The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
HarperCollins, 29th December 2009
292 pages, 5/5 stars
Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realised. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.
In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.
I don’t normally go for motivation (i.e self help) books. While I have read a few, it is not a genre I generally read in my downtime. The cover of this book and its very upbeat topic struck me and here we are – one of my favourite books of the year!
The book starts with Rubin’s introduction to her project, discussing her research into happiness and her reasons for embarking on a year of becoming happier. After this intro, it is set out in twelve chapters divided – one for each month of the year. Each month, Rubin adds another area of her life which she would like to work on in the quest for happiness. Within each wider area, she has smaller resolutions. With the book set out like her project, it makes it easy for readers to follow along.
Having read this before the new year rolls around again, I have been inspired to set myself some tasks for January and beyond. Rubin was so thrilled with the mental effect of her physical clutter clearing, and I feel I have to be in on that feeling! Those that have ever seen my bedroom know how I struggle to control my stuff!
One of the things that really stuck with me from this book was Rubin’s frank discussion that what she enjoys is not what she thinks she should enjoy. The example that stuck with me most was her enthusiasm for children’s literature instead of high-brow literature. Indeed, I feel this way with my huge love for young adult fiction but I often describe it as my ‘guilty pleasure’ and force myself to read a classic every so often. It is almost as though, discussing her own life and experience so frankly, Rubin gives her readers permission to shake off the expectations of society.
The book initially started out as a blog, created as one of Rubin’s resolutions during her year of the happiness project. She includes comments from her readers throughout the book, which offers greater insight into the phenomenon of happiness and how different people discover it in different places. The blog itself is fantastic at http://www.happiness-project.com, but you will rarely find me extolling the virtues of the internet over a physical book!
Already I have been embracing some of the tips that Rubin relied on during her year. My favourite is the one-minute rule. If a task can be completed in one minute or less, such as hanging up a coat or putting a cup in the dishwasher, do it immediately. Already my bedroom is looking less overwhelming!
I would recommend this book for anyone looking to inject a little more happiness or enthusiasm into their everyday life. This book doesn’t come from the position of mental health – in fact, Rubin admits that she felt that she should be happier with her circumstances and thus made a concerted effort to be so. And it is true – we rarely appreciate what we have in the here and now, and this beautiful little book highlights what we can do to remember that although the days are long, the years are short and we should make the most of every moment.
What are your best happiness tips?