Happiness Project (Rubin)

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
Gretchin Rubin, 2009
315 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061583261

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as Julie and Julia, The Year of Living Biblically, and Eat, Pray, Love. With humor and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising—she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference—and they range from the practical to the profound.

Written with charm and wit, The Happiness Project is illuminating yet entertaining, thought-provoking yet compulsively readable. Gretchen Rubin's passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire you to start your own happiness project. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Education—B.A., J.D., Yale University
Currently—lives in New York, City New York

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, as well as the bestselling Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill; Forty Ways to Look at JFK; Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide; and Profane Waste. (She has three dreadful unpublished novels locked in a drawer.)

Her popular daily blog, The Happiness Project, appears on Slate and the Huffington Post and ranks in the prestigious Technorati "Top 2K." There, she recounts her adventures and insights as she grapples with the challenges of how to be happier. She also blogs for RealSimple.com.

A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School (where she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal), Rubin started her career as a lawyer, and she was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor when she realized she really wanted to be a writer. Raised in Kansas City, she lives in New York City with her husband and two young daughters. She is the daughter-in-law of former US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
An enlightening, laugh-aloud read.... Filled with open, honest glimpses into [Rubin’s] real life, woven together with constant doses of humor.
Terry Hong - Christian Science Monitor

For those who generally loathe the self-help genre, Rubin’s book is a breath of peppermint-scented air. Well-researched and sharply written.... Rubin takes an orderly, methodical approach to forging her own path to a happier state of mind.
Kim Crow - Cleveland Plain Dealer

Practical and never...the rare self-help tome that doesn’t feel shameful to read.
Daily Beast

Rubin is not an unhappy woman.... Still, she could—and, arguably, should—be happier. Thus, her methodical (and bizarre) happiness project: spend one year achieving careful, measurable goals in different areas of life...and build on them cumulatively, using concrete steps.... Rubin writes with keen senses of self and narrative, balancing the personal and the universal with a light touch. Rubin's project makes curiously compulsive reading, which is enough to make any reader happy.
Publishers Weekly

[C]hatty and intriguing.... [A] yearlong quest for happiness...with specific activities for each month...helped [the author] define happiness and become happier with her very good life.... Peppering the text are quotes from a vast array of people who have considered happiness, including Aristotle, St. Therese, and Viktor Frankl. VERDICT This whole process might have come off as frivolously self-centered but for the excellent points Rubin highlights. —Margaret Cardwell, Memphis, TN
Library Journal

Packed with fascinating facts about the science of happiness and rich examples of how she improves her life through changes small and big The Happiness Project made me happier by just reading it.

Discussion Questions
1. Gretchen argues throughout The Happiness Project that striving to be happy is a worthy, not selfish, goal. Do you agree? Do you think that Gretchen was right, or not, to devote so much time and attention to her own happiness? Do you spend much time thinking about your happiness?

2. The Happiness Project is packed with quotations. Which quotation resonated most with you? Do you have a quotation that has been particularly meaningful in your own life—that you've included in your email signature or taped to your desk, for example?

3. One of Gretchen's resolutions is to "Imitate a spiritual master." Do you have a spiritual master? Who is it? Gretchen was surprised to realize that St. Therese of Lisieux was her master. Do you know why you identify with your spiritual master?

4. Gretchen observes that "Outer order contributes to inner calm," and many of her resolutions are aimed at clutter-clearing. Do you agree that clutter affects your happiness?

5. One of Gretchen's main arguments is that "You're not happy unless you think you're happy," and she spends a lot of time thinking about her happiness. However, many important figures have argued just the opposite; for example, John Stuart Mill wrote, "Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." What do you think? Does striving for happiness make you happier? Or does it make happiness more elusive?

6. Did reading this book make you want to try one of the resolutions? Which one?

7. A criticism of The Happiness Project might be that writing a "year of…" book is gimmicky. Did you like the "experiment for a year" approach, or did it strike you as a cliché? Why do you think so many authors are drawn to this structure?

8. Many memoirs recount the author's struggle to be happiness in the face of a major challenge like cancer, divorce, an unhappy childhood, massive weight loss, and the like. In the book's opening, Gretchen admits that she has always been pretty happy. Did you find her reflections on happiness helpful, nevertheless? Or do you think it's more valuable to read an account by someone facing more difficulties?

9. Gretchen writes, "Everyone's happiness project will be different." How would your happiness project be different from Gretchen's? How might it be the same?

10. What was the one most valuable thing you learned from The Happiness Project about happiness—for yourself?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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