Friday, March 02, 2012

The Happiness Project

There is a New York Times bestselling book titled The Happiness Project. My mother sent it to me and I am really, really hooked on what this lady had to say.

I haven't read very much of it yet but what I have read intrigues me. Her most important piece of advice is "Be Gretchen." (Her name is Gretchen.) Her need for legitimacy led her to attend law school and clerk for Sandra Day O'Connor. During this clerkship she realized that her fellow classmates read law articles in their spare time and loved it. She spent the required time needed to finish the clerkship but found herself doing other things in her spare time. She took one other law position after that but realized what she really wanted to do was be a writer. She is fulfilling the goal of "Be Gretchen" by being a writer- and this is part of happiness. But- part of happiness is also having enough money to pay the bills and support a family.

This lady speaks to me on a very deep level. I can relate with the need to feel legitimate. Its a bit like JK Rowling (Harry Potter) being told by her father to pick a practical major in college- not writing. She needed that practical major after college too. Her deadbeat, drunken husband was not able to support her and her baby before the Harry Potter books were sold. She was forced to take a teaching position at a high school to pay the bills. I think all writers can relate to the advice that some other educational background/experience is necessary for that person to have something to fall back on. Writers, musicians, all entertainers need to have day jobs. If JK Rowling had solely lived by the philosophy to "Be Joanna" she would have been starving in the streets with her infant and Harry Potter might never have been sold to a publisher. The "Be Myself" rule can only be taken so far in life for true happiness to be achieved.

It's like walking a balance beams or tight rope. You walk the tight rope that feeds your inner desires and passions only to realize your basic need for food and shelter may not be met. So you hop over to the tight rope of the practical to select a very marketable, practical line of work that pays the bills. This tight rope presents its own challenges which often lead to the same feeling of a satiation of passion and fulfillment. I think it just takes longer to find fulfillment in a job that is practical- you need to practice it long enough to appreciate the mastery of something that is really useful in the world.

It is incredibly satisfying to help chemistry students master the trade. I've received emails from students profusely thanking me for my services. Apparently I helped them learn the material and motivated them to continue in their careers. This is incredibly rewarding. Do I get the passion rush of mastering a classical piano piece and performing it with all the emotion my soul can muster? No, but it is a different kind of reward.

What can I say? We can't all be the Meryl Streep of our trade. I knew a star student of the musical/drama/theater department at Northwestern University my freshman year. From recent surfing on the web it seems her show was cancelled in Chicago and I can't find much on the Internet about her recent performances. Even someone as talented as she was is struggling right now in this difficult economy.

I've digressed from the original topic of the Happiness Project. The author spends a year of her life focusing on improving her life to become happier. She works on all aspects of her life: relationships (marriage), career, friendships, health and hobbies (to name a few). Her main question to herself is this: What is it in life that makes me happy and how do I bring more of it into my daily life?

I want to ask myself this question over the coming year. What is it that makes me happy? How can I find more of that in my day to day life. Interestingly, one of Gretchen's pieces of advice is to start a blog- which I have done here. A blog is a way to measure progress on small goals and mark that progress in writing.

One of the parts of an online blog that is really positive is the accountability I get from readers. I know there are people out there who will measure my progress by reading this blog. One of the drawbacks in the lack of privacy in a public blog.

I know writing makes me happy. I plan to add many entries to this blog over the coming months and comment on my happiness. Could I take steps to be happier?