With two happiness guides — The Happiness Project and Delivering Happiness — on the New York Times best-seller list, one has to wonder: If happiness is such a hot topic, does that mean we’re all unhappy and depressed?
Not necessarily, says Gretchen Rubin, a New York blogger and author of The Happiness Project. “I didn’t hit rock bottom before I wrote the book,” she says. “I was not coming from deep unhappiness and there wasn’t a big catalyst to have this deep epiphany. I was literally on a bus staring out a window and thought, ‘What do I want in life?’ Well, I want to be happy. And I realized I didn’t spend any time thinking about happiness even though it was my top priority.”
Come on, get happier
As with Rubin, perhaps happiness has struck a chord with Americans because, although we’re not necessarily unhappy, we know we could be happier than we are now. “So many people think my goal and everyone’s goal is that everybody should be happy 100 percent of the time,” Rubin says. “But that’s not realistic.”
Instead, she says finding happiness is about adding more sunshine to your already content life. “What can you do to be happier or as happy as you can be?” she asks. Although The Happiness Project author doesn’t always have a five-star day, after having completed the project and becoming a master of this subject, she says that her “lows are not as low as they used to be” and that she recovers faster from a bad day or an upsetting encounter now.
Reframe the situation
Sylvia Lafair, Ph.D. and president of CEO (Creative Energy Options, Inc.), agrees that it’s unrealistic to assume that we’ll always have a happiness high.
“The ‘happiest’ people I know can express anger, regret, disappointment, rage, fury and disgust with vigor,” Lafair says. “The key is not to dwell there. Happiness has more to do with how long and how deeply we stay mired in these emotions.” Her advice? Reframe unhappy situations and address real issues.
However, Lafair adds a note of caution to this advice: “Sometimes we have to sit with an issue and ‘feel it fully’ before reframing it,” she explains. “If not, what happens is ‘symptom substitution.’ A simple example is someone who finally quits smoking and then starts eating tons of food. Is this a better solution? The same is done with emotional issues.”
So, while you should anticipate bad days, both Rubin and Lafair emphasize that the key to happiness is changing your perspective. By acknowledging your negative thoughts and reframing them in a positive light, you’ll bounce back more quickly and avoid dwelling in negativity.
Blissful books: How to get your happy on
There are several books available for people who want to add more happiness and contentment to their lives. Although none can guarantee you 100 percent happiness all the time, they can, as Rubin puts it, give you the ability to have a “good bad day.”
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 (Harper, 2009) by Gretchen Rubin — This book depicts the author’s year-long quest for happiness with insight, anecdotes and advice, empowering readers to begin a happiness project of their own.
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (Business Plus, 2010) by Tony Hsieh — A book geared more toward entrepreneurs and business folk, in which the CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos.com emphasizes the importance of corporate culture and how it can foster success by making customer service an entire company’s goal. Hsieh applies research from the science of happiness to growing a business and helping employees grow professionally and personally.
How to Be Happy, Dammit: A Cynic’s Guide to Spiritual Happiness (Celestial Arts, 2001) by Karen Salmansohn — Although there are several happiness books on the market, this author breaks it down into life lessons, such as Life Lesson #21: “You must remember: You are here now … no, no, now … NO, NOW! You are a human ‘being’ and not a human ‘was’ or a human ‘will be.’ So you try to spend more time being present — and less time being busy.”
Happiness At Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success (Wiley, 2010) by Jessica Pryce-Jones — Considering there are so many facets of our lives that may yearn for improvement in the happiness category, Jones focuses on five ways to achieve happiness at work and the specific tools you’ll need to apply them: contribution, conviction, culture, commitment and confidence.
Stumbling on Happiness (Vintage, 2007) by Daniel Todd Gilbert — This book reads more like a detective novel based on a psychologist’s insights than an advice guide. It is based on the notion that humans are different from animals in regard to our interest in predicting the future. The book includes a series of facts about how our minds work, the shortcomings of our imaginations and how it’s improbable to believe that our imaginations are truly imaginative at all!
The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (The Penguin Press, 2007) by Sonja Lyubomirsky — This author and psychology professor reflects upon her own ground breaking research to pioneer a specific plan to increase happiness. She defines what happiness is, what it isn’t and specific steps to get closer to it.