“The Happiness Project” is Gretchen Rubin’s year-long exploration of the aspects of happiness that are within our reach daily, but which most of us take for granted. During a bus commute one day she had an epiphany. In Rubin’s own words, “The days are long, but the years are short.” She realized that she was not focusing enough on what really matters in life, including her own happiness.

But Rubin’s idea of happiness was not just idle navel gazing. To her, happiness may be partly serendipitous, but it also comes from self-discipline and putting others first. While she advocates finding what we love to do and pursuing it (she went from being a lawyer to being a writer), Rubin also recognizes that happiness comes from feeling grateful for what we have and, paradoxically, setting both higher expectations and at the same time cutting ourselves some slack.

Month by month in her happiness project, Rubin read literature from Aristotle to Tolkien, examined psychological research, and carried out her own studies on happiness. In January she vowed to get more sleep and exercise. In May she would be serious about play. In August she kept a gratitude notebook. By November she was laughing out loud and giving more positive feedback to others in hopes of spreading joy.

Food is a perennial source of happiness. Not only can its chemical properties generate physical well being, but it is psychologically tied to memories of happy times. For more on “The Happiness Project,” check out HYPERLINK "http://happiness-project.com" http://happiness-project.com. For some happiness at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, try these three delicious recipes.

 

Chai Banana

Bread

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3)

1/3 cup vanilla yogurt

5 tablespoons butter, melted

2 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

Cooking spray

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons fat milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine first 4 ingredients in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed just until blended. Add sugars; beat at medium just until blended. Combine flour, soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended. Combine cardamom and next 3 ingredients. Stir 1 1/2 teaspoons spice mixture and 1 teaspoon vanilla into batter. Pour into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 65 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on wire rack. Remove from pan; cool.

Combine remaining spice mixture, remaining vanilla, powdered sugar, and milk. Drizzle over bread. Source: Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2012.

Spinach Salad

with Smoked

Bacon

Vinaigrette

1 lb. organic baby spinach, triple washed

5 slices Wrights smoked bacon, chopped

1/4 red onion, sliced in rings

1/2 cup malt vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

Cook bacon in skillet until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Remove all but 2 tablespoon drippings from skillet. Sauté onion until soft, about 1 minute. Add vinegar, olive oil, mustard, and sugar. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook just until vinaigrette comes to a simmer. Allow dressing to cool. In the meantime, place spinach in bowl. Add dressing, bacon, and blue cheese, tossing to coat. Top with chopped egg and serve immediately with crusty French bread. Adapted from Louis Lambert’s “Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook.”

No Bake

Strawberry Pie

25 Oreos

3 oz. Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 tablespoons canola oil

Cooking spray

6 oz. cream cheese

1/3 cup powdered sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups Cool Whip, thawed

1 lb. strawberries, hulled and halved

Granulated sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Process Oreos in food processor until finely ground or place in a Ziplock bag and pound with mallet or rolling pin. Microwave chocolate until melted (be careful not to burn), about 60 seconds. Stir chocolate and oil into processor with crumbs and pulse until blended. Gently press the mixture into 9 inch pie pan coated with cooking spray. Freeze for 15 minutes. Rinse, hull, and halve strawberries. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Squeeze lemon juice over strawberries. Place cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in medium bowl. Mix with blender until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. Carefully spread over filling over pie crust. Arrange strawberries on top; drizzle with juices in bowl. Refrigerate before serving. Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2012.

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