By Gretchen Rubin
This one wins the “longest subtitle” award for sure.
This is a look at one woman’s year-long attempt to become happier in all areas of her life. It doesn’t pretend to be a self-help book with all the answers to make you happier; in fact, she comes out at the start and says you shouldn’t expect the things that worked for her to work for you. It’s her story and she’s telling it for herself, and maybe it’ll help a few people along the way.
It’s really hard to give a good overview of the book because it’s got a lot of information in it. I’d almost end up rewriting the whole book here in order to cover all of it, so this review is going to end up being more about my response to the book, than the book itself, but I honestly recommend picking it up, because it’s interesting and well-written and you may have a light bulb go off while you’re reading.
To start the project, the author did a lot of reading on the subject of happiness and found certain ideas or principles she wanted to try and apply to her life, and in this memoir she attacks one aspect of happiness every month. Things like “energy” and “money” and “relationships” and “mindfulness”. Not everything works well; in fact, some strategies or ideas piss her off and she drops them pretty quickly – you have no idea how relieved I was to discover someone else who just doesn’t get why yoga is so awesome! It all boils down to figuring out what will make you happy and making sure you find ways get to it and fit it into your life.
That’s something that resonates with me – feeling like you’re supposed to like something. I feel like I’m supposed to want to throw fancy parties, and I feel guilty about preferring a night on the couch with my husband or some friends, enjoying pizza and Wii bowling. I find myself wishing I had more occasions to wear a dress and fancy heels, but in reality, fancy-schmancy restaurants make me feel out of place. I wish I loved a fancy life, I wish I was into opera and classical music and expensive champagne. But I prefer watching Mythbusters, listening to the Barenaked Ladies, and drinking Dr Pepper. Coming to terms with what I actually like, as opposed to what I wish I liked, isn’t easy.
Happiness is hard. It takes effort, at least for me. The author agrees, and suggests that those people for whom happiness seems to come so easily are actually working very hard to achieve it. It’s unfair that it has to be that way, but like exercise is essential to getting fit, hard mental work is necessary for staying happy. It’s easy to complain, harder to let go and enjoy. The author ends up reducing her own happiness to a simple rule: Thinking about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Do things that make you feel good, stop doing things that make you feel bad, and do things that feel right to you. And strive for growth, whether that’s making new friends, trying new experiences, or challenging yourself. Again, that’s her solution. But it’s not insane.
She has a website, happiness-project.com, where you can learn more about her project and start your own. I’m not sure I’ll be going that far quite yet, but the book was very much worth my time and I plan on trying some of the ideas that spoke to me.