Assay: A few years ago, I consciously decided that I’d no longer worry much about expressing my “personal style” through decisions such as my choice of clothes or the way our apartment was decorated.
It was quite a relief. (I didn’t actually do much of this kind of self-expression, but I thought that perhaps I should.)
Now I choose clothes that I like and that are appropriate. I don’t worry about whether they’re “me.” I want our apartment to be comfortable, attractive, and high-functioning. I don’t worry about whether it expresses “my unique style.” I stopped thinking much about my tastes, because it wasn’t a question that captured my interest.
I finally realized that all I do, all day long, is express myself, in the way that does interest me—through writing. And that was enough. I didn’t have to worry about the look of my shoes or my curtains if I didn’t want to. This sounds like a simple thing, but it was a huge relief.
I know so many people who find great pleasure in making careful choices—who really know what they like, and enjoy taking the time to search out things they love. But it’s a Secret of Adulthood: Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for me—and vice versa.
I don’t want to think too much about making authentic choices about things I don’t authentically care about. Life is too short. In fact, social psychologist Roy Baumeister suggests, we pay a price for seeking to be “authentic.” In a world so full of choices, choosing actively and deliberately among alternatives demands considerable mental energy that then can’t be used for other tasks.
Here’s the strange thing: at the same time that I decided to let go of the idea of “expressing my personal style,” I was also thinking a lot about my personal commandment to “Be Gretchen”. In my mind, these similar-sounding ideas were actually very different. But ironically, perhaps, now that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to “Be Gretchen,” I have a much better idea of my personal style.
I’m still not much interested in doing the work it would take to have my tastes reflected in my stuff, but I do have a much better sense of what my tastes are. For instance, lately I’ve been reading about Louis Comfort Tiffany’s masterpiece, Laurelton Hall (destroyed by a fire, such a loss). That, I know I love.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.