Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Release Date: December 29th, 2009
Source: Personal Copy
The Happiness Project chronicles a year in the life of wife, mother, and former-lawyer-turned writer Gretchen Rubin as she creates and implements her plan to achieve a happier life. Each month has a different theme, with the entire period being devoted to completing tasks associated with different areas of her life in order to improve happiness. This book is basically the results and conclusions she was able to draw at the end of the year.
One of the hardest things for people, especially Americans, to achieve is true happiness (especially if you listen to marketing and advertisers.) Just browsing the self help section of a bookstore will reveal how much money those seeking the elusive state are willing to spend in order to find it themselves. In The Happiness Project, Rubin's journey appeals to a specific set of these individuals - those who have their basic needs satisfied and are fairly successful and stable, yet feel as if something is missing, and want to do what is necessary to achieve that higher level of inner contentment.
In this self-proclaimed entry into the "stunt genre" (where the author does something for a year and then writes a book about it), Rubin recounts her epiphany on a bus one morning...the moment she realises she's not as happy and satisfied as she wants to be in her life. Unlike many other books that have a focus on completely altering your life, The Happiness Project relies on keeping a normal routine. She wanted to "change [her] life without changing [her] life, by finding more happiness in [her] own kitchen." Rubin doesn't go through some life-altering, drastic changes (a la Eat, Pray, Love) in order to achieve her desired end, and I felt much more able to relate to that. We can't all just drop everything in our lives to go around the world to find ourselves.
The level of organization for her project is intense. While continually researching the current field of happiness study, she goes about creating a resolutions board, writing down things she wants to accomplish and marking them off as the months tick by. This very structured methodology of completing her project definitely appealed to the organizer in me. She assigns her resolutions to different months of the year, methodically working on one element at a time. Most of her sections have universal application, but there are a few that could easily be skipped. I don't have children, so the month of April, with it's focus on parenthood, doesn't really hold much value for me.
While parts of the book did feel a little self-indulgent, I did admire her honesty regarding her circumstances. She openly admits that her life has been pretty easy overall, with a husband, two young children, a great education, a nice house in a good neighborhood, and that she isn't the victim of a terrible, life-altering tragedy. For me, this admission was essential to keeping the book readable. Being upfront and putting all her cards on the table helped me believe that she wasn't trying to garner sympathy. I hate when authors try to trick me into feeling sorry for them.
Throughout the book, Rubin keeps reiterating that every person's happiness project will be different, and I appreciated the fact that she didn't market her "Twelve Commandments" or her "Secrets to Adulthood" as the solution to a person's problems. She lives by a mantra of "Be Gretchen" in an effort to remind herself that there is no need to emulate other people in order to be happy. During September, she talks about how to embrace your passions and stop feeling guilty for not enjoying what others find interesting or important. I felt particularly drawn to the paragraph about books where she poses the question "Why do I feel guilty for lying around, 'just reading?'" While I've always been amazed at people who try to belittle others who "just read," I must admit that I am guilty of doing that to myself sometimes, thinking that there are more important tasks I need to be accomplishing. One of her twelve commandments really resonated with me:
You can choose what you do; you can't choose what you like to do.Her overall point, though, seems to be that you aren't going to like what others do and that's okay.
Even if I didn't agree with some of her actions or conclusions, The Happiness Project did get me thinking about my own life and about little things I could work on myself. Rubin definitely gets points for perseverance, since many of her task attempts ended in failure. Overall, this book was a decent read. Rubin's writing wasn't particularly magical, and at times I felt myself growing tired of the semi-autobiographical style in which she composed many of the chapters. While this book didn't change my life, I can say, however, that I closed the final page with a new outlook on happiness. It's very easy to be depressed and negative, but one must work to be happy.