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Shelf Life

Making a project to find happiness

Marketplace Staff Jan 1, 2010
Shelf Life

Making a project to find happiness

Marketplace Staff Jan 1, 2010


BILL RADKE: We’ve told you a lot of stories this year about people trying to make money, or give away money, or especially this year, trying not to lose all their money.

Behind all these stories is a question — does money make people happy? Our next guest has been studying the subject.

Gretchen Rubin’s new book is called “The Happiness Project.” Welcome to the program.

GRETCHEN RUBIN: Hello. I’m very happy to be here.

RADKE: How did the happiness project begin for you?

RUBIN: You know, it started while I was stuck on a bus. I was riding a crosstown bus on a rainy afternoon, so I had a rare moment of reflection. And I thought, “What do I want from life, anyway?” And I thought, “Well, I want to be happy.” And I realized for the first time that I never thought about whether I was happy or what it meant to be happy or how I could be happier. And I thought, wow, I should have a happiness project.

RADKE: So what is one concrete project you started for yourself to make yourself happier?

RUBIN: I needed a way to do something novel and challenging for myself, so I decided I would start a blog because I was terrified by that. I had no idea what I was doing. So I thought, “Well, that’ll be something good that would be novel and challenging.” And my blog has turned into this gigantic engine of happiness for me. People mention this over and over when I ask people: “Of all the resolutions that you’ve tried, that I’ve suggested, what has really worked?” People say to me, “Make my bed.” It’s so simple, but I can’t tell you how many people have said that this is something that helped them really get going on their happiness project.

RADKE: You know, Gretchen, I’m guessing you have friends who have been out of work this year.

RUBIN: I sure do.

RADKE: What do they tell you about your happiness project?

RUBIN: You know, it’s funny. Sometimes I worry that the kind of things I talk about will seem trivial to a person who is facing a big happiness challenge. But I think for some people it really does help to try to take steps along the way while they’re handling something like being out of work, which is certainly one of the most major happiness challenges that people do face.

RADKE: You write that work is critical to happiness.

RUBIN: It is, partly because it’s just a big part of our time. And we spend a lot of time at work. So if you’re not happy at work, it’s hard to be happy with your life. And also, work is a place where we find many of the things that bring us happiness. Things like a sense of purpose and a sense of connection with other people. A way to earn money, which is important for happiness, too. So, work is a very, very important part of happiness.

RADKE: Have you found that money buys happiness?

RUBIN: A lot of whether money brings you happiness has to do with how you are making choices with your money. And so part of it is are you buying things that are going to bring you more happiness. For example, one of the keys to happiness, sort of everyone agrees, it’s strong relationships with other people. So if you’re using your money to strengthen your relationships with other people — like buying a plane ticket to go visit your sister, or buying pizza and beer to have your friends over for a New Year’s Eve party, something like that, then that is something that is going to tend to make you happier.

RADKE: So, OK, you’re talking to an unemployed friend who says, “Look, I know the key to my happiness. It’s a J-O-B.


RADKE: So, what do you tell them, meantime, they can do.

RUBIN: Well, first of all, I would say make sure you get enough sleep. So that’s the first thing. Also, to exercise. Exercise will help you sleep better, it turns out, and also fall asleep faster. But ot also boosts your mood. It calms you. It energizes you. Another thing is people who are out of work often feel this urge to isolate themselves. But connecting with other people is a great way to boost your mood. It’s also important if you’re trying to get out there and get a job is the more connections that you have. The more that you’re going to be part of the stream of things. So another important thing is to just stick to your plans, make plans, show up, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing.

RADKE: Gretchen Rubin is the author of “The Happiness Project.” Gretchen, thanks a lot. Happy New Year.

RUBIN: Oh, Hayy New Year to you.

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