Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Report: The Happiness Project

At the train station on the way back from Massachusetts last month (which feels like just yesterday and zillion years ago all at the same time), Marc and I killed time by browsing the mini-bookstore at Boston's South Station.  Browsing bookstores is one of our all time favorite activities as a couple.  We could probably spend an entire day doing it and not get bored.  While there, Marc spotted a book that had been on a list of books I'd sent him to try to get from the New York Library before we left (where he had gotten me enLIGHTened).  In bright, lovely blue and yellow, there was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  I snatched it up and promptly spent the entire train ride reading biggest travel indulgence.

A few days later I started the book, and had to force myself to make it last and not gobble the whole thing up in one or two sittings.  It's just shy of 300 pages, but compulsively readable.

Gretchen Rubin, Supreme Court law clerk-turned-full-time-writer, is a wife and mother of two little girls.  One day she realized that although she had a perfectly wonderful life - a family she loved, a career she loved, a life in beloved New York City - she too often let crabby moods or a short temper  or day-to-day sources of stress get the better of her.  She often didn't act the way she wanted to feel - which was happy.  Thus, The Happiness Project was (pretty much) born.

Rubin modeled Ben Franklin's Chart of 13 Virtues (google it to download a pdf example) to create a Resolutions Chart for herself.  She decided to make this project last a calendar year, tackling a different element that contributes to happiness (and unhappiness) for each month.

January: Vitality
February: Marriage
March:  Work
April:  Parenthood
May: Leisure
June:  Friendship
July:  Money
August:  Eternity
September:  Books
October: Mindfulness
November: Attitude
December: Happiness 
(or "Boot Camp Perfect," where she tried to live up to all her resolutions every day)

In addition to all this, she makes up a list of Twelve Commandments, Secrets of Adulthood, and, as she discovers them for herself, the Splendid Truths of Happiness. 

Rubin is a wonderful tour guide through all of her happiness research as well as through her own personal day to day life and struggles.  She doesn't shy away from her own personal shortcomings at all - she is nothing if not honest, which makes her very relatable, whether or not you share the same shortcomings, or even have the same lifestyle circumstances.

Certain resolutions, elements of research, and personal anecdotes of hers resonated with me more than others.  I went wild for January's part about Clearing out Clutter, because I have the same deep love for organization but struggle to stay on top of it during busy day-to-day life.  Just reading this book has actually sent me on an organizational tear of my own - throwing out, giving away, clearing up, and finding order in my own apartment has made a big difference in my happiness/stress level.

Although I don't have children, I was fascinated by April's Parenthood chapter, both as someone who works with children and as a future mother.  The dynamics of her relationship with her husband and my relationship with Marc are very, very different, so although it was hard to relate, it was still interesting to learn what her research showed her about coupledom and happiness.

As a former law student who is nothing if not thorough and as someone who loves organization, lists, and order, there are a lot of layers to Rubin's Happiness Project.  There are quotes galore about happiness and so many tips and tidbits that I feel I should reread the whole thing and take copious notes.  It can be a lot to take it, but the overwhelming of information doesn't slow the pace of the book or affect its compulsive readability, which is the number one element I reward gold starts for in the books that I read.

Another way to get more information, aside from just rereading the whole book (which I am seriously considering) is to visit her blog at  She posts daily tips and insights, and you can also email her to get a "happiness project starter kit" if you're interested in starting your own happiness project.  She recently just announced on her blog that she'll be releasing another book next August:  Happier at Home.  I'm already excited for it!

I highly recommend this book to...well, anyone.  Whether you're happy or unhappy, motivated or unmotivated, organized or disorganized, you will take away something valuable from this book.  Or at least get a few smiles of recognition.


  1. Hi Annie! I'm a huge fan of yoga and the Happiness Project so when I was looking for an image of the book I was happy to find your blog. I just followed you and I hope you'll hop over to my site for a visit, too. :)

  2. Thanks Carrie! So glad you found my post :)


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