The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, is a memoir chronicling her year-long quest in the pursuit of happiness. At the beginning of the book, she describes the start of her project:
… as I sat on that crowded bus, I grasped two things: I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. In that single moment, with that realization, I decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.
First, Rubin had to figure out if she believed she could change her level of happiness, and if so, what that would even look like. She explained her reasoning in the “Getting Started” section, and I found her research fascinating. I can’t imagine how much she must have read to come to the conclusion that, yes, she could affect her personal level of happiness, which she loosely defined as “positive affect,” “subjective well-being,” and “I’ll know it when I see it.”
As an attorney-turned-writer, Rubin tackled the year in a manner I very much admired. For each month, she focused on a specific area of her life to improve (energy, marriage, parenting, gratitude), which entailed a handful of pertinent resolutions. For example, one of her goals for March, the Work month, was to launch a blog, which is still alive and well. Every night, Rubin evaluated her performance on a Resolution Chart, which helped her summarize her progress at the end of each month and chapter.
When I was reading this book and I described the premise to someone, the response was usually, “Oh, like Eat Pray Love?” Well, yes. And no. Yes, because both books cover life changes over the course of a year. But, no, vehemently no, because The Happiness Project is completely mundane, but that’s what makes it so personable. Rubin never left her New York apartment. She wasn’t financed by a book deal. Her venture wasn’t spurred by trauma. As she put it, she wanted to change her life without changing her life. For me, reading Eat Pray Love was like listening to an invited speaker in college as an act of escapism, but The Happiness Project was like chatting with your girlfriend at a sidewalk bistro. In some ways, that’s what makes its content a lot more thought-provoking, because if you’re anything like me, you start thinking, Hm, maybe I could do this.
Of course, it helped that I identified strongly with Rubin, who described herself as someone who always wants that gold star. Her methodology resonated with me, even when it highlighted areas of weakness. That said, I can understand if it comes off as somewhat militant and rigid. As Rubin emphasizes, everyone’s happiness project will look different because different things make different people happy. So, if a chart isn’t your deal, that’s okay.
I didn’t love everything about this book; I was turned off just slightly by the mantra-esque aspects, like the principles that eventually become The Four Splendid Truths and Rubin’s personal Twelve Commandments. There are sections that quote comments from her blog, and although the sentiments were relevant, they disrupted the first-person narrative in my brain.
I thought The Happiness Project was wonderfully researched, accessible, and (dare I say it?) inspirational. Most of all, it was thought-provoking. I’m still thinking about how I affect my own level of happiness, and how, by striving to become a happier, lighter person, I might impact more than my immediate person. I am for darn sure keeping my copy for future reference and another read-through.
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I received this book as a free sample from HarperCollins. If you’d like a chance to win your own copy and you live in the United States or Canada (sorry, other countries!), please leave a comment! Comments will close at 8pm Eastern Time on Sunday, January 24, and I will choose one winner randomly. Good luck!
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Edited to add: The comments are now closed, and the winner has been selected. Congratulations to Tammy O!