I am not a fan of self-help books. I can be walking through a book store, feeling really good about life because of all the books that are in the world, fighting off a slight panic that I may not have time to read all of them, but still very positive about things in general, what with all the books, and then I get to the self-help section and it’s just a major bummer. It’s a multi-million dollar reminder that there’s a lot of room for improvement for me and my weird habits, and who wants to be reminded of that?
Despite this aversion to organized self-improvement, I am embarking on The Happiness Project, which is the only self-help project that I know of in which the author and advice-giver is funny and not a douche. She starts admitting her faults right off the bat. It’s a rare self-help book author who doesn’t lecture in a condescending way and make you feel like a loser for not being as accomplished and together as he or she. Most self-help authors dive headfirst into patronizingly shaking their fingers at the rest of us, devoting chapters on just why we are such losers, without a single thought to how stupid they’re going to feel when it comes out that they are cross-dressing sadists who suck their thumbs.
“I know you don’t do self-help,” my friend Diane said, “but I bought you this book anyway. I want to do this next year and I want you to do it with me.” I whimpered a little bit. And then she said this project would not involve removing wine or Cheez-Its from my daily routine. So naturally I said, “I’m in.”
The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin also scores extra points with me for being like me. She says she’s very good at planning how rocking her life is going to be, but very bad at actually implementing anything that even remotely rocks.
“One day I’d stop twisting my hair, and wearing running shoes all the time, and eating exactly the same food every day. I’d remember my friends’ birthdays, I’d learn Photoshop, I wouldn’t let my daughter watch TV during breakfast. I’d read Shakespeare, I’d spend more time laughing and having fun. I’d be more polite, I’d visit museums more often, I wouldn’t be scared to drive.”
With the exception of laughing and having more fun, that is so me. (I laugh enough - maybe too much in church - and I have enough fun for half of my neighborhood.) I know this perfect person that I want to be; I know exactly what she looks like, what she acts like, how she pronounces every word, how much she doesn’t bite the sides of her mouth, what languages she speaks, what her shoes make her ankles look like, what shitty TV shows she doesn’t watch - it’s all there. But signing up for the actual Italian classes is another story.
Rubin also admits that she started out pretty happy. There was no dramatic life-changing event, no complete turn-around. This is not a Lifetime movie here. At the beginning of her happiness project, her husband asks her, “Aren’t you happy now?” She says, in so many words, “Yes, I’m happy. You don’t understand. You’re a man. Go away and just let me run with this.” I liked that, because I, too, am already happy. But as a girl, I know there’s always room for improvement and that means charts and lists, two things that make me extremely happy.
The idea behind The Happiness Project is that you first identify what is going to make you happy and then you map out specifically what you have to do to be happy. And then you put it on your calendar and do it. For instance, your first list might include Don’t be so critical of people who are different from me. Under that, on your second list, you might put: 1. Instead of keying the cars of the Republicans at work, buy them a Starbucks. 2. Say at least once during husband’s diatribes at dinner parties “Karl has an interesting perspective. There’s no such thing as a bad idea.” 3. Put daisy in soldier’s gun barrel.
I’m not sure, because I haven’t started the book yet, but I think I’m supposed to make my first list this week, in anticipation of Jan. 1. I’m hoping that since I’m doing this with Diane, this will go better than my previous New Year’s resolutions and get thrown away with the Christmas wrap.
One of my items might be 1. Don’t be so averse to reading self-help books. It might help me stop biting the sides of my mouth.