Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

29 DECEMBER, 2009

The Happiness Project: Gretchen Rubin Spends a Year in Pursuit


A year’s worth of ideas, inspiration and innovation from culture’s collective brain.

Last week, we looked at Charles Spearin’s music-meets-philosophy experiment, The Happiness Project. Turns out, perhaps due to the universal relevance of the subject matter, that it has a doppelganger.

One rainy afternoon in 2006, New York magazine writer Gretchen Rubin was sitting on the bus, having one of those inevitable-for-everyone epiphanies about the fleeting nature of life, the importance of savoring the moment, and all that jazz. But instead of shrugging it off as a contrived existential truism, Rubin decided to undertake an ambitious task: To test the multitude of theories about what makes us happy, from ancient philosophies to pop culture prescriptions to the latest scientific studies, and to write about the experience. Her blog, clever and wryly written, full of weekly happiness tips, quickly struck a cultural chord and was syndicated across a slew of cultural merit validators — Slate, Yahoo, The Huffington Post, even Psychology Today.

Today, the blog congeals as 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 — a wonderfully engaging memoir chronicling the project.

With its eloquent charisma and wit, the book successfully dodges the preachiness bullet, offering instead a captivating journey into the greatest human pursuit and the many, often crazy, ways in which we go about attaining that elusive holy grail. Both enlightening and entertaining, it’s the kind of read that takes you on a relentlessly fun ride and drops you off at a place of great insight, leaving you to marvel at how you got there without trekking through a jungle of discomfort and doubt.

For us, The Happiness Project is solid proof of our own credo: Do something out of passion and curiosity, and the rest — the syndication, the cultural traction, the “success” — will follow. The best cultural artifacts — the most compelling art, the smartest books, the most interesting films — didn’t begin with a business model, they began with a great idea, which in turn came from exploring the fringes of curiosity.

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28 DECEMBER, 2009

The Moment Jars


A timecapsule of human existence, or what childbirth and a moose have in common.

We all have those moments — the rare ones so saturated with personal significance and impact, so rich in meaning and relevance that we want to savor them, to save them, to put them in a jar. The Moment Jars offers just that — a lovely record of being human.

The brainchild of four creatives from the advertising and design industries — writer Mark Freid, designers Jeff Matz and Paul Mastriani, and illustrator Kim Foxbury — the project is a digital repository for people’s most monumental moments, offered without context or explanation in their rawest, purest form.

Candid and deeply personal, the moments range from the questionable (shooting a moose) to the mundane yet inexplicably memorable (a foggy day in San Diego) to the expected (lots of babies, lots of first kisses). The latter — an overwhelming majority — strip life of its pretense and illustrate a simple truth: The moments we often dismiss as the most contrived cliches are actually the ones that move us most powerfully and memorably

The Moment Jars is a bittersweet reminder that even the best of moments pass us by, living on only as ephemeral ghosts in the treasure chest of our memory.

The team (of The Wishing Machine fame) is immortalizing the moments in a limited-edition 22-page illustrated book, which you can buy right here.

You can also add your own moment to the chronological archive of several hundred jars, with moments dating as far back as 1920.

via Swiss Miss

Correction: We got a lovely note of gratitude from Mark, who kindly pointed out that the book is actually based on a short story he’d written some time ago titled, unsurprisingly, The Moment Jars. The team is, however, toying with the idea of doing more with the moments people submitted and considering another book based on them.

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23 DECEMBER, 2009

Music Meets Philosophy: The Happiness Project


Neighborly wisdom, music innovation, and the extraordinariness of ordinary human speech.

We’ve long been fascinated by the concept and origin of happiness. Which is why we love Broken Social Scene multi-instrumentalist Charles Spearin‘s The Happiness Project — a series of interviews with Spearin’s neighbors on the subject of happiness, deconstructed into the melodic, sing-song quality of speech. Spearin’s inspiration came from the insight that the movement of our lips and tongue, the rising and falling of our voices as voice our thoughts, isn’t something we normally pay attention to, except in the context of explicit music. And yet this cadence is so rich in implicit melody.

The natural cadence of people’s speech can sometimes carry beautiful melodies.

After each interview, Spearin would listen to the recordings, examining both their meaning and their melody. He then invited a few musician friends to play, as closely as they could, these natural melodies on different instruments — from the tenor saxophone to the harp to Spearin’s own daughter on the violin — and then arranged them just as he would’ve songs.

Meaning seems to be our hunger but we should still try to taste our food. I wanted to see if I could blur the line between speaking and singing — life and art? — and write music based on these accidental melodies.

The result was The Happiness Project album — a fascinating experiment in music innovation, infused with the substance of everyday philosophy.

If you can take a bunch of people and just put them in a situation where they’re kind of comfortable, get them to talk about a nice subject like happiness, and then their wisdom shines a little bit more.

It’s one of our favorite music projects of 2009, so we thought it fitting to feature right before the holidays.

Grab a free download of Anna, the second track from The Happiness Project, and elevate your every conversation by drinking in the simple melodic wisdom of human speech.

Thanks, Michal

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