Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Happiness Project

My second attempt to read The Happiness Project stuck -- not that I wasn't digging it the first time around but I was reading several books at once and The Happiness... was non-renewable at the time.

I love this book. Absolutely love it.

About 50 pages in, I felt like if I didn't read another page, I still would have had a remarkable reading experience. It's just so solid and thorough. I could talk about economy of language, tone, fluidity -- whatever, Rubin's book is excellent. As my cousin, Chiquita, would say: dot, period, the end.

Being a fan of quotes, I even like the way that Rubin effortlessly incorporates them.

Then I thought of a line from William Butler Yeats. "Happiness," wrote Yeats, "is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing." (66)
Rubin goes on to say:

Of course. Growth. Growth explains the happiness brought by training for a marathon, learning a new language, collecting stamps; by helping children learn to talk; by cooking your way through every recipe in a Julia Child cookbook...(67)
Rubin's book has twelve chapters:

1 January: Boost Energy

2 February: Remember Love

3 March: Aim Higher

4 April: Lighten Up

5 May: Be Serious About Play

6 June: Make Time For Friends

7 July: Buy Some Happiness

8 August: Contemplate the Heavens

9 September: Pursue a Passion

10 October: Pay Attention

11 November: Keep a Contented Heart

12 December: Boot Camp Perfect

I liked Rubin's Twelve Commandments; her first one: Be Gretchen. The Secrets of Adulthood also resonated with me and, again, number one beckoned:

People don't notice your mistakes as much as you think. (11)

Along the way, Rubin makes a commitment to exercise and to unclutter. Rubin classifies clutter along these lines: nostalgic, conversation, bargain and freebie clutter.

I did suffer from freebie clutter -- the clutter of gifts, hand-me-downs, and giveaways that we didn't use. (27)

A phrase that stuck with me long after I read Rubin's book was cut people slack:

During this month of friendship, I happened to read two memoirs that reminded me of something that's easy to forget: people's lives are far more complicated than they appear from the outside. That's why, as apart of my resolution to "Be generous," I meant to cut people slack. (152)
Rubin posed questions on her blog and included reader responses in her book. I completely related to the husband who hired a professional organizer:

I have never been so happy to write a check in my life. (175)

The money that I spent to partially organize my bedroom was money well spent and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

At one point, the author says something about a six second hug -- six seconds being the time for those feel good hormones to kick in. I was telling my friend about The Happiness Project and, one day, when she was feeling stressed-out, she asked me where her six second hug was...

When I told my colleague that I was reading The Happiness Project, she responded with this question. I followed up with a synopsis of the book and I tried to answer her weighty question:

What’s that happiness book about? Do you ever feel like with all the happiness/career/lifestyle improvement books (especially from sources like Oprah) that there really must be something wrong that you haven’t been able to transform your life by now?


The Happiness Project
is written by a former lawyer who realizes that she’s happy but feels like, given her circumstances, she could be happier and more grateful. So, she takes concrete steps to be happier. Like, she read somewhere that being well-rested is key to being more balanced. So, she took a lot of electronic devices out of her bedroom etc. and noticed that she was more pleasant when she had enough sleep.

She resolved to stop nagging her husband. She also agreed to do more things that her husband wanted to do. Like, her husband wanted to watch The Shield and she didn’t see sitting side-by-side without communicating as fostering intimacy but she agreed to watch it with him and said that while it wasn’t intimate, it felt intimate.

Also, she likes children books but thinks she’ll be ridiculed for not liking something more lofty but ends up finding adults who have similar taste. They form a reading club and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.

She makes rituals for her kids – like setting a day aside for them to spend with their grandparents.

When she gets a bad review of one of her books, she decides to write a letter to the reviewer letting him know that he did have valid points etc. etc.

I could go on and on but it seems like her happiness project entails not being so defensive, finding out what makes you happy, being dedicated to having more fun etc. etc.

I’m so simplifying the book but it’s been a great read so far…

My answer

Physically, I’ve been working on myself for three years but I’ll have to say that, even though I need to make more changes, 2010 has been huge for me.

I would say that the number one change has been to be kinder to myself which includes but is not limited to calling myself names i.e. you are such a dork; you are so blah blah blah…

Another game changer for me was a commitment to being less defensive which, of course, I’m not always successful at but I try.

I broke down and got someone to help me to organize my bedroom which was mortifying and something I would not have done in the past.

Another huge change for me is doing something like asking for what I want. So while some of the changes have been intangible to a certain degree, it’s been huge for what peace of mind I do have…

Have you read The Happiness Project? If not, what was the last book that you read?

P.S. Pardon the use of like and so but those appear to be two of my favorite words and definitely popped out in my spontaneous email to my colleague.


  1. OK, you talked me into it. There's a three million year wait list at my library, but they have an ePub option where you can check out books with Adobe. I hate reading on the computer screen, but at least I can get to it now.

    Does your library have any electronic books?

  2. Can't wait to hear what you think about The Happiness...

    I don't know if my library has electronic books but I'm going to look into it. Although, I do love my reading time when I'm at the table with a cup of coffee and a book in my hands.

  3. I've never heard of it but it makes so much sense. I think a project for me is to work harder on managing my time to make myself and my family happier!

  4. i remember getting The Happiness Project from the library a while back. I think i just skimmed it though, because i had a ton of other books, too, and just didn't have the time to sit and meditate on what it had to say.
    I wouldn't mind actually reading it one of these days, though!
    Last book I read.........always reading the Bible, and other than that..."Lies My Teacher Told Me"
    about how History books are so edited, biased, and from the perspective of the white man.
    Very interesting stuff in there...especially about Helen Keller!

  5. @Diane,

    I hear you on the time management which is something that I'm trying to fine tune right now.


    I was definitely distracted during my first attempt. I like what you said about meditating on the content.

    "Lies..." sounds so familiar and, of course, the Bible sounds familiar... ;)

  6. took me THREE ATTEMPTS and the third time I just forced myself through :)
    my 'problem' with it (as if anyone asked :)) is that for me it was two books in one. the RESEARCH and the MEMOIR stuff.
    Im not proud of it but I did find I skimmmmmmmmmmmmed the research piece.

    thats all I will say about the book/author on a public platform :)

  7. MizFit,

    The research/memoir duo didn't really bother me. Also, I think that I was ready for this book at this particular space and time because there are definitely books that I've started and had no desire to return to.

    Thanks for the feedback. As I mentioned to you earlier, I don't know if I would have read The Happiness had I looked at some of the reviews prior to reading it. Or, I would have gone into it with a completely different mindset...