Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project is not the kind of book I normally read, or even look at twice. I read fiction, and sometimes nonfiction history and biographies. The publisher lists this book first has a happiness book, and then as a self-actualization (psychology) book. I think this places it solidly in the self-help section of the bookstore, and I hardly ever venture through there. There isn’t a concrete reason for my avoidance that I can think of. Mostly I think it’s because when I read, it is for entertainment and escape. Reading self-help does not further either one of those goals. Since I’ve had children though, the books I’ve been choosing to read have changed slowly but, in some cases, dramatically.
I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting cover to cover along with few breastfeeding books and every email that came from Babycenter. Trust me. I never expected to read any of these things. All of a sudden, I am more interested in nonfiction, history, biographies, and once in a while a science book. This is a switch from mystery, adolescent literature, and mainstream thrillers. Does this change have something to do with chemical changes brought on by pregnancy, or perhaps just the shift in world view that occurs when you have children of your own and all the responsibility and joy that involves? I don’t know for sure, but my reading horizons are broadening, and I am trying to embrace the change. I’m learning and growing in every other avenue of my life, it makes sense that what I choose to read will grow and change with me.
To my surprise, I devoured this book. It was inspiring and encouraging. I realized while I was reading that, although I didn’t approach it as deliberately, and in as organized a fashion as Rubin, I’ve been doing my own happiness project for the last few years. As I read her personal anecdotes and made note of the research she did and the author’s she read I was struck by a few things. The first of these was that Rubin and I have a LOT in common, although we are completely different in many other ways. The second was how she came upon tackling this project and how it mirrored some of what has been going on in my life the last few years.
The book chronicles a year in which every month Rubin sets resolutions focused on a specific area or avenue of her life that she believed would boost happiness. She charted how well she did, and she tried to build on these resolutions every month. For example, in January she focused on building energy (not a bad idea), and in September she pursued a passion (I don’t know if I remember what a passion is). She shares how well she did, and didn’t do. She tells us stories from her family and friends during the month, and she quotes research all of over the place. She focuses many of her resolutions on being kinder to people and more aware of them and their needs. It is a universal, and ages old truth that we can choose to be happy (sometime the extent of our happiness is determined by other things, but we can still choose to be happier), and that being kind to others is one of the ways of getting there. It is amazing to me that, despite lessons from religions and ancient philosophers the world over that agree with this, we still struggle with it daily. Why is it so hard to not criticize and to stop gossiping? As Rubin notes, these negative habits often fill a need or void for us. It is MUCH more difficult to be kind and positive, but the rewards are greater.
Did I like the book? Well yes, however I can’t say I enjoyed reading it the whole time. This is because, a lot of the time it had me a bit stressed out. I found myself feeling pressure. I needed to get busy reading these books she’s talking about. I needed to start making my list of commandments and get to know myself so that I can get my charts made and map out my year of Happiness. The clock is ticking!!! Get Busy!! It is time to get happy dammit! I’ve since sat down and had a serious conversation with myself about how there is plenty of time for this, and I have already been doing something similar to Rubin in my own life, just not on such a grand scale.
I find myself wanting to share this book with everyone, mostly so that we can talk about it. If I could nag my husband into reading it I would. (Nagging is one of the things Rubin tackled.) It would be fun to sit down and really discuss some of the issues from this book with a friend, or even some random stranger at the airport. There are just some books that need to be talked out you know?
Through her website she offers a happiness project group starter kit, and at some point, I would like to find a group of people to tackle this with me. She has a new book out now titled Happier at Home and I am definitely considering adding it to my list. If nothing else, Rubin will inspire you to sit back and take a look at your daily life; at how you behave and treat the people around you. This, in and of itself, is a good reason to read the book. Anything to inspire reflection is good for mind, body, and soul as far as I’m concerned.