Here's how much I loved this book. I checked this out from the library and read the whole thing. And then I ordered my own copy so that I could mark it up and reread it as often as I liked. As someone who doesn't buy many books (hello, what is the library for if not to house all the books I'd like to read), there is no higher compliment.
Also, my phone is now full of pictures of pages where something struck me enough that I needed to mark it, and library school taught me that librarians frown on you marking up library copies.
Actually, I'm not quite as late to the Happiness Project party as all that. My mom was reading it when Ella was born and brought her copy out when she came to help and she read me large segments of the book aloud while I nursed Ella. Reading this book on my own brought back those happy memories of my brand-new baby and our tiny, sunny little apartment in Boston.
(Here is why it takes me forever sometimes to write reviews. I write four paragraphs and I still haven't even talked about the book itself).
If you aren't familiar with the book, Gretchen Rubin decides that, despite having a happy marriage, two healthy children, a career she loves, and a life in New York City, she isn't appreciating her life enough. She doesn't want to try and find happiness by leaving her life behind and jet-setting around the world (a la Elizabeth Gilbert), but rather by appreciating her own life, right there in her apartment.
As you might expect from any English-major/law school/biography-writing person, she does a tremendous amount of reading and research about happiness before launching into her own project. This could have made the book extremely dull, probably, but she works it in wonderfully. I loved the different philosophies and ideas she shared and I found myself pouring over the bibliography in the back about other people's views on happiness, their own happiness projects, and other recommended reading.
She divides her project into twelve months, with a different area of focus each month and then three or four goals for each area to work specifically on. For instance, in March, when she focuses on Work, her goals are to "Launch a blog," "Enjoy the fun of failure" (not something that comes naturally to her (or me)), "Ask for help," "Work smart," and "Enjoy now." Some of those may sound rather prosaic or dull, but one section after another had me thinking "yes!" or "oh, that is fascinating!" For instance, in her "work smart" section she talked about trying to fight the feeling that you needed large chunks of time to get anything done. Instead, she would try to see an extra two minutes or five minutes where she could get one or two small, quick tasks done, instead of waiting until there was "enough" time to do it.
Of course, for me, the main thing that makes or breaks a memoir is how much I like the writer. And I loved Gretchen Rubin. She is highly educated and successful (Yale Law grad, best-selling biographer even before The Happiness Project became an enormous sensation), but she also seems very down-to-earth. I found her very easy to relate to. When she succeeds, I wanted to cheer for her and when she loses sight of her goals and snaps at her kids or has a grumpy day, I completely empathized. She's the kind of writer that you just like almost immediately, and I kept liking her to the very end of the book.
The idea of doing a year-long project and then writing a book about it isn't new (in fact, she mentions this in her book when an article comes out about this phenomenon while she's in the middle of her project and she has to struggle to not be really annoyed and she works to shake off the feeling that she's just an unoriginal copycat), but this one is so much better than any of the other ones I've read. Although I've read a few reviews that say otherwise, I felt like book was very authentic, rather than gimmicky, and that it wasn't only for the sake of writing a best-selling book. I completely buy that her life really was happier at the end of the year-long project.
And I feel like having read her book has helped me be happier in my own life. I'll just share one quick example. She talks extensively about how happiness doesn't always feel like happiness. I realized how true this was one morning when I was feeling really grumpy. My natural inclination was to snap at Bart (for no good reason) just to let off some steam. But I knew from past experience that it wouldn't REALLY make me happier. Instead, I'd feel both grumpy and guilty. So even though it didn't make me happy to not bark at Bart, I eventually felt happier that I hadn't ruined both of our mornings by being a jerk. This was really an eye-opening experience for me.
I've been working on incorporating other of her goals into my own life and already seen a difference in my happiness level. Here are a couple of things that stood out to me:
- "We tend to overestimate how much we can accomplish in an hour or a week and underestimate how much we can accomplish in a month or a year, by doing just a little bit each day."
- "I have an idea of who I wish I were, and that obscures my understanding of who I actually am."
- "One reason that challenge brings happiness is that you expand your self-definition. You become larger."
- "I wanted to stop my quick bursts of temper - I indulge this behavior all too often, and then, because it made me feel bad, I behaved even worse."
- "I want to spend time on the things I already like."
- "If money is to enhance your happiness, it must be used to support aspects of life that themselves bring happiness to you."
- "People assume that a person who acts happy must feel happy, but although it's in the very nature of happiness to seem effortless and spontaneous, it often takes great skill."
- The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It's more selfless to act happy."
- "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.'"
I can't recommend this highly enough. Unless I read ten more unbelievably fantastic books this year, expect to see this one on my Best of 2012 list in December.
Copy checked out from my local library