Friday, May 14, 2010

My Happiness Project

In case you have been wondering where my blog has been, I must tell you that I have been playing soccer instead of writing about it. Getting together with your friends and a ball on a perfect, sunny morning when the air is crisp and the sky is blue with tiny little puffy white clouds, and everyone who is responsible and important is working - and then scoring a kick-ass penalty shot against a good goalie with your left foot - it really doesn’t get any better than that.

But every once in a while, we get a brutal, rainy, sopping Wednesday morning, and then everything falls apart. My body is set up for me to exercise on Wednesday mornings, and so I find myself rambling around in my house, depressed, trying to get some endorphins in another way instead. It’s like I’m a drug addict. I’m really not that happy without them. What am I supposed to do for exercise and endorphins if I can’t play soccer? (I know what you are going to say, you yoga freaks, don’t bother - I know it’s supposed to be calming but some days it just won’t cut it - yoga won’t do the kind of calming you need when you had to drop the F-bomb before 7:30 in the morning to get your kid to choir on time.)

I read in a magazine about this woman who counsels people on how to be happy: Gretchen Rubin, who had a blog and a bestselling book called the Happiness Project. Could this be worth looking into? Rubin is admittedly pretty smart – she did go to Yale, after all – but after some research I have decided that this project in which she vows to be happier makes me want to barf.

I’ll explain. I first encountered her in a Real Simple magazine article where she talked about her year long blog project, in which each day she did small things to make herself happier and wrote about them. She somehow developed quite a number of followers, despite the smarmy advice she was doling out. In Real Simple she was being asked about the ‘happy advice’ she has given that people are responding to most. Guess what piece of advice Rubin gave that people seem to be blown away by? Make your bed.

That’s it? Make your bed? I tried it one rainy morning. Happy? Nope.

I looked into her blog and found that amid the claptrap about ‘being more mindful’ and hugging one’s kids, quite a bit of happiness appears to be related to cleaning. There’s the bed-making, of course, but here’s another suggestion I’ll quote from her blog (bolding hers): “In the kitchen I treasure my ‘special drawer’ - that’s where I keep my bills to be paid, stamps, envelopes……” argh, I can’t even type the rest of it, it’s so insipid. She treasures a ‘special drawer’ full of unpaid bills? Is she sure that treasure is the right verb to use? Furthermore, should we honestly be rewarding this woman by making her book a New York Times bestseller when she hasn’t even figured out how to pay her bills online?

Rubin is perhaps unwittingly making the point that cleaning can make you happy, but subtly, it’s there nonetheless. Is there anything to this? Possibly this is what women do for exercise and endorphins on rainy days. Clean. Clearly I am not part of this particular species of women, which would explain some things, for example: why my white kitchen cupboards aren’t ever as white as everyone else’s. (Oh, I have to sponge those down?!) Why every cupboard and closet at my house is stashed to the max, stuff crammed in and the door quickly shut to hold it all together. I suppose cleaning can accomplish two things at once, exercise and well, cleaning. But where’s the joy? The deliciousness of a beautiful shot on net? There is no deliciousness in cleaning.

You know what I do, on a rainy day? When left alone I will eat. Here is the deliciousness! On a recent rainy Wednesday morning, I found myself wondering, hmm, Is this my 4th or 5th trip to the kitchen to get a spoonful of chocolate mousse? I think 5th. It was 10:40am. If it wasn’t raining, I would have been sweating, heart pounding, bent over leaning on my knees, laughing with friends on the soccer turf. Instead I am faced with tufts of black cat hair on my carpet and cobwebs in every corner. (Is this why people get crown moulding? To cover up the cobwebs? Must check.) So this is perhaps what other moms do then. They dust. They vacuum. They wipe cupboards. It keeps them out of the chocolate mousse, and trim. I just can’t imagine it making them happy.

But you know what? I ranted to my husband about this dreadful Gretchen Rubin and her bed-making manifesto, and then came home one day after work and our bed was made. (And I didn’t make it.) At first I was a little suspicious. Has someone else been here? I didn’t know Steve could manage such a complex household chore. But then he admitted that he had been feeling overwhelmed at work and a little depressed, so he tried making the bed to see if it would make him happier.

Did it? I asked.

No. He said.

But you know what? Him making the bed did make me happier. Maybe there’s something to this after all….


  1. Which just goes to show you its not the making of the bed, but having the bed made that makes us happy. Usually this means we have to make it ourselves because in my family it's either me or the bed-making fairies, and they're consipcuously absent!! ;-)

  2. I think you need to do further research on some of these theories (crown molding to hide cobwebs, the possbility of achieving serenity through cleaning...). I'm pretty sure my house would make an ideal control for said research and luckily it is available on any rainy day you care to try (heck, I'll even let you test out the theory of paying bills via Canada post - although I'm pretty certain this is actually some kind of suburban housewife hoax)