I recently reread The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Winter, and February in particular, is a hard time of year for me, so I wanted to remind myself of little things I can do to improve how happy I am in my every day life.
Rubin conceives of a “happiness project”: paying attention to all the elements of her life and experimenting to find ways to increase her daily level of happiness in small ways. While Rubin admires writers like Thoreau and Elizabeth Gilbert, who change their entire lives to explore a happiness project, Rubin wants to see if it’s possible to improve her happiness without leaving home. She spends a year exhaustively researching happiness – what famous people have written about it, what conventional wisdom says will make us happy, what studies show is important, and more – and works to distill “happiness” down to what it means for her specifically to be happy. Every month she focuses on a different aspect of happiness (energy, marriage, work, parenthood, fun, spirituality, etc.) and identifies key areas to focus on, things she can improve right now in her own life.
Rubin is what could be described as a Type A personality: having decided to tackle happiness, she examines the subject from all angles, researches it exhaustively, and comes up with charts, journals, and other benchmarks to track her progress accurately, and she starts a blog, where she both inspires others and receives inspiration from around the world. Those who don’t enjoy the book find Rubin to be obsessive and annoying, but personally, I think she’s charming, and I found her journey to be fascinating, fun, and endearing. With all her little foibles, Rubin seems very real. The book is well written, and Rubin choose the right details, stories, and quotations to make her points clearly and make the text resonate for the reader.
Over the course of the book, Rubin tries out a lot of methods, techniques, tips, tactics, and theories, and by the end, she’s discovered the ones that work well for her and her family. The operative phrase here is “for her” – Rubin openly acknowledges that many of her resolutions won’t work for someone else. She urges readers to embark on their own happiness project and find out what will work for them. This is really the best takeaway from The Happiness Project: in writing the story of her own experimental year, Rubin has become a happiness coach, full of inspirational examples and information that readers can apply in their own lives. Rubin also quotes liberally from reader comments on her blog; these comments are often as interesting and thought-provoking as Rubin’s own prose, and provide even more examples and food for thought. Overall, The Happiness Project succeeds as a memoir, a research book, and a self-help guide for anyone wanting to be happier.