Book Review: The Happiness Project

At the beginning of the New Year, I was hearing a lot about The Happiness Project. I went to New York and people were buzzing about it. I saw it in bookstore windows, heard about it on the news and TV talk shows. But what was it? I decided to find out.

A happiness project is “an approach to changing your life… by identifying what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse… then you make the resolutions, then you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness”. Embarking on such a project doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily unhappy, but it’s an approach to getting more out of life, along with more happiness and satisfaction.

Gretchen Rubin starts her book, The Happiness Project, by saying “I wasn’t depressed and I wasn’t having a midlife crisis”… but I was wondering of life “is this it?”.

She then decided to dedicate the next year trying to be happier, all of which she would write about on her blog. She started by doing research on happiness, trying to find out not only what could bring her more joy, but what others had discovered about it. She read books from philosophers, psychologists, and writers all to trying to find a universal ‘formula’ for happiness.

She was confronted with skeptics, including friends, who questioned how women all over the world could relate to an upper-east side, privileged, white woman.

Nonetheless, she made some happiness goals, spreading them throughout the year, breaking them down into smaller parts. Some of these goals included having more energy, appreciating her husband more, spending more quality time with her children, being calmer and less angry, finding hobbies that she loved (and doing them!), reevaluating what friendship meant while creating lasting relationships, contemplating the meaning of life, dabbling in mindfulness, and questioning her attitudes and behaviors. all while smiling more.

I can’t say that I loved the book. As she readily admitted, her perspective was subjective and coming from a certain American social strata. Putting that aside, I think she did make many good points which got me thinking… What is happiness? What does happiness look like to other people? What does happiness look like to me? And what steps should we be making to fulfill our happiness goals?

I think many of us make excuses for why we can’t be happier. We don’t have the time, the money, we have too many other responsibilities, and many people, especially women, think it’s selfish to focus on ourselves as opposed to others. As if we don’t deserve to take time to be happier and take care of ourselves. But if we’re not really enjoying life, what are we doing? And what could we be doing better?

So, at the end of The Happiness Project year, what happened?

Although she couldn’t objectively measure her happiness, she reported feeling happier and smiling more. Thanks to her blog, others reported feeling happier as well after doing their own happiness projects.

And you? What makes you happy? Are you making time for the things you love? How would you know if you were happier? What would that look like? I hope you can explore those possibilities.

For more on starting a happiness project, visit the happiness project website.

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