The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

DownloadedFile-1I picked up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin last month while trolling a bookstore with my 14 year old daughter and her friend.  They had babysitting money to burn and were there looking for a toy (a Dr. Who tardis sold at Barnes and Noble), which gave me 30 minutes or so to browse.  They found their tardis, and let me tell you, it made them EXTREMELY HAPPY to find it.  No happiness project needed for those two.

I don’t read a lot of non fiction and almost zero self help, so I’m not sure what attracted me to this particular book.  Maybe it’s the notion that anybody can be happier if they go about it the right way.  Trying to be happy, though, seems counterproductive.  Should you really have to try?  Is that like trying to be in love?  Shouldn’t it be something that just happens, something that just IS, when things are good and the planets align?

And is it kind of obnoxious and maybe even a little selfish for a person with a comfortable life to wish for more?  I live in the land of plenty, I have clean water, access to excellent health care, resources, education.  I have a nice house, nice husband, great kids.  While I’m truly grateful for all that, I often have the feeling (sometimes fleeting, other times for long periods) that I should be happier than I am.  I should not have this vague sense of discontent.

Can a person really be happier if they work at it?  (work=happy?  see what I mean? does that even make sense?)

So with all those conflicting thoughts, I opened up the book right there in the store and started reading.  Right away Rubin tells the reader that her Happiness Project would look different than theirs.  Happiness is individual, like a fingerprint or a snowflake.  But why would reading about someone else’s happiness help a person to be happier?   Well, I don’t have the answer to that, but it did.  It really did.

Basically, Rubin researched the heck out of her subject.  Her reading included The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama, Walden by Henry David Thoreau and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, among many others.  She looked at works by Plato, Tolstoy, even Oprah.  She read about the history of happiness, the science of happiness, novels about happiness, and memoirs of catastrophe (because it puts everything into perspective).  She spent months preparing for her project.  She asked herself if it was possible to make herself be happier, and decided it was.  She had to define happiness, then figure out how to make herself happier.

She set about identifying areas of her life to work on, then came up with happiness-boosting resolutions in each area.  She divided up the 12 months of the year into categories such as Energy, Parenthood, Work, Friends, Attitude, Play and created resolutions for each, making a chart.  It was all very systematic. She made Twelve Commandments which included “Be Gretchen” and “Do it now” and “Lighten Up.”  She came up with some Secrets of Adulthood to help guide her (my favorite- “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”)  She hoped that working on her own happiness would boost the happiness of the people around her.

There were many great insights and nuggets of inspiration gained from reading this book, including small things like “Don’t Expect Praise or Appreciation” (I admit I want my family to notice that I cleaned the bathroom, did the laundry, made dinner, etc.  I want my gold stars!),  “Be a Treasure House of Happy Memories” (my takeaway- take more pictures, share them with family members), “Acknowledge the Reality of People’s Feelings” (I have a tendency to want to whisk away the negative, and downplay my daughters’ real emotions), “Cut People Slack” (recognize that the “jerk” who just cut ahead of you might have a very good reason for being in such a hurry), and many more.

More takeaways:

It is easy to be heavy, hard to be light.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Goals and resolutions are not the same thing.  You hit a goal, but you keep a resolution.  You work on them every day.  You strive to live up to resolutions.

This little book has inspired groups all over the world to take up a quest for more happiness.  Countless blogs have been launched as a direct result, with people chronicling their own happiness project.

Gretchen is a big proponent of social media and The Happiness Project blog is fantastic, with all kinds of great ideas and inspiration.  She’s also really active on Twitter and Facebook.

My own return to blogging was a direct result of this book.  While I won’t be blogging about my happiness project, blogging makes me happy and I’ve truly missed it.

Could you be happier?  What makes you happy?

20 Responses

  1. This sounds like a very thoughtful and inspiring book. I’ve seen a few reviews about it but yours was the first that made me pause and think I might want to read it myself. Pursuing happiness seems rather counterproductive I’ve always thought, but the suggestions here about how to alter your outlook or response etc. seem very useful… a lot to think about.

    • Hi Jeane. I was inspired to make some changes and I definitely had a shift in perspective. Just in little things, like how I react to people and how that affects their happiness as well as my own. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  2. Wonderful review, Lisa! Who doesn’t want to be happier? This book sounds as if it really does present some good ideas about happiness. It’s not at all selfish to want more happiness, and happy people give to others more freely and more often, I believe.

  3. I loved this book so much. She has a second book, Happier at Home, which focuses (obviously) on a happiness project tailored to her home – husband, kids, decorating, de-cluttering, etc. Also good.

  4. I love that this book brought you back to blogging. I definitely think you can work at happiness – you can decide if you want to look at the positive or negative side of things. I strive for positive but don’t always make it.

    • So true, Kathy! So much of our attitude is based on deciding to act a certain way, and then our emotions follow our actions. Fake it til you make it, I suppose! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  5. Totally getting this book after reading your review! Even as a counselor, my thoughts are the same as yours :p Do I really have to TRY to be happy? LOL…shouldn’t I just BE happy? But I think that the right book written the right way can just point out “duh moments” as I like to call them than can help us hone in a little bit on the goodness we do have and on how to handle the stresses life throws at us. I just read Quiet recently, a book about introverts (which I am) and it helped a lot too just in letting me know, hey…it’s ok to be who you are :p Thanks for the great review 🙂

    • Hi Chris! I’ve started implementing little things from the book, basically taking a second to think about how I respond to my kids, and the change in the way THEY respond is nothing short of miraculous. This book has really made me think. Oh, and I’ve heard really good things about Quiet! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  6. I actually bought this book on my Kindle on some January 1st (I think it was a couple of years ago). Then I never touched it. I have been in a spot of unhappiness lately, which makes me feel bad because I too have everything I should ever want. Perhaps I need to find time for this.

    • Hi Sandy, Little changes can really go a long way to improving your mental state, I’m finding. It might be time to check it out. Good luck; I hate hearing that you’re in a spot of unhappiness. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  7. Glad it brought you back to blogging! I’m not sure what made me read this one originally, but I think it might have been the subtitle. I like this kind of my-year-of memoir, even though I don’t read much self-help either. I found it helpful even though I’ve never committed to doing an actual happiness project of my own. I liked Happier at Home, too, and thought it was a nice follow-up.

    • Hi Laurie, I’m discovering that I like these types of memoirs (and blogs, too) that take a year to try something new. I don’t plan to do an official Happiness Project, but I’m using some of her ideas in my everyday life, with success! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  8. If you notice, everyone is getting a smiley face from me in the comments. Trying to spread a little cheesy cheer 🙂

  9. Boy, it sounds like this one really worked for you! I haven’t started a “project” but I have been working very hard in the past few months to be a happier, more positive person; without much effort, I’ve been able to keep a much better attitude all winter. I don’t know that I’d try to be more organized about it but it seems that Rubin is, at heart, saying, be aware of it and it’s easier to make it happen.

  10. I am with you in your initial reaction to this book. It sounds like work to me! LOL! But, I remember reading The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and it wasn’t much work at all. Just choosing to look at a situation differently can often bring you happiness. I’d read this book. I know what I need to be happy but I don’t always make time for it.

  11. I’ve been wanting to read this one for awhile. I think happiness is a choice…most days. I went through a lot of death last year and it was difficult but even in the face of my grief I found things each day that made me happy. I’m glad this book brought you back to bloggin!

  12. Awesome review. I really want to read this one. A lot.

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