The ‘Happiness in Paris’ experiment – Part one

Expat - Happy in Paris  - www.MyFrenchLife.orgHaving moved to the city of most people’s dreams with that man of mine, the subject of happiness might seem somewhat redundant.

And yet, as the initial excitement wears off and I face the prospect of everyday life in the French capital, I have to wonder: what does ‘happy in Paris’ look like?

Is it living in a great apartment, or owning the perfect wardrobe? Or maybe it’s having a fulfilling job, and a close-knit group of friends? Drinking champagne in the afternoon, reading in a garden, mastering the language?

Happiness in Paris could be all of these things, or it could be none of them. I’ve decided to find out.

La Tristesse – French for ‘unhappiness’

Happy in Paris  - www.MyFrenchLife.orgIt all started when I purchased Gretchen Rubin’s book, ‘The Happiness Project’, for the 24-hour plane ride from Sydney to Paris. Rather than champagne-fuelled resolutions at New Year’s, I like to make my life decisions on long haul flights: where I’ve got nothing but time and a uniquely elevated perspective on the world.

Though, I guess you could say it really started when I first lived in Paris, back in 2009. While for the most part I enjoyed the time I spent there, there was always a part of me that felt like I wasn’t really making the most of life in France.

I had held two very different yet equally isolating jobs, which made finding new friends very difficult.

I had shied away from the company of expats, certain that spending time with other English speakers meant taking the easy way out.

Happy in Paris - Expat -

I had spent a rather miserable portion of my time denying myself cheese and chocolate croissants, and I had let my fear of embarrassment keep me off the restaurant terraces and out of the cosy cafés.

This time around, I vowed to do better.

Happiness: a French pre-occupation

Happy in Paris - Expat -

Amazingly, it seemed I was not the first person in France to consider the topic of happiness.

Browsing at the local neighbourhood bazaar for cheap wine glasses and a new bathmat one day, I spied a tiny book, squeezed in the unlikely gap between the ten-pack of toothbrushes and a Hello Kitty calendar.

300 idées pratiques pour être heureux’, by Dominique Foufelle and Gwenn Rouvillois is a light-hearted, fabulously illustrated, pick-a-page guide to happiness. The fact that it cost a mere three euros was a reason to be happy in and of itself.

Where the strengths of Rubin’s book lie in the fact that it is well researched and wonderfully prescriptive, Foufelle and Rouvillois’ work is playful and leaves plenty of room for imagination. Together, I felt sure they would set me on the path to joy.

Great (French) expectations

So, armed with my two books and a fresh Moleskine notepad, I set to work.

My first draft of what being happy in Paris was involved somewhat lofty ambitions of three-bedroom property ownership on the Left Bank; a designer wardrobe where Sonia Rykiel featured heavily; a best-selling novel or three; and a very cute Cocker Spaniel named Canelle.

My second attempt read something like this.

Happy in Paris - Expat -

Happy in Paris is…

– Writing in cafés

– Going to yoga

– Buying fresh flowers

– Working with people

– Having a group of close friends

– Staying up late on Sunday nights

– Handwriting letters

– Starting a book club

– Never being on a diet

– Helping others

And so, this list will form the basis of what I’m calling: ‘The Happy in Paris Experiment’. I will aim to cultivate these behaviours for one month, in order to see which are most closely linked to joy. And of course, I’ll be sharing with you my secrets for being happy in Paris.

My experiment, French-style

Whilst Rubin took a structured, in-depth, month-by-month approach to her happiness project, I’ve decided to take a leaf out of the French people’s book and keep things a little more laissez-faire.

Wish me luck!

What does happy in Paris mean to you? Share your thoughts on this experiment in the comments below.

Read more on the ‘Happiness in Paris’ experiment:
Part 1: introduction (this page)
Part 2: writing in cafés
Part 3: living on French time
Part 4: health and well-being
Part 5: living vicariously
Part 6: helping others

Image Credits:
1. Footpath quote, via Nicolas Picand on Flickr.
2. Plane window, on Flickr.
3. Street art by féemaisquoi on Flickr.
4. Book cover, via AmandaD_TX on Flickr.
5. Mabillon, by myhsu on Flickr. 

About the Contributor

Alison Eastaway

“I am Australian-born but Parisienne at heart. I've spent 8 years in Paris, and can usually be found sipping coffee on café terraces or snuggling up with my cat and a book. Follow me on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn."

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  1. Marie-Gabrielle Bernier Jan 22, 2014 at 6:03 PM - Reply

    I can really relate to your story as I am on my own path to happiness. I’ve recently moved from my French Canadian hometown to Melbourne with my partner. I love the idea of doing and trying things you love for a month, I might try that! I also read an interesting book recently ‘Finding Your Own North Star’. Good luck on your path to happiness!

    • Alison Eastaway Jan 24, 2014 at 1:23 AM - Reply

      Thanks so much for reading Marie-Gabrielle! And what a great book suggestion (searching it on Amazon as we speak). Best of luck for your own experiment 🙂

  2. Judy MacMahon Jan 24, 2014 at 4:08 PM - Reply

    Oh, Alison ‘bon chance’ or should I say ‘bon courage’. I’m feeling impatient to read your next episode!!! j’attends… Also I must say that I loved your list: Happy in Paris is…- Writing in cafés (I’d love to know your favourites for writing)- Going to yoga (where?) – Buying fresh flowers (favourites?). We’re creating a very interesting series about the florists in Paris, but you’ll need to wait on that one. remember there are many of now waiting 🙂

    – Working with people

    – Having a group of close friends

    – Staying up late on Sunday nights

    – Handwriting letters

    – Starting a book club

    – Never being on a diet

    – Helping others

    • Alison Eastaway Jan 25, 2014 at 9:46 PM - Reply

      Thank you very much Judy! I’ll share a few secrets in the interim… my new favourite writing café – the 10th arrondissement branch of Café Pinson, the most affordable yoga in Paris (in English to boot!) and nothing beats rue Montergueil for fresh flowers. Until the next installment…

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