School is just around the corner, which means summer holidays are sadly ending! Because of my own decision to return to college, like, next week, I had to quit my full time job. So long security! Oh well, I’m looking for a part-time job at the moment. I’m not worried – things always work out! After all, I recognize that I’m in a much better situation than others might be…
Which leads me to this month’s topic in The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin:
August’s focus: Contemplate the Heavens (or, contemplate our mortality)
Gretchen prefaces this portion stating she’s not overtly religious, and as a family, they celebrate the usual Christmas and Easter in the commercial way it’s grown to become. But, just because you may not be religious, does not mean you cannot be spiritual or even entertain some of these ideas.
Excerpt from Gretchen: “Also, although I’d never thought of myself as particularly spiritual, I’d come to see that spiritual states – such as elevation, awe, gratitude, mindfulness, and contemplation of death – are essential to happiness.”
This section makes for an interesting read and I swear I can’t do it justice; I guess you’ll just have to read it to get the full effect!
“Read Memoirs of Catastrophe” – Why? “There are some kinds of profound wisdom that I hope never to gain from my own experience,” Gretchen admits. So, we can read about it. Biographies about serious illnesses, vices, divorce, loss, natural disasters, death, and the list can go on. Not only does this give you insight on different people and their struggles, but it indirectly makes you realize how much your own life is precious and to be grateful for what you have. Not only that, but to enjoy the time you have. Enjoy the time spent with family around you, enjoy watching your baby grow up, enjoy the sun kissing your skin, enjoy taking in the sights. Because it won’t last forever; people grow up and grow old, situations change, health deteriorates.
“As a consequence of reading these accounts, I found myself with a greatly heightened appreciation for my ordinary existence. Everyday life seems so permanent and unshakable – but, as I was reminded by these writers, it can be destroyed by a single phone call.”
Gretchen also started keeping a one-sentence journal, highlighting the small, fun memories that she knew would eventually fade from her mind with time. So if she wrote it down, however short, it would at least elicit these fond memories when she read them over, years from now.
Another action spurred from this experience was establishing that their affairs were in order. “All the memoirs emphasized how horrible it was to deal with cold logistics at a time of shock and grief.” Gretchen and her husband agreed to review their wills and banking information every year around their anniversary, as a way to maintain family responsibility. She knew that they were both strong and healthy, but they felt more assured knowing that this type of stuff was in place in case, god forbid, anything awry were to happen.
Personally, I’m wouldn’t mind reading some memoirs relating to catastrophe, but I’m also not running out the door to get them! The last couple of years, I believe I’ve become more aware of my mortality (for a reason I’m not sure that I’m ready to reveal just yet), which in turn has had me enjoying certain aspects of life more. I’ve become more aware of my health and steps I can take to be proactive, like vitamins and exercise. I’m grateful for the time spent with family, friends and Teddy’s family. I’ve even dialed down the time spent on my phone and social media in order to appreciate the now and the life around me.
Once I’m married and actually have assets and finances, then I would gladly stay on top of the wills and affairs in case anything bad were to happen. As of right now, my net worth is way below zero, so there’s no point making a will unless I wanted to designate who got my debt! Ha!
“Keep a Gratitude Notebook” – “…I find it hard to stay in a grateful frame of mind – I take things for granted, I forget what other people have done for me, I have high expectations.” So, Gretchen made a gratitude journal, where she started recording three things for which she was grateful for, each day. She ended up doing this the same time she did her one-sentence journal…
Personally, I would make the gratitude and one-sentence journal a fusion, to avoid having so many different journals. I would record a memory or two that I wanted to remember, while also expressing my three grateful things in one book. And, doing this activity every single day may sound daunting for some, so make it an every other day activity, or once a week activity. Based on my inconsistent daily schedules, I would opt for it to be a weekly activity; plus, it would give me a chance to reflect on the week and appreciate what transpired. Figure out what might work better for you!
Excerpt from Gretchen’s daughter: “You know what I was just thinking? ‘I’m in the pool, it’s summer, I’m seven years old, I’m wearing a very cute bathing suit, and my grandmother is asking me if I want anything to eat or drink.’ “
“Imitate a Spiritual Master” – Gretchen asked her blog readers which spiritual masters they followed, and got a huge list of variable choices. From the Dalai Lama to Charles Darwin, from Mother Nature to an advice columnist, from Mother Teresa to Vincent Van Gogh – the options were endless. Some even stated that they admit to following or learning about a specific icon, but not necessarily imitating them; rather, they just admire them.
Gretchen discovered that her “spiritual master” was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a nun who approached spiritual life simplistically and practically. Her life was nothing extraordinary, nor did she achieve great flashy feats of change. Instead, she merely led an ordinary life, making sure every little deed was done with love and happiness. Gretchen aspired to be more like Thérèse, able to accomplish things with a cheery attitude and able to smile through the pain (Thérèse died at 24 from tuberculosis).
“It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.”
As for myself, I can’t think of a “spiritual master” whom I look up to. Usually I do my own thing, or contemplate options with Teddy or Ms. Anne. That said, I know for the past few months, and for months to come, I’ve been aspiring to achieve the enlightenment Gretchen Rubin has achieved by doing this happiness project.
So I guess Gretchen would be classified as my spiritual master for the year of 2015 – and for any other years I decide to revisit, refresh, or replicate these goals.
“One of the key underlying purposes of this month’s resolutions and my entire happiness project was to be able to bear up courageously when the phone rang with bad news – as inevitably, it would.”
For Gretchen, it did, at the end of the month. Her mother called to inform Gretchen that her sister was diagnosed with diabetes. Initially they thought it was type 2, and they looked at the positive aspect that it could be alleviated with diet and exercise. Then they learned it was actually type 1.
Gretchen kept a positive perspective and told her sister how it was good that they caught it early and that once she gets used to it, she’d be just fine. Her sister agreed, adding that it could have been something much worse and terminal.
As the saying goes, “Every cloud has a silver lining.”
Here’s one more quote Gretchen shares at the end this chapter, from an eighteenth-century epitaph:
“Remember, friends, as you pass by,
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.”
Rubin, Gretchen. The Happiness Project. 2011 ed. Toronto, Canada: HarperCollins, 2009. 301. Print.
Buy the book! ^.^