Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I have a confession: I love reading books that make me feel happy. As soon as I picked up Gretchen Rubin's highly publicized The Happiness Project, I knew this was one that would fit the bill.

The premise is remarkably simple but utterly engaging. Rubin, now a full-time writer with a couple other titles under her belt, chose to spend a full year working on things that would make her happier. Each month, she chose a concept and from that concept, she developed a small list of goals and resolutions (something she defines as markedly different things). So, for January, her big concept was "vitality" and from that, she hoped to boost her energy. In March, her concept was "work," and she hoped to aim higher. This was the month she began her very popular happiness project blog.

In each month, Rubin practiced wisdom she picked up from others who had shared their views on happiness, from philosophers to writers. She likewise developed a set of twelve commandments for herself to follow while testing out and practicing these nuggets of wisdom, and these included "Be Gretchen" (a recurring theme), "Do what ought to be done," and "Act the way I want to feel."

Everything that Rubin does in this book is entirely practical, but it's her writing and her ability to laugh at herself and enjoy the moment that makes this such an enjoyable book. Right now - and to give some spoilerage to a future post - I'm also listening to Eric Weiner's book The Geography of Bliss, and something he mentions is that too often, we relegate solving our problems to self-help gurus who have nothing but profit in mind. Rather than try to understand our place and our feelings, we think we're wrong and therefore jump to getting help. The self-help industry is just that: an industry.

Instead, Rubin is entirely relatable, and she has a sense of humor about everything she does. One of her goals one month is to not nag or to criticize when others try their best to help her. As readers, we see exactly what would have irritated her and how we would have responded in the situation, but Rubin responds appropriately according to her happiness project goals. Pffft, how perfect, right? Well, no. Rubin then tells us EXACTLY what was going on in her mind and how she normally would react....and sometimes, despite her best efforts, she still responds in her old ways. You have to like a fallible character, especially one embarking on a project like this.

This is a highly readable book, and one which you can pick up and put down at any time. I found it quite a motivating title, as it made goal making easy, straightforward, and attainable. Rubin is the kind of person I would love to meet and hang out with. She's funny, insightful, and totally human. She even gets a kick out of becoming "one of those writers" -- you know, the ones who do something for a year, write a book, and make a profit.

I think The Happiness Project stands out from that crowd, as it's a manual any of us can pick up and develop our own projects. It's hard not to read this and come a way with a bit more insight into happiness or even feel happy reading it.

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