Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin

"The Happiness Project" was not what I expected it to be. I was imagining much ado about statistical research and long lists of maxims that would help the reader meditate upon the conditions for happiness optimization. Although there are such elements in this book, and they are always very interesting - like how men and women alike feel less lonely from hanging out with women, but not from hanging out with men, or how you have to hug someone for at least six seconds to cause a release of happy-chemicals in the brain - "The Happiness Project" was suprisingly literal. It is about Gretchen Rubin's project to make herself happier, and she is never afraid to tell you that her way to happiness is hers alone. Suprisingly or not, this method made me think about my own happiness a lot more than I expected, and it made me happy just reading about it.

Rubin basically sets herself the task of focusing on a different theme or area for improvement each month for a year, things like friendship, marriage, leisure, and work. She then tries new things, or re-focuses on old things, or tries to ditch old habits, and reports on how it affects her happiness.

In general, though, the book follows the rule that "you're happy if you think you're happy." This entails "thinking about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth." There's a great deal of mindfulness that goes into this project. Rubin is very careful to be aware of herself throughout the project, and she's never afraid to declare that something doesn't feel right to her and so abandon it as a course to happiness.

I already know what makes me feel good, and an atmosphere of growth is already incredibly important to me. The main reason I write is simply so that my leisure time involves growth. Writing is fun, but it is also structured and striving. Therefore, it was most interesting to see how Rubin dealt with bad feelings. I've already begun trying to take on the kind of patience, good-naturedness, and friendliness that she adopts throughout her year in "The Happiness Project," and even just being that little bit more mindful is making me feel happier. Another rule of Rubin's is that, "one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make others happy," and I feel like this is very true. Being mindful of that fact is sometimes hard - it's so easy to be selfish - but trying to espouse it as a value feels good.

"The Happiness Project" is well worth the read. I don't think Gretchen Rubin and I have much in common, and this is a very personal book, but the honesty and earnestness with which she approaches the task makes it universal. Everyone will take something different from this book, and everyone will have a different happiness project. But I think everyone can agree that happiness is a desirable goal.



  1. If you want the more scientific-type book on happiness. Then you should read Daniel Gilbert's _Stumbling Upon Happiness_. He's a Harvard psychologist (who's published stories in Asimov's!). It's incredibly well-written and really interesting.

    I also read the Happiness Project. I enjoyed it a fair amount, for what it was (which is...a stunt memoir).

  2. I'll have to check out Stumbling Upon Happiness. I definitely would've liked a LITTLE more science in The Happiness Project, so some follow-up might be nice!