...or why books and tv rank higher than sleep

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin, Gretchen. 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 Fun. Harper. New York. 2009. 320pp. ISBN 0061583251.

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.

Right now I'm at a crossroads in my life. I don't know if my marriage is going to work out. I don't know if I should stick around this area after grad school. I don't know where to apply for PhD programs. Etc... What I do know is that I am tired of being stressed all of the time and I am very tired of putting the needs of others first in a pathetic attempt to please everyone.
So, I got a copy of The Happiness Project from the library, even though I am not particularly fond of self-help or non-fiction books that aren't related to history. I figured this was going to be different because the author chronicals her experiences and in no way is on a soapbox. Rubin uses her experiences combined with research and philosophy to answer for herself, "Is it possible to become a happier person? Is happiness a meaningful and worthwhile goal?"
I am very glad I picked up the book. While a lot of it really didn't apply to me, I was inspired to really take a look at my life and the behaviors I want to change. The change will come slowly - Rubin herself focused on one subject a month, which is important considering how difficult it is to change behavior.
While Rubin's use of quotations and feedback from readers was incredibly helpful for me, she really did come across as privileged and overly demanding of kudos. She admits she does ask too much for credit and is working on it. We all have our burdens and everything but it is really hard to sympathize with her because, let's face it, she has a pretty good upper to upper middle class life.
Am I a happier person for reading the book? Not really, but I do think it is much more tangible for me now. I know what I need to work on and I have a better idea of how to go about it. Plus I'm doing a really cool resolution chart to keep me on track!

Rating: 3 eyeglasses

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