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The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I picked up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin because of a mistake in shelving at the library, believe it or not.  I frequent a couple of libraries, and I always spend far more time in the children’s departments of each library than I do in the adult sections.  One of my libraries has the new juvenile and young adult books displayed face forward on a display close to the circulation desk; this is where I spied The Happiness Project, with its mis-labeled spine.  Its brightly colored cover caught my eye, and I was intrigued by the subtitle:  Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.  I took it home–after all, I needed a mental diversion from the hard work of reading A Tale of Two Cities.  😉  (Does anyone else do this?)  The Happiness Project turned out to be the perfect book for just such a task.

After beginning this book, I learned that it is a project memoir–a book in which the author has undertaken a project and written about his or her experience in accomplishing the project.  This is the first such book I’ve read, but I have to say I like the genre.  I’m a project-oriented person, although often my projects never get off the ground.  Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer-turned-writer, spent a year of her life trying (and succeeding at) improving her overall sense of happiness and contentment.  This was no haphazard experiment, though.  She had very specific goals for each month of the year, and each goal was carefully annotated on her Resolutions Chart.  She based her goals on her extensive reading about happiness.  Her research led her to such disparate authors as Gandhi and Benjamin Franklin, Joan Didion and Victor Frankl.  This is not a dry and dusty tome of research and statistics, though.  Instead, it’s one woman’s attempt to apply sometimes esoteric ideas to her own real life.  It’s mostly about a grand experiment in behavior modifiction, but this one worked.  

Much of this book caused me to contemplate my own life and how just little changes in my own attitude could make a difference in how I “feel.”  It also caused me to step back and look at my blogging, and finally, to declare it an okay thing for me to spend my time on.  I can credit Gretchen for that–one of her monthly resolutions was to “aim higher” in regards to her work, and she started her blog as a part of that.  I feel guilty for the amount of time I spend on my blog (and reading, and thinking about my blog, etc.–admittedly, I do spend too much!), but reading about Gretchen’s experience helped me to realize that although I don’t get paid for blogging (well, unless the tiny little bit that one day I might receieve through my Amazon Associates links counts), I do consider it my work.  I was a reader, and finally, a librarian, before I became a SAH-homeschooling mom, and I enjoy sharing books and ideas.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all.   It makes me happy.  (As a side note, do check out Gretchen’s blog, The Happiness Project.  It contains all sorts of happiness.  And don’t miss this post, especially if you love children’s literature as much as I do.)

I found Gretchen’s voice in the book to be pleasant and friendly–note that I call her “Gretchen” and not “Ms. Rubin.”  I feel like I got to know her through reading this book.  In fact, I felt like she and I might even be friends, if we were to ever meet.  After all, we have something in common.  This is not a Christian inspirational book, however, if you’re looking for a book on happiness from the Christian perspective.  Although Gretchen Rubin is not a Christian (she calls herself a “reverent agnostic”), she did spend a month imitating the life of St. Therese of Lisieux in an attempt to “contemplate the heavens.”  What Gretchen does is choose the approaches to happiness that work for her life (giving proper credit, of course, to those who seemed to have something genuine to say about it) and reject the rest.  I did not find my faith offended by her approach, though.  I just found her approach to be immensely practical.

I liked this book a lot.  I was both entertained and instructed by it, and that’s a rare combination.

Now I just have to decide if I should tell the nice library ladies that the book is mis-labeled.  I think it’s because I actually worked as a librarian (and have the education to go along with it) that I am sometimes hesitant to reveal that information to the folks on the other side of the desks.  I don’t want them to think I’m trying to do their jobs, etc.  I like for them to like me!  🙂  (That’s important if you’re a frequent library user!)  What do you think?  Should I say something or just keep my mouth shut?

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks for passing on this wealth of wisdom. It’s interesting that Gretchen has so many Christian values expressed in quotes and references, at least on her sidebar.

    I think blogging–and writing generally– is really important for many of us who like to think about things, as it helps us to figure out what we think, and connects us to others of the same sort, so that we can have a conversation. This is very satisfying, and definitely energizing for our other kinds of work.

    In your case blogging ends up being a kindness to others who benefit from your labors!

    • Thanks for the lovely compliment, GretchenJoanna! That’s the second nice thing someone has said or done for me today, and I really needed it today. I appreciate it!

  2. This sounds really good, Amy. I didn’t realize “project books” were an official genre, but several titles occur to me as examples.

    Isn’t it weird how being trained in an area makes you more hesitant to reveal it? I struggle with that too.

  3. What an awesome review! Of course, I’d heard of this book but I feel like I know it better now. Appreciate everything you shared about it.

    And yes, I can sometimes feel guilty for how much I blog/read/thinking about blogging and/or reading but, as you pointed out, I’m a SAHM and I need something to engage my brain apart from diapers, food and rounds of laundry. It’s something my husband supports and it’s something that truly makes me happy AND content to focus on my family as well. It just does something for me. =) I blog on.

    Now I’m about to e-mail you a question I’ve been thinking about.

  4. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this book. I’m not sure if it would be something that I would truly enjoy. However, I like the concept. Great review!

  5. […] The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin I like project memoirs–and I tend to like self-help (just a bit too much!) So this memoir on trying to apply the wisdom of the ages and more recent stuff on happiness sounds like fun. […]

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