretchen Rubin’s blog for a while, particularly through a difficult personal situation, and I believe that we can work to be more happy – a person can definitely be proactive about his or her happiness and that’s a very good thing. Hope I get a copy of the book!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Chely, welcome. Happy you found your way here. I can imagine that much of Gretchen’s blog content would be helpful if weathering a difficult personal situation. After reading her book, I am *choosing* to believe that we have some modicum of control over our own levels of happiness. I do not think we have total control. Other things – environment, heredity, etc play salient roles, but I do think it is a big step to realize, and appreciate, that we do have SOME control over these things.

  36. As someone who has fought hard for her own happiness, I side with Gretchen on this. The important distinction is that you should think about your own happiness in an atmosphere of growth (to use her own words), as in not finding an excuse to put yourself down with a bit of self-introspection.
    The trick is also that in order to be happy, you have to let go of your worries; and letting go sounds like the opposite of thought, right? So I would say that happiness is cultivated: tended to, cared for, then left to develop by itself as a consequence of all that nurturing.
    As a digression, some say that caring about your own happiness is selfish; but I think that on the contrary, being a happier person leads you to be more altruist and that one tends to be self-centered when one is unhappy or depressed. There is some scientific evidence of this, which came up during a research on memory: depressed persons have fewer memories and they are less complete than happy persons’, on top of being self-centered memories with an emphasis on how life was unfair for the subject.
    Oh, and I do want a copy of that book, too, if chance decides so.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Welcome, Sabine. “Happiness as cultivated.” I find this very compelling. Happiness is a garden. Yes, it is in some sense natural, but it needs attention and care. I am very interested in the question of selfishness and am growing more and more convinced that pursuing personal happiness is not selfish insofar as it makes those around you happier. Gretchen talks convincingly about this in her book. Thanks for your comment!

  37. Ash

    I saw this book recommended on Oprah’s site some days ago. The science behind happiness sounds intriguing.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Ash, welcome to ILI. I think that happiness is probably somewhere between an art and a science. But I agree that the whole study of happiness is intriguing. Happy 2010!

  38. Meg

    I definitely believe happiness is a choice — and I choose to be happy (or, at least, not UNhappy) every day. Not easy, but so worth it!

    So intrigued by this book… really want to get my hands on a copy soon!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Meg – I think you make a very important distinction, namely between being happy and being NOT unhappy. I think these are different things. Gretchen points out in her book that happiness and unhappiness are not opposites of each other, that they can rise and fall independently of one another. I hope you do get your hands on this fine book – either by winning here or getting it elsewhere! And then maybe you will whip up one of your trademark reviews for the rest of us!

  39. Mill in his contention that the contemplation of happiness and its essence is a recipe for unhappiness?

    It is easy to over think things. Forgive me if this sound chauvinistic, but I think that it is female trait to spend hours analyzing every little detail.

    I am no expert, but I try to live in the moment and accept whatever I am feeling at that time.

    More importantly I have made a point of identifying what it is that I want and what makes me happy.

  40. Ann

    I definitely think we can work toward being happier. Thinking that we can’t just seems depressing. 🙁

  41. The book sounds incredible, Aidan, and I trust your glowing review of it because I would normally approach something like this with just as much trepidation!

    I am lucky enough to have an inner core of happiness – even when really crappy things happen. I know the difference between a circumstance and my heart and soul, if that makes any sense.

    And, though I haven’t read it yet, I also believe there’s something really amazing about failure. Each time I’ve failed and not fought it, let myself be humbled and hit that bottom, greater things have happened than I could have planned.

  42. Ooh – did I make the timeline? Just back from Australia and my body doesn’t know the time exactly (only that it is bedtime)! I’d love to win a book, but even if I don’t win, I’ll probably add it to my ‘to buy’ list at B&N and read it anyway. I’m constantly looking for new books.

  43. Kat

    I guess I think that if your happiness is so flimsy that it would cease by you just thinking about it, you weren’t truly happy. I’m all about the examined life — blogging would be sort of a weird choice otherwise!

  44. Kim

    I think most people have a general tendancy towards a certain level of happiness (or unhappiness as the case may be).

    There are, of course, varying shades up and down the spectrum. And that is where thinking and analyzing happiness in your life comes into play. If you know you are a “cup is half-empty” kind of person, you can work on what helps you see the cup as half full. That requires introspection and study. Conversely, being too happy (is there such a thing?) implies an inability to recognize that sometimes, dammit, the glass really is half empty. In which case, shouldn’t one work on recognizing those moments and not being polly-annish about the whole matter.

    Sorry to ramble in a rather disjointed manner. The cold meds are kicking in and I’m trying to beat the 11PM EST deadline!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Welcome to ILI, Kim! First of all, I love rambling. It’s an underrated art form, so never apologize for rambling here. (Not that you were rambling.) I agree that there is a continuum and that depending on where we fall on said continuum, there is more or less that we can do about our happiness. I agree wholeheartedly that some people should work to realize when things are just not that sunny. There is indeed a virtue in being able to be honest and recognize that things are not ideal. Thanks for your comment. Hope the cold meds worked!

  45. Jack

    Oh, boy. Now you have me REALLY wanting this book. If I may do a little sucking up here to try to get this book, I will: I am a soon-to-be attorney, already ready to abandon the lawyer life and try my hand at writing (a la John Grisham) because that is my first love. And I need to be a little less stressed out and a little happier, on the whole. I need to be a little less freaked out that everything I write about (including this comment!) could be used against me in litigation, etc. (I can already see some lawyer bellowing it now, years down the road: “Jack isn’t entirely happy! Look at this post from ivyleagueinsecurities! …”)

    To answer your question, I do believe that we can work to be happy. I agree that asking whether you are happy probably means that you are not as happy as you could be, but I think that asking is the first step towards becoming happier. (And if a person doesn’t ask, maybe he or she is just more happy-go-lucky than the rest of us.) Sometimes, when I ask myself if I’m happy, or when I do something to ‘make myself happier,’ it always feels weird. It feels like I’m trying to manufacture happiness and then it feels fake. It’s kind of like date night, because the flipside is that you shouldn’t have to try; it should just come naturally. But romantic date nights and being happy don’t always come naturally, and certainly not as years go by, and so I think that one can–and should–try to seek out ways to increase happiness. Otherwise, I think that a person who is aware of unhappiness (or even just not being as happy as possible) has missed a chance at self-improvement.

    (Note: John Grisham would have been one-third as verbose as I in writing this comment, but I think my excitement about this book got the best of me!)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Welcome, 10:49 Jack 🙂 So lawyerly of you to make that fine distinction! Ah, a fellow attorney who loves to write. Thanks for your thoughtful comment/plea… I am not sure whether I agree that asking whether we are happy means that we are less happy than we could be. I think that asking is a sign of curiosity and interest and desire for understanding and change. But I do agree that we are NEVER as happy as we could be. This, I think, is why Gretchen’s book is so genius. Everyone can stand to make little changes in his/her existence to make things better. There is always more work to do. Depending on how we look at this, it is either exhausting/depressing or liberating. If we cannot by definition be Happy than we can surrender a bit and focus on the smaller tweaks. I wrote about this a bit back in my post called You Are Not Happy – – Check it out if you are interested.

      Oh, and you touch on a very interesting question below, namely whether men and women have different levels of happiness or whether they internalize things differently. This is fodder for another layered post I think. Thanks for your comments!

  46. Jack

    10:49 pm Jack here (not to be confused with 5:05 pm Jack). Just wanted to add in response to 5:05 pm Jack’s comment that I can’t help but wonder if 5:05 pm Jack is onto something. I do think men analyze things less. But do I think men are happier than women? No. I think that men can internalize things a great deal and can’t always sort out what they’re feeling. Maybe women just worry about being unhappy more than men do, but we’re all still equally not as happy as possible.

    More rambling, just in under the wire… 🙂

  47. I saw the nice mention of my book, The Happiness Project, here. I very much appreciate those kind words and you shining a spotlight on my work. Thanks and best wishes,

  48. Pingback: Happier Hours! | ivy league insecurities

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