Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project (2009)

About 3 chapters into this book, I said to myself (aloud in the morning train, yes, that happens) : “my goodness, this girl is high on Diet Coke!!”. Nobody cared that I spoke alone, either because everyone was still asleep (7 a.m. commuters…) or because everybody is used to people speaking into invisible phones nowadays.

What do they put exactly in Diet Coke so that she comes up so perky every single page? Yet I had to confess, I loved it. Like Rubin to Diet Coke, I soon got addicted to Rubin’s happiness. I can well see why her project on the web and her book have become such a success. She oozes energy. She sends positive vibes, without sounding Pollyannish.

Early into the book, something clicked when she said:

Other people’s radical happiness projects, such as Henry David Thoreau’s move to Walden Pond or Elizabeth Gilbert’s move to Italy, India and Indonesia, exhilarated me. The fresh start, the total commitment, the leap into the unknown – I found their quest illuminating, plus I got a vicarious thrill from their abandonment of everyday worries.

But my project wasn’t like that. I was an unadventurous soul, and I didn’t want to undertake that kind of extraordinary change. Which was lucky, because I wouldn’t have been able to do it even if I’d wanted to. I had a family and responsibilities that made it practically impossible for me to leave for one weekend, let alone for a year.

Great, I thought, at last someone who has small children and still undertakes change without waiting that they’re grown up (or that she gets a divorce)! It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I appreciated some of Gretchen Rubin’s traits: her need to read everything on the topic at hand, her need for recognition in projects (she calls it getting a gold star, and acknowledges the boost effect it has every day), her type-A, super-organized approach.

Let’s face it: I would like to be zen, but I was brought up quite competitive, and I’m still is, even on a mellower tone. I would like to be able to detach myself from material contingencies, but I still care about “doing good”. I’ve admired powerful statements like “I am enough”, yet I haven’t yet found in myself the strength to let go of the search for something better. I should learn that too, but I’m not there yet.

So in the meantime, Gretchen Rubin’s small steps, her 360° experimental approach suit me perfectly. She does all the research for you, comes up with countless strategies and ideas that have worked for other people (and for her too) and you just need to pick the things that suit you best. I read it a bit like a catalogue, and I often realized that I already did some things, should try others…

For example, she takes the often-mentioned decluttering project. She doesn’t just tell: Clear your pantry and you’ll feel better! She explains (with research) why it will be good for you, and breaks down the many reasons why we accumulate stuff, so that you can’t really shrug the thing off and say “it has nothing to do with me”: buyers remorse, aspirational clutter, out-grown clutter, nostalgic clutter, etc. I find this method of argument very effective.

French people are grumpy (don’t bother denying it out of sheer politeness). It’s a national art. Everything is a good cause for complaint. So I am enthusiastic to find someone ready to counter every grumpy attack. It works! Do you know the funniest thing? The Happiness Project has yet to be published in French. We’re missing out at a collective level!

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11 thoughts on “Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project (2009)

  1. Just stumbled across your post! I loved the book too. So much so, I posted my own 12 commandments on my blog today. Take care 🙂 Betty x

  2. Love the enthusiasm for this book – it sounds like something I could stand to read. I am definitely a bit overly type A and have never been able to embrace, although I deeply admire, more zen approaches to living.

    • My guess is that you would enjoy it, but with a newborn, having a very over-active and perky woman peppering you with big projects is perhaps something you want to avoid for a few months, it would be a bit depressing. My own advice would be: wait for your baby to sleep at night before venturing there!

  3. Refreshing optimism would be very welcome right now! I found a similar boost from reading about Positive Psychology. I’ll add this one to the list – thanks.

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