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!***