I spotted 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, in my office’s lending library. I was attracted to its bright blue cover. That’s one of the categories I’d chosen for the Bonus Round.
I read the blurb on the back cover. The first sentence is: “Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the most unlikeliest of places: a city bus“. I spent a long time thinking about that sentence. Why is that “the most unlikeliest of places”? Is it because she could never imagine herself on a city bus? Or, is it because she thinks people on city buses don’t think about things? Either way, it bothered me, it offended me, and it intrigued me.
I figured out that The Happiness Project is a self-improvement book. That’s another one of the categories I’d chosen for the Bonus Round. I decided that I might as well give it a shot. I borrowed it.
One rainy day, Gretchen Rubin looked out of a city bus window and saw a woman pushing a baby carriage, holding an umbrella, and trying to use a cell phone. Gretchen realized that that woman was trying to juggle too many things. She also realized that that woman could easily be her. Gretchen spent a year seeking happiness, even though she wasn’t unhappy. (It still didn’t explain why the city bus was the most unlikeliest of places, however.)
The Happiness Project is a “lead by example” sort of book. It is told entirely from personal experiences. Gretchen Rubin is happy. She lives in a nice townhouse in New York City. She has a wonderful husband and two lovely daughters. She and her husband have well-paying, fulfilling jobs. You can be happy, too, if you live like her.
The 288 pages of this book are divided into the twelve months of the year of her happiness project. At the start of each month, Gretchen sets up a list of tasks she will tackle. She’s very organized.
The advice Gretchen offers is useful, but not especially surprising: eat well, get plenty of sleep, use your failures as learning tools, splurge modestly, take time to have fun, and so on. Here’s the interesting thing, though: She knows her writing style is full of clichés, but she also knows that she has a fondness for clichés, and that if she didn’t use them, she wouldn’t be true to herself. (I don’t agree with that. But it is interesting. I suppose self-improvement goes only so far.)
I have mixed feelings about this book. At first, it was entertaining – but more entertaining as a non-fiction novel in which nothing much happens than as a self-improvement book. Then, around page 160, in the middle of “June”, the novelty of this book wore off, and the day-to-day details of Gretchen’s wonderful life became tiring. But, I stuck with it through the end of “December”, although I admit I glazed over those final months.
The Happiness Project includes a Happiness Project kit (circles you can cut out and remind yourself to be happy), the URL of the Happiness Project web site (which doesn’t seem to be active anymore – the book was published in 2009), a book club discussion guide, and a list of books for further reading.
There is one extremely good idea I’ll be sure to take from this book. Phillip and I have a box of charging/data cords for our assorted electronic devices. They get tangled, despite us using those plastic cord-wrapping things. Then there is the difficulty of remembering what each cord plugs into. Gretchen’s advice: Put the cords in resealable bags and write on the bag what the cord is for.
- A self-improvement book