Book Review of The Happiness Project
In 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, Gretchen Rubin embarked on a year-long self-help project to make herself happier. She spent a little too much time explaining why this project wasn’t self-indulgent. While I buy her argument that happy people make other people happy, I had trouble getting behind such an over-the-top project enough to cheer her on. When I finished the book, I told my husband, “Thank goodness I’m done with all that happiness!”
It wasn’t actually the happiness or the idea of being happy that turned me off so much as her driven, perfectionistic approach to finding happiness, but more about that later. Plus, I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t tried to read the entire book over just a few days. I wish I had savored it, chapter by chapter, but in my own driven way, I’m trying to read 50 books this year. So, I barrelled through.
Even though reading the book didn’t make me happy, I found it well-written. The evidence she cited in support of the methods she used to increase her happiness also interested me. She did her homework, she felt happier by the end of the year, and, as a bonus, the people around her felt more happy.
I really appreciated the first of her “Twelve Commandments:” Be Gretchen. How many times have any of us done something because it’s what we thought someone else wanted only for it to turn out disastrous when, if we had been honest about we wanted instead, the result would have been better? Of all the information in her book, this lesson was the strongest.
She offered a second strong message (another of her “Twelve Commandments”) with “Act the way I want to feel.” I apply this to my own life using the slogan “act as if.” Seeing evidence to support the effectiveness of this technique brought home its importance.
While these two adages might seem to conflict (How exactly can she be Gretchen while acting the way she wants to feel?) in fact they worked well together in her life and in my own. For example, many days I don’t want to run, but I act like I want to run and when I’m done running, 99% of the time I feel much happier.
As I read, I repeatedly wished the author studied the Enneagram. I could see the driven, perfectionist “1” personality type so strongly. The way she set such a structured challenge and the character traits that made parts of it difficult for her characterize the “1” Enneatype. Her attempts to change herself simply made me tired, showing my own “9” personality type. I wanted to balance what she said with an opposite approach or a middle-of-the-road solution. Sometimes I just wanted to lie down because her insistent demands on herself exhausted me. Each person sees the world through their own personality lens. Seeing the world through her “1” eyes made me both laugh and cringe.
Overall, I’m glad I read it, but won’t take on such a structured happiness project anytime soon. I’ve already been doing my own mish-mash version of it most of my adult life.
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