‘The Happiness Project’ Reviewed: Charming and Helpful


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 FunGretchen Rubin has the enviable ability to make her readers want to know her personally. This has been demonstrated both through her blog and her book, The Happiness Project.

I've been wanting to read this book since I heard of it a couple of months ago, and once I picked it up and started reading, I was very glad I had. The Happiness Project reads almost more as a memoir than a self-help book, which I think is part of its charm.

It gives you an intimate portrait of Rubin's attempts to find deeper and broader happiness within the context of her life, and her ongoing and daily struggles with integrating what she was learning.

Rubin tells a story early in the book about getting a terrible review from a reviewer and, even though she (privately) took it very personally, she composed herself and wrote a calm email in response, thanking him for his feedback. She talks both about how difficult it was to take that step and how wonderful it felt when she did it (and doubly wonderful when she got a gracious response).

I remember when I finally got to the point in my life where I could handle negative feedback. It was a powerful feeling. Being able to take a deep breath and be able to respond from a place that knew it had done the best it could and still would never please anyone was both powerful- and fleeting.

Rubin's storytelling style helped with tapping into those deep emotions. It also made me identify strongly with her, even though she and I are clearly very different people. Gretchen Rubins has lived an impressive life. At thirty-mumble years old, she has served as intern to a Supreme Court justice, then given up what would have been a stellar law career to turn to writing and staying at home with her two girls. She is happily married and has an extended family that she describes as loving and supportive. S

he mentions in the book that when she was having self-doubts, her lack of real 'drama' in her life and her relative ease of life felt like a disadvantage to her. I'm of two minds about this. In one sense, because her life was drama free and relatively privileged, she had the ability to do the experiment without having the added difficulty of 'I have to make this pay right now or the mortgage won't get paid'.

On the other hand, there are some things about happiness that are often not picked up by those who come from privilege because they never have to think about them. To her credit, Rubin spends some time covering this issue, and also brings in the words of her blog commenters, who come from all walks of life, to supplement her own life experience.

She is also so clearly genuinely nice and open that it serves to universalize her experiences even though many of us cannot imagine living in a comfortable apartment in one of New York City's best neighborhoods. And her number one piece of advice, the one that she calls 'be Gretchen' and I would name 'be Maureen', and of course you would name for yourself, is a universally good piece of advice.

I really enjoyed reading the book. While the book was very structured and gave some key pointers, I was surprised to see that it was less concrete than I expected. Compared to the rest of the 'self-help' literature out there, it was short on bullet points and long on story. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I often found Rubin's style engaging in a way a list of ideas or precepts might not have been.

While it might have benefited from some chapter end 'workbook' type questions and perhaps an organized list of resources and exercises at the end, overall it was both helpful and entertaining, a 're-reader' I will be returning to every now and again. It does have an extensive bibliography and a brief description of the resolution system Rubin uses to organize her project, which I know a lot of people will find useful.

When I rate it on my own personal scale of readability, it's a 'buy and keep' book, my second highest rating. My highest rating is 'buy two copies, one to keep and one to loan'. In my own universe, 'buy and keep' means I keep it at my local library to save space, but if you have the space, this is a good one to spend your money on – and better yet it will never be 'dated'.

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About odanu

Maureen O'Danu is the webmistress of Am I the Only One Dancing? where there is a new discussion every day on any one of dozens of topics and ideas, as well as reviews, geekery, family, fun, and enough politics to season the pot.
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