The Happiness Project

Thoughts  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 Fun by Gretchen Rubin, Harper 2009, 315 pages

FIRST Sentence:  “I’d always vaguely expected to outgrow my limitations.”

WHY I Read This/NOW: I actually started this in December or January. You know; that time of year when resolutions are top of mind and the slate is clean and the mood is optimistic. And then I had reading challenge nuttiness take over and this got shelved. And then, it somehow jumped into my hands. I was in a bit of a slump after reading (and listening to) many many books in June and I needed a self-indulgent nonfiction break from STORY.

“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

WHAT It’s About: Ms. Rubin decided to tackle in a systematic fashion the idea of how to be happier. She was not unhappy, but wondered if a scientific studious approach to understanding happiness would make her happier and also provide a buffer to any possible misfortune that might happen to befall her at a future time. Kind of as insurance against reacting badly to calamity.

What’s GOOD: I loved all the happiness quotes and the monthly organizational approach to her studies. I liked that she understood that on many levels she ‘SHOULD’ be happy – her circumstances are pretty good (compared to most women around the globe may we assume?) but she also knew that SHOULD is a dirty word. She wondered what exactly made her happy and not just what made her assume she should be happy.

What’s Maybe NOT: I wish I could find the bit about how and when she realized her project was a subset of nonfiction referred to as “stunt genre”; it certainly is. (Another clue to that is her acknowledgement of one of her writer buddies being A.J. Jacobs.) She has a few faults which she readily shares, as well as what approach worked well or not at all. But she comes off so privileged that it is almost uncomfortable to cheer her ambitions. If you didn’t like Eat, Pray, Love, you might not like this book. I LOVED Eat, Pray, Love, so what do I know? I am a navel-gaving white woman.

FINAL Thoughts:  I was happy when I read this book. A lot of it makes sense. I am GOOD at many of the items recommended for living a happy life. Remember love, lighten up, keep a contented heart. Can I still improve? Yes. Be gentle, be kind, think before reacting – is it worth the bad feelings that result when I react impatiently and harshly? NO. The new-to-me and best idea I gained from this book RIGHT NOW was for when I can’t decide what to do –> choose work. (interject husband’s derisive laughter here). I really have stopped and thought, “Ok, what should I do NOW?” and it is usually the task I least “want” to do. And I feel better to get it crossed off the list. I have heard that voice in my head saying, “choose work.”

I do suffer from the SHOULDs and especially wonder if I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Career? Every day getting by? Etc. Deciding what my purpose is on this earth worries me greatly. But I also don’t quite know if I should be doing something about that or just enjoying life. Because I am very good at enjoying life. (Like that song (but not the video), I’m Pretty Good at Drinking Beer.) I wish I was more ambitious but I’m not. I prefer to be cheerful.

“People who have fun are 20 times likely to FEEL happy.”

I am now inspired to read Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. How have I not ever heard of this amazing woman?!?!  Maybe I have but it wasn’t the time for us to be introduced. Reminds me that I need to move this up in the tbr queue…

However, by the end of the book, I was ready to move back to fiction. (and then I quickly devoured Harry Potter Book #2 and Book #3!) I do want to keep The Happiness Project as reference – maybe someday I will start my own trackable progress chart.

RATING: Three slices of pie. Lemon Meringue.

OTHER Reviews:  Where There Is Joy, S.Krishna’s Books, Sophisticated Dorkiness, the Book Blogger Search Engine Results

Are you a happy person? Abe Lincoln says, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Do you agree?


Copyright © 2007-2012. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

23 thoughts on “The Happiness Project

  1. I liked The Happiness Project and need to review the follow-up, Happier at Home, that I got an ARC of. I know what you mean about the jealousy, especially because besides the nice NYC apartment and working at home, she’s written a book that stayed on the NYT bestseller list for weeks! (In fact, I think I just saw it on the paperback list again recently.) But, of course, she didn’t know about the bestselling book part while she was writing it, and when I “met” her at BEA, she did seem like a really pleasant person.

    1. Of course she is a nice person! She’s from the Midwest! Kansas City, even. AND her parents are from Nebraska where my husband is from. She’s a hard-worker and the book really was informative and got me thinking. It’s that human trap, I guess; I had some the negative reaction, too, like “why didn’t I think of this?” 🙂

    1. I would watch the movie if if every pops up on my TV and I’m not doing anything. Those days seems to never happen anymore – is it because of social media?

      I like stunt memoirs, too. 🙂

    1. I didn’t notice it at all in EPL until everyone/hype brought it up. THEN I saw it. I read it way before hype where with this one, I wondered before I began.

  2. “Deciding what my purpose is on this earth worries me greatly. But I also don’t quite know if I should be doing something about that or just enjoying life. Because I am very good at enjoying life.” <—Oh how I can drive myself crazy with the wondering what I'm doing to earn my spot on this planet, so I understand what you're saying. But Care, honest to goodness truth, as seen from my perspective–you're doing it already! Of course, I don't know if there's other things you might come upon that call out to you and will bring you even more joy. The fact that you are so good at enjoying life is such a gift! But it's not a selfish thing at all—in case you didn't know, your gift for grabbing life and making the most of it is never-endingly inspiring! You ooze positivity and joy, and anyone around you can't help but have some of that rub off on them. I realize it's not for me to say, but I think your purpose in life might simply to be *you*.

    1. Oooo! I like that. AND, why do I think they have to be mutually exclusive? (because ‘real’ job scares me?! Real job will suck the joy right out of me?! oh yea.)

  3. I’m glad you read this! I sort-of enjoyed it (as you know from my review). I liked it, but her privilege was kind of a turn-off. Also she seemed like sort of a not-nice person to be around, sometimes. Not that not-nice people shouldn’t be happy, but, it seemed like the parts where she was trying to be nicer were *really* difficult for her. Well, whatever. I liked some of the book and it was entertaining (for ‘stunt genre’) but I did have the same problem I had with Eat, Pray, Love — namely: wow, get over yourself, lady.

    1. I’m glad I read this! I intend on referring to it. I really do enjoy books like this and just wonder if I could pull it off. Writing one, I mean. But what subject to try? I don’t have a good grasp on “description” and though I can be organized, oh… I dunno.

  4. Hmm, well, I’m not a huge fan of lemon meringue so I’m still on the fence about this one, I guess. Now if you’d said three slices of strawberry rhubarb or maybe even that grape pie you were talking about the other day, I’d have had to pick it up.

    1. No? Not a lemon meringue fan, huh? I love it. But I don’t care much for key lime pie, which is odd to me. But happy is YELLOW to me and so I needed a yellow pie. Thus the forsythia in the header at the moment. Which is a spring flower. oh well.

    1. Yes, I liked the research and quotes – could have had even more for my tastes but that is probably why I’ve been inspired to read more from her sources list.

  5. I can see how you would find merit in various aspects of the book, but I do not think this is one I would enjoy. I am part of the group that does not like Eat, Pray, Love, and feel like I would have the same issues with this book.

  6. I haven’t read this yet, but I’m interested in trying it. I do like the feature of life that you can change yourself in a desired way by just practicing it sufficiently and trying all sorts of different things. So although I would probably not do a stunt year thing myself, I think it’s neat when people do.

    1. Have you read Ben Franklin’s autobio? He was so systematic in his goals and tracking. But knowing how he spent his ‘fun’ years in Paris, I dunno…
      I sometimes think about trying to be a stunt writer. Like with my letter writing project or pie baking project (somebody just DID this and my husband was mad when I told him about it – he though I should have) but, I wonder if I really am not that good at tracking the details to make it interesting.

  7. I really want to read this one but just haven’t made the time for it. I’m glad you found it worthwhile but I also suffer from the “what next.” Throughout life I’ve been speckled with depression but right now I feel SO happy. Sure overwhelmed at times and other things I try to ignore but mostly just happy. It’s a wonderful feeling that I wish I could spread around to everyone (which I think YOU do a great job of Ms. CarriePie).

    But I know what you mean about just continuing on or worrying about purpose. Maybe your purpose IS spreading joy to others? Think you need to find what will bring YOU joy and that’s where you will excel. My projects (though they make me crazy sometimes) make me happy…if only I could figure out how to do that in a way that would sustain our monetary livelihood! 🙂

    1. Exactly. and therein lies the big question… how to be happy when making a ‘living’ usually demands time constraints that conflict. Thus, if you can make cash doing what you love, but … or? how to fall in love with the things people pay you to do.

    1. I actually did enjoy most of it WHILE reading it. But when it was over, I didn’t have the same leftover aftertaste maybe. Does that make any sense…

  8. I bought this as part of a 40th birthday gift. When I was checking out at B&N the bookseller ringing me up told me (without prompting) that the book didn’t work for her. She said as a 20 something she did not have the money to do what the author did. You mention that the author was priveledged so maybe that was the part she responded to. I went ahead and bought it, but I wonder how long she lasted as a bookseller? 🙂

    1. Hmmm, the book has many fine points and it is best to remember it is HER experience. She doesn’t ever preach and admits her troubles (and advantages) are hers and she only wants to be more daily aware of the best way to be happy with what she has. I don’t recall the money question involved but that is probably my own perspective as well. It is NOT a good idea to bring baggage to viewing this memoir! otherwise it is just a comparing game and that is SO not the point. So. the book really did put me in a positive mind while reading it and I hope you enjoy it.

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