The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Funby Gretchen Rubin Published 29 Dec 2009
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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, Rubin 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. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.
"The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun" Reviews
Wow, when did I become so cynical and not even realize it?
Just like Julia from Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen I too am in danger of becoming nothing but a secretary on a road to nowhere, drifting toward frosted hair and menthol addiction.
However, this book helped me get out of my funk and become more creative. I didn't want to review this book until I tried my own "happiness project" because to be honest I was very sceptical about the results.
So, my personal journey to getting back on track to being happier started in the LGA airport in the Hudson News Bookstore. I was traveling back to Chicago after visiting family in Long Island and Conneticut for Easter. My plane was delayed and I had finished my other book I had brought with. So, being bored and knowing I was going to sit there for a while, I purused the books at Hudson News. This is the one that spoke to me and I started reading it in the airport.
Most of the information isn't anything spectcular and it's all stuff that I already knew, but obviously I needed to hear it again for the millionth time, before it finally sunk in. I wasn't happy because I wasn't making time for the one thing that really makes me happy...writing every day.
So, I decided to start my own project. The first thing I did was clear the clutter out of my apartment. Not only did this make packing tons easier for my move to my new home, but it also lifted a mental weight that too much stuff can have over you and you'll not even realize it. This was a good first step for me. The stuff I didn't have use for I gave away or donated in hopes that someone else who does need it can.
The second step was making more room for creativity every single day. I am really good at making time to read (since I have an hour commute via train) but I wasn't showing up at the page everyday to write and that really soured my mood. So, I started a journal where I would write just a sentence every single day, even when I didn't want to, and you know what? Because I showed up and made the time for creativity, I started writing more than a sentence. I was writing paragraphs, and then pages. That made me really happy and for the first time in a long time I realized, I can do this!
The third and final step (and the one that's still a work in progress for me) is spending money on unnecessary things. I became addicted to internet shopping. It's really easy to do. I would just log on to some of my favorite sites: Etsy, Sephora, Groupon, Amazon and could order in an instant anything I wanted via my credit card. Pretty soon, I was in debt, and I had massive amounts of unnused products, books, and other things I didn't need. So, I stopped spending on the internet all together and bought only the things I absolutely needed like food and began to use up the things I had lying around. This made me feel happier, however, it's still hard for me to go into a store and say, "yes, this is a really good deal, but I don't need it." I'm slowly getting better at this and practice does make perfect.
Like Gretchen, I too just wanted to share my thoughts on this subject, and hopefully inspire others, not to do the same things I've done, but to find their own passion that will make them happier every day and grateful for the little things that we tend to overlook.
The most useful part of this book was when the author suggests not continuing to read a book you're not enjoying. I stopped there. Great advice.
I enjoyed reading this book, it was fun and stimulating, and it made me HAPPY.
It involved following Gretchen Rubin in her year-long pursuit to increase the amount of happiness in her life. I learnt a lot along the way, and often they were things I was not expecting to learn. I didn't agree with everything she tried - but then neither did she - some of her projects just didn't work out. But a lot of them did, and she has given us all a lot to think about.
The book has been a great success, spawning a blog that loads of people seem to read and take part in, but the hype isn't just hype - I think she deserves the positive feedback.
She takes a different topic each month of the year..
The main messages I got from this book about happiness?
Be you. Blow doing anything you don't enjoy. If your real pleasure is collecting Cindy dolls - then just go for it, regardless of more highbrow pleasures that might turn other people on.... we must do the things that make us joyful.
Try and work out what makes you happy, and then keep a resolution chart that will ensure that you actually DO the things that make you happy. Rubin says that keeping a resolution chart was the very nub of what made this project successful for her. It ensured that she kept practising her new habits, or in Rubin's words "Accessibility to good ideas and practises makes it easier for the subconscious brain to access them." So, a resolution chart is good!
Finally, the book ends with an excellent list of books for further reading.
I shall end with my usual stack of notes
Happiness is a virtuous circle. Happiness = more energy, and that makes it easier to be active (more exercising, more socializing.)
Just 20 minutes exercise a day, 3 days a week for 6 weeks, will boost your energy. Even walking. As Nietzche says...."All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking."
Weight training/strength training is also nice, because you don't sweat.
Do it. It makes you feel better and it gives you energy.
Throw things away, but also create more filing and storage. You want stuff stored away, not stashed on surfaces.
Tackle a nagging task:
Studies show that one of the best ways to lift your mood is to engineer an easy success, such as tackling a long-delayed chore. It can give you a dramatic boost.
Act the way you want to feel:
William James "By regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not."
Or another way of putting it - "Fake it until you make it."
Seeing the good in people
With regard to other people - it's easy to focus on bad habits, and take good habits for granted. Practise enjoying their good habits.
Try and keep cheerful.
GK Chesterton "It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light."
This is a phenomenon whereby we unconsciously overestimate our contributions or skills, relative to other people. This again involves celebrating the good stuff about people around us.
1. Tackle one subject at a time.
2. Ease into arguments, don't just blow up immediately.
3. Don't say "You always", or "You never".
4. Be aware of how to bring an argument to an end, instead of keeping it going for hours.
We need to SHOW love and caring.
Pierre Reverdy "There is no love; there are only proofs of love".
The experience of 'growth' versus achievement:
Many researchers agree that it isn't achievement that brings us happiness, but rather GROWTH, eg training for a marathon, or learning a new language.
There is also the "hedonistic treadmill" whereby we quickly get used to new pleasures, so the good feeling wears off. An atmosphere of growth offsets that, that is why gardening is better than admiring your new dining room table.
Novelty gives us pleasure.
We enjoy mastering new things.
New things also enable us to expand how we see ourselves.
The arrival of a goal often brings more work and responsibility eg having a baby or buying a house. Arriving at one goal usually reveals another, yet more challenging goal. The challenge therefore is to take pleasure in the 'atmosphere of growth'. Enjoying the now, without worrying too much about the future.
This was the section on parenthood. I didn't take any notes from this section (I have no children), but it was my favourite chapter in the book. Rubin isn't the perfect parent, but sometimes she is darn good. She warmed my heart in this chapter.
Studies show that we subconsciously catch emotions from other people, whether good moods or bad ones. Taking the time to be silly means we are infecting one another with good cheer, and people who enjoy silliness are a third more likely to be happy.
Benefit of the doubt.
We need to cut people slack when they appear rude or impatient. We don't know the things that may be going on in their lives.
Familiarity breeds affection in most instances. The more see someone the more we like them - although obviously this doesn't apply in all cases.
Spontaneous trait transference.
Studies show that people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you ascribe to other people, so if you gossip about someone being arrogant, that trait will also be ascribed to you. Luckily it applies to positive things too.
And if you complain a lot.....
Samuel Johnson "To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy."
"Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful, than perpetual kindness." Tolstoy.
Listen. Get involved in someone else's conversation, rather than just waiting for when you can speak up about your experiences.
Being a know-it-all (telling lots of anecdotes that show off your knowledge.) (Hum...except I enjoy other people's knowledge.)
Being a topper: "You think YOU had a crazy morning. Let me tell you about mine!"
Being a "deflator": " You liked the movie? I thought it was kind of boring."
Being beligerant: Looking for ways to contradict what someone says.
Goody goody two shoes:
Exercise: Try having a Pollyanna week. You may well not do it perfectly, but it's a great exercise.
In many way Pollyanna-ish behaviour is good, and cheers everyone up.
For fun, someone should do a search through this book to see how many times the phrase "studies show that" actually appears. The entire book reads like a college term project written by a self-absorbed teacher's pet. (The author readily admits to being the type of person who always wants a "gold star" for her efforts.) She strikes me as the type of person who plays everything by the book - from graduating from Yale law school to clerking for Justice O'Connor, so it makes sense that she would tackle happiness as just another project to be ticked off the list and approach it from the chart-making, resolution-keeping perspective. Yet, she seems to yearn for some adventure, which it appears she believes she's at least partially achieved by "discovering what she loves" and making the decision to quit lawyering and become a full-time writer. (Isn't that such a crazy and wild thing to do?)
Personality quibbles aside, I really hated this book. I tried to read it twice. Both times, I was struck by the mechanical tone and formulaic "how tos" of happiness achievement: Smile! Don't criticize! Sing! Go with the flow! De-clutter! Be playful! One gets the sense that Ms. Rubin is gallantly trying to break free from her rigid, type-A personality, for which she deserves some credit, but it just comes across as play-acting for the sake of keeping her resolutions (I. will. make. my. life. perfect. if. it. kills. me.) instead of from any sincere attempt to examine her ways of thinking or overall approach to life. (OK, personality quibbles not aside.) Ultimately, she fails to convince me that any of these "how-tos" have anything to do with happiness at all.
From Ms. Rubin's perspective, it appears as though happiness is an relatively achievable goal - something you set your mind to, grit your teeth and, armed with plenty of charts and lists, set out to achieve. It's pedantry disguised as seeking and true insight. Well, congratulations, Ms. Rubin. You are the first person in history to both discover the meaning of happiness and achieve it. Gold star!
I found it the epitomy of self absorbtion. I've read many happiness books, often looking to use excerpts in my hospice speaches and volunteer training, but I felt this was so dumbed down. If you don't mind the constant references to her clerking for Supreme Court Justice O'Connor and her monied life and the mundane attempts at her "happiness project" you might be ok. Anyone who ever had any religious, marital of psych type of background, ie "Golden Rule", would be able to do this and probably already is.
I didn't realize through the library's description it would carry you through one month at a time of her life. Hey, be kind, take your husband's clothes to the cleaners before he asks you?? Plan a super party for an inlaw, by gosh, just jump in and plan it and take control. Don't snipe at your spouse over stupid things for one whole month and you will feel happier.
I realize she comes from a monied background and that doesn't influence my take at all. The book was shallow and just another version of I'm unhappy, it hit me one day, so I called my hubby outside his office and told him to look down at me while I waved because it made me happy type blog.
Maybe the intentions were good to get folks to start their own plan, maybe I'm too harsh because I strive to make others and myself happy knowing full well each day is a gift and it's not about money, position, bragging or power, it's about being the best you an be at that moment every day, 24/7, and yes, that means helping your fellow mankind (never mind your own spouse without resentment). This book was very 80's without the good advice.
Let me preface this review by saying, I really tried to like this book. I found it at Sam's Club for $7 when I was on my monthly TP run. The cover looked fun. The concept up lifting. I went into reading it with high hopes. I didn't look at any previous review (I should have). So, here goes... This book should be re-titled "The Year I Spent Trying To Be Less of an Entitled B*tch (And Failed!)".
The author is a rich white lady living in the upper east side of manhattan with her two healthy little girls and her (as she described) gorgeous rich husband. He's rich, like, stupid rich. Research his family. Your jaw will drop that she had enough time between swimming through piles of money to write this self indulgent crap. Her project includes all the things you would expect: appreciate family more, be happy with the here and now, etc. These simple steps could be very enlightening if done by someone anyone but an upper east side yuppie could relate to. Side note: the author does reference several great books and quotes of OTHER people that would be much more interesting to check out, IMO.
I got through the cleaning out closets chapter fine. It's when the author had to start interacting with other people that it went quickly downhill. One particular story had me gobsmacked. It was her mother in law's birthday party. The point of the exercise was that she was supposed to do "proofs of love." If you've read "The Five Languages of Love" she's talking about Acts of Service. So, she starts planning this shindig, whilst farming out tasks to everyone else so don't think this was a monumental accomplishment. The entire time she's describing all the emails she had to send for this great act of love, she's passive aggressively telling the reader about how *normally* she'd be so resentful about having to do all of this. Can you feel the love?
Fast forward to the day of the party. Everything is going swimmingly. MIL looooves her party. She loves the food cooked by her son who is a private chef. Loved her presents. Love, love, love. So, the night went well? Love was proven, right? Not so fast. The author was feeling like her efforts weren't being recognized enough. Even though her MIL had a fantastic night no one stopped the party to golf clap her organizational skills. That is until her well trained husband, in the middle of gift opening, pulls out a gift for the author. AT.HER.MILs.BIRTHDAY.PARTY. Suddenly, all is well! The author stops pouting because finally it's back to being about her! Order is restored. How her MIL didn't side eye her and mouth "WTF" is a testament to how classy MIL is.
So, all in all I just can't with this book. I'll take Eat, Pray, Love or a Year Living Biblically if I need my year doing stuff fix. But this one is getting tossed.