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The Sadness in Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project

06/07/2013 02:33 pm ET | Updated Aug 07, 2013

"Behind you," he says, his voice shorter than his meaning. He closes the oven with a bare foot, his hot-pad wrapped fingers gripping a baking dish. He sets our breakfast onto the counter with a clang, steam frames his newly bearded face, cinnamon and butter and pecan waft between us.

I wrap my own fingers around a coffee mug and wait.

As sunshine lights the kitchen and our children play in our background, my husband and I steal a moment to talk -- really talk -- almost without interruptions.

I'm reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, and while I've been nodding my way through most of it -- exercise, organize, be playful, make time, show love -- I'm stuck on a part that I read last night. And I'm waiting, almost patiently, to tell him all about it.

Finally, he nods my way. He's ready for my words, my thoughts, my speed bumps. "How'd you find a sad part in a book about happiness?" He teases.

Oh, but I did.

Rubin's project involves a year filled with monthly happiness goals. Each one is kissed with her Twelve Commandments, the first of which is Be Gretchen. Be true to yourself, know who you are and who you're not, what you love and what you don't, what makes you happy and what doesn't.

In the fifth chapter, Leisure: Be Serious About Play, Rubin tiptoes into the sadness of letting go of possibility, of what could have been.

While I know that my very best is just outside of my comfort zone and that anything can be learned, I get this kind of sadness.

Without a push, a stretch, a wandering into New, I never would have become a dog lover, a from-scratch-pie-crust-maker, a 5k runner. I never would have fallen in love with a man in a different state, studied abroad, or become a writer.

But life is a series of choices, and when you pursue one passion, you let go of another. There's a certain sadness to that.

Life is so sweet, so full, so promising -- but we can only taste so much of it.

I'll never join a group with ease, not stand up for what I believe, or fake smoothed feelings.

I'll never backpack through Europe, go to Burning Man, or follow a band.

I'll never be an ad executive, an artist, or a psychologist.

I'll never be a mother to a newborn again, live near everyone I love at the same time, or get my PHD.

There's a sweetness to owning your dreams so tightly and vividly that you can taste them while they're still just dreams.

And in the very next heartbeat, there's a certain bitter in loosening your hold on what could've been.

What I've decided -- over French toast and coffee and the reading of a new book -- is that it's okay (Good even?) to plant your feet right into that saltiness. To let yourself feel that sadness and that letting go.

In fact, it might be the only way to take that step forward.

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