531 of 611 people found the following review helpful
Finding Happiness (and a Great Read)
, November 25, 2009
This review is from: 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 (Hardcover)
This book is part memoir, part thinking person's self-help book. I like the fact that it draws not only on recent research in the new field of positive psychology, such as the work of Martin Seligman, but on the wisdom of thinkers as disparate as Samuel Butler and the ancient Stoic philosopher, Seneca. Many wonderful and wise quotations are included in the text. Gretchen Rubin has done a lot of research and reading, and distilled it all here, attempting to answer some vital questions. Is it possible to become a happier person? Is happiness a meaningful and worthwhile goal? She comes to the conclusion that while we may have a happiness set point, and a great deal of our mood is--researchers believe-- determined by heredity (50% or so), to some degree it is under own control (perhaps 30%). It may seem that someone who is not suffering from a painful mood disorder should be focused on other (more worthwhile?) goals than mood elevation. But happiness, after all, is something just about every human being wants, the goal that motivates much of our day to day striving. And rather than suggesting a life of self-centered hedonism, research indicates that the very factors that make for a meaningful life--good relationships, acting in a loving and generous way, engaging creatively with the world--contribute to happiness.
Will revamping your life and taking a systematic approach to seeking happiness work? Research indicates that it may. "I really am happier," says Rubin after a year of following through on her own personal happiness plan. She goes into enough specific detail here about how she got to her more happy state that I have no trouble believing her.
Very responsibly, Rubin points out that her intent is to help people who are well become happier, not to treat a medical condition, i.e., depression. I can imagine her book, however, being an aid for those who are mildly depressed, perhaps as an adjunct to medical treatment, though perhaps they need to be a bit easy on themselves and not follow the plan in a perfectionist, pressured way.
I'm with Rubin when she says that even though we are all very different, learning about someone else's successes and failures can be a better catalyst for change than studying ideas in the abstract. She is generous about revealing the details of her own life--her own "happiness project." What is most transferable is not the specifics--particular actions she decided to experiment with in order to become more happy--but the idea of identifying potential sources of joy, designing steps to take to become happier, making monthly resolutions, carrying through and being accountable--i.e., quantifying the results. The average reader is not going to be as thorough and focused as Rubin was--but in my view that does not negate the value of this book. I'm into progress, I guess, and I believe that even a couple of changes modeled on the plan could make a difference in people's lives.
The book is written in an open, engaging, often humorous style. There is no posturing--Rubin is if anything self-deprecating-- but the writing crackles with intelligence. I found the THE HAPPINESS PROJECT a pleasure to read, and I can imagine people reading it with enjoyment even if they are already happy as clams and have no desire to get with the program. Rubin includes a specific guide for those who want to construct their own happiness plans, and also directs the reader to tools on her web site--nice helpful touches. All in all, a terrific book.
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