Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Paperback, 336 pages
Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)

Personal Copy

Summary from Goodreads:
Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, and Eat, Pray, Love. With humor and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising—she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference—and they range from the practical to the profound.

Written with charm and wit, The Happiness Project is illuminating yet entertaining, thought-provoking yet compulsively readable. Gretchen Rubin's passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire you to start your own happiness project.

My Thoughts:
Five stars.  Hands down. I really loved this book.  In fact, this is the first time that I have read a book on my Kindle, and then went out to purchase the hard copy, so that I can have it for reference.  The Happiness Project is not the kind of book that you start, finish, and then put on the shelf.  It is a book that opened my eyes to many of the ways in which I have been stuck.  It is also a book that I will pick up for a periodic refresher on how I can take charge of my own mood.

I heard about The Happiness Project while watching the CBS Sunday Morning show.  I have been in a bit of a funk lately about work and how I can possibly fit in everything that I want to do in life.  You know - how can I be happier?  So that evening, I downloaded the book and started to read. 

I enjoyed how Rubin walked through her own happiness project.  Instead of being a self-help book where the reader is told how they can improve their life by a know-it-all, plastic, perfect author, Rubin instead was honest about her life and how she was working to change her outlook.  Some suggestions and exercises that Rubin followed will apply to all readers, but some will not - she was very up front about the fact that this was a happiness project that was her own.  She was exploring ways to make herself a happier person.

The takeaways for me are countless, however I think that one of Rubin's Twelve Commandments - to Be Gretchen - really struck a chord with me.  How many times do we consider activities that we should be doing, or working to achieve things that we should be achieving instead of focusing on things that make us who we are?  A few years back, I developed a list of goals for myself and when I looked back on those goals, a few were things that I didn't even want to do - they were there because I felt that a should do them.  Getting an MBA is one of those things.  I dedicated several semesters in pursuit of this goal that I hated.  Despite a 4.0 GPA, I felt as if I was contributing more to the learning experience of those in my team (read: doing all the work to get the high grade) than I was to my own education.  So I stopped.  And I crossed that goal off the list.  There are more things in my life that I need to put in this bucket.

Rubin also dedicated an entire month of work to Lighten Up!  My inner control freak wanted to skip right past that chapter.  But I didn't.  I think that The Happiness Project held up a much-needed mirror in front of my face, so that I can realize how I really need to stop being so serious all the time.  J won't care if I don't play Barbies just the right way - she just wants me to play.

I'm so glad that I took a bit of a break from fiction to read this book.  I have become a faithful follower of The Happiness Project blog, which gives me new perspective almost every day.  This book won't be for everyone, but I truly enjoyed it.  It's always nice to learn a little bit more about yourself by seeing what others have learned in their own lives.

5 Stars!


  1. Five stars? You have got to be kidding me. Nothing new in this book. Old ideas rehashed. Happiness is a state of mind - you can't turn it into a project, and I don't think you can find it by collecting things and sleeping when tired. Seriously silly information.

  2. I enjoyed The Happiness Project due to the fact that Rubin didn't uproot her life and move away to find her difference in mood. Instead, she stayed put in her New York dwelling with her husband and two daughters, and tried to make a difference in her life from her current location. She changed her habits, not her place and that gave her memoir its own uniqueness.