The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

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Title: 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.
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Nonfiction, self-help

I seem to have a special weakness for the “stunt genre” style of memoir: where an author spends a year doing something extreme, and then writes about it. Books like Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, A Year of No Sugar, and now The Happiness Project have all graced my bookshelves. They are usually fun reads, written in an entertaining and engaging style.

The Happiness Project is definitely one of the better ones I have read from this genre! The book follows author Gretchen Rubin as she dedicates an entire year to improving her personal happiness. Each month is focused on a different theme: vitality, marriage, work, parenthood, leisure, friendship, money, eternity, books, mindfulness, and attitude. She sets up a personal resolutions chart, adding to it as each month passes.

Coming off ofjust reading  A Year of No Sugar, which I did not like, and browsing the plethora of 1 star reviews on Goodreads for The Happiness Project, I was prepared to hate this book. Rubin leads a thoroughly privileged life…I was skeptical as to how she would pull this off.

You can tell straight away that she has done a tremendous amount of research. She references philosophers, happiness researchers, psychologists, theologians and great spiritual masters. Each monthly experiment is backed up by detailed research. I loved that! Too many non-fiction authors that are targeting a mainstream audience fail to add in resource lists, and footnotes; Rubin did not fall into that trap.

Some of my key takeaways from The Happiness Project:

“Be Gretchen”. Throughout the book she is continually reminded to be herself. It is the first of her twelve personal commandments (another great idea). I, too, need this mantra, to “Be Alisia”. To let go of all the things I am not and enjoy and embrace the things I am. For example, I am not a crafty person at all. I am not very good at it, and more importantly, I don’t enjoy it. So, a few years ago, I let it go. No more did I struggle with ridiculously complicated childhood craft projects for M. You will never see me volunteer to make the decorations for the school book fair, or change out the themed bulletin boards. It was one of the best things I ever did!

THINK. Think before speaking, and listen before you talk.

T – is it True?
H – is it helpful?
I – is it inspiring?
N – is it necessary?
K – is it kind?

Nagging Tasks. She has a small piece of advice in the January chapter that has turned out to be tremendously helpful – to schedule one hour every week on your calendar to tackle nagging tasks, those annoying household chores that have no real deadline. I immediately tried this out, adding a weekly “Power Hour” to iCal, and in only two hours across two weeks, I have successfully: replaced a broken light switch plate, renewed M’s passport, sorted and purged all of our old reusable water bottles and food storage containers, took a stack of clothing donations to a local nonprofit, bought new cutting boards, cleaned out my Inbox, and made progress on my huge stack of papers that need to be scanned and filed digitally. This small piece of advice has definitely been a mood booster!

Don’t expect praise or appreciation. Overcome the need for people to applaud the nice things you do, that are in actuality just a regular part of life. Start telling yourself, “I’m doing this for myself. Because I want to.”

Spend out. Use the nice stationary instead of hoarding it. Buy new toothbrushes regularly. It’s amazing how much that actually hit home! We are quite good at using items until they fall apart. In many ways, that is a good thing, in some ways it is not. Toothbrushes should definitely be replaced before they look…well, like you used it to clean the shower grout. Razors should be thrown out before they get rusty, not one month after the first rust spot appears. Etc.

Forget about results. Focus on the process, not the outcome.

Give positive reviews. Enthusiasm may seem easier than criticism, but in fact it is harder to embrace something than to disdain it. Stop making unnecessarily negative statements: “The food was too rich” or “There’s nothing worth reading in the paper.” Instead, look for ways to be sincerely enthusiastic.

The Happiness Project has been out for a few years now. Have you read it before? Did it make any lasting impact on your life?

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10 thoughts on “The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

  1. That advice to ‘spend out’ could also apply to my reading habits. I have a stack of books that I am ‘saving for a rainy day’ – by that I mean I expect them to be special so I am saving them for a special day. quite when that will be I have no idea . very silly really – why not just read them now???

  2. This book…sounds like something I need in my life right now. I’ve actually stood in front of this book at bookstores contemplating whether I should buy it SEVERAL times, but I always chickened out. It’s sort of a self-help books, and for some reason I feel kind of embarrassed to buy it. But, your review is kind of encouraging me to check it out. Especially since you’re putting into action some of the ideas presented by the book…

    • I don’t read “self-help” books very often, but I’m glad I read this one! You should definitely check it out. I understand that feeling of embarrassment when “caught” looking in the self-help section. But now I view it as “self-improvement”…it’s amazing how a small change in terminology can completely change one’s perspective!

  3. This books sounds really good. I like the tips that you have shared. The one of nagging tasks is one that I need to practices more often. I don’t like chores so I always end up with a backlog during the weekend. I also like the one on appreciation/praise, I need to be reminded of that especially at work. The book sounds insightful and I am glad that you enjoyed it.

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  7. I’m just reading this book now and I am loving it.. there are quite a few ‘take aways’ from the book as you detailed upon and I look forward to finishing the last half of her year! Good review!

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