Friday, September 16, 2011

Gretchen Rubin's First Splendid Truth about Happiness

Gretchen Rubin develops several Splendid Truths in the course of her Happiness Project. The First Splendid Truth is “To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

This is a dense statement.  We need to think about feeling good and think about feeling bad because one of the unexpected findings of happiness research is that feeling happy and feeling unhappy are separate feelings.  She found over the course of her project that reducing the actions that made her feel unhappy gave the single biggest boost to her happiness; however, they did so more by removing an obstacle than by automatically creating happy feelings.

"Feeling right" is about living, giving, and working in a way that feels good and meaningful.  I think living meaningfully is the hardest part of achieving deep and lasting happiness.  I believe that the difference that Rubin found between feeling happy and feeling right is the same distinction that Aristotle was getting at when he said happiness is an action in accordance with virtue, but really the deepest happiness (which not all will achieve) comes from contemplation.

The idea that she had to think about these feelings in an atmosphere of growth adds a necessary dynamic element to living happily.  It also raises what I think is an interesting gender difference in thinking about what makes us happy.  Martin Seligman, the guru of positive psychology, recently revised his long-standing definition of what makes for a happy life to add an element of achievement.  It strikes me that growth and achievement are characteristically feminine and masculine ways of thinking about the same dynamic process.

I think Gretchen Rubin's First Splendid Truth about happiness holds up, and makes sense within the larger philosophical and empirical study of happiness.

1 comment:

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