Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

Do you ever worry about not being happy enough? Gretchen Rubin wasn't especially unhappy, but she thought that maybe she could do better. So she made a lot of lists, and charts, and amassed a ton of books, and set about upping her happiness quotient.

I love that she was so task-oriented in tackling this project: maybe more people would experience greater happiness if they stopped thinking about it and just attacked the problem head-on! Super un-Buddhist, I know, but very American. I'm willing to bet that most of us don't have the kind of energy and single-minded focus that Ms. Rubin does, so it's nice that she's done a lot of the work already.

The book is divided into months; each month is devoted to a different area of life. January is all about finding more energy, since a year-long happiness project is sort of a marathon. Other months include improving her (already pretty great) marriage, becoming a better parent, learning new skills; the list goes on. Each month she sets herself a series of tasks to help accomplish her goals. You can see the straight-A law student in Gretchen; she's got axioms, a bibliography, theses, proofs, conclusions. She's even got an extremely comprehensive website devoted to the project, with a whole toolkit you can use to blaze your own trail to happiness. What this woman gets done before breakfast every day boggles the mind.

Here are a few of the things the author learned from her experiences that ring true to me - and I only had to spend a few days reading to glean them!

1. You like what you like, and it won't make you remotely happy to spend your time doing things you wish you liked.

2. Thinking about being happy leads to being... happy.

3. Acting happy makes life more bearable, even when it isn't actually enjoyable.

4. All that crap you tell your kids really is true: if you don't have anything nice to say, shut the hell up; you don't have to like it, you just have to do it without complaining; you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar (okay, no one really uses this old chestnut any more, but it sounds better than the way we currently express this idea).

Here is another thing I really liked about this book: The author is very happy to admit to her own shortcomings. This keeps the reader from feeling envious of her and her happiness. I mean, who wouldn't like to have an entire year to devote to being happy? It's hard not to feel a little jealous of a woman who seems to have it all, and then gets to devote her life to being happier. Although the project does, in her estimation, increase her levels of joy and fulfillment, she's not completely transformed into an incontestably amazing wife and mother with a perfect yoga body and unshakable inner peace. She still has bad days, and bad habits. She is happier, because she's concentrating on being happier, which kind of indicates that a modicum of effort can have a real and positive affect. Even if you have to work at a real job.

Finally, and most importantly to me, how does this woman manage to read so many books? I know it's part of her job, but still, the rate at which she plows through them is incredible, and enviable. My very own happiness project might easily be derailed by giving in to the desire to do nothing but sit around reading all day.

Visit The Happiness Project website for lots of ideas about bettering your life.


  1. I loved this one too. I thought I would hate it and it would be more of a "self-help" style book, but it was great. I agree that the tasks are what made it so accessible. I liked having actual things to implement in my life.

  2. I'm trying to get hold of her charts - clearly good intentions aren't getting me very far!