Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the art & science of happiness

Just a few housekeeping items before we get down to business. Our next meeting will be Tuesday evening December 27 at 6:30pm. The Library will be on Holiday Hours and closes at 6pm but I will be here to let GRG’ers in the building, so come on down. December is our biannual Salon Discussion so read ANY book(s) you’d like to share with the group as there will be no assigned topic. We’ll also be voting on the next six months of genres at this meeting so if you have any topics you’d like to see on the ballot please do let me know.

This was another exceptional, WOW-factor meeting! Who knew there was so much to discuss about happiness, but I don’t believe we had a lag in conversation the entire evening. What is happiness? How can it be (or can it be at all) codified? Who studies it and how? Should we all be students of it? How do you find it and, more importantly, keep it? Is there a happiness “status quo?” All of this and more was on the discussion table last night.

The Happiness Project; Or, Why I spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

(Gretchin Rubin’s blog, also called The Happiness Project, is online at You can sign up for the Moment of Happiness Daily Quotation email by CLICKING HERE.)

The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being by Derek Bok

During the past forty years, thousands of studies have been carried out on the subject of happiness. Some have explored the levels of happiness or dissatisfaction associated with typical daily activities, such as working, seeing friends, or doing household chores. Others have tried to determine the extent to which income, family, religion, and other factors are associated with the satisfaction people feel about their lives. The Gallup organization has begun conducting global surveys of happiness, and several countries are considering publishing periodic reports on the growth or decline of happiness among their people. One nation, tiny Bhutan, has actually made "Gross National Happiness" the central aim of its domestic policy. How might happiness research affect government policy in the United States--and beyond? In The Politics of Happiness, former Harvard president Derek Bok examines how governments could use the rapidly growing research data on what makes people happy--in a variety of policy areas to increase well-being and improve the quality of life for all their citizens.

Bok first describes the principal findings of happiness researchers. He considers how reliable the results appear to be and whether they deserve to be taken into account in devising government policies. Recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of happiness research, Bok looks at the policy implications for economic growth, equality, retirement, unemployment, health care, mental health, family programs, education, and government quality, among other subjects.

Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth by Ed Diener

Is being happy beneficial to your health, wealth, and social relationships? Is there an optimal level of happiness for obtaining your goals? Is there a happiness set-point, and can it change? Do you know your level of psychological wealth?

Utilizing his groundbreaking development of the field of subjective well-being, Dr. Ed Diener, ¬recognized as the world's leading expert on happiness, challenges our modern assumptions about the causes and consequences of happiness. Ed and his son Robert Biswas-Diener share the results of three decades of research on happiness to help unlock the mysteries of this elusive Holy Grail. In Happinessthe father and son team presents scientific evidence revealing that happiness is not overrated, and is good for people’s health, social relationships, job success, longevity, and altruism. They also show why "super-happiness" is not a worthy goal.

Happy for No Reason: Seven Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Shimoff and Carol Kline

From the bestselling coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul and a leading contributor to The Secret, comes a fresh, new, practical program for finding and maintaining the happiness we all seek.

(This was a great meeting for quotes and my favorite the reader of this book shared was, “Genuinely happy people are happy for no reason. They bring happiness to their experiences rather than expecting their experiences to bring them happiness.”)

Out of the Blue: Delight Comes into Our Lives by Mark Victor Hansen and Barbara Nichols

In Out of the Blue, Mark Victor Hansen, coauthor of the phenomenal New York Times bestsellers Chicken Soup for the Soul, A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul and A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Barbara Nichols show how the experience of delight opens us to compassion and spiritual awareness, and includes 52 "Delight Igniters" -- ways to create happiness and share it with others.

Out of the Blue includes stories by James Michener, Deepak Chopra, Brian Boitano, Wayne Dyer, Cathy Lee Crosby, Victoria Jackson, Wally Amos and other well-known celebrities who have brought delight to the world. It also features stories by ordinary people who found delight in their everyday lives. Their personal stories demonstrate how we can contribute to the creation of a most desirable and entirely possible time -- the Age of Delight.

(My favorite quote from this book is attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “…if at the end…I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.”)

How to Eat a Small Country: A Family’s Pursuit of Happiness, One Meal at a Time by Amy Finley

A professionally trained cook turned stay-at-home mom, Amy Finley decided on a whim to send in an audition tape for season three of The Next Food Network Star, and the impossible happened: she won. So why did she walk away from it all? A triumphant and endearing tale of family, food, and France, Amy’s story is an inspiring read for women everywhere.

While Amy was hoping to bring American families together with her simple Gourmet Next Doorrecipes, she ended up separating from her French husband, Greg, who didn’t want to be married to a celebrity. Amy felt betrayed. She was living a dream—or was she? She was becoming famous, cooking for people out there in TV land, in thirty minutes, on a kitchen set . . . instead of cooking and eating with her own family at home.

In a desperate effort to work things out, Amy makes the controversial decision to leave her budding television career behind and move her family to France, where she and Greg lived after they first met and fell in love. How to Eat a Small Country is Amy’s personal story of her rewarding struggle to reunite through the simple, everyday act of cooking and eating together. Meals play a central role in Amy’s new life, from meeting the bunny destined to become their classic Burgundian dinner oflapin à la moutarde to dealing with the aftermath of a bouillabaisse binge. And as she, Greg, and their two young children wend their way through rural France, they gradually reweave the fabric of their family.

At times humorous and heart-wrenching, and always captivating and delicious, How to Eat a Small Country chronicles the food-filled journey that one couple takes to stay together.

(I compared this book with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love at the meeting and was delighted to find this review, "How to Eat a Small Country shares a few key traits with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in particular an infectiously likeable narrator and mouthwatering descriptions of European food. But Finley’s memoir is less precious, more honest, and ultimately more rewarding." -- Boston Globe)

My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock

After losing her high-octane job as an entertainment blogger, Noelle Hancock was lost. About to turn twenty-nine, she'd spent her career writing about celebrities' lives and had forgotten how to live her own. Unemployed and full of self-doubt, she had no idea what she wanted out of life. She feared change—in fact, she feared almost everything. Once confident and ambitious, she had become crippled by anxiety, lacking the courage required even to attend a dinner party—until inspiration struck one day in the form of a quote on a chalkboard in a coffee shop:

"Do one thing every day that scares you."
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Painfully timid as a child, Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated herself to facing her fears, a commitment that shaped the rest of her life. With Eleanor as her guide, Noelle spends the months leading up to her thirtieth birthday pursuing a "Year of Fear." From shark diving to fighter pilot lessons, from tap dancing and stand-up comedy to confronting old boyfriends, her hilarious and harrowing adventures teach her about who she is, and what she can become—lessons she makes vital for all of us.

(Outside of the “Do one thing…” quote, which I have on my car in the form of a bumper sticker, my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote from this book is “My life can be so arranged that I can live on whatever I have. If I cannot live as I have lived in the past, I shall live differently, and living differently does not mean living with less attention to the things that make life gracious and pleasant or with less enjoyment of things of the mind.”)


Luxembourg said...

I thought that this was a great idea for a book and I particularly enjoyed Gretchen's approach. Rather than some "whatever" and "random" approach to being happy, Gretchen set off on a systematic undertaking. But it wasn't purely academic either; it was real-life experience with a good dose of wisdom thrown in. You'll enjoy her writing style and her conclusions.

Emmet O'Neal Library said...

This was truly one of my favorites of our GRG discussions and Gretchen's "The Happiness Project" is definitely high on my TBR list!