The Happiness Project

Imagine That Something Good Never Happened

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too ! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in—no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I read a fascinating article by Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness , about a study showing that people who wrote about how they might never have met and fallen in love with their sweethearts had a bigger jump in happiness than those who wrote about how they did meet and fall in love.

Apparently, contemplating the fact that a key event might never have happened, at all, makes it more surprising and mysterious. Just think how close you came to having a different fate – your life could have gone in another direction, so easily! The absolutely brilliant, enthralling novel The Post-Birthday World , by Lionel Shriver, explores this notion at length in an utterly gripping way, as does the movie Sliding Doors .

Lyubomirsky points out that surprise, novelty, challenge, and variety are associated with intense emotion and vivid experience.

I’ve certainly been convinced of that, myself. One thing that surprised me in my own happiness project is the truth of the proposition that Novelty and challenge bring happiness . When I started my project, I expected that this wouldn’t hold true for me, because I love mastery and routine. Well, I was wrong. To test the idea that with novelty and challenge bring happiness, I started this blog, and it has brought me immeasurable happiness.

After reading about this study, I thought for a few minutes about how my life would be different, now, if I didn’t have my blog. I did get a major happiness boost from realizing that phew, I do have my blog. Then I thought about what would have happened if I hadn’t met my husband. What an unhappy prospect! I got a surge of happiness and relief from knowing that we did meet each other. (We met because our library carrels were back-to-back; what if we’d been assigned to opposite ends of the room?)

Imagining life without your sweetheart (or your blog, or your cat, or whatever) also inspires gratitude. It’s challenging to feel grateful for the familiar elements of everyday life, but imagining their absence inspires thankfulness and awe.

So take a moment to imagine that something good never happened. Do you feel happier?

* Zoikes, check out this video of someone drawing two portraits, simultaneously, one with each hand. Coincidentally, the artist dedicates the video to the movie The Shawshank Redemption , which I’ve never seen – despite the fact that many people have told me that it’s in the Top Ten of happiness movies. I just read Stephen King’s short story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” so am now ready to watch the movie.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 26,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (sorry about that weird format – trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.