Book Review: The Happiness Project

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

Book description: Gretchen had a good marriage, two healthy daughters, and work she loved – but one day, stuck on a city bus, she realized that time was flashing by and she wasn’t thinking enough about the things that really mattered. “I should have a happiness project,” she decided. She spent the next year test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

Each month, she pursued a different set of resolutions: go to sleep earlier, quit nagging, forget about results, or take time to be silly. Bit by bit, she began to appreciate and amplify the happiness that already existed in her life.

My review: The Happiness Project is a part of the new “stunt nonfiction” genre, in which a writer does a certain something for a period of time, usually a year, and writes about it. Often these projects can reveal some interesting insights – The Happiness Project worked and didn’t work for me.

A part of what I didn’t enjoy about the book is I would find my attention wandering. I kept on asking myself: “so what does this have to do with me?” I think I found Rubin’s tone a little annoying. She is pretty honest about herself, and seemed particularly joyless (before the project – I’m glad that she took the time to try to have more fun in her life). There are many aspects of myself that I’d like to improve, but my ability to experience joy and happiness isn’t really one of them.

That being said, the book did give me some ideas of things I can incorporate into my life, so big thumbs up for that. The first is Rubin talked about writing a one-line journal. I think this is a fabulous idea. I used to journal all the time, pages a day. But who has time for that now? I have just enough time to write down the basics of what happened in a day before I crash into bed (usually at 9:00 these days). It’s a good way to keep a record of what is going on in life. I recently put together a photo book of X’s first nine months, and had trouble remembering when things happened, or what was going on at a certain time. If I had a little book where I kept notes, it would be a heck of a lot easier.

I decided to get a comparative five-year one line journal. A friend of mine does this and I always thought it was a great idea. You write down your line of the day, everyday for a year. Once you’re into the second year, you write under the first line for that day. I think it’s a fantastic way to remember what was going on: “Oh, look, two years ago X took his first step,” or something of the like.

The other thing I did like about Rubin’s insights is one of her main principles for her year of happiness was to “Be Gretchen.” That is, to be true to herself and what she actually is like, not what she wishes she would like to be. This is something I really need to work on for myself. I’m having an interesting internal dilemma at this very time. I was an enormous awkward spaz growing up, but as an adult I feel so on top of things. I even said the other day if I could go back and redo high school, I would kill it – I would be confident and friendly. How I actually was during high school was far from this: when I tried to be friendly I came off as overly earnest and clingy, and when I tried to be confident I came off as aloof and bitchy. I didn’t mean to be like that, I was just shy and awkward and that’s what it looked like.

But that was all in the past. More than a decade later, I’m doing great, and comfortable in my own skin. At least, I was. Now, all of a sudden, I’m feeling exactly like I’m back in high when I am at mommy groups. I’m not quite sure what my issue is, but I just can’t seem to be the confident, friendly person I thought I could now at least pretend to be. I wish I could be a graceful, effortless mom, the way other women seem to be with me, but I feel like I can barely catch up.

And this newfound/old-found awkwardness is really bothering me. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to get my footing around other moms, I just feel like everyone else is so much more put together than I am. I get all tongue-tied and embarrassed, the way I used to be around the pretty popular people. It’s maddening. As in, I get quite mad at myself. Me, who has come through so much, with what I’ve accomplished, am now intimidated by some yummy mummys?

Well, the truth is, yes apparently. And that’s okay. If I’m going to be true to myself, to “Be Lauren,” well, that’s just sometimes going to look like awkward spazzy-ness. This girl is occasionally shy, sometimes doesn’t know the right thing to say and can be so spacey, she bumps into people because she is not aware of her surroundings. Graceful and effortless I am not. And that’s just fine. I think my personal happiness project would be working to accept myself as I am.

So maybe I liked this book more than I thought, because I certainly made me get all introspective. I think I would recommend this book, especially if you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love or Julie and Julia. That’s my two cents, anyway.

Word of the day:

Miscegenation: marriage or cohabitation between two people of different races

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