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Customer Review

435 of 486 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a Woman who has it all and is still unhappy, September 21, 2012
This review is from: Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life (Hardcover)
I loved The Happiness Project so much that I became a superfan, and wanted to read all I could about Gretchen Rubin. A NY Times article about her, "On Top of the Happiness Racket" revealed how much of her home life she'd kept from readers: husband Jamie is "a senior partner at BC Partners, a hedge fund." Her "father-in-law, known to readers as the sage, affable "Bob," is known to the world as Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, who stepped down last year as an adviser to Citigroup." In Happier at Home, she mentions 'mortgage papers'; owning a triplex in the Upper East Side means you're a millionaire.

It matters that Ms. Rubin is so wealthy because most of the things that affect my daily happiness at home don't even register as a blip on her radar. Money is only mentioned when she mentions the expensive family portraits she ordered for the holidays. In many homes, you have to choose between sources of happiness: we can buy an iPad or go away for a long weekend, but not both; we can go out to eat tonight or I can go on a lavish scent shopping spree (which she does), but not both. In many households, a great source of tension is when spouses disagree about how to save and what to buy. She mentions that she's an under-buyer, but never has to deal with the stress of not being able to buy something, or having to choose between two things. The only restraint that Rubin encounters is not being able to fit in all of her Type-A helicopter mom activities into one afternoon.

It also seems that her family is fortunate enough to hire housekeeping help, since the only chores and home maintenance she mentions are activities like tidying up all of her books, organizing trinkets, making photo albums, and painting the home office. Before "building a shrine," most of us have to do mundane activities like take care of the kids, sweep the floor, clean windows, go grocery shopping, make dinner, do laundry, clean the bathroom, take care of the yard. Doing those things daily--and crossing my fingers that my husband does his share--greatly affect my happiness. *These things are never mentioned in the book.* Rubin's friends don't discuss having to make sacrifices, they discuss truffle oil gone bad.

As other reviewers have mentioned, this book is very much "this is what I did" instead of "this is what you should do." This approach failed for me because Rubin's experience as a millionaire on the Upper East Side means that she is literally living in a different world than I am.

The nuts and bolts of the book are much weaker than The Happiness Project: there's not nearly as much research. She comes across as being very controlling, neurotic and achievement-obsessed; no insights for those of us who have a more relaxed attitude towards life. As a caveat, Rubin has done a great job of curating research, lists and quotes that are relevant, timeless and helpful. A few of these are scattered in the book, but the bulk of the great advice is on her website; skip the book.
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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 3, 2012 5:23:34 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 6, 2012 10:54:13 AM PDT
Mina -- this seems more like a review of Gretchen Rubin rather than her book, and it comes off a little as an ad hominem (or ad feminem, in this case) attack. The book stands on its own as the chronicle of one very capable and well-meaning person in affluent 21st century North America aiming to increase happiness in her household through simple steps that are available to anyone with a little time and initiative. Is it comprehensive? No -- it doesn't claim to be, and that's just not possible. Is everything she says applicable to my life? Um, no -- she's a married mother of two, and I'm a single guy. However, everything that she tries is practical, and someone will find it useful.

If she were cruising around town in her Rolls Royce Silver Ghost with her homies sipping Cristal, I'd say you have a point about her financial situation being an issue. But she's not. She's training herself to become more aware of her husband's positive qualities and to roll her eyes less. She's getting rid of clutter. She's hugging more. She's confronting her fears by learning how to drive in NYC. She's avoiding negative people. This is simple-looking stuff that's hard work, people. And it takes a lot more of an investment of character than it does of bucks.

Also, Mina, I'm guessing you're not in a slum in Mumbai sharing a room with 16 people. If you are tooling around on Amazon on a laptop or iPad and have enough time to read books and even write whole reviews, that means you're already part of the top 5% most affluent people on the planet. On a large scale, the absolute difference in quality of life between Gretchen and you is minimal: you are both residents of the wealthy Western world in 2012. You have health, disposable income *and* time. As such, you're going to share a set of problems different from the rest of the planet: stress instead of malaria, not seeing your kids enough instead of seeing them die young, too much stuff instead of no running water, status anxiety instead of warzone anxiety. And please recognize that the 'problem' of having to choose (god forbid) between an iPad and going away for a long weekend means that you are doing very, very well indeed. So much so that you may have forgotten to be grateful for what you have. Let's not allow the fact that the author isn't an exact facsimile of ourselves become an excuse to not apply her useful findings.

In the end, the biggest difference between Gretchen and her readers is that she has arranged herself to be self-employed such that she gets to do these experiments for a living. But even though we may not have the time or motivation to do everything she does, she's provided us with an annotated list of everything she tried in a year from which we can cherry-pick what *can* work for us. That to me is the greatest gift an author can give: to distill life, lived in real time over the course of years, into the nectar of a few pages that can be imbibed over mere hours to enrich our lives immeasurably. Gretchen has done a great job of that in 'Happier at Home', and you should all read it. It's particularly applicable if you're a married Western woman with kids, and anyone else is bound to learn something useful, too.

-- Ali Binazir MD, author of The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible, the highest-rated dating book on Amazon since July 2011

Posted on Oct 8, 2012 9:17:07 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Feb 16, 2013 9:12:34 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 11, 2012 6:49:36 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 11, 2012 6:54:48 AM PDT]

Posted on Oct 11, 2012 9:04:31 PM PDT
Rosie says:
Thanks for the insight, Mina. Although there are some tips I can use from Rubin's book, knowing that she comes from wealth and privilege and can't really relate to the common man (or mom) taints her advice for me. But I had an inkling she was of a different class when I realized she has a Yale Law School education--a school that costs well over $30,000 a year--but can afford to quit practicing law to write because the legal profession didn't engage her--if only the rest of us could follow our (other) dream! I assume she has connections in the publishing biz, knowing how hard it is to break into writing.

And you're so right about how money issues can be the source of a lot of unhappiness for so many. I'm not happy when my mechanic tells me my 16-year-old car needs an $800 part. I'm not happy when I write a check for my health care premium payment every month, which is over $1,100. I'm not all that happy either when I have to send my kids to community college before going on to the university because tuition is out of reach. If I had Rubin's lot in life, I would be a lot happier because one of the major stressors in my life would be eliminated--and I'd be able to hire a nanny and housekeeper just like hers. It's no wonder all she has to do to be happier is kiss more, jump more and read Samuel Johnson in her privileged Upper East Side triplex.

This book doesn't offer much more advice than her first one on the same subject. It's just an example of cashing in on a proven winner.

Posted on Oct 17, 2012 3:47:33 PM PDT
VW Smith says:
wow what is this? rip the author because she has more than I do? I'm not rich. I struggle with paying bills and what do you know even being rich doesn't make you automatically happy. I liked the book and suggestions. I love Ben Franklin and his autobiography and his improvement approach. Just cause a book doesn't click with you doesn't mean it's a bad book. It's just not the one for YOU.

Posted on Oct 22, 2012 10:13:11 PM PDT
Learn2Birth says:
I did find it a bit difficult to read elements of The Happiness Project simply because she seemed very detached from the care of her then 1 year old. Obviously someone else was taking care of the baby. For women like me who are stay at home moms caring for our children and fully responsible for the running of the household (cleaning, meal prep, etc..) I did wish there were more elements of real home maintenance. I was hoping to find more of this real home maintenance in this book. Anyways, I do appreciate some of her suggestions, but yes she has a different sort of life. But she's still a likeable person who is trying to be the best mom and wife she can be.

Posted on Oct 31, 2012 11:57:55 AM PDT
BookFan says:
I agree with a lot of what you say. I too loved The Happiness Project and am also a stay at home mom. I found her writing style in Happier at Home still very engaging and I applaud her honesty in her discussions of the challenges she faces but I too found she came across as controlling, neurotic and actually not very nice. Some of the things she decides she needs to work on ring of the bad behaviour of a spoiled chid. Things such as making a mean face, snapping at people, being rude to people I was a little surprised that as an adult with a husband and kids she struggled with controlling and childish behaviours my son left behind when he was ten! There was nothing in this book that in any way resonated with me. It went really downhill with me in her January chapter where she describes struggling with time management. I live mindfully and really don't get the go, go, go need she has. After reading this book I can only wonder how difficult she is to live with.

Posted on Nov 10, 2012 10:59:41 PM PST
Stella says:
It is so weird that everytime I see a bad review of Rubin's books, it is not her book that is attacked but the author herslef - an mainly for being rich.
I find that extremely unfrair, esp. that the author comes across as very humble with day to day issues of mere mortals.
I am far from rich, however, I could relate to pretty much everything Rubin was writing about, her "narrow preoccupations" (I suffer from those), being an underbuyer. trying to change her day to day life, making resolutions, failing resolutions, suffering from unfinished projects, etc.
I may not have millions and I am happy in my life and yet still - there is always room from improvement and just as her first book spke to me, so does this one, even more.
It is the book I hope to judge, not the author.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2012 11:51:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 12, 2012 11:53:39 AM PST
BookFan says:
Her financial status is not a deterrent for me in the least. If anything I think that if she is well off she does not seem to know how to put her money to use to have fun with it. My issues with Rubin are relevant because she is offering advice on how to be happy. If a person giving you advice on happiness comes across as being uptight, unpleasant and appears to struggle with issues that you find childish then that is relevant. It would be the same as reading a book on financial planning written by someone who struggles with spending issues that are rudimentary to you. In this type of a book the writer and book are one and the same.

Posted on Dec 28, 2012 9:39:25 PM PST
E. Morrison says:
Hmmm. It seems the author of the book has a dilemma. If she doesn't reveal her father-in-law's name, husband's profession, and what her home costs, then she's concealing important information from her readers. If she does, then she's name-dropping and flaunting her resources and privileges. Either way, some segment of readers is going to be annoyed.
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