Book Review: “The Happiness Project”

 

I already consider myself a very happy person, so I wasn’t looking to boost my mood when I picked up Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller The Happiness Project off the library shelf last week. I simply wanted something different to read, as lately I’ve been swamping myself in novels. Plus, I liked the handwritten-style, colourful cover; it drew me in. You may have already heard about this book; a friend mentioned it to me last fall and I kept seeing it on the booklists at the back of the newspaper. It’s obviously a popular choice.

PLOT: Rubin has a moment of revelation when she realizes that she wants to be happier in her, admittedly, already very happy life. She wants to be more appreciative, more aware, more in touch with the factors that contribute to domestic and personal happiness, and work to grow them. So she conducts a year-long experiment, called her Happiness Project, devoting each month to focusing on a particular area of growth; these are vitality, marriage, work, parenthood, leisure, friendship, money, eternity, books, mindfulness, attitude, and happiness.

I read it quickly because Rubin writes in a very readable way. The basis for her Happiness Project is solidly researched, backed up by studies and statistics, quotes from respected philosophers and thinkers, and anecdotes from personal life. She creates a detailed Resolutions Chart to track her progress and develops a list of commandments and ‘secrets of adulthood’ that help keep her focused and accountable. It’s all very scientific, which would instantaneously decrease my happiness were I to implement such rigorous tools for measuring success. Each to her own, I suppose.

My conclusion at the end of the book was, “Hmmm.” To be honest, I don’t quite know what to make of the book. I liked the chapters on de-cluttering and organization, as well as catching glimpses into her life as a professional writer, a lover of books, and someone whose idea of heaven is reading and writing all day long. (We’re very similar in that regard.) Her points about happiness were good, though started to feel redundant and repetitive as the months passed. One thing that irked me were the numerous references to her former law career. She must have mentioned half a dozen times the prestigious position she once held as a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice. At one point, I felt like snapping, “If that job was so amazing, why aren’t you still doing it?”

Then I read an interview with her by the New York Times and discovered that she is, in fact, quite a wealthy woman with a cleaning lady and a nanny, which makes her knowledgeable voice on domestic maintenance sound a wee bit hollow. I wish she had mentioned that in the book, because it felt like a small betrayal. Not all of us have the luxury of implementing Samuel Johnson’s quote: “No money is better spent that what is laid out for domestic satisfaction.” If I had a cleaning lady and a nanny, a lot of aspects of my domestic life would be easier, too. Rubin did have some good cleaning tips, though, such as the one-minute rule (never put off a task that takes less than a minute to complete, like hanging up a coat) and the ten-minute rule (take ten minutes to tidy up before going to bed).

In conclusion, happiness is certainly worth paying attention to, and probably more people should do so. For someone like myself, the book didn’t offer much beyond an interesting glimpse into a privileged New York City housewife’s life, as well as some valuable sources for further research, should I feel so inclined. It seems, though, that Rubin’s books has really inspired many people, so I’m happy about that, and I’m sure she is, too.

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