on December 11, 2009
I was torn between giving this book 2 stars and 4 stars (yes, I realize the compromise would've been to give it 3 stars, but that didn't seem to say much, really), because there are some real clunkers and some real gems here. But in the end, I liked what Rubin was trying to do, and I liked how she wrote about it. Rubin herself is pretty likeable and interesting--I wouldn't mind having a cup of coffee with her. Unlike a lot of self-help books, this book focuses on helping one particular self--the author. Rubin wanted to see if she could make her already-pretty-good life even better by trying a rather scattershot assortment of advice, focusing on one area of her life per month. Perhaps a better title for the book may have been "Gretchen's Happiness Project" but I suspect a title like that wouldn't fly off the shelves. But that is in large part her point: what makes one person happy may make another quite miserable. If you're struggling to figure out how to make your life happier, reading Rubin's book could either be a cautionary tale of what wouldn't work for your (quite useful information, actually), or a handy how-to guide that really could make you happier. I feel it's a book worth taking a chance on regardless.
Why this could've been a two-star book: the author sounds whiny and overprivileged in many places, especially when she thinks she deserves praise for something. She does, in fact, realize that this is a flaw in her, and to her credit, takes steps to change that. The book skips around a bit, too, especially when it comes to mentions of a certain saint. This saint is mentioned throughout the book, but no background on her (she seems to be a less-well-known saint, at least I had never heard of her) is given until the book is almost over, so it was really hard to see how these random quotes from this person fit without knowing anything about her. After reading about the saint, I can understand why the author liked her--knowing that upfront would've been very helpful. The thing that drove me the most crazy about this book was the insistence that introverts can be made more happy if they are around people. While there may be some backing for this (I've never seen any studies that say this, and none are cited here, just mentions that "research shows that. . . "), I don't find that to be at all true, and it struck me as a rather typical thing for an extrovert to claim. I'm not saying all introverts should or want to be hermits, but acknowledging that social interaction is actually very draining for introverts would've been welcome, and more true to the book's dictate to "be yourself."
IN the end, in the spirit of happiness, I gave the book 4 stars. There isn't really anything earth shattering or new here. But I did laugh in several places, and enjoyed reading it despite its flaws.
on March 19, 2016
Looking thru some of these reviews I understand why some people don't agree with Gretchen. Knowing her background might make it difficult for some people to feel for the author and her quest to be happier.
I live in a good neighborhood, work for myself, and have a husband who makes a decent amount of money. We have 3 kids. We are in no way rich, but we live well and if an emergency arises we can take care of it. We have also been dead broke, where only one of was working and had to support the household. I've lived both extremes.
I am happy - but I read this book with the thought - of could I be happier? No matter the circumstance we can all pick up bits and pieces from this book. I have dog tagged so many pages, and even starting posting "Question of The Day" - on my Facebook, that has actually got my friends thinking about their happiness. I took away some good points from this book, and it also made me remember why I do things.
I feel that Gretchen has every right to try and be happier - even if from the outside looking in (we really don't know), she has everything that someone could ever want. Some people just really need to get off their high horse.
on February 17, 2016
With a title like 'The Happiness Project' the first thing I think is this is a self-help book. I love nonfiction, but the self-help section is not a category I go to. How I came across this book was on my 'Recommend for you' list. My initial reaction was to go to the next book on the list, but something grabbed me. I don't know what it was, but I read the full description and then downloaded the sample.
Wow I'm so glad I did!!
I have suffered major depression for many years so was skeptical. I was wrong (I don't say that often and will deny I said it if anyone asks!!). I won't lie and say I'm planning my own 'Happiness Project', but so many things in the book jumped out at me and made me think 'That makes so much sense' or 'I can relate to that'.
I love Gretchen's style for so many reasons. I really like the way she gathers her research from so many different resources and is able to put them together and make them easy to read. The way the book is written encourages the reader and doesn't force her way as the only way.
on February 13, 2014
For anyone that wants to practice the art and indulge in the self satisfaction of happiness. In five pages you are hooked on what might be happening and what should be happening about your happiness in your life. This all ain't no dress rehearsal. Rubin helps you know that, and provides you with the exercise and the path to improve. No, it is not just another self help feel good book... it is much, much more.
on January 27, 2016
It’s easy to criticize The Happiness Project as a self-centered reflection on life from someone who’s “got it easy” financially. In doing so however, one would miss so much of the good content and extensive research that the author, Gretchen Rubin, put into the book. In reading through the book, and re-reading my notes, I realized that I cared way more about the content and way less about her personal journey with the content. Her journey, of tackling a different aspect of happiness each month, just provides a nice framework from which to discuss the content. It is tricky, however, to know which, of the unlimited number of studies she cites, actually hold up to peer-reviewing, as I found her often times saying “in one study…”
JANUARY Boost Energy VITALITY
Go to sleep earlier – Despite lot of research behind the value of getting at least eight hours of sleep, the average adult only sleeps 6.9 hours during the week (which is 20% less than in the 1900s).
Exercise better – As little as 20 minutes of exercise, three days a week, boosts a person’s energy. It’s also good for the brain. Nietzsche wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” The idea of 10,000 steps daily is a popular goal, however some suggest might be more than what you actually need.
Toss, restore, organize – A clean home is a clean mind. One study suggested that eliminating clutter would cut down the amount of housework in the average home by 40 percent.
Tackle a nagging task – Break big projects down into bite-sized pieces and create little wins for yourself. That keeps the motivation going.
FEBRUARY Remember Love MARRIAGE
A happy and healthy marriage is a big indicator of personal happiness. However marriages aren’t always easy. Marriage expert John Gottman says that four destructive behaviors in a marriage are stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, and contempt.
What matters more than if you fight is how you fight. Fighting, done right, can be healthy for the relationship. However it’s a good idea to not let the sun go down your anger.
To add to the challenges of maintaining a healthy marriage, research shows that marital satisfaction drops substantially after the first child arrives and it stays mostly at lower levels until the child leaves the house. To counter this, experts suggest having frequent child-free and work-free “date nights.”
Make sure in your marriage you are cultivating at least a five-to-one ratio of unpleasant to pleasant experiences. Because of “negativity bias,” unpleasant experiences stick with a person longer than pleasant ones.
Lastly, don’t expect your spouse to change (within reason), better to focus on yourself and your actions and see if you can create a better atmosphere for your marriage.
MARCH Aim Higher WORK
Don’t let yourself become stagnate in your pursuit of improvement. Yes, you might fail along the way, but most people don’t notice your failures as much as you do, or you think they do. By pushing past your fears of growth to try new things, you also increase the identity of who you are, which in turn will make every additional element you face less threatening.
When taking on new things, enthusiasm is more important to mastery than innate ability, because the single most important element in developing an expertise is your willingness to practice.
And while you’re on your journey, enjoy the ride because though you may anticipate a massive increase in happiness at the end, the end rarely makes you as happy as you anticipated. This is called “Arrival Fallacy.”
APRIL Lighten Up PARENTHOOD
Despite the joy of being a parent, child-care has been researched to only be slightly more enjoyable than commuting. Raising kids is tough. One tactic to be more present with your kids is to simply repeat what they say and how they are feeling. Parenting experts say that so often your kid is just trying to be heard, and more often than not we plow over their emotions. Denying bad feelings intensifies them, where as acknowledging the bad feelings allows good feelings to return.
The four steps to maximizing a good experience with your family are to anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory.
MAY Be Serious About Play LEISURE
Make time for play. If you can have fun with someone else, all the better, as doing activities with others multiples the happiness benefits, but just because something is fun for you, it might not be fun for others. Know what’s fun for you and do it.
There are three types of fun; challenging fun, accommodating fun, and relaxing fun. Challenging and accommodating fun tend to bring the most long term happiness where as the passive nature of relaxing fun is nice, but not to the same level of happiness benefits.
JUNE Make Time for Friends FRIENDSHIP
The most meaningful way to boost your happiness is to have strong social bonds with five or more friends. If you want to make yourself happy, make your friends happy. Oh and smile during a conversation, it portrays you as being more happy, which in turn you will become more happy.
JULY Buy Some Happiness MONEY
“Money doesn’t buy happiness in the same way good health doesn’t buy happiness.” Buying things will give you a short term sense of happiness, but then it fades. Using your money to service others will give you more happiness.
AUGUST Contemplate the Heavens ETERNITY
Whether you like it or not, research shows that spiritual people are relatively happier. I suspect this has to do with the combination of a strong social community plus regular praying. If you aren’t into praying, you can meditate to gain the same benefits of mindfulness. Also make sure to be grateful for what you do have.
SEPTEMBER Pursue a Passion BOOKS
I personally love reading and find great joy in it. Gretchen, however, says that she finds great joy in rereading. I agree.
OCTOBER Pay Attention MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness can be described as the cultivation of conscious, nonjudgmental awareness. Mindfulness brings many benefits from happiness to reduced anxiety. Meditation is a great way to achieve mindfulness. Interestingly, listening to your favorite music can also produce high levels of joy and similar health benefits of mediation.
NOVEMBER Keep a Contented Heart ATTITUDE
Did you know that a small child laughs more than 400 times each day where as the average adult laughs only 17 times. Pick your attitude for the day and the day will become your attitude.
DECEMBER Boot Camp Perfect HAPPINESS
Gretchen says the most effective tactic she used to stay on target for the year was the use of her resolutions chart where she tracked her activities on a daily basis. Similar to Mark Reiter’s idea of “Active Questions” to keep yourself on track with your goals.
on December 24, 2015
I didn’t want to like this book, as I find some of Gretchen Rubin’s emails relentlessly self-promotional. But I grabbed it at an airport during an unexpectedly long layover and found myself constantly underlining passages and copying out quotes. Her writing is intelligent and self-aware and I am in her debt because just reading her book and thinking about her suggestions on how I might become happier actually made me happier. There are some wonderful insights and quotes tucked into this book. Here are a few:
“Look for happiness under your own roof.” p.5
“What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while.” p.11
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” p.11
“I wanted to change my own life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen.” p.12
“Nietzsche wrote, ‘All truly great thoughts are achieved by walking.’” p.25
“Light deprivation is one reason people feel tired, and even five minutes of daylight stimulates production of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that improve mood.” p.25
“Act the way I want to feel.” p.35
“It is by studying little things,” wrote Samuel Johnson, “that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.” p.37
“A line by G.K Chesterton echoed in my head: ‘It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.’ ” p. 41
“We hugged---for at least six seconds, which, I happened to know from my research, is the minimum time necessary to promote the flow of oxytocin and serotonin, mood-boosting chemicals that promote bonding.” p. 45
“As Mark Twain observed, an uneasy conscience is a hair in the mouth.” p. 38
“AS Samuel Johnson Johnson said, ‘To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy.’ ” p.158
"Forget about results.” p. 221
“An atmosphere of growth brings great happiness, but at the same time, happiness sometimes also comes when you’re free from the pressure to see much growth. That’s not surprising; often the opposite of a great truth is also true.” p.231
And my favorite: “I wanted to change mu life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen.” p.12
Thank you, Gretchen Rubin.
on October 6, 2011
I did not read this book for nearly a year after I found out about it because of the negative reviews - specifically the reviews about her wealthy, privileged life. I didn't see how I was going to learn anything about being happy from a woman who has nannies and house keepers and lots of free time.
Recently, I checked it out from the library on a whim. I am so glad I did this. First, let me make it clear: there is a lot of truth in the negative reviews. Very few people have the time and the resources she does to do some of the things she did to be happy. I wish I could afford the weight training classes - they do sound great - but not in my budget. I got a bit tired of reading about her "modest splurges." And where DID she find all this time to go to book groups and dinner parties and writers' group??
But there were a LOT of little nuggets in there that have made a huge difference in the way I look at things. The main thing is her collection of truths she has learned as an adult. So many of them sound silly and obvious (like not having to like things that other people like), but there is something about the simple way she states them and the way she applies them to everyday life that really clicked with me. I started discovering my own truths ("Other people's opinions can be useful, but I don't have to live by them.") I frequently remind myself to act the way I want to feel (it does work a lot of the time), and I have enjoyed the journal I now keep to record little things about my kids.
What you should take from this review: Don't look at this book as a project to be imitated step-by-step. It's not possible for most of us. Look at it as a menu of ideas that you can pick and choose from. If you look at the book this way, you will likely find a few gems that will make you happy.
on November 12, 2015
I found this a lighthearted, easy read that provided a meaningful way of improving one's happiness. The author did her homework to provide the reader with historic references to the analysis of what makes people happy without the heavy aspects of psychiatry. I actually purchased copies for my more 'unhappy' friends. Highly recommended.
When I stumbled across this book at a used book sale, I was intrigued by it for several reasons. First, as a clinical psychologist, my job is basically to help people try to be happier (I work with college students). Secondly, from a personal perspective, I struggle at times with feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction despite having quite a good life overall--e.g., a supportive husband, a well-paying (albeit stressful) job, a loving family, a nice place to live, and many other advantages of a middle-class life style. Still, similar to the author, Gretchen Rubin, I tend to feel that I don't appreciate what I have quite enough and that I would be happier if I were able to do this.
So, this is where the first caveat about the book comes in. This book is NOT designed for people who are depressed or who are experiencing other types of psychological difficulties that are contributing to their unhappiness. Rubin emphasizes on the very first page of her book that she has "much to be happy about," and she goes on to note that she was not depressed prior to starting this program. Rather, she was simply seeking to make her life BETTER. She recognizes that some would view this as an unworthy or even a selfish goal; this is a topic which she addresses throughout the book. However, if your own personal belief is that the pursuit of happiness is not an appropriate goal, then this is definitely NOT the book for you.
A second caveat concerns the way in which Rubin constructs her happiness project. If you choose Amazon's "Look Inside This Book" feature and select "Table of Contents," you will see that Rubin chose to concentrate on a different area of her life each month, starting with January and continuing through the end of the year. Each area of focus was associated with a specific set of resolutions which Rubin meticulously tracked on a daily basis. For example, January's theme was "Boost Energy - Vitality," and Rubin's resolutions included "Go to sleep earlier," "Exercise better," "Toss, restore, reorganize," "Tackle a nagging task," and "Act more energetic." Rubin herself admits that her work on these tasks took a HUGE amount of her time, but although she was the mother of two young children, she had a flexible schedule (as a full-time writer, she worked from home) plus both childcare and household help. Many people, of course, don't have these luxuries, and as a result, some readers might find it difficult to relate to Rubin's efforts. On the other hand, many of the changes that Rubin made to her life--for example, her work on mindfulness in Chapter 10--require little time and no money.
The main thing to remember about this book is that it is a happiness "project." Rubin points out repeatedly that this is HER happiness project, not anyone else's. However, to create her program, she first researched some of the biggest names in happiness and positive psychology (Martin Seligman, Barry Schwartz, Malcom Gladwell, Daniel Gilbert, Robert Biswas-Diener, Sonja Lyubomirsky--all authors I have read myself). Based on this, she distilled the most important tenets of what makes people happy, which led to the creation of the specific areas of her own life that she wanted to address. Other reviewers have suggested that Rubin's resolutions are "common sense"--yes, it is true that many of the changes she decided to make to her life were not based on profound insights, but rather more "d'oh!"-type realizations. Still, the key to Rubin's self-improvement program is NOT that she identified the changes that she needed to make, but that she found ways to MAKE these changes and to STICK WITH her new behaviors (at least for the 12 months of the project, but based on her web site, she seems to be still going strong). And in the end, she truly was HAPPIER.
Yes, this book was flawed in some respects. (Personally, I thought that Rubin relied a bit too heavily on quoting from her blog at times.) Yet overall, I found it to be a thoughtful, engaging, and even amusing read. Even better, I found it to be inspiring--while I was reading this book, Rubin's work encouraged me to look for ways in my own life that I could make positive changes. Like Rubin, I hope that as I become happier, I will be able to enhance the happiness of those around me as well--what more is there to life than that?
on December 12, 2015
I really enjoyed this book. It is not a "self help" book or one that tells you what you need to do to be happy. It just describes the author's experience. What I really liked about it is that it isn't all personal without anything to back it up. She does a great deal of research to tell you why these things contributed to her happiness.