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The word is malaise!

I get quite happy when I finally hit the exact right word I’ve been looking for after fumbling about using words that didn’t quite fit.

For instance, I was working on this presentation about OEM boards and their design implications. For weeks, we were using the word “flexible” in the presentation and then it dawned on me just as I was about to press “send” that the right word was “versatile.” I got inordinately excited about this–versatile!–so my boss probably thinks I’m a tad eccentric, but hey, I was excited about it!

Now, thanks to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, I now know that the word I’ve been looking for is not itchy, or U-curve or even mid-life crisis — it’s midlife malaise.

Malaise! It’s perfect, isn’t it? Here’s how she describes it:

“I wasn’t depressed and I wasn’t having a midlife crisis, but I was suffering from midlife malaisea recurrent sense of discontent and almost a feeling of disbelief. “Can this be me?” […]

“Is this really it?” I found myself wondering, and answering, “Yep, this is it.”

But though at times I felt dissatisfied, that something was missing, I also never forgot how fortunate I was. When I woke up in the middle of the night, as I often did, I’d walk from room to room to another to gaze at my sleeping husband tangled in the sheets and my daughters surrounded by their stuffed animals, all safe. I had everything I could possiblly want–yet I was failing to appreciate it. (p. 2)

So, at only a few pages into the book, I’m very glad to have bought it this weekend. Just for that word alone–Malaise!

I was never planning to buy it though. It struck me as one of those trendy books where a person thinks of something wacky to do and then chronicles it simply to get a book published at the end of it. But I was introduced to Rubin and her work by Andrea, because while I was trying to get a “celebrity sighting” of The Bloggess at BlogHer, Andrea was trying to see if she could spot Rubin. I trust Andrea’s taste; so if she thought Rubin and her book were great, then I was going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Plus, I just finished reading the book Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, whose characters, although exquisitely drawn, are so deeply entrenched in their own midlife malaise that I thought I needed a fresh break. Something light. Something positive.

What Rubin ends up deciding to do to overcome her “malaise” is to see if she could make herself happier but consciously working on it. She takes on happiness as if it is a project and charts her tasks with checkmarks and x’s along the way. She allocates a subject to focus on each month, with tasks related to those subjects. So for example, she chooses “Energy” for her launch month of January. Drawing on research insights related to energy and happiness, she identifies tasks to take on. So for January, she must: Go to sleep earlier; exercise better; toss, restore, organize; tackle a nagging task; and act more energetic.

I’m really looking forward to following Rubin’s journey, and picking up some extra insights along the way too.

  • Have you read The Happiness Project yet? Why not read along with me!
  • Tell me what you think about making happiness a project with to-do lists and charts, like Rubin does.
  • And last but not least, I’m looking for great book recommendations to help me get through this winter. Do share your faves! 
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  1. Everything worthwhile in life requires effort, why not happiness too? You’ve got me intrigued by Rubin’s book – I’ll have to check it out! Alas, I’m so far behind on my reading I don’t have anything *new* to recommend. But I did just finish The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. If you haven’t started that series, you need to.

  2. Oh! I’ve been thinking about reading it. Maybe I’ll ask for it for Xmas. I actually, many moons ago, went through a period where I themed my months with the goal of getting out of a bad place and into a better and happier place. It was amazing so I totally believe it can work.
    You probably don’t want my reading suggestions, I’m almost exclusively reading harlequins and romances lately – it’s about all my brain can process at the moment :)

  3. I’ve read Rubin’s “Happiness Project” (no surprise there!) and belong to a listserv (The Friends of Positive Psychology by the APA) that Rubin also belongs to so it’s interesting to see her posts and get other thoughts of hers on being happy and positive psychology… My whole work revolves around positive psychology – the coaching and the consulting – and of course it was the topic of my masters last year. I didn’t learn much new from Rubin’s book, but then again, I studied the same information that she did. What I did like about it was her honesty about what worked for her and what didn’t.

    As to trying to be happier by keeping lists and track of things – why not? Works for some and not for others. I’m a big fan of simply refocusing your attention on what is bringing you new life and energy. There’s a lot of it if you look for it…

    And what I’m reading now is mostly magazines, though I did just finish “The Last Concubine” which was enjoyable (set in the 1860s or so in Japan’s civil war…) and I’m considering picking up a copy of Les Miserables so I can finally get the whole story, not just the musical. :-)

  4. “Malaise” is actually a French word (you may hev known that). Never heard it used in English though. It has a medical meaning (to feel dizzy, to fain even) and it also means general uneasiness :-)

  5. @Mel – I agree, one really does need to work or at least focus on the things that are important! Also, re the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series … I know, I know, everyone has told me to read these. But I somehow have not been able to get into them. I did rent the first two movies though. I just love movies made in Europe — the actors look like real people!

    @Lara – You can borrow my copy when I’m done. That gives you an opening on your Xmas list! :)

    @Lisa – Thanks for joining in on the convo! Maybe I could convince you to write a guest post on Happiness for Coffee with Julie? I’d love to get a chance to share more of your thoughts.

    @Zhu – Yes, I’m one of the non-functional bilingual folks who graduated from the French immersion system! In English, the word has a connotation of “general uneasiness” as well … must less serious than “crisis” and more accurate than “itchy” which suggests a need for movement.

  6. I’ve been feeling gloomy for a few weeks now… I’d like to blame it on the winter blues, but truth is I think I need to do some work and digging around to really get to the root of my feelings. (This is daunting, and sometimes it’s easier just to ignore it and hope it’ll go away, right?) Maybe I’ll look into the happiness project too..

  7. @Vicky – yes, I agree, it is daunting! Maybe join me on this more light-hearted journey by reading The Happiness Project until you feel ready to “dig.” We can stay in denial together 😉

  8. I am the worst book borrower ever – I am super excited I did get it for Xmas though! :)


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