The Happiness Project


The impetus to do this project came a month ago while I was riding the Peter Pan bus from the Berkshires to New York City. I had just had a visit with my family, and my brother had lent me his copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (which I’m not planning on returning to him). He had told me about the book a few months ago on the phone (we both secretly love reading self help books). He told me it was a self-help memoir about a woman who decides to dedicate a year of her life trying to be happier. She writes about her experience of applying the principals of happiness based on her extensive happiness research and also on self-reflection. She writes about the process of trying to be happier, and the effect it has on those around her, especially her husband and children. She is transparent in the book revealing her own flaws and struggles and difficulties in keeping her resolutions. My brother said the book made him think of me, and then he suggested that the self-help book on creativity that I’d been planning on writing also be a memoir. I had already been half-heartedly writing about our life in Baja. The suggestion lit a spark in me: a book that integrates my own experiences as a mom creating a life and home from scratch, off the grid, in Mexico, while I build my organization “Art for Life”, while at the same time also experimenting with the ideas and exercises for unleashing and increasing creativity on myself. 


Later, while riding on the bus, (Gretchen comes up with her idea to do the Happiness Project while riding on a city bus) I read the chapter in The Happiness Project on Aiming Higher, where Gretchen starts a blog. It occurred to me: this is what I need to do! I had started a blog on wordpress three years back while I was pregnant and camping on our land. It was about our life in Baja, and I enjoyed writing it, but it was too difficult for me to keep it up due to limited electricity and internet access, and then the baby came. And then it was too difficult for me to do much of anything. Now, our son is three years old, and we are living in our house and I have more time and energy to contemplate, build a business, stay organized, and create art. The perfect format occurred to me: one entry a day, for 365 days. The only stipulation is that I do at least one entry a day, of words and image, for one year. The entries can be on anything I want. Whatever I am struggling with, inspired by, interested in. Past, present and future.


ZOELAB is my Happiness Project. It is my attempt to remain positive and proactive and productive, and at the same time to stay honest with my feelings, accept the reality of limitations, and make time for relaxation and rest. It is about trying to make contact with myself, and anyone else who is interested. It is about being my true artist self and living a bohemian life that reflects that, and it is about trying to achieve my life’s purpose. It is also a gauge to keep me in balance--the balance of health and growth for the mind, body and spirit. ZOELAB is the organizing/integrating principle around all the seemingly disparate elements in my life. It is about sharing the process of art and life simultaneously, while trying to striving to live my potential. Some entries will be about planting our garden, or ideas about how to bring more creativity into parenting. Some entries will be about trying to keep up with a resolution (for the day, week or month), some entries will be about sharing my art and design work (music, writing, drawing, photography, video, fashion design, graphic design, etc.). I imagine the project will change and grow as the year progresses--unexpected discoveries, patterns and shapes will emerge. Within the web that I am building daily, there will be stories on a theme, or whole books. My plan is to create theme pages as a way to organize posts by themes, so that a particular theme can be searched and read each as its own separate piece. The other unknown aspect is the reader/viewer. As people read and respond to my posts, this will change the course of the project. This is my hope. The openness of possibility is very exciting.


As Gretchen does in her Happiness Project, I plan to include my versions of resolutions and secrets of adulthood (which is her term for rules or guidelines for living.) I have been collecting them and will create a page of them soon. It will be a growing list. For now I am going to share one that I have come up with recently. Always have a book I’m very into reading. I may not read everyday, but I never want to finish a book before I know what book I’m going to read next. Reading books brings me a lot of happiness. It’s inspiring to read another’s ideas, or to live inside someone else’s story. While I am in the middle of a book, I tend to adapt the narrator or writer’s voice in my head--s/he starts to narrate my inner life, adding a new perspective. Plus, reading almost always inspires me to write. And not only do I want to write, I tend to write better. Also, if I am in a bad mood, reading a book almost always lifts my mood. Forgetting myself can be the most positive thing I can do. That being said, I broke my own rule because after finishing The Happiness Project (about 2 weeks ago) I didn’t immediately start a new book. But the book I plan on starting is My Ear at His Heart: My Father, a memoir written by Hanif Kureishi about his reading an unpublished memoir by his father about his childhood. I recently took this book off of the bookshelf of my father (who is also a writer).


One of the parts of The Happiness Project that most struck me is the idea that the pursuit of my own happiness is worthwhile, even if it can sometimes be perceived as selfish. Ultimately, and the studies Gretchen quotes support this, happiness is not selfish because its infectious and cyclical. “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” - Rubin. Because I am a mother, and often the emotional and organizing center of the family, I find it’s especially important to be happy. My happiness has a direct impact on my husband and son. And then that happiness comes back to me--my family’s happiness brings me more happiness. The happiness doesn’t just stay within the immediate family, it extends to the larger web of family, friends and community. Gretchen’s project book proves this to be true--I am already happier (more inspired, more self-aware, more productive) as a result of reading her book and embarking on my own project. And her book is NY Times Bestseller--she has sparked many others to start their own happiness projects. 


I will be returning to this subject in future posts. This is just to whet the appetite.


I want to add a note about the photograph/collage in this post. It’s called “I took photographs today to help me feel okay.” I made it in 2007 for a photography show in Oakland called “Don’t Fail me Now: a photographic tribute to what carries you through the day.” It’s a collection of digital photos that I took at various times at moments when I was feeling lost or invisible as a way to feel connected to myself, to the moment, to my surroundings. I’d like to do a few more of these tile pieces as I have many more images that fit into this subject. I borrowed the title, (which I slightly changed) from a lyric to a song I had written. Here are the full lyrics. Someday I’ll post the song when I make a satisfactory recording of it.



Don't Tell me how

To be alone

To be a friend

To me again.

And where were walking

It is snowing.


Where were walking 

It was stolen.


I’ll draw pictures of your face

Capturing your grace

So it won’t be a waste


And I’ll take photographs today

In my close-up way

To make the pain okay


Don’t tell me why

I’m afraid

To be inside

Of you again


And where were walking

It is raining

Where were walking

It was frozen


I’ll write letters to your face

Capturing your ways

So I can know this place


And I took photographs today

So I could run away

From all of the display


Don’t tell me who

I can be

In my mind

To see again.


Where we’re sitting

It is sleeping

Where were sitting

It was broken.


I’ll take photographs today

You teach me how to play

To make the pain okay


I’ll make jokes about your face

So I will know the taste of

Your skin and your embrace