A Review of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project was selected as summer reading for my book club.  As soon as I heard its title I knew I was meant to read it; it was as though the title seemed to encapsulate my mission for the past few months:  become happier.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I marched into the bookstore, found it, ran my hand over the bright blue cover and felt the chill of anticipated reading. Unfortunately, life took over and I wasn’t able to open my book for about a month.  But, it’s bright yellow letters kept calling out to me, reminding me of the promise of happiness to come.

Once I was finally able to sit down to enjoy Rubin’s journey I found myself struggling to get through the first chapter, “Getting Started”. My reasons were personal. Part of me was annoyed by Rubin because she does have a great life – a life that most people would envy.  I quickly realized that my life somewhat mirrors hers, and I was reading her book because I too was on the search for the daily, feel-good feeling.  Alright, I thought, just give her a chance. But, I didn’t want the background; I wanted the project. I was glad to see the chapter end quickly so I could get to the good stuff.

I appreciated that Rubin acknowledged her inner critic about the reasons behind her project. She knew that she wasn’t in a crisis; she just wanted to make her life better.  This made her journey credible for me, and to a certain degree, validated my own search for happiness. I wrestled my inner judge and told her to keep quiet because Rubin was on to something that just might help me.

The idea of tackling so many different parts of your life is daunting, but Rubin’s decision to focus on a different goal each month makes it less overwhelming for those of us who are not as well versed in happiness research.  Research on happiness is the backbone of this book.  Rubin smoothly supports all of her observations and reflections with quotes from scholars and saints, her favourite books and novelists, and current theories in popular culture.  Rubin made each chapter seem accessible, doable and this perhaps is the book’s greatest virtue. Rubin’s monthly objectives makes it easy for readers to find the area of their own life they wish to improve and focus on Rubin’s experiences, research and suggestions to help them on their own road to happiness.

Rubin’s voice was pragmatic throughout her work.  She seemed accessible and genuinely impassioned by her project.  I appreciated her honesty about her failures and the repetition of her truest motto to be herself.  The parts of the narrative that made me most uncomfortable was when Rubin became self-deprecating. I found it unnecessary.  She was too hard on herself.  However, I believe that this is also a symptom of modern womanhood – we expect too much of ourselves and do not treat ourselves well when we fail to meet those expectations.  Ultimately, this too is a lesson for increasing personal happiness.

Although I see the value in including responses from her readers on her blog, I didn’t find them necessary or altogether enlightening.  Perhaps it was a way of validating her experiment by showing that others experience similar feelings and situations.  It  sometimes felt that inserting these seemed like padding to the book.

I recommend this book to those who perhaps are not well read in the areas of self-improvement.  I think it’s a great work to help anyone who wants more happiness to get started.  For those who are more aware of happiness in their life and how it is affected by the decisions they make, this book might seem a bit basic.  Nevertheless, the extensive research Rubin highlights on happiness throughout her narrative does prompt moments of self-reflection and insight for readers.

Overall, Rubin presents a compelling case for one’s ability to obtain happiness.  She does it with honesty and humour.  Rubin’s extensive research and incorporation of this research throughout her work helps readers understand that finding happiness is a most noble and even necessary pursuit.

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