Updated on March 2, 2017
9. ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin
Could you be happier? Not by selling all your possessions or moving to the other side of the world, but in your regular life, by changing your attitude, your outlook and your habits? That’s the idea behind Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and it’s a pretty inspiring thought.
Rubin had her happiness revelation on a bus, in the rain. She realised that she wasn’t as happy as she could be, despite having all the trappings of a ‘perfect life’. She often snapped at her children and her husband, found managing her New York home overwhelming, and didn’t take the time to appreciate the fact that she was doing her dream job. So she formulated her ‘happiness project’ – a year-long project to improve her happiness, with a different focus each month – to see if she could boost her happiness by making relatively small changes.
I found the structure of this book (and the whole project) extremely appealing. That’s because I’m a planner. I love lists and schedules and specific goals, and that’s exactly how Rubin planned her project. For instance, she had a month dedicated to love, another to work, one for parenting and one for leisure. In each month she tried to keep to four or five new resolutions, which would add to the resolutions from the months before, so that by December she was practising all of them at once. The resolutions weren’t huge things – they ranged from singing in the mornings, to trying to nag less, to recognising that she doesn’t have to find fun what others find do.
I’ve heard some criticisms of this book, mainly that Rubin sometimes comes across as entitled because she’s complaining about small annoyances and tiny problems in a world of enormous tragedies. But that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? She isn’t denying that ‘real’ problems exist (indeed, during the course of her happiness project she has to deal with some quite serious setbacks), nor is she claiming that her problems are any worse than anyone else’s. In fact, she often acknowledges how great she has it. But most people with the ability to read her book (or my blog post) aren’t at the extreme end of the world’s suffering, and yet we all have our problems, and I’m sure we could all stand to be a bit happier. I think it’s a worthy pursuit, whoever you are.
Throughout the book, Rubin includes comments she received from the readers of her blog. I liked this addition, and it must have been really inspiring for her to have had people take her ideas and roll with them. (Although, I will admit that I was a little jealous of how quickly her blog grew in the space of just one year…) I also really liked her distinction between resolutions and goals: goals are something you can reach (such as running a marathon, which by definition has a finish line), whereas resolutions are something you decide to do, every day, forever. No wonder so few people keep them!
All in all, I thought this was a pretty inspiring book. Although I’m not leaping at the chance to categorise my year into 12 focuses and draw up lists of resolutions (even I recognise that I have lists enough to be getting on with), reading The Happiness Project has encouraged me to do things like clean out my cupboards, use things rather than saving them for some unidentifiable ‘later’ (it’s so nice to be using that lovely pen I’ve been saving for no reason!), and generally try to make myself, and other people, happier. The clearest message of all, though, is that happiness is difficult to achieve – it’s something you have to try for every day (and you will fail, repeatedly), but it is something worth pursuing.
“The days are long but the years are short.”
Have you read this book or tried your own happiness project? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read it? You can buy The Happiness Project here.