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Book Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Updated on April 15, 2013
What makes you happy?
What makes you happy? | Source

Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Friends have been recommending that I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin for many years now, but I've been put off by the book's title and premise. How can happiness become...a project? Isn't planning a project sort of the antithesis of happiness? Happiness should be spontaneous, right? I've always felt that happiness is something that just sort of happens, like the weather. To read a book about someone else's happiness project seemed absurd, or boring at best.

Well, I'm happy to report that The Happiness Project is not only an engaging, interesting read, but it's also a book that changed my mindset and thinking. When a book comes along that forces me to examine my priorities and principles, when a book comes along that makes me rethink some of my major premises in life, I know it's a good book. That is why I am reviewing The Happiness Project even though it's neither a new book nor a book I have been asked to review. I purchased my copy of this book. I am reviewing it solely because I read it, enjoyed it, and felt that my feedback is worth sharing.

A Happiness Project for Happy People

Author Gretchen Rubin is careful to state throughout the book that she's not unhappy....she just wants to explore the world of happiness. That's an important distinction. I think it's hard to make yourself happy when something major in your life is off kilter. A divorce, a serious illness, money problems, these are all things that can make a normally happy person seriously unhappy. Well, Rubin states that her marriage is fine, she loves her two little girls, and she is happy in her career. She just wishes she could become happier.

At first, she explores the typical worldly view of happiness. Perhaps having more, shopping more, will make her happy. Gradually over the course of the book she creates her own personal "Happiness Project" chart and outlines each month the steps she is going to take to try to up her happiness quotient. These steps include taking better care of herself, lightening up and not nagging her family as much, making time for friends, expressing gratitude, and more.

By breaking down her own Happiness Project into monthly goals and action steps, she was actually able to chart her progress, monitor whether or not her mood improved, and decide if she should keep the new habit or if it wasn't serving her well. While she loved learning how to draw, and felt she'd really improved her abilities to draw a picture, she decided that drawing wasn't for her. On the other hand, lightening up and not nagging her family as much made the entire atmosphere of her home more peaceful and loving. Throughout the book, Rubin chronicles her explorations as if she were truly exploring a foreign land. It's like seeing someone's life through the eyes of an explorer, a fascinating story.

Rubin's writing style is engaging, entertaining and interesting. She mixes the right amount of research with personal anecdotes and stories. She also has a companion website and community online, including a Facebook community, for readers working on their own Happiness Project.

How The Happiness Project Changed My Thinking

One of my key takeaways from this book was a big idea that seemed simple to begin with, and it's this: the only thing that really seems to make people happy is growth. Growing, changing, exploring and stretching our minds, hearts and talents is what truly makes people happy. Rubin found this to be so in her own life. Having more possessions, taking more time for herself...these things did not necessarily make her happy. Challenging herself to take up exercise, learning how to do a new hobby and more were the things that made her truly happy.

Another thing that made her truly happy was relationships - with friends and family. It is the connections with others and the time that we spend with others that truly makes us happy.

It was these two big ideas that I carried with me after reading the book. I began finding ways to learn new things, to challenge myself to grow and learn. I set a goal for myself to practice the piano again, a hobby I enjoy, but I also challenged myself to play through a longer Scarlatti piece and memorize it this year. That's a healthy goal and challenge! Another goal I have set for my own happiness project is to spend more time with friends, even if that simply means picking up the telephone and calling my buddies who live far away rather than rely upon email.

The main reason I recommend this book so highly is that I found myself actually changing and taking steps to improve my life after reading it. How many times have you bought a self help book, read it, thought it was great, but failed to implement any changes out of it? Yup, me too. But not with this book. I felt like I could use the ideas presented here, and I did. You can, too.

But There's a Flip Side to the Project

I enjoyed this book very much and recommend it to anyone looking for a good read and a pleasant self help book. But some negative comments about the book may be found on Amazon's site where readers post reviews. Some people mocked Rubin's lifestyle. She's married to a wealthy financial person, and many reviewers seemed to think that anyone who's wealthy cannot write about a happiness project. I think that's nonsense. Happiness and wealth don't go hand in hand anymore than poverty and unhappiness go hand in hand. There are some miserable wealthy people and some joyful wealthy people - it depends on their attitudes and lifestyle. You can have all the money in the world but it can't buy happiness (I think someone said that once....)

I don't care whether or not Rubin has babysitters, servants and kitchen help to wash her pots and pans while she writes. I buy a book for its intrinsic value and Rubin is an excellent writer. She writes about an elusive topic (happiness) with grace and style. Although I tried her method of writing goals on a calendar, I felt it was too static and rigid. I did use her tips to make up my own "Rules" for living and areas of focus for my own happiness project. And you know what? It works.

So for that alone, I give this book a high rating and recommend it to you!

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