Thursday, May 30, 2013

#30 (2013/CBR5) "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin

I've been interested in reading The Happiness Project (2009) by Gretchen Rubin for awhile, but it took awhile for me to find it at the library for kindle. I've come across a couple of fascinating psychological tidbits about happiness that defy common sense, and I thought it would be cool to learn more.

Rubin is a happily married, mother of two young girls who lives in New York City--right off the park and next to the library. She decided to spend a year working on various aspects of her personal happiness and writing about it. In preparation, Rubin read a lot of books on the subject and created a plan for herself. She focused on: energy, marriage, her kids, her work, and living in the moment, among others.

I've got some mixed feelings about this book. It was easy to read, but not engrossing. Rubin was insightful and I learned a couple of things, but she didn't go into enough detail about the philosophies and studies surrounding happiness for me to really get a grasp of the subject. It was much more a superficial look at her life and her projects. I did appreciate the theme that you have to work hard at being happy; at being cheerful and having a good attitude; at going after the things that are fulfilling while avoiding those that bring you down. Rubin also inspired me to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. It's something that she tried and it sounded like a fulfilling challenge. Suddenly I'm really excited about all the possibilities--science fiction? drama? romance? fantasy?--I can create anything I want!

One of the things that kept bothering me about The Happiness Project was that it sometimes felt more like a "Rubin improves herself" project than really delving into happiness. Becoming a better wife, a better mother, and more efficient at working were some of her goals. One step was to create a blog, because it was something she'd never done before. And then Rubin used comments from her blog to fill up the later parts of her book. The blog seemed more like extra advertisement for her book than a step towards happiness, and the printed comments felt like filler. In addition, Rubin sometimes came across to me as a little passive aggressively expounding on her wonderful life--mentioning in passing four times how she clerked for Justice O'Connor, how she has more than enough money, how she already found the perfect career, and how success is very important. On the one hand, we have a lot of things in common, but on the other hand there was something in the way that she described her life that was off-putting and alienating. With everything going so well in her life, her main problems were in her own mind. But Rubin stayed pretty close to her comfort zone and didn't do as much work on that front. With my new interest in Buddhist philosophies, I would have liked to see her dive into that a little more, but she just dismissed it without giving it a chance.

So, I came out of this book with some ideas--including NaNoWriMo, but I'd only recommend this one for people looking for a self-help type of book and not a deep look into the nature of happiness.

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