Customer Reviews: 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
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on May 22, 2012
I rarely abandon a book midway through, but after the 6th month of Gretchen "being Gretchen" I couldn't take any more.

I found the author's tone whiny and self-important. Inflated sense of ego, anyone? Good grief.

Gretchen is a 40 something, ultra-priveleged mother, "writer", former law clerk to Sandra Day O'Connor and Yale grad (these last two facts are repeated over and over and over just in case the reader didn't catch them the first time). She decides one day that she could be happier, and sets off, in her goal-oriented way, to find more happiness. Also, she likes to give herself gold stars. Lots of them.

The advice she dishes out, however, consists of nuggets of common sense that most of have learned well before age 40. Be nice to everyone! Don't nag the people you love! Spend time with your kids! De-clutter! Get more sleep and exercise more!

Gretchen, as it turns out, lives in a Manhattan triplex, has a nanny, a housekeeper and millions of dollars. Obviously, she has lots of free time and disposable income to fund her 'happiness project'. It's hard to take her seriously when she whines about things like running errands for her daughter's birthday party and how hard it is for her to spend a week being nice to her husband.

I wish she had dug a little deeper into her own psyche - WHY does she need constant approval and attention? That is a question that may have been worth exploring.

In a New York Times article she is quoted as saying about her book, "I don't have anything that's really original".

No kidding.
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on February 5, 2010
I have not written a review before but felt compelled to do so after reading 1/3 to 1/2 of Ms. Rubin's work. Rather than feel happy or inspired myself, reading this book became painful. The author's constant reference to her past accomplishments were both self serving and unnecessary. I am still waiting for the "happy" part of the book to materialize. Your money would be better spent making a donation to the local food bank rather than buying this book - and I'll guarantee you'll feel happier.
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on September 16, 2011
Would you read a book called "The Happiness Project" if the cover depicted a bored, skinny, highly connected multimillionare leisurely staring out of her Manhattan mansion from her bed, rereading her favorite childhood books, fretting over her weight, gazing indifferently at her collection of bird memorabilia, and finding fault with her multimillionare husband while a nanny watched her children and a housecleaner tidied her home?

No you would not, and Harper Collins knows this, which is why the cover features humble tenements and handwritten script and omits any detail that would make you think she's not just an arty mom from Brooklyn looking to focus on the bright side of life.

Who is she really? The way she tells it, she's a lawyer who boldly gave up a law career to pursue her passion, writing. She neglects to mention that this was not much of a risk given that she is married to the son of Robert Rubin, former Treasury Secretary under Clinton, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup guy who personally helped ensure that derivatives stayed unregulated, netting millions for himself and billions of taxpayer bailout for his companies.

Once you know this, the story is unpalatable. Rubin and Harper Collins know this, and go to great lengths to maintain the ruse that Rubin is an everywoman, writing that she hesitates to purchase a $2 pen, or a new blender, or new shirts. Yet how can she really write an honest happy project if she is not truthful?

It is deceitful that she would say how tidying her home made her so much happier when you know that she has had a staff all along that can help her with just that. It seems odd that she encourages parents to remember "the days are long but the years are short" (an old saying she curiously takes credit for) when apparently she is spending much of her time reading and working on her pet project while a nanny looks after her baby. It seems unfair that she uses herself as an example of pursuing your dreams when you know she had years and years of leisure time to do anything or nothing she wanted, given her family's economic situation, not to mention extraordinary connections that would have given her tremendous advantages over another aspiring writer.

Maybe Rubin really did want to be a little happier, and that's fair. She's not a bad writer, and some of the ideas are good. (Minus flavoring salads with aspartame to stay slim.) But if she is going to sell her project to people who are probably genuinely suffering, quite likely at least a few of them in some part due to her own family's actions, then she should be honest about who she is and what her circumstances are like.
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VINE VOICEon December 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I don't want to belittle anyone else's experience with this book, but for me these "happiness" ideas are concepts that have been rehashed over and over again in a zillion self-help books and articles.

For example, her relationship epiphany seems to boil down to "you can't change your partner, you can only change yourself." Really? This fact somehow escaped her? Because it seems to me to be the point of pretty much every relationship article that has ever been written.

In another essay, she wracks her brain to think of how on earth she might store all her children's cards, photos, and other paper goods. What to do? Stacks aren't working! Surely there must be some way of filing paper goods away in some kind of storage device...then it hits her: FILE BOXES! Are you freaking kidding me? How does someone get this far in life without having ever heard of organizing papers into files?

There are other such oddities that make me wonder if this woman and I are living on the same planet, such as when she decides that collecting something might make her happy but can't think of anything to collect. Is it me? Does everyone else begin collections by consciously deciding that they need one, then having to try and think up something to collect? Maybe it is me. I just thought that sort of thing tends to happen more organically.

These are just examples, I don't want to belabor the point by stating every single thing that made me roll my eyes throughout the book. There seemed to be something in every single chapter.

She's really not a bad writer and has a nice conversational style, which makes it regrettable that she uses nearly one quarter of the book to share anonymous comments that internet users have left on her blog. That was a bit off-putting for me. A few random insights from others sprinkled in here and there wouldn't be so bad, but there are a LOT, which just seems like a lazy way to fill pages.

If you are looking to start your own Happiness Project and need some ideas of where to begin, perhaps this book will give you some ideas. For me, I've read it all before - maybe I already did my own project and just didn't realize it.
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on September 29, 2010
It is totally valid for a high achieving person in a wealthy family to search for happiness and meaning in her life. It is disingenuous, however, to portray yourself as an average family when you obviously live a life of privilege and ease. I think the author should have been more forthcoming about the obvious advantages she has had. I remember reading about the cocktail party and thinking, "Wow, I'd be pretty happy just looking forward to going to a cocktail party tonight." Once she mentioned the "tent" and the office and the extra furniture in the bedroom I realized this was not the typical New York apartment. I am convinced this woman has domestic help yet she never mentions it. She reminds me of A.J. Jacobs, another memoirist from money who puts on the aw shucks routine. Again, I have nothing against these people personally but they shouldn't hide details about their lives to appear "folksy".
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on March 17, 2010
I bought this book for my mother, who grew up during the Depression and has not had an easy life. I'm glad I read it first, because it would have been an insult to give this to a genuine person who's experienced some hard knocks.

According to Ms Rubin, the origin of this book is an epiphany she had watching a woman yakking on a cell phone, crossing a Manhattan street with a toddler and a stroller. She identified with this person, because for Ms. Rubin, that is the very picture of a sad, harried person who's life is just passing her by. Yeah, life's pretty tough when you've got to walk your kids home to the nanny between your pedicure and yoga class.

I found Ms Rubin's solution system humorous. Evidently, her problems were all of the sort that can be fixed by things like an orange scented candle, reading random magazines, a laminator, tossing out frayed underpants, shopping for bluebird collectibles and so on. That is, after she walked away from her high pay attorney job, thanks to her hedge fund manager husband's income. (It is sad to think some other applicant was refused a seat at Yale, so that this woman could squander her degree to make herself happy at an unrelated fantasy career.)

I also enjoyed the occasional insights on her neurotic personality and private life. M&Ms make her cranky, she prefers to wear yoga pants and her idea of fun in bed is reading Tolstoy, she considers herself fortunate because she has naturally red hair. She's quick to scold her husband, and while she buys her T shirts at Bloomingdales, she thinks a ten buck pen is an extravagance. She wore coke bottle glasses as a kid. I got the picture of a self-centered, controlling nerd with a quick temper, little appreciation for how insular and privileged her life has been, and lacking the self-realization to pick a more appropriate topic to write about.

I guess if any of that describes you, this trite little book might be helpful and insightful, if not, save your money. I quit half way through and give it two stars for the cheap laughs I got imagining this manhattanite's yoga pants lifestyle.

Hey, what's up with the cover? She doesn't live in a tenement and its nearly identical to this bookNaked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places
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on November 18, 2011
Let's get this straight. I was coerced into reading this book because a friend wanted to start a group surrounding this book. After the first chapter, I wanted to exorcise this garbage from my Kindle.

The Happiness Project is not about self-actualization or improving the feeling of one's self worth. No. This is a neurotic journey of one woman who needs to be on Xanax. Or Prozac. Take your pick. To quote: "I wanted to perfect my character, but, given my nature, that would probably involve charts, deliverables, to-do lists, new vocabulary terms, and compulsive note taking." See what I mean?

Happiness is not about "scoring charts" and "set point" levels. It is a state of being that can achieved through the capability of self-love and love for others. It is about learning to accept one's faults and the fact that no one is perfect. It is our imperfections that make us human. The concept of human "perfection" is not only detremental but also completely unachievable. To claim it is possible only confirms that the author is potentially delusional but also harbours a deep sense of self-hatred.

It becomes increasingly clear that the author's superficial exercises (let's clean out our closets!) will not make her happy, but only provide a temporary bandaid for the writer's own misguided inadequacies.

Take for example her chapter on improving her relationship with her husband. She basically was artificially nice to her husband for a set period of time, held back what she really wanted to say, and then reverted back to her old pattern of behaviour after that period is done. What has changed? How has this made you happier? How has this made you a better person? As far as I am concerned, her feelings were merely repressed during the whole episode which was why the behaviour could never be sustained (not to mention her behavioural change violated her commandments from the outset "Be yourself".).

I fail to understand how any of her listed activities would improve her outlook on life. Having encountered many individuals who are much less fortunate, I don't understand why she didn't pursue a project that would have actually made a difference to someone in need. Work at a soup kitchen. Volunteer at a woman's shelter. Heck! help out in an adult literacy program... maybe that would help you sell more books! Perhaps in giving back to the community at large, she would learn to appreciate all the things she has instead of lamenting the things she doesn't.

So if you want a manual about how to achieve self-repression, increase your own self-hatred and become a narcissist, read this book and follow it to a T. If you want to learn about happiness, go live your life instead of reading this book.
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on March 9, 2010
I was looking forward to reading this book since I found the idea of it intriguing. As I was reading, I realized that something was bothering me, but initially I couldn't figure out what it was. Finally, about half way through, it hit me: the author seems to be boasting. She goes on and on about how great her life is by letting the reader know that she has a soul mate husband, wonderful kids, a great education, her dream job, perfect relationships with in-laws and parents, tons of friends and acquaintances, etc. It had me wondering why she even embarked on this project other than the obvious: money. If she's not as happy as she could be with all of these advantages, then I am not interested in her journey, anyway. If you're looking for something insightful, I would not recommend this book.
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on February 6, 2010
A year of skimming other pop-psychology self-help books does not qualify Rubin to give advice to anyone about anything. If she committed five years to her pursuit and then wrote a book she might have had something of value to say. There's a reason why first-year art students or M.D.'s or psychiatrists or Buddhists don't write books heralding their insights--because they haven't had any. If Rubin's book proves anything, it's that she couldn't possibly, in a mere year, have dug deeply enough into the problems of life to have come up with any useful conclusions. But let's face it, her chief reason for the publishing the book wasn't gaining insight; she wrote this book for one reason--book sales. She's been promoting the crap out of if since the day she conceived her flaccid project, and it worked. The book is selling well. But her book sales are more an indication of the pernicious effect Oprah and Deepak Chopra have had on our society than of any inherent value in Rubin's paper-thin insights. As a society, we're only too happy to be satisfied with prescriptions for happiness that involve something easy like making your bed, or a fifteen-minute walk. The real reasons for our society's discontent are many and substantial, and talking about these issues won't make you feel good and are not easily patched over. And the worst part is that, like Sarah Palin's success, the success of Rubin's nauseatingly-simplistic tome will guarantee endless subsequent nauseatingly-simplistic tomes. Her drek is here to stay. The bottom line: save yourself the trouble and wasted effort of reading Rubin's book, and go to the original sources she cites and figure out your own route--this way, you might actually learn something.
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on October 6, 2010
I was curious about this author, as she reveals MANY personal details about herself in her book, and I googled her. Husband a millionaire hedge fund manager. She is in her 40s and has published 4 books total, including this one. She has no other job that I can tell. So she sort of works when she feels like it. I guess she feels bad about this, as she mentions over and over again that she clerked for a year for Sandra Day O'Connor, which had to be about 15 years ago...Her dad appears to be a name partner in a law firm in Kansas, and her in laws are worth over 100 million, as her father in law was apparently a big wheel at Goldman Sachs and served in the Clinton administration.

She lives in a triplex on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and has several types of help, per a NY Times article.

I do not believe one could institute much of what Ms. Rubin advocates without all these many many advantages. If she had my job, my 45 minute commute, and no help or babysitting to speak of, she could probably do 20% of what she advocates to her readers.

Among her great solutions to feeling better: Get more sleep, exercise daily, spend money on healthy lunches out like soups and salads, do fun projects with your kids like party planning, spend lots of time decluttering, follow up with friends, start a bookclub about children's literature, etc. etc. Would love to do all those things if I had the time, money, and help, and my job were optional.

I did find it fascinating to see how the intellectual rich live, however.
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