Book Review: The Happiness Project

thehappinessprojectHow is it possible that I have not stumbled across Gretchen Rubin before? I feel like now after reading her book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent A Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun that I want to read everything she’s ever written. The title of the book is a nice summary of what her year-long experiment entails but what you can’t know unless you read this gem is just how utterly charming and relate able the author is.

One of the main points of the book is that everyone will have their own path to happiness – an idea that I personally hold near and dear. I was curious before beginning this lovely read what it would be like to dive into the details of a happiness project that belonged to someone else. Someone with different interest from me (she admits readily to not being such a fan of the great outdoors, and yoga – at least laughing yoga – also did not make the cut). It was great! The author is humble and honest and funny (sometimes without meaning to be). She admits to her faults and admirably tries to improve upon them without being preachy about it. She talks about a lot of feelings that I think many of us can relate to — one example being the idea of wanting to become a better listener without just waiting impatiently for a break in the conversation to jump in with her own story or experience.

I love how she gives an honest account of what it’s like to juggle home and work life. She talks in detail about how she came round to figuring out what it is that is really important in her life. So often we get caught up in our daily grind that it’s easy to forget to stop and take a minute to ask ourselves the big questions like, “What is it that really makes me happy?” And, “How am I making space for that in my life?” Conducting your own happiness project might be just the ticket!

I know I’m gushing here but one last thing that I love about this book is the incredible recommended reading list at the end. Gretchen Rubin is clearly a reader – she makes a lot of references to her favorite books and the impact they’ve had on her life. I don’t know if you are like me but sometimes when I’m reading a book that I really love I feel a little sad when it’s over. The silver lining for me on this one is that now I have a huge list of book recommends to add to my reading list from an author that I really love.

Check out Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project for an uplifting, enlightening, very personal journey towards finding greater happiness and be on the lookout for more great stuff to come from this author.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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What is Unattachment and Why Is it Important for our Health and Well-being?

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“Don’t hold on to someone who’s leaving, otherwise you won’t meet the one who’s coming”-Carl Jung

When we were young my husband and I fell deeply, madly, passionately in love with each other and simultaneously with a beautiful twenty acre piece of land nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It was (and is) a magical place with a creek and open pasture, edged by huge big leaf maples and towering cedar trees. The views of the surrounding mountains were incredible. It felt wild and expansive and we rose to the challenge of filling every inch of it with beautiful dreams of a home and gardens and a family. We were visionaries of the most incredible life and this was the place we were going to sink our roots in and live our whole lives long.

The property wasn’t quite legally subdivided and so couldn’t officially be sold yet, but we were confident that things would be taken care of. The owner was open to us using it until all of the permitting was completed. We happily got to work planting trees, putting in a garden, building a tree house and garden shed. After a year or so things were still not finalized, but seemed to be moving in the right direction. We built an arbor and on a sunny August day got married there and celebrated with the entire community.

We waited five years for permits to be filed and subdivisions to be completed. We waited five years before the whole thing crumbled. The owners went through a bad divorce, there was a family misunderstanding…we never really understood fully what happened (isn’t that sometimes the way with things that break our hearts). We were told the land was no longer for sale and wouldn’t be.

We were lost. I mean to say we were completely wrecked. Done for. Brokenhearted. Shocked. Angry. Confused. We practiced the opposite of unattachment. We were so angry! And we held onto our anger and simmered in it and with no productive way forward we stumbled through life for awhile. As a couple we suffered and our marriage suffered too.  We felt victimized. Someone had taken all of our dreams and crushed them. Someone had broken years of promises with no apologies and no alternatives. Who were we even now? What were our dreams?

Slowly we found our way through. Slowly we built new dreams and a beautiful life that we never could have imagined at the time – but not before a lot of lost time and more heartache than was necessary.

When you spend an extended amount of time in a negative state (such as holding onto anger) there are very real physical repercussions. It is it’s own kind of chronic stress. Under stress your body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which in small doses can be helpful in certain situations, but when they course through our system on a regular basis they can have a very real negative effect on our hearts and brains. Research has shown that chronic stress can cause you to actually become hardwired to react to new situations in a negative way and can inhibit growth of brain cells that make connections to the prefrontal cortex-the part of our brain responsible for learning new things and creating memories.

My husband and I were talking about it the other day and he asked me what I would do differently now. At that point in our lives we did the best we could with the experiences and tools that we had. But if I could go back now and talk to myself I would tell myself to cultivate gratitude. To focus more on the good things that happened there and less on the the things that were “taken from us”. I would work on reframing the situation to realize that we weren’t victims, that we chose to hold on for as long as we did. I would journal and meditate and breathe and look ahead to new adventures and I would try to let go more gracefully. Those feelings of anger and bitterness didn’t serve me and they didn’t change the outcome of the situation at all.

So I’m writing to you today about the power of unattachment because I wish it was something that I had known about and cultivated back then. That piece of property was never ours. Despite paperwork sometimes saying otherwise we don’t ever truly own a place. Another person no matter how much we love them does not belong to us. And as much as you might want something and work towards a dream you can never be absolutely certain of the outcome.

Please don’t take this post the wrong way. Dreaming big is not a bad thing! Loving deeply is the only way! Taking time to mourn something you’ve loved and lost is a necessary part of moving on. Do those things with your life! And then when it’s time to move on from a dream or a person or an expectation take a deep breath and let go.

Practicing unattachment can help on any scale – from letting go of someone who has broken our heart to letting go of our expectations that we won’t get stuck in traffic or that another person is going to feel the same way about something that we do. When we are able to set aside our expectations we are able to find peace. When we practice unattachment we are able to meet the challenges this sometimes tumultuous life puts forward gracefully and calmly.

Unattachment does not mean you need to live in a cave somewhere in the Olympic rain forest with only a hand-carved wooden bowl and spoon as possessions. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love deeply and passionately and madly. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel that little surge of giddiness when you put on that new pair of jeans that fit you just perfectly. It simply means being able to let go gracefully when it’s time to so that you can move forward towards the rest of your life with an open heart and no regrets.

Be happy, be health, be well.

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Book Review: The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing

The life changing magic of tidying upRecently my dishwasher broke down and at the same time we had an above average amount of out-of-town company staying with us. Trying my best to keep everyone fed and also have time to actually connect and catch up with them I found myself using what seemed like every dish in the house. At the end of the day after the kids were down I was faced with a mountain of dirty dishes that took at least an hour to wash by hand. On top of that because I was spending so much time washing dishes all of the laundry, toys, paperwork and everything else started to pile up. I noticed I was feeling resentful-not towards my company because I really was happy to have them there – but towards these mountains of “stuff” that sat waiting for me as if they were trying to ruin the end of my day!

I’m a big believer in the idea that things come into your life when you need them. During the week of the broken dishwasher and above average amount of company a friend of mine mentioned this book. It sounded interesting so I added it to my library holds list. Sometimes holds take weeks or even months to come in so I often put books on my list and then forget about them. This book came in the very next day – it was as if it knew how much I needed it!

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up is as much about decluttering the mind as it is about decluttering your house. Marie Kondo helps us to realize that all the possessions that we surround ourselves with take up our time and energy even if we are not conscious of them. Think of all of those things you have tucked away that you haven’t used in years and never will (come on, I know you haven’t looked in the back of the bathroom cabinet for a while)! Getting rid of them and keeping only what is truly useful and brings you joy creates more space in your life. In this book Kondo walks you through a very specific order in which to tackle decluttering your home and helps you grant yourself permission to let go of things that are no longer serving you.

One of the things that I loved best about this book was that it encourages mindfulness in our everyday tasks. Kondo talks about the importance of thanking our possessions for a job well done, and putting them away respectfully in a way that they can rest until we need them again. While this might sound a little woo woo, what I love is that it raises your level of consciousness and gratitude for those everyday things that surround you. I am certainly appreciating my dishwasher this week! But I’ve also been trying to be grateful for those things around me that I don’t always take the time to think about. I’ve been folding the blankets I usually leave in a heap on the couch and at the same time appreciating the warmth and comfort they gave me while reading. Or putting my shoes away with respect and appreciating how hard they worked to carry me through my day. Yes, my house is staying tidier, but even more than that my heart and soul feel in a better place.

This book is not for everyone. One friend thought the author was a bit over the top and took things to too much of an extreme (however, she did also admit it inspired her to take eight bags of clutter to the thrift store). Another dear friend felt like this kind of process was written from a somewhat privileged perspective – that many of us can’t just get rid of stuff that doesn’t bring us joy because we can’t afford to replace that needed item with a version that does bring you joy. A woman in my running group had the funny response that her toilet bowl brush certainly doesn’t give her joy but there’s not way she can get rid of that! Of course if your warm winter jacket isn’t in your favorite color you shouldn’t just toss it out, and please don’t get rid of your toilet bowl brushes (I think a dirty toilet might just bring you less joy than a toilet bowl brush after awhile).

What I do know is that since reading this book two weeks ago I am closing in on having taken twenty bags of unnecessary items to Goodwill or the dump. While I will admit to not being the tidiest person I know, I am also not a hoarder! The problem isn’t that I haven’t been able to let go of things, it’s that after awhile it’s easy to just stop noticing them. This book helps you mindfully take charge of your surroundings so that when you walk into your home instead of feeling bombarded by dirty dishes and piles of clothes and toys it feels like a haven where you have space to breathe.

Try giving this inspiring book a read. And just like when you tidy your house take what serves you, and let go of what doesn’t.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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