Gretchen Rubin, a writer and podcaster who studies “happiness and human nature” launched her career with a book called The Happiness Project in 2009. In the book she chronicles her year of monthly experiments aimed at improving her happiness. It’s good if not exactly earth-shattering advice—things like exercising and making time for friends.
But one part that has always stood out is when she contemplates what she calls the sadness of a happiness project. By this she means that to be happy, we must strive to improve while accepting our fundamental natures.
Allow me to quote Rubin at length so you can see what I mean:
Accepting my true likes and dislikes, means that I have to face the fact that I will never want to visit a jazz club at midnight or pack up to go fly-fishing on a spring dawn. I love diet soda and refuse to try foie gras.
Now, you might think – “Well, okay, but why does that make you sad? You don’t want to visit a jazz club at midnight anyway, so why does it make you sad to know that you don’t want to do that? If you wanted to, of course you could.”
It makes me sad for two reasons. First, it makes me sad to realize my limitations. The world offers so much!–and I’m too small to appreciate it.
But it also makes me sad because, in many ways, I wish I were different. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” I have a lot of notions about what I wish I liked to do, of the subjects and occupations that I wish interested me. But it doesn’t matter what I wish I were like. I am Gretchen.
When I was 22 I took guitar lessons for six months. I got to where I could play “Foolish Games” by Jewel and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. But I never progressed beyond that, and my hobby died a slow death. First I stopped practicing for the lessons, then I stopped the lessons, then I stopped playing, then I put the guitar under my bed, and then I put it in the basement.
But always in the back of my mind, I thought I’d take it up again one day.
Then, as you might remember, a global pandemic hit and I spent days and months alone, with plenty of time for hobbies.
And you know what I never, ever did?
Pulled out that guitar.
It wasn’t fair to the guitar to leave it down in the basement so I sold it to someone who will use it.
I let go of that dream and felt freer—and lighter—as a result.
I will never be the kind of gal who plays guitar, and that’s okay.
But yesterday, I came to another, much sadder conclusion.
I’m never going to be someone who can wear wool sweaters.
This is not a joke.
I love the look and feel of thick wool sweaters—think fisherman’s sweaters, or something from the LL Bean catalog. They look so cozy and so warm. In my mind’s eye, I’m sitting by the fire with a cup of tea in my big wool sweater.
But the reality is in that scenario I would literally sweat to death.
I just don’t get cold. I keep my thermostat at 65 when I sleep, and more often than not I leave my coat in the car when running into the grocery store even when it’s the middle of winter. (Readers will remember that last January I bought new books instead of a winter coat that zips all the way…I’m here to report that I still have the same coat.)
I can only put flannel sheets on my bed on the coldest three or four days of the year—any warmer and I’m up in the middle of the night stripping the bed because it’s so hot I can’t sleep.
And yet I really, really want to be the kind of person who wears wool sweaters.
I keep buying them and forcing the issue.
But I’ve decided I must stop the madness.
Yesterday I was in the audience of a packed house at The Benedum theater to watch the “Jagged Little Pill” musical. It was cold, in the 30s, so I put on my newest wool sweater.
In the middle of Act I was squirming in my seat and fanning myself. I was so hot I truly believed I was on the verge of passing out. I considered leaving the theater, but I didn’t want to miss the show.
I felt like Steve Carell in Crazy Stupid Love when he tells Marisa Tomei that he’s wearing 18 layers of clothing and that it’s “all sweat under here.”
At intermission, I stripped off my sweater.
“Is it hot in here?” I asked my friend.
“Oh yeah,” she said.
That was a relief—at least I wasn’t having hot flashes a decade early.
But I also didn’t see anyone else stripping down to their undershirts and watching the rest of the show in a tank top in the middle of December.
I wish I could say this kind of thing was an isolated incident.
But I heard Gretchen Rubin in the back of my mind, and I knew it was time to surrender.
This morning I gathered up all my wool sweaters and will be giving family and friends first dibs on some really nice clothing. Whatever is left will go to the charity shop.
I wish I could be a sophisticated sweater girl.
But I’m just me.
Always (literally) underdressed for the weather.
I can’t wear a sweater because I am a sweater.
I just have to accept what I cannot change.