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Rulin’s and Happiness: A Project in Improvement

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Woody & I are both concerned about our teeth.

For those that know me well, or are a part of my LiveJournal friends list, you’re well aware of my 2012 Rulin’s.  I stole a page from Woody Guthrie’s book and declared before the start of 2012, the Rules for this year. The rules were all self-improvement-type things I wanted to focus on for the next 12 months.

So we have a foundation for our discussion today, here they are:

  1. Eat healthier.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Floss before bed every night.
  5. Less Facebook, more face to face.
  6. More Lunch/Breakfast Dates with my friends.
  7. Do my artist date each and every week.
  8. 1,000 words a day (at least 5x a week).
  9. Charming note.
  10. Read.
  11. Do more book reviews.
  12. Set time aside to play.
  13. Start an etsy shop.
  14. Learn to cut my own hair.
  15. Take my anti inflammatory every day.
  16. Wear my carpal tunnel braces.
  17. Each week spend one-on-one time with each of my three younger children (still living at home), once a month with the older kids (out on their own)
  18. Move every project forward.
  19. Read about your favorite authors.
  20. Get Tank’s scrapbook done.
  21. Remember to dance.
  22. Get the urban farm more established.
  23. Get a new couch. 
  24. Set up a (better) space for the boys.
  25. Make more and save more money.
  26. Don’t bite your nails:
  27. Get the Northwest Art Collective established.
  28. Have a “literary salon” every quarter.
  29. Pay off debt.
  30. Allow yourself to play the lottery, but only $1 a week.
  31. Realize that the housework can always wait.
  32. Continue chipping away at Operation Organization.
  33. Forgive myself when I stumble (just don’t fall down) and know that I am human.
  34. Practice my spirituality.

Initially, each week I took a look at how I was doing on each of these. Unfortunately, the weekly updates turned into monthly updates the last couple of months. However, I’m still trying hard to stick to these goals, which are just disguised resolutions.

One day at one of the Writers’ Cafés that my group, SnoValley Writes! puts on, I was talking with some of the members, my fellow writers, about my “Rulin’s.” The next café, one of the members brought me the book THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin. The subtitle of the book is “Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.”

I highly recommend you read this book, especially if you're looking for a methodical way to increase the joy in your life.

I cruised through this book faster than I read most non-fiction books. Rubin and I must have been separated at birth. Many of the things that trouble her about herself or the things she wants to improve upon within herself or her life are some of the same things I see on this year’s Rulin’s or are lurking in the back of my brain to get done in the very near future.

Rubin’s discoveries about happiness were digestible and her honesty in the book was refreshing. It didn’t have that “I am better than you because I discovered this before you” feeling that I find in a lot of “self-improvement” books. Part of that is that Rubin is not only an accomplished writer, but also an avid researcher. She does her research and then experiments. Then she uses a great memoir-style to impart the outcome to the reader. Therefore, Rubin’s book is truly a self-improvement book in the most honest and actual way. She tackles – much as her subtitle alludes to – everything from getting her closet organized, to improving her eating and exercise habits, to improving her marriage, parenting and other interpersonal relationships.

She takes each month and has an overarching theme of a goal, such as August, which was Contemplate the Heaven – Eternity (194). Then she sets up some actual action items that she wants to accomplish within that goal. For August’s it was:  read memoirs of catastrophe, keep a gratitude notebook, and imitate a spiritual master.

In each chapter she relates her successes as much as her failures, the later of which allowed her to learn a lot about herself, because as she discovered, anything in her life that went a stray from her personal commandments and secrets of adulthood (10-11) . It occurred to me, reading Rubin’s experience, that anyone who is feeling unsatisfied or unhappy with their life is likely setting up false expectations for themselves. You have to be yourself first and foremost. And Rubin’s number one commandement? Be Gretchen.

The best discovery of the book, for me at least, was that Rubin targets in on the fact that doing this created not a security, but the ability to potentially cope with problems. She wrote that it was truly wise to not “…wait for a crisis to remake your life.”

A couple of other great quotes and lessons Rubin implements into her life creatively throughout THE HAPPINESS PROJECT  were from Buddha and Nietzsche.

Rubin notices that when she’s stuck in her work or has a problem she can’t solve that a walk does not only the body good, but the spirit and mind, too. Hence, the wisdom of Nietzsche: “All truly great thoughts are concerned while walking.”

The teachings of Buddha, especially, provided some serendipity for me, as I turned the pages of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, I kept thinking I needed to undergo my own Happiness Project. Then, wham! Buddha’s words:  “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

So, I’m thinking about working on my own Happiness Project. Take my Rulin’s efforts and amp it up ala THE HAPPINESS PROJECT’S strategies. Rubin’s success, much as she details in her book, and as I know in my own life is that she checks in daily on what her monthly goals were. She would “reward” herself with check marks each day as she reached her goals. This turns out to be a very successful tactic for Rubin, and one for which I believe would be for those of us always seeking that gold-star on our forehead for our efforts and tasks we accomplish in our lives. The daily check-in makes it necessary to stay focused on what you truly want to get done.

If anyone wants to join me, let me know – comment below and we’ll make a plan for 2013. Perhaps some mutual support will be good. Rubin’s husband and sister were great supporters for her. The more the merrier, and likely more successful, I say.

After that we can check out HAPPIER AT HOME, Rubin’s forthcoming book releasing next month. From her website:

Gretchen dedicated a school year—from September through May—to concentrate on the factors that matter for home, such as possessions, marriage, time, parenthood, body, neighborhood. How can she control the cubicle in her pocket? How might she highlight her family’s most treasured possessions? How, for so long, had she overlooked the importance of the sense of smell? And it really was time to replace that dud toaster.”

Sounds like another winner, another book for those of us trying to make some new Rulin’s for our lives might want to dive into to create a new level of happiness in our lives. I’m looking forward to reading this one, too. But first things first – another lesson from Rubin’s first book:  Make a plan for 2013.

For now, I’ll finish 2012 with my Rulin’s and then dive into a Fiction Farm version of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. So, who’d like to grow some happiness with me?

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