Calculating Happiness

The “Happiness Project” by Grechen Ruben lay waiting in my e-library for ages and seemed appropriate enough a title to read through the holiday cheer. As luck would have it, it turned out to be a book of resolutions, where the author documents her life through a year of habits she adopts to elevate the levels of her general ‘happiness’. She resolves to focus on specific areas of her life in each month of the year, adding more resolutions to the list as the year progressed. She also tracks her progress, quantifying her discipline in a resolutions chart. She comes up with an exhaustive list of actions, having observed previously things that make her happy, She cleans out her closets, takes up exercise, acknowledges harsh truths about herself and resolves to change them, focuses on her behaviour with loved ones, takes up new passions, hones old ones, but most importantly commits to “be Grechen”, that is be herself while she does any of the above. All of her steps are simple and specific but not easy because we most often break the vows made to ourselves due to the lack of accountability.

The book held instant appeal to me, since it is an experiment to investigate the elusive, indefinite idea of “happiness” as a project with a tangible/finite goal and timeline, that could be accomplished through actions or habits within our control. After all, our worldly and spiritual pursuits, of things and of inner peace, everything we do, is inevitably linked to accumalating more happiness and yet we find growing number of unhappy people around us, losing control of their lives. In her book, Reuben dedicates herself completely to these pursuits, designing a plan unique only to herself, sticking to her resolutions like a fanatic, stopping from time to time only to ask herself the question – if all of these things were really making her happy. Though she quotes liberally from her research on happiness from philosophy, spiritual teachings, religions and other authors, her demonstrations of the ideas are graspable tiny steps, that are designed to fit her own life.

Towards the end of her book, Ruben concludes that she was indeed happier, better version of herself towards the end of the year by doing specific things she set out to do and had a piece of paper(her resolutions chart) to show for it. She manages to translate the abstract into the tangible. Changing her life, without having to change her situations.
Since I turn 30 in a few months, I haven’t stopped thinking about this idea of being to quantify our lives into an excel sheet or something. Ofcourse we have the Life’s major milestones like marriage, childbirth, promotions to think about when the idea of ‘am I happy’ irks us. But Ruben’s book has certainly planted this new idea in my head, to grasp in a definite way each day, my unique piece of happiness. And that having a short term plan, isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Have a wonderful 2015!

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