But before I start… why would you be interested in that? According to research, genetics comprises about 50% of happiness levels, life circumstances are 10 to 20%, and the other 30 to 40% comes from the thoughts and actions of the individual. This means that by changing your mindset you can increase your happiness.
Lesson #1- Formulate Your Commandments
The first lesson I learned from The Happiness Project is about formulating your commandments. The original idea comes from Benjamin Franklin who identified 13 virtues he wanted to cultivate to reach moral perfection. He made a chart and each day, Franklin would score himself on whether he practiced his virtues. Even though he admitted that he never reached perfection it still made him a better person.
Research shows that the chart-keeping approach can be very beneficial. People are more likely to make progress on goals that are broken into concrete, measurable actions, with some kind of structured accountability and positive reinforcement.
Information that has been recently called up or frequently used in the past is easier to retrieve. The notion of ‘accessibility’ suggests that by constantly reminding yourself of certain goals and ideas, you can keep them more active in your mind.
Now inspired by Franklin and research findings Gretchen came up with some overarching principles that proved to be the best tool in her happiness project. These are the 12 commandments that she reviewed every day throughout her one-year project.
Now take some time to think about what you want your commandments to look like. Do you want to stop overanalyzing situations or exercise more? What values or maxims do you want to live by? Write it down and review it every day!
Lesson #2: “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you LIKE to do.”
I recently stumbled upon an old high school friend’s Instagram account
who now lives in Germany and works in a biochemistry lab in Munich as a
scientist. How cool!
I got jealous right away and got upset about my choice of studying Business Administration at my university… and then it hit me. I know nothing about working in a lab! Or biochemistry! I never even liked chemistry that much in high school! I could move to Germany right now if I wanted to but do I want to live so far away from our families? When I realized all this something has lifted from my shoulders.
This lesson is one of Gretchen’s secret to adulthood. It’s about accepting yourself the way you are. If you constantly think of the things you wish you were you can never be truly happy in the present moment. Therefore, my second biggest takeaway from The Happiness Project is:
“You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you LIKE to do.”
Lesson #3- Start Journaling
So often, it’s only after some disaster happens that we appreciate what we had. William Edward Hartpole Lecky once wrote:
“There are times in the lives of most of us, when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed.”
William Edward Hartpole Lecky
After reading about catastrophes Gretchen decided to start a one-sentence journal. One of my favorite wisdoms from the book is this:
“The days are long, but the years are short”
Using a one-sentence journal is a great technique to remember the small things without writing long essays that you won’t have the time to reread anyways. It’s a great way to record the fleeting moments that make life sweet but that so easily vanish from memory. It also helps to amplify the effect of happy experiences.
There is another method that Elizabeth Gilbert practices which is keeping a ‘happiness journal’ in which she writes down the happiest moment of every day.
Research shows that because we measure ourselves relative to others, our happiness is influenced by whether we compare ourselves to people who are better or worse off. In one study, people’s sense of life satisfaction changed dramatically depending on whether they completed sentences starting “I’m glad I’m not…” or instead, “I wish I was…”.
Gratitude is important to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy because when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more. That makes it easier to live within your means and also to be generous to others.
A good practice is to note three things each day for which you are grateful. Starting a gratitude journal can significantly increase your happiness. For example, you might take it for granted that you live in a stable, democratic society, always have running water and food available to you. Maybe you could be grateful for living in an apartment instead of a house: no yard work, no shoveling snow. Or perhaps the opposite, being able to go outside to your garden.
Having all so much luxury in our lives, we still manage to complain about the weather, or the traffic or that we have to wait in line. Imagine waking up at 4 am and not being able to fall back asleep. Are you going to be grumpy all day about not sleeping enough? Or are you going to get out of bed and appreciate the fact that you have 2 (or more) extra hours of uninterrupted time to read/work before everyone else gets up? It’s up to you. Try appreciating the fundamental elements of your life, as well as the problems that you don’t have.
Lesson #4- Don’t Neglect Sleep
Millions of people fail to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night. One study found that along with tight work deadlines, a bad night’s sleep was one of the top two factors that upset people’s daily moods.
Another study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for a person’s daily happiness than getting a $60,000 raise. Whether that’s the case or not, the average adult sleeps only 6.9 hours during the week, and 7.9 on the weekend—20 percent less than in 1900.
Although you adjust to feeling sleepy, sleep deprivation affects memory, weakens the immune system, slows metabolism, and might even foster weight gain. Too often we stay up to read the news,
check social media, watch TV shows, play video games instead of going to
Now… a couple of tips to improve your sleep:
- Near your bedtime, don’t do any work that requires alert thinking and turn off your screens at least 1 hour before going to bed;
- Keep your bedroom slightly chilly;
- Make sure your room is very dark when the lights are out by using a sleeping mask or blackout curtains;
- Get ready for bed well before bedtime. Sometimes we stay up late because we are too tired to take out our contacts, brushing out teeth or wash our face. Best time to do these tasks is right after dinner.
I tried all of these after reading the chapter about sleep and I was surprised how much just these small changes in my evening routine changed my mood and how I interacted with others. Therefore, my fourth takeaway is to not neglect sleep.
Lesson #5- The One-Minute Rule
Gretchen suggests that if something takes less than a minute such as putting the coaster away from the coffee table, answering an e-mail where you only need a short response, then just do it right away! These steps usually just take a few moments, but the cumulative impact is impressive.
Along with the ‘one-minute rule’, the ‘evening tidy-up‘ is another great tool to keep your environment clean. The rule is very simple, you take ten minutes before bed to do simple tidying. Tidying up at night can make your mornings more peaceful and pleasant and it also helps you prepare for sleep.
Putting things in order is very calming, and doing something physical makes you aware of being tired. Just try it out for a week and see how you feel!
Lesson #6- Don’t Criticize
The next lesson I want to share is about gossiping. Gossiping is in our nature, we all gossip from time to time but there is a good psychological reason from the book to think of whenever you have the urge to say critical things about other people. It’s called ‘spontaneous trait transference’. Studies show that because of this psychological phenomenon, people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you ascribe to other people.
So here’s an example: If you tell Ellie that Matt is arrogant, unconsciously Ellie associates that quality with you. But this also works the other way around, if you say that Matt is brilliant or hilarious, you are linked to those qualities.
So keep in mind: What you say about other people sticks to you—even when you talk to someone who already knows you. So try to focus on saying only good things.
Lesson #7- Start Walking More
Now I know you all know that you should start walking more but why? Studies show that the repetitive activity of walking triggers the body’s relaxation response and so helps reduce stress. Even a quick ten-minute walk provides an immediate energy boost and improves mood.
I’m sure you are tired of hearing this already but as a minimum of activity for good health, you should aim to take 10,000 steps a day. Taking 10,000 steps every day reportedly keeps most people from gaining weight not to mention how good you feel after hitting your target for the day.
Walking has another added benefit: it helps you to think. A 2014 study from Stanford University has shown that people are much more creative when they are walking around as opposed to when they are sitting still. They found that when people were walking, either on the treadmill or outdoors, they were 60% more creative than when sitting around.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,”
Another example is Steve Jobs who was famous in the area for his long walks, which he used for exercise, contemplation, problem-solving, and even meetings. Exercise-induced brain chemicals help people think clearly. Just stepping outside when you’re working on a big project clarifies thinking and boosts energy.
Light deprivation is one reason that people feel tired, and even five minutes of daylight stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine the brain chemicals that improve mood.
The Happiness Project by Grethen Rubin was the very first book I decided to summarize in a video animation and for a good reason. Since then, I also read The Four Tendencies and Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.
I truly believe that each of these books has transformed my way of thinking and made me a better person. Although I do my best to summarize the most valuable contents of the books I read everyone is different. Therefore, if you liked this summary I encourage you to read or listen to the book yourself. In case you do, please let me know in the comments section what you missed from my summary or what additional ideas you took away from it. I’m looking forward to your feedback!:)