Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thing 1's Book 4: The Happiness Project

Progress! I have finished the first of my 12 book recommendations.  What book, you ask?  Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.

This was a recommendation from Kirsi, who is also working on a 101 Things in 1001 Days project. I was really looking forward to this book. I had heard a bit about it in the past and it sounded like a topic that had a few things in common with my 101 Things.

I have been on a bit of an audio kick lately so instead of getting a paper copy of the book, I got an unabridged audio version. I was pretty happy to see that it was read by the author. Its nice for a book of this type ("stunt" non-fiction, as one person puts it) to be read by the author. You get more out of it than if it was read by a random person since it's the author reading it to you. It's kind of like hearing a story directly from the person it happened to as opposed to hearing it through another person. You're directly connected to the source.

Let's start with the basic premise. Rubin, a mother of two in New York City, decides to embark on a year-long project to make her happier. She decides on some themes to focus on (money, energy, attitude, etc) and assigns each of these themes to a particular month. Then, each theme gets a number of resolutions that she will work on during that theme's month. She'd spend her last month trying to do all of her resolutions at the same time.

At first, I loved this book. I loved hearing about how Rubin figured out what her happiness project would look like. In addition to her themes and resolutions, she also had a set of personal commandments and some grown-up truths to help her out. All of this seemed complicated but was interesting to listen to.  Her first month, focusing on energy, pulled everything together for me and I understood why she had the various components of her project.  Her first few months were really captivating as she worked to get into the swing of remembering her resolutions and put everything into action.  Then, she started a blog.

After the blog was introduced, Rubin very liberally sprinkled the book with comments from readers of her blog.  I hated this.  I'm sure the book was different but in the audio, Rubin made no distinction from a blog comment and her own writing.  Talk about confusing.  At one point, I had to stop and backtrack because Rubin started talking about a basement and I got confused - she lived in an apartment, there's no basement! Another time, it was a course on becoming fluent in Italian in 7 months.  This was so distracting, I quickly began to loathe her blog and to become less interested in the book.  If I wanted to read comments from other people, I'd read the blog.  I wanted to hear about her happiness project.

That being said, a major issue I took with the book is how non-typical Rubin's life is.  She's a successful, published author with a law degree (and prior to becoming a writer, she was a clerk at the Supreme Court.)  She lives in New York City in what sounds like a pretty upscale neighbourhood.  She, very clearly, lives a privileged life.  This was most obvious in her chapter on money where she made a point to spend more money but was still evident through the rest of the book when she never hesitated to run out and buy something that would help out her resolutions.  This gave her project an air of frivolity and made it seem like this wasn't something you shouldn't take on unless you had the cash to bankroll it.  Not only that, but without a regular 9-to-5 job, Rubin was able to dedicate a lot more time to her project than someone like myself would be able to.  This also gave it a bit of a pie-in-the-sky feel to me.

Finally, my last beef with the book was how often she repeated herself.  If I had heard "the days are long but the years are short" or "be more lighthearted" or "feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right" (or any other of a number of phrases) one more time, my iPod would have hit the wall.  Good thing the book ended when it did.

On a positive note, Rubin was equally forthcoming with her successes and her failures.  This made the book so much easier to read.  Going in, I did have a bit of a fear that this would turn into a rah-rah, look-at-me, everything-is-perfect type of book and I wasn't sure if I could stick it out to the end.  She focuses more on the positive, which makes sense since the book is about being happier, but she doesn't hesitate to talk about when she failed to keep a resolution or when she had to really put a huge effort into keeping one.  This made her project more realistic and easier to believe.

Overall, I don't feel like I wasted any time with this book.  I'm not sure I would have picked it up any time soon on my own so the recommendation from Kirsi served it's purpose - getting me to read something I wouldn't normally would have.  And, I'm happy that my first recommended book didn't turn me off following through on my other recommended books :)

P.S.  While audios seem like a great idea, I have just discovered that they are so much harder to quote and find passages in.
P.P.S.  This also counts as Book 33 in my 50 Book Pledge.  Yay, 2/3 complete!


  1. I had the exact same criticisms, minus the annoyance with the blog comments; I read it in paperback book form so those were pretty clearly seperate from the main text and I could skim over them. But yes, a clearly privileged woman and the repetition got annoying. I found though that I was able to sift through what wasn't applicable to me and pull out from the book a lot that I can use in my life. Sorry if you didn't find the same!

    It's interesting though, reading these books recommended by others. I'm reading my first recommended book at the moment and there was a point when I would have stopped reading, had it not been my task to complete it, but now I'm glad I kept with it. Anyhow, yay for finishing another part of your 101 Things!

  2. Oh, I do sound like a bit of a Debbie Downer, don't I?

    I do feel like I got a lot out of the book. Most of it came out of the first few chapters because once she figured out everything, the lesson from each month was pretty much the same. I don't see myself starting my own happiness project but there are lots of little bits & pieces that I can use.

  3. Can anyone define the word Happiness? What is Happiness we do not know because every single person has its own meaning of happiness. Finding the ways to be happy in life is only a way that can make everyone happy in this world.