One evening I returned from wherever it was I had been, to find a brightly-wrapped parcel had been delivered and was lying waiting for me on the mat. Can anyone honestly say there’s anything better than coming home after a long day to discover a totally unexpected letter or parcel on your doormat? And no, it doesn’t count if it’s a package you’ve ordered yourself.
Upon unwrapping the parcel, scarcely paying attention to where I kicked off my shoes so absorbed was I in scanning the package for clues, I was delighted to find that it contained a book and not just any book: this was an “I saw this and thought of you” book.
My cousin Eleanor had sent it for me from Scotland – she’d read it and, mindful of the end-goal of my blog, thought of me. Immediately I dived in and was delighted to find within the first few pages, echoes of myself.
Despite having had the book “on the go” for a few weeks now, I haven’t yet finished it but this is not for any negative reason. Rubin makes so many pertinent observations and so many of them are “that’s so right – why didn’t I think of that?” moments, that I want to take my time to read and absorb and reflect. I don’t stand a chance of finishing it for another month at least now because the chapter on “Modest Splurges” fitted one of my year 11 student’s speeches perfectly, so he now is the book’s custodian until his exam in November. Still, I can’t wait to finish it and find out more of her wisdom.
The Happiness Project was not taken on because the writer was particularly miserable, but because she wanted to be more happy. She recognised, as I’m sure many of us also do, traits in herself which were not pleasant and not “her”. We all have those human moments when we snap, or criticise, or are just generally grumpy and we definitely all have moments when we are guilty of taking for granted the special things we have in life. Tonight provided me with an example of this: after dinner, I snuggled up to DH on the sofa. It occurred to me that, while DH wouldn’t say I take him for granted, I DO take him for granted. I take the fact that I can cuddle him for granted and let other things push to the forefront of my time. I voiced this observation to him and, after a moment’s reflection, he agreed. We have to do housework because we live together. We have busy and demanding jobs because we want to be together and own our own home, but how much time do we spend on the together part? We can spend whole weekends “together” but not so much as peck one another on the cheek, or sit arms around each other while enjoying a conversation or a film, or just take a simple moment to appreciate what we’ve got. Ironic, isn’t it?
Aside from reassuring me that I’m not alone in occasionally being a snarky snappy shrew, Rubin also provided me with a second simple truth in her resolution to: “Be Gretchen”. I didn’t get this at first. What on earth did that mean? How can you not be yourself? And what is yourself if you want to be it? How do you know? Well, that was the crux of the issue, wasn’t it? Rubin suggests that we spend so much time feeling unhappy because we feel we should be someone or should like something but aren’t and don’t, that we waste our opportunities to be happy. By telling herself to “be Gretchen”, she had to get back in touch with who Gretchen was and find out about herself. I’ve probably explained this in such a way that it makes it as clear as mud but her book can help if that’s the case.
Lifestyle magazines, blogs, programmes, they all tell us what we should be wearing, what we should be eating, how we should be organising our homes and our days and our lives and our families. How many of us see these things and think that we’re failing somehow because we don’t live up to this? How many times have you caught yourself thinking: “I should really go to the gym” when gyms are your own idea of personal hell and you’d rather take a stroll along the beach with your beau, or curl up with a book? I’m willing to bet I’m not alone. This was Rubin’s point: rather than trying to imitate an imposed “ideal”, find your own ideal. Be YOU.
Me – I’m a bit odd. I like rock music and classical music, often on the same day. My personal tastes in furnishings don’t match up to what is “in”. I like to dance, but not in clubs. I would love to be fit but I don’t want to go to a gym. I have felt pressure in the past to be this successful, go-getting superstar with a beautifully clean home, a well-styled wardrobe and a fun social life. In truth, I am successful, just not by other people’s standards. My home is clean, but please don’t pop round for a photo-shoot any time soon. My wardrobe is styled but in one I call “I like it so I’ll wear it.” rather than boho-chic, or 40s classic, or preppy.
I’ve spent so long wishing I was someone else that I’ve missed out on who I am. How, then, would I possibly recognise it when I’ve become the best version of “myself”?
I’ll leave that for you to ponder over: who are you? What does it mean to be you?