How different do you think your life could be if you dedicated a whole year to making yourself happier? It’s this exact question that Gretchen Rubin asked herself before starting The Happiness Project. Every month for a year, Rubin performed various happiness experiments on herself. She investigated the science of happiness using research and anecdotal evidence and compiled all that she learned in a book that’s both thoughtful and engaging and bursting with wisdom on how to live your happiest life.
While you should absolutely read the book, we’ve compiled a list of twelve lessons we particularly loved, one for each month.
Take Care of Your Physical Needs
You can’t live a full and happy life if you don’t take care of your most basic needs first. It’s hard to feel happy about anything if you’re tired and hungry! Making sure you get enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly are the holy trinity of healthy habits. You’ll be amazed by how much better you’ll feel each day once you’ve mastered them.
Fabulous has specific journeys for all three of these habits! Or, for a more general introduction, try The Unexpected Journey, which will walk you through each habit one at a time. It’s perfect for beginners, or anyone looking for a fresh start.
Love Your Partner Every Day
Even the happiest relationship has its ups and downs. Some arguments are unavoidable and, sometimes, bad things just happen. It doesn’t help that humans have a negative bias; Rubin learned that, for every one negative experience you have, you need five positive experiences to counteract it. That’s why it’s so important to inject kindness and affection into your relationship every day.
Rubin did this with a week-long period of “excessive niceness.” She went out of her way to be extra kind to her partner, without the expectation of repayment. As it turns out, making her partner happy made her pretty happy, too!
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
There’s a reason it’s called the “comfort zone:” It’s comfortable! But you won’t do much growing there. According to Rubin’s research, novelty and challenge both boost happiness in people, but you won’t find either of those things from your comfort zone. Branching out might be scary at first, but who knows what magic will happen once you’ve put yourself out there! Or, alternatively, if something goes wrong, you can read our Rising Strong summary for tips on how to bounce back from a failure.
Lighten Up on Your Children (and Yourself!)
One thing Rubin learned while on her happiness journey is that she’s a pretty critical person. She admits that she argues and complains more than she’d like to, especially with her two daughters.
So, she decided to lighten up. Instead of criticizing or arguing, she began to acknowledge her children’s feelings. She turned her “nos” into “yeses” and began to prioritize making her time with her family fun, from songs in the morning to regular adventures together.
Of course, you deserve some care, too! Did you know we recently released a Parent Self-Care challenge? Check it out in the Fabulous app.
Find Your Fun
What do you personally find fun? It might not be the same things your friends or family enjoys; maybe you prefer to curl up with a good book when others prefer big social engagements. That’s okay! It’s important to acknowledge your personal interests and make time for them. Even the silliest pleasures have worth if they make you happy.
And we need leisure time. Everyone does. Even ants take work breaks! Relaxation time gives us a chance to recharge our mental and emotional batteries, which makes us more energetic and productive once it’s time to work again.
Make Others Happy
One of the personal traits that best predict long-term happiness is the health of your relationships with other people. Having a supportive circle of friends and family and regular, positive interactions are markers of your physical and emotional health. Making other people happy will in turn make you happy. So, spend some time with the special people in your life, and make a point to forge new relationships with others!
Why not try a little experiment of your own? Sign up for Fabulous’s Act of Kindness mini-challenge and see what spreading a little happiness around does for your own!
Buy a Little Happiness
Did you know money can buy happiness? It’s true… but only to a certain extent. Money is like good health; it doesn’t guarantee you a lifetime of happiness, but not having to worry about it can make your life so much easier. When saved and spent meaningfully, money can make significant improvements to your life. Making fewer, more targeted big purchases that have an ongoing return on investment will make you happier than several cheaper splurges. For example, if you love smoothies, which do you think would make you happier: Buying smoothies at Jamba Juice every day, or investing in a professional-quality blender that will let you make your own smoothies on the cheap for years to come?
Stay Humble and Grateful
Humility and gratitude can go a long way when it comes to your happiness. It can be unpleasant to think about people who have it harder than you, but making yourself aware of those people can help you feel more grateful for what you do have. Lemony Snicket, author of the bestselling Series of Unfortunate Events books, said it best: It can always be worse. You could be getting eaten by a bear right now.
Did you know keeping a gratitude journal can boost your happiness? Try Fabulous’s Daily Gratitude Challenge and see for yourself!
Mindfulness: Pay More Attention
Have you ever driven somewhere but, once you arrived, had no recollection of how you got there? People aren’t as mindful as perhaps they should be but mindfulness is an important aspect of happiness. When you aren’t mindful, you miss out on little things that spark intense joy, like the warmth of the sun or the sight of dogs playing together. Take some time to really notice your surroundings; you might be surprised to see what pleasures big and small are hiding there!
Attitude: Be Less Critical, More Positive
You’ve probably heard the phrase “fake it til you make it,” which suggests that artificial competence can eventually turn into the genuine thing with enough time and practice. Not only is that true, but the “fake it” principle can also be applied to your attitude. Even the grumpiest person can become less critical if they make a concentrated effort to inject more positivity into their conversations.
The payoff? You actually start to feel happier yourself! Positivity is like a muscle; it must be flexed regularly to get strong.
Pursue Your Passions
What is something you’d do right now if money weren’t an issue? Write a book? Paint landscapes? Design an online gallery to display your whacky thrift store finds? Everyone’s got passions buried deep inside them but it’s vital to let those passions out! Not only will the novelty and challenge excite you, you’ll be more likely to stick with things you’re already passionate about.
Having trouble finding the time? Fabulous has just the journey for you: Staying On the Road is a journey all about time management and prioritizing the things in life that most matter to you. Check it out in the app!
Happiness: Reflect and Regroup
At the end of Rubin’s year-long happiness experiment, she took time to reflect on the successes and failures of the project. Not everything went swimmingly–she couldn’t make a gratitude journal work for her, for example–but in the end, it didn’t matter so much that she failed on some counts. What really mattered were the lessons she took away from her experiences, many of which she might not have realized she learned without taking time to reflect.
Having regular accountability for her actions was also a great help to keep her on task. By keeping a resolution chart, Rubin was able to regularly reassess her goals and make sure they were still aligned with her hopes and expectations.
Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project is both easy to read and packed full of advice and anecdotes on how to live a fuller, happier life. It’s possible not everything Rubin suggests will work for you, and that’s okay! Getting it all right on the first try isn’t the point. The point is to make an effort to learn what brings you happiness versus what doesn’t. Once you have that awareness, you can begin recalibrating your life so that you’re prioritizing a life of wholehearted joy.
“The days are long but the years are short” is a revelation Rubin had while starting The Happiness Project. No matter how hard you’re working, if you’re not doing what matters to you, your life will never feel complete.