The Happiness Project: A Review

16 Feb

I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and I don’t normally write book reviews for my blog, but there seemed to be too much to say to simply write a blurb for my Goodreads account. So, here goes…

I came across this book while looking for two or three others in the local library. I was scanning the section of new and popular books and the cover caught my eye. “The Happiness Project”. What could that possibly entail? I picked it up, read the inner flap of the book jacket and decided this looked like a very intriguing book. When I got to the check-out desk, the librarian said, “Oh, I loved that book! I even wrote an article about it.” Again…intriguing. At the time, I’d never even heard of Gretchen Rubin, and only found out from a friend, after bringing the book home and sitting with my coffee on a Saturday morning, that Rubin also has a blog. I have only read one post so far, because I wanted to read her book before deciding if I’d follow her blog or not.

THP_Happiness1The whole notion of this book is one that rivals the widely popular Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. A woman decides to take on a “self-discovery” project of sorts for one year. However, I think that The Happiness Project is a more tangible and imaginable experience for most people than taking off for a year and traveling the world. Rubin decides to spend a year figuring out what makes her happy (and she readily admits that she does not consider herself to be unhappy) in order to continue to lead a happy life and improve herself. 

She made resolutions and she decided to tackle one piece of her project each month, bettering herself, making herself more available to family and friends, trying new things and being patient and easy going with others in her life. For someone who loves to have goals to work toward, this idea is refreshing to me. I hear so many people complaining about their situations and not wanting to do anything to change them. I try not to be this way, but of course at some level, we all are. The question is more about how much we are. Are the situations or our personalities getting in our own way? Do we react negatively more often than positively?

I started to pay more attention to this myself when my husband asked me several years ago why many Americans respond to the questions “How’s it going?” and “How are you?” with “Not bad.” He’s not a native English speaker (hence, the question). He asked me, “Why do people have to answer with ‘not bad’? That sounds like a negative answer, as if they were saying ‘could be worse’.” This was something I’d never thought about, but it’s true. Of course, this could be someone’s honest answer, but more often than not it seems like a robotic answer. I started to think about the things that we say and how we show our personalities through our words.

To me, if there is a situation that is hard or impossible to change, what’s the point in harping about it? We all get frustrated and want to vent from time to time, but do we do this every day? Do we wake up with negative thoughts more often than with positive ones? Something to think about…

Rubin noticed that she was one of these people who was quick to snap at her family for little things gone wrong or was often impatient with others. She resolved to improve her reactions and think in a positive sense, instead of taking situations and pointing out the negatives. There’s a lot more to this book than I’m going to write here, but here are the points that I found I could connect with the most.

  • “Contemporary researchers made the argument: that it isn’t goal attainment but the process of striving after goals — that is, growth — that brings happiness.”
  • One conclusion was blatantly clear from my happiness research: everyone from contemporary scientists to ancient philosophers agrees that having strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to happiness.”
  • “The ‘fundamental attribution error’ is a psychological phenomenon in which we tend to view other people’s actions as reflections of their characters and to overlook the power of situation to influence their actions, whereas with ourselves, we recognize the pressures of circumstance. When other people’s cell phones ring during a movie, it’s because they’re inconsiderate boors; if my cell phone rings during a movie, it’s because I need to be able to take a call from the babysitter.” Aren’t we quick to judge other people’s actions before our own?
  • “The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.” We all know someone who is either the “lighthearted, happy” person and someone who also seems to step on others’ happiness. I find it fascinating to think about which of these people we are (or where we would fall on a spectrum) and work toward bettering ourselves and our reactions to others.
  • “…some people feel overwhelmed by the question “What’s your passion?” It seems so large and unanswerable that they feel paralyzed. If so, a useful clue to finding a passion to pursue, whether for work or play, is to ‘Do what you do.’ What you enjoyed doing as a ten-year-old, or choose to do on a free Saturday afternoon, is a strong indication of your passion.” I find that if someone were to ask me this question, I’d have too many “passions” to choose from to give them a straight answer. Saying that, I never understood people who don’t seem to have a passion. What I took away more from this chapter (“Pursuing a Passion”) is to respect people who feel overwhelmed by this question, and perhaps, help them to discover what they feel passionate doing and encourage them to do it more.

I think I took more away from this book than I expected. I wouldn’t call it a “self help” book, because it’s really Rubin’s way of sharing what she did over the course of a year, what she learned and how well she stuck to her resolutions. I have already picked up the book that follows this one, Happier at Home, because I find her writing to be refreshing and almost as if I were having a conversation with a good friend, talking about her day, situations with her family, friends and recent happenings in her life.

I also felt a connection to her view on her work. She likes, if not loves, to work. I get that. I really get that. I find myself working on days when I don’t have to work, at times that most people are relaxing and hanging out. Yes, it can be tiring, but whose work isn’t? What is interesting is that it’s a passion for me, and it’s something I feel that I’m good at. I like to interact with clients and vendors, to turn in good work to customers and to feel appreciated for it. I just feel blessed that I get paid to do something I love.

I realize this review was more about what I took away from this book, but hey, it’s my blog. 😉 I like that I feel good after reading this book and that I am able to take some key practices from it (like the one-line daily log that Rubin mentions) without starting a full blown happiness project of my own. I already feel like I’m happy with my life and where it’s going, but why can’t we continue striving to improve ourselves and our relationships with others? Isn’t that what will continue to make us happy in the long term?

Have you read The Happiness Project or Happier at Home? Are you a subscriber to Rubin’s blog? What do/did you take away from her shared experiences? Do you have your own type of “happiness project” or resolutions that you’ve put into practice?


Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Book Reviews


2 responses to “The Happiness Project: A Review

  1. mypersonalcoffeebreak

    February 18, 2014 at 8:21 am

    I haven’t heard of that one. Thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely check it out! 🙂

  2. Mary

    February 18, 2014 at 5:55 am

    This sounds like an interesting book, might have to check it out. Have you heard of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? I have recently read it, quick easy read. Some parts are a bit strange, but overall a great book.


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