The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

51takLmkBBLTitle: The Happiness Project
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Pages: 315
Year: 2011 (Original: 2009)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisGretchen 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, Rubin 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. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true–this is my third five star review in a row. I’ve been reading a lot of good crap lately.

I bought this book for my mom for her birthday a couple years ago. (I never buy people presents, but when I do, it’s a book.) She claims she read most of it, but I don’t believe her. Which is fine. Although, the cover is stained, so maybe she’s telling the truth. Anyway, I went down the shore with her this past weekend, and I was finished with my library book by Friday night, so I needed something else to read. I actually didn’t expect to finish this. I tend to be really annoyed by happy people (which I now feel really bad about), so I figured I would think Gretchen Rubin was just obnoxious. And I did, at first.

As Gretchen mentions a number of times, this book is not a cure for depression. That’s a whole different issue. This book is for ordinary people with no mental illnesses. (A.k.a. REALLY not me.) Gretchen is very clear about this, and I found myself laughing at her every time she gave a little blurb about how depression is a very serious mental illness and should seriously be taken very seriously!! Seriousness!! Thanks, Gretchen. I know. So I expected to find her advice to be super annoying and privileged, and some of it was (e.g. “Let yourself splurge a little!” and things like that). But some of it actually felt applicable to me. I can’t go to a gym five times a week or anything like that, but I can eat better. I can go for walks sometimes. I can try to be less critical of others.

Her section on marriage definitely bothered me at first. She wanted to stop nagging her husband. If she wanted something done, she was going to do it herself. I didn’t agree with that. Everyone has to chip in when it comes to chores. But Gretchen noticed that when she stopped nagging, her husband actually helped out more. I’ve been thinking about trying this, but honestly, if I stopped nagging my boyfriend, he would do nothing, I promise you. He would never pick his clothes up off the floor or take out the trash or water our plant. Ever. Still, I think it’d be an interesting experiment to try. I guess there’s like a 1% chance that he’ll surprise me. But I liked how whenever Gretchen did chores that she wanted her husband to do, she thought to herself, “I’m doing this for me, because it’s what I want.” Which is a good point, I guess, but I’m still trying to figure out if that whole thing is anti-feminist or not. I don’t believe in letting men get away with being lazy, but I do believe in doing things for yourself.

Gretchen writes often that she worried that writing a book about her personal happiness project and not about general happiness was selfish. I can totally understand where that worry comes from, but I hope she realizes now that the personal story is what makes this book work. First of all, we can’t trust her principles unless we can see them in action. Lead by example, right? And second, I found myself really caring about her outcomes. I wanted her kids to stop crying. I wanted her husband to be more thoughtful. I wanted to see her succeed. That’s why books have characters. We have to relate to a specific person, and then we can apply the general principle elsewhere. I was totally hooked on this book by the second chapter because I cared about Gretchen’s family, as normal and privileged as they are. That’s how I know this was written really well.

I honestly think that everyone would benefit from reading this. (I’ve been considering asking my boyfriend to read it, but I know he’ll flat out refuse.) I’m glad I have a copy stole this from my mom, because I could see myself flipping through it a few more times.

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