Gretchen Rubin on Top 10 Lessons in Happiness



Editor’s note: What does somebody who spent a year test-driving principles, tips, theories, and scientific studies on happiness think are the real keys to happiness? 

That’s what I wanted to know. 

This is a guest post on lessons learned in happiness by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen is a best selling author and former lawyer.

What’s interesting to me about Gretchen is that she studied happiness by making it a project. During The Happiness Project, Gretchen spent a year test-driving lessons in happiness from Aristotle to Oprah.

In her new book, The Happiness Project: Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen writes about the year she spent studying and testing principles, patterns, and practices for happiness. 

This post is Gretchen’s top 10 lessons learned in happiness.  Enjoy!

These are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about happiness …

Lesson in Happiness #1. Create an Atmosphere of Growth.

First Splendid Truth: To be happy, you need to consider feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

These are the elements of happiness. If you want to boost your happiness, try tackling one element. Get more “feeling good,” say. Or eliminate a source of “feeling bad.” Think about whether you “feel right” about the shape of your life. And look for an area in your life where you can create “an atmosphere of growth.”

Lesson in Happiness #2. Be Happy Yourself.

Second Splendid Truth: 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.

People often focus on the first half of this statement, but the second half is just as important. It turns out, studies show, that happy people are more altruistic, more likely to volunteer, more interested in other people’s problems, and they are also better leaders and better able to bring about changes, when they try to do so.

Lesson in Happiness #3. The Days are Long, but the Years are Short.

Third Splendid Truth: The days are long, but the years are short.

Lesson in Happiness #4. Think Your Happy.

Fourth Splendid Truth: You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.

Lesson in Happiness #5. Your Body Matters.

It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to overlook! Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, get some sunshine, go to a doctor if you need to.

Lesson in Happiness #6. Happiness is Other People.

Philosophers and scientists agree: a KEY to happiness is strong relationships with other people. Building strong bonds should be one of your top priorities in life.

Lesson in Happiness #7. Outer Order Contributes to Inner Calm.

For most people, making an effort to keep surroundings in decent order really pays off in happiness.

Lesson in Happiness #8. Want What You Have.

Happiness comes not from having more, not from having less, but from wanting what you have.

Lesson in Happiness #9. Know Yourself.

You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.
To make a happy life, you need to know yourself and acknowledge your own nature. For some people, this is a real challenge.

Lesson in Happiness #10. The Duty of Happiness.

“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” –Robert Louis Stevenson.


  1. Thanks JD for introducing “Gretchen Rubin”, I think she has a very unique and insightful perspective on happiness and means and ways of achieveing them.

    I think all the ten lessons are pretty distilled and makes whole lot of sense, and I guess having them consolidated at one place really helps. Because lot of these lessons are being implemented by people in their own life in some or the other way, but not all, for example I have never really cared for lesson no 5. So now when we have the keys to happiness at one place – it surely helps.

    Thanks Gretchen Rubin for such a useful and thought provoking post, I hope to read more from you on this forum.


  2. Good stuff. I’ve read your blog before Gretchen.

    I’ve found lesson 2 especially true. Not that I’m heavily religious, but I’ve heard one interpretation for the Bible parable when someone asked Jesus the the most important commandment. The translation for the second was “love your neighbor as yourself”. The point was that the two, others and yourself, are tied together. You can only love others much as you love yourself and vice versa. Become a martyr and you violate the “loving yourself” part. It’s a balance between the two.


  3. “Happiness comes not from having more, not from having less, but from wanting what you have.”

    This one for me, always figures high in the happpiness equation.

  4. Related to No.4.

    You actually define what ‘happiness’ is.

    Happiness only exists in your brain when you choose to put a label on some sensation and call it that.

    Consequently it is critical that if you choose to desire happiness that you clearly define what happiness is. It’s better that you make it than try and guess what other people use.

  5. Hi J.D.,
    A great guest you have here today – awesome!

    Hi Gretchen,
    There really is something to be said about finding that happiness within each of us. And I am very deeply relating to #6 (Other people). I’m finding this to be so affirmingly true – the more I connect with other people on a deep and meaningful level, the more I just feel connected to myself And the outflow of that is a general happiness and joy for life. I’ve also watched your “Days are long” movie in the past (and again today) – and find this to be a real wake up call to what matters in life. Enjoy the moments of our life…now…

  6. I love The Happiness Project and I love this post! 🙂 Gretchen has so many great insights on her site and, in fact, she was one of the reasons I started my blog, Positively Present. Thanks for sharing these great lessons here on your site.

  7. Thank you for sharing this about the work of Ms. Rubin. I would like to add another aspect to happiness based on the work of Sonya Lyubomirsky, author of “The how of happiness.” It relates to Rob’s comment. She refers to the spiritual dimension of happiness. Forty-seven percent of people who report attending religious services several times a week describe themselves as “very happy” versus 28% of those who attend less than a month. She presents possible reasons for this, such as finding meaning in life. Another reason is that people get social emotional support from other members. This ties in with Ms. Rubin’s Lesson 6. For more reflections on happiness, as well as midlife coping strategies, check

  8. Gretchen, I love that you show something many of us overlook: happiness is a choice. There are things we choose to do everyday, people we bring into our lives, decisions we make… and we believe we should just feel happy. But we also have to choose to grow happiness under our own feet by making better choices about how we live, who we connect with, what we do. Thanks for a great checklist and the inspiration!

  9. I really like #8 the best. Being happy with what you have rather than wanting more or less is great. So is being happy with who you are rather than always trying to improve yourself. Being in the present instead of the past or future is important. Being ok with where I am at this moment in my journey is my struggle.

  10. Thanks for sharing JD and Gretchen.

    What stood out in Gretchen’s blog was how she reflects on every day situations in an honest manner. I’ve not read enough to understand, if there is an approach to “how”.

    It’s a good example of “going meta”, reflecting on what we want and how we want to achieve something, in this case happiness.

  11. Thanks JD, good stuff. I resonate with sonme of the things you mention. In particular, I think it is critical to find hobbies outside of work. For those that don’t have them, I feel bad for them. It’s good to have balance.

    Thanks for the informative read!

  12. Wow, yet another great post on JD’s blog!

    Lesson 4: Bingo. I liked this one the best. The same goes in the opposite direction, if you tell yourself life sucks, you’re sad and your relationship is a failure — guess what, it does, you are and it is. I like to think about it this way (I forget who said this first, it certainly wasn’t me): there are no such things as bad days, just bad attitudes.

    Lesson 5: Another gem!

    Great post Gretchen,


  13. Gretchen, just reading about your work, “The Happiness Project”, makes me happy. I’ve just ordered your book. At JD’s suggestion I’ve read “Learned Optimism” & “Feeling Good”. I’m confident yours will make a fine addition. Thank you & good luck!

  14. Hahaha! I think I need to go work on my number 7 – it looks like a hurricane just passed through here.

  15. The happiness project is a wonderful site and the message behind it is fantastic. I connect with many of the lessons here.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  16. Thanks Gretchen. I always have tried to focus on areas of my life with physical, spiritual, and mental aspects. I see that seems to be woven through the ideas you share, but I would be curious if you have some more thoughts around the spiritual side.

  17. I am taking with me this – “You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.”
    I must decide upfront i am happy and build myself around this decision vs chasing common wisdom’s view of happiness.

  18. If you’re interested in a new approach to boost your happiness based on the latest positive psychology research, check out our iPhone app: Live Happy (there’s also a Free Trial version); it’s based on the work of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness” and provides a unique method to create a personalized program to increase your happiness.

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  19. […] 10 lessons learned in happiness […]

  20. Very good post, keep up the great work 🙂

    My Thoughts on Happiness:

    The level of your happiness depends all on your level of awareness and consciousness. Someone who is not very aware and caught up in his falsely conditioned beliefs will not know what happiness really means. A person with a low awareness will associate being happy with superficial pleasures, pleasures that deal with your senses. They are only trying to achieve happiness through the body. These moments of pleasure are momentary, and always have the opposite feeling. You party and indulge in your physical senses only to regret it the next day.
    Pleasure is a drug because it is dependent on external things and based on physical needs. Happiness is different in that it does not depend on simple physical pleasures. Happiness deals more with satisfying psychological needs, not as depended because it does not need simple pleasures. Bliss on the other hand is free from circumstance, not depended on anything; it is your very being.

    Once you transcend simple pleasures, you will learn to be happier. Your happiness will lead you to joy because you will have a happy mind. Acting from your joy which is spiritual in nature, will lead to your very being which is pure bliss. Reaching bliss means you have discovered the innermost part of your being, the part of you where the ego can’t exist.

  21. Great advice! It is important to realize that happiness is something that starts from within, not from without. This is what I try to tell my clients all the time. It is the best way to get long-lasting life satisfaction.

  22. […] of Insight: Top 10 Lessons Learned in Happiness Posted on December 17, 2009 by gandalfe7 Top 10 Lessons Learned in Happiness by Gretchen Rubin  These are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about happiness … […]

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