Simply Put

I recently began reading The Happiness Project that has been repeatedly touted by a few of my fellow bloggers. I had been struggling to find happiness in my overwhelming days and figured, what did I have to lose? Even if I only gained one tip on how to be happier, I’d feel it was worth my time immersed in the book. Within thirty pages I was hooked. I loved how simply Gretchen Rubin laid out her own personal plan and how it wasn’t preachy or unrealistic. I had already mentally began laying out my own plan in my head as to which of her tips I could apply to my own life.

After having only the first couple of chapters I got together for drinks with some friends. One friend is a “higher up” in the New York publishing world and has read pretty much EVERY book ever bound. Books that made it to the shelf and many more that haven’t (and may never). I figured I’d ask her if she’d read this new love in my life. I was excited to share my enthusiasm with her, figuring she’d have the same zest for adding happiness to her days and I was curious which of the tips she’d already applied.

I was not prepared for the grimace and utter PAIN that spread across her face when I mentioned the book and its author. I’m not sure exactly, but I’m pretty sure after I asked if she’d read The Happiness Project, she said, “I detested that book.” and had even worse things to say about the author who she has personally met and dined with on several occasions.

Wow. Yikes.

I asked her how she possibly could have HATED the book. She said it was just so “simple” and “obvious”. She thought there was nothing between the pages that an intelligent, normal, everyday person couldn’t think of on their own as far as how to be happier. Maybe I should have told her FIRST that I was reading it and loving it. Maybe then she wouldn’t have said all she said and in turn made me feel so, well, SIMPLE. So sophomoric. After she finished her book bashing session, I meekly told my friend that I was reading the book. And finding it fantastic. Yes, there have been parts and pages that I didn’t gain much from, but overall, I told her, in the short time I’ve spent immersed in the book, it had effected me positively. I should have offered my own foot for her to ever so gently place in her mouth.

But then I realized that the book is on the best seller list for a reason. MILLIONS of people are reading the book and loving it. It’s on hundreds, if not thousands, of book club lists. People are praising the words on the pages as life altering and inspirational. Actually, one of my favorite bloggers who is brilliant, interesting and insightful actually hosted a get together at her home as a kickoff to her “Happier Hours” series and had the author of the Happiness Project in attendance to speak and inspire conversation on Happiness. And word on the street was that the event was an enormous success. The book and the author stimulated fabulous conversation. Because, simply put, people can’t get enough of being happy. And people are always looking for easier, simpler, more effective ways of finding happiness.


I also just finished reading, The Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult. It was a heart wrenching yet wonderful story about an Amish girl being tried for the murder of a child. I won’t get into detail about the story line, but I will say, as my first foray into the Amish world, I was surprised by my feelings. I didn’t know any of their beliefs and honestly (and I’m ashamed to admit), always just thought they were a bit odd. The way they ride around on their buggies. Don’t use modern technology. Dress alike. Are so withdrawn from the world. After reading the book I’ve learned that the Amish really just live their lives Plain. Simple. They actually refer to themselves as Plain because that is what they strive to be. They live to blend in. Never stand out. Be one of many. They don’t want to look different than anyone around them. They don’t want to do anything that will set them apart. They go as far as confessing to a forbidden act so that they can be forgiven and go back to the norm.

I stopped throughout the book and thought at times how refreshing that could be. To get up every day and not have to wonder what to wear (they all wear exactly the same simple clothing), what to do (they all get up and tend to their farms and cook from the food that they cultivate on their farms), or how to BE. They don’t worry about being Unique or Original. Yes, some may be nicer or easier to get along with than others but for the most part, their lives are relatively simple. Little drama. Little competitiveness. And where some might find the thought of life like that painfully boring and stifling. I don’t know, I think I could get used to it! Especially if I knew no other way. (Please note, I’m sure I’m simplifying their way of life and their beliefs tremendously as I’m basing this all on ONE book but I do know that the author wrote the book based on fact so I don’t think I was mislead to a great degree…)

Simple. In its definition are the words: Clear, Understandable, Easy, and Manageable. Are those words so bad? I have thought about that slightly upsetting discussion on the book over drinks with my SIL repeatedly since it happened. I’ve been dwelling on how it made me feel and have come to a conclusion. I feel like I spend so much of my time trying to be agreeable and nonconfrontational. So maybe Simple is something to strive for. Maybe I should accept my simplicity and flaunt it. I’m not sure I’d push my kids toward following the crowd, not making a name for themselves or being “one of many” but I do think there’s something pure and beautiful about being Simple. Being uncomplicated and easygoing. I don’t think it’s necessary to put so much pressure on standing out or doing everything differently. I think life could be easier and more pleasant without so much of that. Maybe.

All I know, is that I will continue to read the Happiness Project and find little joys in it. And screw anyone who has a problem with the new smile that you’ll see simply plastered on my face.



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18 responses to “Simply Put

  1. I’m not sure when it happened, but simple has such a bad connotation in any way except if something techy is made simple for those of us not technologically gifted 😉
    I think we all try so hard to be different from each other, and are afraid that if we give into the simple things in life we’ll be like the rest. When really? Who we are, in the most simple forms, varies so much from person to person. With the added features we all try to have we end up being more a like, and less individual. Maybe embracing “simple” is also embracing “ourselves” which is why people are frightened by it, and give it a stigma.
    Huh. Or maybe that makes no sense at all 🙂 Regardless, loved this post so much.

  2. Maybe people love the book so much because we so often forget simple ways of being happy. And it hits a chord with us when we’re reminded to stop over-thinking and analyzing and making everything so tricky. To just BE ourselves and simply rest in that being enough.

    Some someone who reads tons of books and critiques them may be over-thinking even the book and then disliking it because they can’t find anything “deep” enough. Sometimes the deepest and wisest and most meaningful things have been there for us as a gift and we want for more, even when more will just make complicate something beautiful in its simplicity.

    And stuff.

    Love your thoughts here, lady. A lot.

  3. And yes, there were many typos in that somewhat incoherent comment. I spent the day at the children’s museum with a four year old, what can I say? I’m tired. But it was a simple and beautiful day 🙂

  4. It’s so often the simple things that we need to learn, or be frequently reminded of. We spend so much time trying to make everything so darn complicated that the “obvious,” most profound lessons go unnoticed. Read on and enjoy!

  5. I think sometimes people who work in publishing look at books a little differently than people who look at books as readers. For instance, she may not think highly of the “self-help” genre.

    But I know what you mean about not wanting to argue and to get along, Becca. She stated her position so adamantly that you were kind of pinned into a corner. You brought up the topic because you like the book! Wouldn’t it have been nice if she could have approached the topic more gingerly instead of you worrying about backing away from it?

    I know this well. I run into it all the time with my family!

  6. This is such an important post. As a person and as an author, it gets me fired up. First of all the book and its author – both phenomenal. The Happier Hour? Magical. Meaningful. (I am sooooooo thrilled you are coming to the next one on Wednesday!)

    I also adore Picoult! I have said before that I dream of being the city girl version of her 🙂 I’m allowed to dream, huh?

    Anyway, I think it is so interesting – and unfortunate – that we are taught to be suspicious of “easy,” of accessible and approachable writing. Who says that things need to be hard? I actually think that it takes immense and incomparable talent to boil things down to the bare bones, to write simpler sentences that evoke.

    Anyway, I am a big fan of Gretchen’s and Jodi’s and yours, but I will stop rambling!

    Did I mention that I am excited to finally meet you on Wednesday? 🙂

  7. What this makes me think is why was she so vehement about it? Obviously her reaction was about something far more than you and probably than the book.
    That is so hard to see, at least for me. … but it helps me calibrate a little when people surprise me with reactions like that.
    I personally think that WHATEVER helps you, or me, or any of us, feel a little more joy and peace in our lives … well, that is a good thing.
    Sending lots of love.

  8. I think that sometimes it takes someone pointing out the “obvious” to us to make it obvious to us. And then we think “Why didn’t I think of that?”

    Why? Because we make everything so much harde than it has to be and look for complicated and difficult answers. We’re so busy trying to find the right solution that we miss the simple.

  9. Everyone has a different concept of happiness. I’m with you, I enjoy simple. Your SIL sounds as if her version of happiness needs to be complex.

  10. I hate when I love a book and then hear negative critiques. It makes me feel sort of dumb for liking it. But then, I try to remember the same things you mentioned, I’m entitled to my opinion and it can actually be different from my friends’!

    When I lived in central PA, I tried to read some good Amish fiction to try to understand the people there better, but all I could find was extremely Christian based and rather anti-Amish. The main characters always left the faith and found Jesus. I might give the Picoult novel a try.

  11. Ooooh, that’s hard when you find a book that you love, that really speaks to you, and then someone bashes it. It’s like someone breaking a shiny new toy.

    I haven’t read the book, but I like its message. I think if we reminded ourselves that it’s really the most BASIC, simple things in life that bring us the most joy, we’d be better off.

  12. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Becca. The timing of it is particularly interesting for me as I’m in the middle of reading and discussing another book about happiness.

    I think that many people – myself included – are at least initially skeptical of the happiness industry and all of the books that are springing up around it. But what I’ve decided is that these books simply add to the conversation and, as long as they don’t present themselves as the one-and-only solution, I’m interested to hear what they have to say as another perspective.

    Sure, it would be great if we all felt happy and had happened upon Gretchen Rubin’s formula on our own, but sometimes it’s nice to see how someone else attained something we want. Who knows, we might even learn that we are doing plenty right already.

  13. First of all, I know it’s not a good quality, but I am simply JEALOUS to see that you are going to Aidan’s next Happy Hour. It’s oozing out of me.

    Secondly, I really, really want to read that book for all the same reasons you did, and if my experience with Raising Happiness is any indication I’ll eat it up!

    On the subject of simplicty. Last night hubby and I were discussing our weekend, it was blissfully without obligations. Simple, as you say. We both agreed that we really need to find a way to keep them like that more often. That sense of panic I usually get on Sunday nights? I was free of it because I’d had a fulfilled, happy, productive weekend. Why? Because life was simple and free of craziness.

  14. Yow … awkward situation with the SIL. Good for you for still saying, after that bashing, that you were reading and enjoying the book! I wouldn’t have been able to. And on top of that, I’d have started questioning my taste in books and wondering what else my SIL thought of my tastes in general … I don’t do well around super-judgmental people. I should take a leaf out of your book, as it were, and stick up for my opinions more.

  15. Ah, the heady world of book publishing. I’m so glad I got out alive. 😉

    Just remember that there’s a market for everyone. Rubin’s book isn’t her market, just as Bridget Jones wasn’t mine. I remember being horrified by all the press and attention that book got when it was such drivel. But it had its market.

    Thankfully, The Happiness Project is no Bridget Jones. Also, simple is scary to some folks. I was at a reunion where a great aunt said that my father’s side was fun loving but had zero ambition. Yet my father’s parents, aunts, and uncles are still alive while my great aunt is the oldest still living in her life. Doesn’t that say something about the beauty of “simple”?

  16. Liz

    Thank goodness for Christine’s comment that she is “jealous” and “oozing” over your attendance of Aidan’s happy hour. I thought it was just me. =)
    Here’s the thing…I am in a book club, and my favorite meetings are when we disagree (violently, preferably) on the book or the character or the concept. It’s what really gets you thinking and talking!

  17. Tool the wind out of your sails, didn’t she. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my commercial taste. I don’t always love the artsy, fartsy world.

    I used to pretend to like it and then I grew up.

    I think simple is complicated. More complicated than you think!

  18. It hurts when people are critical of things we like. I am sure I have been the critic many times in my life but am hoping that my opinions have toned down over the years.

    I used to say things like your SIL said about parenting books. Now, I am realizing their utility. I hope I can remember this post the next time I go and open my big mouth.

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