Before Christmas, I was getting ready to return to work after over a year of for maternity leave. Although I was undoubtedly happy to have our fun, wide-eyed and spirited girl in our world, the first year of motherhood led me to question who I was now that everything had changed. While I was off, I didn’t think too much about how I looked. I kept up with the news but didn’t (couldn’t) think about it too deeply. I read books but forgot the character’s names and the majority of the plot soon after.
Getting ready to re-enter the world of adults forced me to look at and remember myself a little. I knew – and was glad – that things were different within me as well as in our home, but felt that I had not really taken the time to recalibrate and check in with myself in many months. This led to a mini-frenzy of reading non fiction (something I very rarely did before I was pregnant) and I was drawn to Gretchen Ruben’s ‘The Happiness Project.’ I think the idea of making our lives a little less chaotic and focusing on what I could do to be a better therapist, calmer and more playful mum and all round stellar human appealed. When I feel lost or unsure, I tend to turn to books to help me figure things out. At the very least, holding the book in my hands feels like I’m taking control.
Needless to say, reading this book did not help me to crack the code of how to be a dazzling force in the working world as well as a stellar mum and super wife, but it did help me to think about happiness and the small changes I could make to help me feel happier in my everyday life. Rubin backs up her words with tons of research and it reads very easily. She takes a theme related to happiness: money, family, work, spirituality and selects a few small achievable goals to focus on that month, designed to increase her happiness in each area. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Small changes lead to small and sometimes large improvements in how she works, relaxes and feels.
I loved this book so much that I forced my husband to read it (we rarely like the same books). He liked, I think, its methodical and scientific approach and we both love a good tick list of achievements. Since we read it, we both choose a theme for each month and some goals to work on. It’s fun to do something like this together. Probably the most useful one has been ‘energy,’ where Rubin makes suggestions for ordering your life and freeing it of extra jobs and clutter. It helps me, and our home, to feel calm and relaxed at the end of the day, even though I’m worn out.
In the book, Rubin starts a blog http://gretchenrubin.com and because I am highly suggestible, I started one too. Reading books is my favourite thing to do, so I thought it would be an easy and enjoyable topic to write about. I always wanted to keep a record of the books I have enjoyed, how I felt when I read them and what I thought I learnt. My memory is increasingly and embarrassingly hazy and this is a way of pinning down my thoughts about what I’ve read. It will most certainly not be an academic literary critique of books. That sounds like too much work.