Book Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I ordered this book (full title 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) on a whim from Amazon. I knew I’d enjoy it because Sonja Lyubomirsky called the book “A cross between the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love“.

I like Lyubormirsky, and even wrote about her book here. I haven’t read The Art of Happiness, but I have read Eat, Pray, Love. And while I enjoyed Gilbert’s book, I felt a little disappointed at the end. I think most people could “find themselves” if they could devote a full year to doing so. I wanted some practical applications of the lessons Gilbert learned.


Enter: The Happiness Project. What’s cool about this book is that Rubin decides to focus a year on researching and attaining happiness — while living her own life. She didn’t switch careers, travel the world, or leave her kids and husband to fend for themselves while she went on a soul-searching journey.

Rubin made a plan: she picked 11 things to focus on that would increase her happiness, and spent a month on each. Each month, she set pertinent and detailed “resolutions”. She tackled things like “Boost Energy”, “Remember Love”, “Be Serious About Play” and “Contemplate the Heavens”. December was devoted to combining resolutions from the previous eleven months.

The Happiness Project offers achievable suggestions and encourages readers to explore their happiness in their own way. The fascinating subject matter, combined with Rubin’s straightforward, analytical, lawyer prose, made the book an excellent and inspiring read.

There are lots of gems in this book (be sure to check out her Commandments, Secrets of Adulthood, Splendid Truths, and four stages of happiness), but the lasting lesson for me was to think about happiness in specific, concrete terms. Perhaps the right question is not “Am I happy with my life?” but “when do I feel happy?”

My yoga journey teaches me to be mindful of the activities and sensations of my body, but shouldn’t I be just as attentive to the fine-tuned mechanisms of my emotions?

For the past week, I have been paying close attention to what makes me feel genuinely happy. It’s harder than I realized it would be, and I’ve learned I’m not necessarily always witnessing my feelings in the present moment. Also, some of the things that should make me feel happy don’t, and some of the things that make me feel happy are pretty unexpected.

I’m not quite prepared to start a whole full-fledged happiness project for myself right now (maybe in 2011?), but I have borrowed one facet of Rubin’s plan: a happiness journal. Every night before I go to bed, I’m writing down the moments that I felt sincerely happy that day.

Maybe this will even turn into a blog feature. “Happy Friday”, anyone? : )

I encourage everyone to read The Happiness Project – you won’t be disappointed. And check out her website!


Note: It’s worth mentioning, as Rubin says several times, that this book is not meant to treat depression. Depression is a serious illness. Happiness Projects are intended for mentally healthy people to advance forward on the spectrum of happiness, if they are ready and willing to do so.


4 responses to “Book Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

  1. Read The Art of Happiness, it’s one of those books that changes life.

    The Happiness Project is on my wishlist.

  2. sounds excellent! I’ll have to tuck the title away for when I’m done training!

  3. What an awesome testimony to the power of the way we think about our lives! So many of us are just waiting for external elements to suddenly “make” us happy – but you can’t make happiness… it’s all in the doing.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Awesome! I’m glad you liked it so much. I’m looking forward to reading it….after I wrap up Harry Potter, of course. :)

    And I love the idea of Happy Fridays! I listen to a radio show that does “What’s Your Beef?” on Fridays and it’s kind of the opposite idea…you get to air whatever truly ticked you off that week and then let go of it for the weekend!

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