14 August 2012

The Happiness Project

From Goodreads:
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 realized. "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 of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as "Julie and Julia," "The Year of Living Biblically," and "Eat, Pray, Love." With humor and insight, she 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.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her--and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising--she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference--and they range from the practical to the profound.

In my quest to manage my time and figure out what to do with my life (because I refuse to either wallow in pity or do something that smacks of "desperate singleton" like speed date) I decided to read The Happiness Project.  It seemed like a good fit - a woman about my age, with some of the same worries as me, who creates a year-long project to determine what makes "us" (and directly, her) happy.  I really liked the thought and commitment put into the project - all the reading and research contrasted well with Rubin's personal experiences.  It was also interesting to see how honest she was when part of her project went awry, like when her husband points out that her enthusiasm with organizing closets is starting to alienate friends. I did find the sections of blog comments a bit boring. I hadn't missed them in the earlier chapters - I know, I know, she didn't have her blog at that point - but they seemed too much like filler so started skimming when they appeared.

I also thought it interesting the number of people who assumed that there was a problem with either Rubin or her marriage since she was embarking on an exploration of being happy. Apparently we aren't supposed to "improve" ourselves unless we're "broken" (because preventitive maintenence is only good for cars not for people).

The Happiness Project was a fun summer read.  The entirety of Rubin's project is a bit much for me but she has a lot of food for thought.

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