The Happiness Project.
The Happiness Project is a book I’ve long been awaiting. I discovered the blog of the same name close to two years ago (about the time I also discovered Unclutterer, and the two sometimes go hand in hand). Gretchen Rubin is a lawyer-turned-writer who decided she wanted to spend a year being focused on improving her happiness without radically changing her life in an Eat, Pray, Love kind of way. I appreciated this because while that kind of journey is envious, it’s also rare and inaccessible for most people.
Because of her training in law and who she is by nature, Rubin decided to spend a year reading everything she could about being happy and trying all of the advice. She also devises her personal Happiness Commandments, and then makes charts of monthly resolutions that relate to those commandments. It’s a much more structured and researched approach that many other people would take, and I think for some people this factor will make her project hard to identify with.
Part of the way through her projects, she had a realization the happiness projects could be for everyone, and her blog is a helpful guide to this end. She makes a point to say that everyone’s project will look different and that her approach may not work for everyone, and hopefully this point is well taken.
I actually went to see Gretchen Rubin speak when she visited Kansas City on her book tour (she grew up here). Additionally, I have emailed her a variety of articles over time; whenever I’ve read anything on happiness in the news, I usually hit “forward.” I’ve found her to be articulate, gracious and genuine in all of my interactions with her, and the idea of a happiness project has resounded with me since the very beginning.
Having thoroughly established my connections and bias, I will say that I really liked the book. It wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, and wasn’t the be-all-end-all-amazingest-book-ever, but I still got a lot out of it. I wish that she had spent more time explaining her background for the project: all the research she did and how she came up with her commandments. In addition to a more robust introduction, I also wish the book had been longer and more fleshed out in some sections; the latter chapters seemed rushed and fully developed. I do think one of the criticisms of the book in which people question the audacity of Rubin to dare to want to be happier when she has two children, a good marriage, a great job and financial stability is unfair though. All of these things don’t necessarily equal happiness, nor do they take away from the fact that a person working to improve happiness is not necessarily unhappy to begin with. Part of the idea of the project is that we could all be happier even if we would describe ourselves as generally happy people (or deny happiness exists, as some people do).
I do think that perhaps one of the downsides to memoir books like these is that it can make the author seem self-centered. I’m not sure there’s a way around that accusation- I think it will always be a danger for writers of memoirs. Rubin does explain that part of the reason she thought a book would be a worthwhile project is that she benefits most from reading of what one person’s experience was, and therefore other people might also be the same. And I think this is true: I do take suggestions more to heart if it’s a personal recommendation (and conversely, sometime ignore them depending on the person!). The question then becomes whether this method still works if you don’t directly know the person making the recommendation. Is it less valid to you if it’s from a writer than from a friend?
Perhaps Gretchen’s suggestions are still valid to me because I’m more familiar with her style through her blog, or maybe it’s because we’re similar people, but I was able to avoid the trap of only reading the layer of “this is what worked for me” and see her deeper points. And because I’m a true geek, I enjoyed her learning about everything she had read (Samuel Johnson was a favorite) and things she tried (laughter yoga, for example), and her anecdotes about her family and their reaction to her experiment.
For whatever reason, The Happiness Project really fit into my life at this point in time, and given that I’m also enrolled in Mondo Beyondo (a course I’d highly recommend), it coincided well with a lot of introspection and deep thought. And now I’m thinking about making my own Happiness Commandments and the question of what makes me happy in a much more meaningful way. Rock on.