• December 2014

Happiness Rules

Are you happy? Not the “great hair day” or “I’m in my skinny jeans” kind of happy. Not “the new shipment of my new book finally arrived” kind of joy, either. We’re interested in the deep, gut-level happiness you feel when you are living the life you dream of.

That’s the kind of happiness that Gretchen Rubin aspired to find when she penned 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.

“I’d always vaguely expected to outgrow my limitations,” she writes. “One day, I’d stop twisting my hair, and wearing running shoes all the time, and eating exactly the same food every day. I’d remember my friends’ birthdays, I’d learn Photoshop, I wouldn’t let my daughter watch TV during breakfast. I’d read Shakespeare. I’d spend more time laughing and having fun, I’d be more polite, I’d visit museums more often, I wouldn’t be scared to drive.”

Then, one April morning, she had a sudden realization. “I was in danger of wasting my life. As I stared out the rain-spattered window of a city bus, I saw that the years were slipping by. ‘What do I want from life, anyway?’ I asked myself. ‘Well, I want to be happy.’”

At that moment, she grasped two things: “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change.”

And so Rubin made a promise to herself. For the next 12 months, she embarked on a project she called “The Happiness Project.” It’s a powerful process. One that Rubin has given us permission to share with our readers over the next year. In January, for instance, you’ll learn to boost your energy. In June, you’ll make time for friends. By making small changes each month in 12 areas, at this time next year, you’ll be happier—and your closets will be cleaner, too.

On Jan. 1, 2015, be on the lookout for your first assignment. For now, scroll down to read our Q&A with Rubin. For even more insights, listen to our podcast interview on Inkandescent Radio.

What makes us happy at The Inkandescent Group? For starters, it’s the new office we opened last month at 1719 W. Main Street in Richmond, VA. We are working with the talented students and faculty in the PR, video, and arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University, and several of those students are our newest Inkandescent Interns. The next time you are in town, stop by and visit our new digs!

Also in this issue:

  • Which countries have the happiest people? Why do people in isolated Bhutan measure Gross National Happiness? And is happiness really good for your health? Don’t miss these interesting research studies. Check out the latest happiness research.
  • If you are a student with a loan, how do you feel about being in debt to the federal government for the foreseeable future? That’s the question college junior Eurah Lee tackles in her first episode of the new Millennials Radio Show.

And that’s just for starters. We hope that this issue inspires you to find what makes you truly happy—and puts you on the path to accomplish your goals.

We leave you with this parting thought from Benjamin Franklin, whose Autobiography inspired Rubin. Franklin insisted: “Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than on outward circumstances.”

Here’s to finding your inner bliss! Happy holidays from the entire Inkandescent team. — Hope Katz Gibbs, publisher, Be Inkandescent magazine

Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project: Prepare to Smile

COVER STORY: DECEMBER 2014

SING IN THE MORNING. CLEAN YOUR CLOSETS. FIGHT RIGHT. READ ARISTOTLE.

Author Gretchen Rubin Challenges Us to Be Happier in 12 Months

By Hope Katz Gibbs, Publisher
Be Inkandescent

Gretchen Rubin was a young lawyer clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized that what she really wanted to be was a writer.

Since then, she has written several books, including the bestselling “Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill,” and her uber-popular “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.”

Best-selling author Dan Pink said of the book, “This is a rare book that will make you both smile and think—often on the same page.”

We couldn’t agree more, so it was a pleasure to interview Rubin from her home office in New York City and find out about the project she devised that has made strides and changed lives—her own and others’.

Scroll down for our Q&A. Click here to listen to our podcast interview.


Be Inkandescent: So let’s get down to business! In your book, “The Happiness Project,” you talk about having an epiphany one rainy afternoon on a city bus. Tell us about that moment.

Gretchen Rubin: It was pouring rain, and I was on a city bus that was moving very slowly. I looked out the window and thought, “What do I want in life anyway?” In the rush of life, you rarely take the opportunity to step back and ask yourself big, transcendent questions. And when I did, I thought, “Well, I want to be happy.” I realized I didn’t spend any time thinking about whether I was happy, or if I could be happier.

In a flash I decided I should have a “happier project” —that was the phrase that occurred to me. The next day I went to the library, got a huge stack of books, and started researching happiness. I wanted to know what everybody knows about what can make you happy, or how to make yourself happier, and I wanted to try everything to see if it really works.

At first the project was just going to be for me. I was finishing writing a biography of John F. Kennedy, and happiness research was just something I was doing for fun for myself. But the research is so rich and fascinating that I found myself spending more and more time on it, and finally I thought, “Maybe this should be my next book.” The book asks: Can you make yourself happier? And if so, how can you make yourself happier? It’s really compelling.

Be Inkandescent: In the 12 months that followed, adventures ensued. What inspired your list—from boosting your energy in January, to getting serious about play in May?

Gretchen Rubin: I figured that a year was long enough for real change to happen, and short enough that it felt manageable. Since there are 12 months of the year, I decided to figure out what elements in my life contribute most to my happiness—and focus on some of them each month.

Be Inkandescent: Some of your choices are a little out of the norm.

Gretchen Rubin: That’s right. For example, a lot of people would include adventure in their happiness project. I know that I am not a very adventurous person, so that is not something that would make me happy.

I decided to start my happiness project with energy, because I figured if I had more energy, then everything else that followed would seem easier, which I think is very much the case with all of us. When we are feeling overwhelmed and drained, it is very hard to take the time to do things, even when you know those things are going to make you happier.

I also wanted to focus on different aspects of my life that make me happy—such as my marriage, work, play, and parenthood (I have two daughters). Just figuring out the list was a very helpful intellectual exercise.

Try it. If you were going to pick 12 things in your life that you want to work on, what would they be?

Be Inkandescent: Talk about your desire to be a better parent.

Gretchen Rubin: This was really important to me. I realized that I was losing my temper very quickly; apparently I make a terrifyingly mean face.

I wanted to be more tender, more attentive, and sillier. A lot of the resolutions I made were around that—to try to be different and to make a different atmosphere in our home. I think my resolutions about parenthood really made a big difference, to me and to my family. When I lighten up, they lighten up, too.

Be Inkandescent: Was there any particular month you really found to be happy, and another you didn’t?

Gretchen Rubin: That’s an interesting question. I think all of the months were challenging, because I was picking things I wanted to change, or things I wanted to do differently. But it’s tough to say sometimes whether some things were easy or hard.

For example, going to bed on time. Is that hard or is that easy? After all, what is so hard about going to bed on time? But in practice, it is kind of hard—not that it’s difficult to do; it’s that you have to make up your mind to do it and stick to it.

Some things were easy and very fun, like my choice to kiss my husband every morning and every night. That is very easy, and very nice.

The bottom line is that being happy boils down to the decision to expect more from yourself, figuring out the fine line between the natural limitations of your nature, and the places that you should expect more.

Be Inkandescent: What does it mean to be happy?

Gretchen Rubin: I started my career in law, and I have happy memories of spending an entire semester arguing about the definition of contract. If anything, defining and understanding happiness is even more elusive. There are actually 15 academic definitions of happiness, and you can spend a lot of time arguing about contentment versus bliss. I feel that for most people, it’s not that helpful to worry so much about what happiness is. It’s actually easier to think about being happier.

Does money buy happiness? And what do the brain and body do when you’re happy? Read all about it.

New Year's Resolution: Start Your Own Happiness Project

“Each person’s happiness project will be unique, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit from starting one,” writes Gretchen Rubin in her book, “The Happiness Project.”

  • Start small: Put your keys away in the same place every night.
  • Think big: Repair relationships with your family.

Most importantly, decide what resolutions to make by answering the following questions:

  • What makes you feel good? What activities do you find fun, satisfying, or energizing?
  • What makes you feel bad? What are the sources of anger, irritation, boredom, frustration, or anxiety in your life?
  • Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change your job, city, family situation, or other circumstances? Are you living up to your expectations for yourself? Does your life reflect your values?
  • Do you have sources of an atmosphere of growth? In what elements of your life do you find progress, learning, challenge, improvement, and increased mastery?

Once you’ve made your resolutions, find a strategy to assess your progress and hold yourself accountable.

  • Record and score your resolutions.
  • Keep a one-sentence journal on any topic you like.
  • Identify your personal commandments: Share your happiness hacks, your Secrets of Adulthood, and any kind of list that keeps you on track.
  • Create an inspiration board of your favorite books, quotes, movies, or images.
  • Want to start a group for people also doing happiness projects? Send Rubin an email.


9 Tips to Make Keeping Your Resolutions Easier

  1. Write it down … and be specific. Not “make more friends,” but “start a movie group, “remember birthdays,” “say hello,” “make plans.”
  2. Review your resolution constantly. If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it’s easier to stick to it.
  3. Hold yourself accountable. Tell people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart.
  4. Think BIG! Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure—a trip, a break-up, a new job.
  5. Think SMALL! Don’t assume that only radical change can make a difference. Cleaning your fridge can give you a real boost.
  6. Break your main resolution into manageable tasks.
  7. Keep your resolution every day. Weirdly, it’s often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail) than every few days.
  8. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Instead of training for a marathon, aim for a daily 20-minute walk. Instead of cleaning the basement, tackle one closet.
  9. Consider dropping a resolution if you keep breaking it. Don’t let an unfulfilled resolution to lose 20 pounds or give up TV block you.

Learn more about Gretchen Rubin and her happiness project at gretchenrubin.com.

Tolerance and patience should not be read as signs of weakness. They are signs of strength.”

– The Dalai Lama

My task is really not to change myself but to become familiar with who I am.”

– Maureen Cook

Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.”

– Robert H. Schuller

You must have chaos within you, to create a dancing star.”

– Frederic Nietzsche

There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.”

– J. Robert Oppenheimer

Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.”

– Francesca Reigle

Friendship is the only cement that will hold the world together.”

– Woodrow Wilson

The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”

– William James

Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

– Annie Dillard

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., U.S. Supreme Court justice

Speaking more than one language is no longer just an asset in today’s job market; it is a requirement.”

– Tom Adams, CEO, Rosetta Stone

Ripeness is all.”

– William Shakespeare

No matter how difficult and painful it may be, nothing sounds as good to the soul as the truth.”

– Martha Beck, from "Leaving the Saints"

Success is about finding a livelihood that brings joy, self-sufficiency, and a sense of contributing.”

– Anita Roddick

The important thing is not being afraid to take a chance. The greatest failure is to not try.”

– Debbi Fields, Mrs. Fields Cookies

Persist and persevere, and you will find most things that are attainable, possible.”

– Lord Chesterfield

The journey is the reward.”

– Greg Norman

A person who learns to juggle six balls will be more skilled than the person who never tries to juggle more than three.”

– Marilyn vos Savant

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing.”

– Maya Angelou

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

– T.S. Eliot

Passion makes perfect.”

– Eugene Biro

Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.”

– Jack Kerouac

The good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups.”

– Charles Brower, Advertising Hall of Fame

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

– Winston Churchill

We never know how high we are
 till we are called to rise;
 And then, if we are true to plan,
 Our statures touch the skies.”

– Emily Dickinson

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Most people never pick up the phone and call. Most people never ask, and that’s what separates the people who do things from the people who just dream about them.”

– Steve Jobs

You only live once. But if you do it right, once is enough.”

– Mae West

When I was younger I thought success was being a star, driving nice cars, having groupies. But today I think the most important thing is to live your life with integrity.

– Ellen DeGeneres

We are all of us born with a letter inside us, and that only if we are true to ourselves, may we be allowed to read it before we die.”

– Douglas Coupland

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.”

– Steve Jobs, Apple, Inc.

Don’t follow, lead. Don’t copy, create. Don’t start, finish. Don’t sit still, move. Don’t fit in, stand out. Don’t sit quietly, speak up. (Not all the time, sure, but more often.)”

– Seth Godin

Confidence is the most important thing you can teach someone… if you can teach them confidence, you don’t have to teach them anything else.”

– Vin Diesel

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it”

– Andrew Carnegie

Remove those ‘I want you to like me’ stickers from your forehead
and, instead, place them where they truly will do the most good—on your mirror.”

– Susan Jeffers

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

– Basil King

Women once had the goal of being Superwoman; I think most of us now simply strive to have a super day.”

– Author, Activist Lee Woodruff

Let us seize the day and the opportunity and strive for that greatness of spirit that measures life not by its disappointments but by its possibilities.”

– W.E.B. Du Bois

The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”

– Nolan Bushnell, founder, Chuck E. Cheese's

Do not be afraid of mistakes, providing you do not make the same one twice.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

If you were independently wealthy and never had to work a day in your life, would you still choose to spend your time attempting to become a successful entrepreneur?”

– Steven Schussler

There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

– JFK

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in your room.”

– A wisdomism

Almost anyone can start a community, but it takes real talent and commitment to get people to show up and keep coming back.”

– Andy Sernovitz

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”

– Leon Joseph Suenens

How do you stay resilient? It’s about momentum. Like riding a bicycle. If you stop you fall over. So I keep pedaling.”

– Diane Lane

‎That which grows fast withers as rapidly; that which grows slowly endures.”

– J.G. Holland, novelist

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.”

– Jalaluddin Rumi

Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!”

– Andrew Carnegie

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