One day, while sitting on a bus, Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany of sorts: she was, as she put it, “in danger of wasting [her] life.” This moment made her realize two things: she wasn’t as happy as she could be and her life wasn’t going to change unless she did something about it. Thus was born the idea behind 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. Inspired by Benjamin Franklin, Rubin designed a Resolutions Chart and decided to tackle a different subject every month for a year. She also came up with a list of Twelve Commandments and a goofier list of what she calls the Secrets of Adulthood.
I’ve struggled with reviewing this book for quite a while now because, quite simply, it wasn’t what I expected. I thought it was going to be more of a memoir and less of a self-help book. And I’m having trouble deciding whether my disappointment with the book stems mainly from the fact that it didn’t meet my expectations or whether Rubin’s approach weakened the impact of the book regardless of my expectations. (But maybe that distinction is moot, and I should just quit waffling and tell you what I thought...)
One of Rubin’s Commandments and one of her Secrets of Adulthood really hit home for me (and they are complementary concepts). Her first commandment is “Be Gretchen” (or be yourself), which is self-evident perhaps and yet sometimes so easy to forget. (An aside to give you an idea of where I’m coming from: When I was in high school, my mother’s best friend gave me a poster for my birthday that said: “I may not be perfectly wise, perfectly witty or perfectly wonderful, but I’m always perfectly me.” I dutifully tacked the poster to my wall but felt taunted daily by its message. As a “brainy” and socially awkward teen—and still sometimes to this day—I often felt like I didn’t know who “me” was, and I certainly didn’t feel I had the level of acceptance I needed to be “perfectly me.”) The variation on this theme that’s one of Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood is “What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you—and vice versa.” Again, this seems obvious and yet as an introvert, I often forget this piece of wisdom and think there’s something wrong with me when I dread the party that supposed to be so much fun or would rather spend hours in a second-hand bookstore instead of hanging out in the pub.
Much of Rubin’s research on happiness is fascinating and her advice is pretty spot-on; this book did get me thinking about ways I can work towards my own happiness (and was in part the inspiration behind my 40/40 Challenge). However, I felt frustrated with how self-conscious The Happiness Project is: it always felt like Rubin was too aware of her readers; her stories seemed too pat, too constructed somehow. I wanted her to dig deeper and get messier, to share more. I was annoyed that she quoted so extensively from people’s comments on her blog (some of the quotes are pages long) instead of including more details about her struggles to follow through with her happiness project. I guess in the end I didn’t identify with her enough: it seemed like the distance she had to travel from status quo to happy (or happier) was too short—and too easy—for her approach to apply to my own life.
Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me this book to review.
5 Minutes for Mom • A Patchwork of Books • A Reader’s Respite • Ariel Gore • A Striped Armchair (scroll down for review) • Bibliophile by the Sea • Books on the Brain • Chew & Digest Books • Erin Reads • Hope Is the Word • Lesa’s Book Critiques • Living Artfully • Pop Culture Junkie • Ruly • S. Krishna’s Books • Sophisticated Dorkiness • The Book Chick • unclutterer