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Customer Review

531 of 611 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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)
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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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 29, 2009 10:13:18 AM PST
As an Amazon vine member I forgot how to post a review for this book and cannot find directions here nor find the "Create your own review" button in the Customer Reviews section so here is my review:
Gretchen manages to pack more practical "how to become happier" advice into each page of her personal story, a year-long project. than most strictly didactic self-help books. By reading her frank (and frankly charming) month-by-month plan, her wide-ranging book reading (from science to literature) and the everyday details of how she discovered what worked for her and what did not, one can picture one's own path and perhaps be convinced it is possible to start on that path. I was struck by her discovery that she learned the most, not from studies, but from several individual's approach to happiness. Reflecting on that notion and her interviews throughout the year, posted on her blog, I realized that they'd had the most relevance for me too.

Upfront she suggests the three steps most anyone can take to set up their own Happiness Project. She generously cites others' books for follow-up learning. Like the book, Carved in Sand, where the author began a project when she began having minor memory problems, the personality, candor and persistence of the author kept this reader engaged in the story, motivated to customize my own project and relish the daily improvements, knowing I'd lapse, make mistakes yet, with my chart, I knew I was making progress. Like Victorian Moran and Norman Doidge, Gretchen Rubin writes in a deceptively simple and gracious way, making positive personal change seem possible. Be sure to use her online tools to chart your own changes for feeling happier every day - and thus also enjoying the contagious joy reflected back by those around that happier you.

Posted on Dec 27, 2009 3:26:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 27, 2009 3:43:19 PM PST
Without a membership in the elite Amazon Vine program I can't post a review right now. However, I feel compelled to share my impressions sooner rather than later. Here is my brief take on The Happiness Project. It is impossible to read this book without changing your life for the better. As a scientist who studies happiness and meaning in life, I am extremely pleased that there are writers like Gretchen Rubin. She has a gift for transforming complex ideas into simple, interesting, practical tidbits. Some of the suggestions for improving happiness are obvious. But this is a strength, not a limitation. Instead of trying to impress you with her wit, Rubin is on a laser focused mission to provide suggestions for others to increase their well-being. Read the section on the importance of getting rid of clutter in your house, follow her guidance, and you'll feel more content. The same goes for sections on fighting effectively with your romantic partner and friends, being silly at least once per day, and resisting the temptation to cling to what we know and what is expected (because our positive experiences are more intense and longer lasting when we intentionally seek out challenges and novelty).

Rubin is playful, interesting, and naked in describing the good and bad in her own life. Pick up this book for a thought provoking, highly readable treatise on how to spend your attention and energy more wisely each day. The Happiness Project reminds you that the building blocks for lasting happiness are moments. Everyone can improve how they make decisions about what they do from the nearly paralyzing number of available options. Enjoy this wonderful handbook.

Todd B. Kashdan
Author of Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life

Posted on Jan 2, 2010 9:10:08 AM PST
Carol C. says:
I really enjoyed your detailed review and the energy you put into it.

I ordered this book as soon as I read about it -- as a Viner, i was disappointed that it wasn't on my Vine newsletter, as it it right up my alley -- but perhaps I had pre-ordered it before it was available on Vine (and I suppose there's harm in making a modest splurge on a book now and then).

thanks for your good review.

Posted on Jan 16, 2010 7:13:56 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 16, 2010 7:18:09 AM PST
M. Herrick says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Jan 17, 2010 2:40:53 PM PST
Billmec says:
The reviewer, Phyllis Smith, has penned an exceedingly insightful and compelling review...and I have yet to pruchase the book. I will surely check it out, in no small way owing to Ms. Smith's crisp and impactful review. Kudos! As an aside, happiness is surely fleeting, but relatable insight into means by which to tap it---or at least avoid its antithesis--is worth a read.

Posted on Jul 30, 2010 6:18:46 PM PDT
m says:
"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."

What could be a more worthwhile goal than striving for joy in one's life? I mean true joy that comes from knowing one's self--I think there is nothing quite as worthwhile.
Also, the religion called Buddhism is pretty much solely focused on finding the path to true joy and happiness. Just something to consider.

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 6:51:40 AM PST
Fantastic and accurate review of a marvelous book!! I've recommended to everyone I know.

Posted on Jun 22, 2011 6:40:28 AM PDT
LookoutSF says:
I have not read the book (yet). However, from reading reviews one can get the gist of the idea. I can say from my own experience in life, that once I decided to concentrate on the good things, like the beautiful sky, the rain, the fact that I was healthy (or not healthy) and the people around me, I became much happier. My sister-in-law told me I should do this years ago, but I didn't do it until I started taking care of cancer patients, who can be very happy, even while dying and suffering. They taught me that happiness is a choice. I see people who have "everything" being unhappy and complaining, while these patients who might be poor, in pain, etc. being happy. Money does help, but it is not enough. Anyone can be happy or not happy. For years I was depressed but now I'm not. Maybe it is a Pollyanna life, but it works.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2011 8:02:17 PM PDT
Susan Goewey says:
What fun to find your review here Todd Kashdan!

As you wrote, "Some of the suggestions for improving happiness are obvious. But this is a strength, not a limitation." YES! Just like the advice in your Curious? book, it's the simple (aka "obvious") ideas that are the easiest to implement... They work, because you can easily process/remember them. Gretchen Rubin (like you) provides a compelling rationales (cites research) as to WHY they work, we're more like to work hard if we think a payoff is coming ....

(Btw, one of the best ideas that Curious? gave me which may have seemed obvious to improve happiness was to DOUBLE DATE! ...your explanation of why it's so important to a marriage was what I needed to make it happen... it is effort, but worth it to put more fun/happiness in your life and like your spouse more...

The big lesson Gretchen Rubin repeats constantly: yes, it is work/takes effort to do many of these things, but (once done) it really does raise your happiness level... (like M. Scott Peck's observations in the "Discipline" chapter of The Road Less Traveled... Rubin's book (and her blog/videos) can helps us figure out how to take that road more often...
(also like the cliches "You get out what you put in" " reap what you sow," etc etc ...

People remember STORIES and she tells many anecdotes about her irritation w/ her husband/kids that sounds SO familiar and how contagious irritability OR good humor can be... (I'm finding the book which I am almost through) a lot like having a helpful, running conversation w/ a true friend (one sided, sure, but that means I'm doing more listening than talking).

Posted on Dec 31, 2012 1:13:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 31, 2012 1:16:04 PM PST
Kelly says:
I don't understand why none of you consider the author's background (unless you're fortunate enough to share a similar one?). I found the book disturbing and the author gratingly self-absorbed, and after some Googling, I see why: Gretchen Rubin is from a wealthy family, a Yale Law grad who clerked for a Supreme Court justice, and married to a big-wig in a hedge fund. (If you're interested in learning the special breaks hedge funds have fleeced from the American taxpayers, check out David Cay Johnston's Free Lunch book.) Her father-in-law, who she calls "Bob" in the book, is Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, who spent almost 3 decades at Goldman Sachs and served as adviser to Citigroup.

One thing that gnawed at me is the tone author borrows from positive psychology, a movement with very conservative roots (although this is not obvious at first ... see Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided book for more on that). So, basically, what we have is members of the public, desperate for happiness during a terrible economic downturn, boosting a member of the American Aristocracy to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. This family profits from helping wreck the economy and then from the misery it creates!

But it's a good book, right? And it helps people? Well, having read many other happiness books and studies, I knew enough to feel something was deeply amiss when reading this book. However, even when others do enjoy it, that's probably only because they don't realize fully who the author is. Gretchen Rubin admits she's financially comfortable -- but not filthy rich. Like it or not, the author of a book matters when judging it. Would we want to read a book entitled "Finding Peace" from General Pinochet's wife or daughter-in-law? I'm not likening hedge fund managers and Robert Rubin to Pinochet (although I might be tempted to if I were unemployed and homeless due to the recession); I'm just using a more extreme example to show how ludicrous it is that the public has eaten up this book and, in doing so, made these people even richer. That any of these people are giving advice to the public nowadays is absurd, even if some of the advice itself is a recycling of others' legitimate work and ideas.
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