Review: The Happiness Project

Today is the release of Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project. I’ve made no secret about being a fan of Gretchen’s blog of the same name, and so I was elated when she sent me an advance copy of the book to review. I spent the weekend reading it (devouring it may be more accurate), and really enjoyed the 292 pages of insights and advice on happiness.

Let me begin by saying I have never created a deliberate plan to increase my happiness. “Be happier” has never made it onto my to-do or resolutions lists, and I’ve never read any books (before this one) directly related to happiness. Happiness is something that matters greatly to me, but I have always thought of it as a side effect rather than an end itself. After reading The Happiness Project, I’ve come to see that happiness can be an action item the same as any other goal.

In short, Gretchen took a year implementing all of the major theories on happiness and wrote about her experience from a first-hand perspective. The eleven areas she chose to focus on were boosting energy (a resolution I’m tackling this year), her marriage, her work, parenting, being serious about play, her friendships, money, eternity, pursing a passion, being mindful, and altering her attitude. Each area of focus included one to five specific action items — remember birthdays, launch a blog, ask for help — that helped her achieve her overall happiness ideal. She used a chart, similar to the one Ben Franklin describes in his Autobiography, to track her progress.

I was surprised by how honest Gretchen is about her personal failings in the text. I think this honesty adds to the practical nature of the book. The reader is able to see what concrete steps worked, and which ones didn’t, in helping her achieve her resolutions. For example, she started keeping a gratitude journal, only to give up on the journal a couple months later. It didn’t make her feel more grateful, and she had found other activities that actually did. Also, it took just one Laughter Yoga class before she knew it wasn’t a class for her.

Starting on page 25 of the book, Gretchen discusses her resolution to “Toss, Restore, Organize”:

Household disorder was a constant drain on my energy; the minute I walked through the apartment door, I felt as if I needed to start putting clothes in the hamper and gathering loose toys.

She spends a good chunk of the month of January getting rid of clutter and organizing her home and office. On page 26, she even mentions the Unclutterer blog as being an inspiration to her. (A totally unexpected shout out!) She experiences such a boost in her happiness level from clearing the clutter that many other times in the book she talks about lending friends a hand when they take on their uncluttering projects.

I have always been of the opinion that when you take on an uncluttering project of any kind, before you empty a single drawer or pull a piece of sports equipment out of your garage, you need to have a clear vision of why you want to make a change. What is your motivation? What is it that matters most to you? The Happiness Project is an incredible resource for helping to identify these motivations. Even though many of the things that matter most to me aren’t what matter most to Gretchen, my brain was constantly spinning about the things that would be part of my happiness project. It helped me to formulate my 2010 resolutions list, and I think I’ll even keep a chart like the one she and Benjamin Franklin used.

If you are interested in clarifying your reasons to become uncluttered, are looking to be happier, or simply enjoy the genre of “a year in the life” style books, I recommend checking out The Happiness Project. It’s a great reminder for not letting the joys of life pass you by.

15 Comments for “Review: The Happiness Project”

  1. posted by Jo on

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the book. I just (pre)ordered it from Amazon yesterday along with your book! Looking forward to a fantastic 2010!

  2. posted by Mercedes on

    This sounds like an awesome book, and I think I’m going to order it ASAP! I’ve got a huge list of books I want to read, but I think I’ll move this one and yours to the top of my list!

  3. posted by Stella on

    Thanks to your recommendation, I’m going to check out this book.

    The description makes it seem as if the book is about more than “being happy.” Improving the quality of one’s life through conscious choice. Always worth the time. B

    Have to say that personally, am more than a little turned off these days by the number of books, articles, etc. about being happy. Because I really do believe this is a byproduct of conscious living. Not the actual goal/objective.

    The “happiest” person I know is someone who never thinks about it but who lives a life in harmony with who they are and who they value.

    Had to laugh about the author’s experience with a gratitude journal. It’s something I’ve heard from other people and as one friend put it, “It’s possible to be extremely grateful and, at the same time, very angry, frustrated and crazed. So being grateful isn’t going to make life easier or make you feel better.”

    I sometimes think that many people are “unhappy” whether in general or say in a relationship due to unrealistic expectations. It’s like people who say they want to have “fun” at work. Well, work by its nature is not inherently “fun” at least the way some of us define it. That applies to work we even may love or enjoy or get great satisfaction from.

    As humans we often seem so focused on a goal, whether happiness or something else, that we miss the “process”, the “now” as it were. If you look at folks who really seem to enjoy all of their life, they enjoy the process, no matter what it brings.

    Whic h reminds me of decluttering. It may indeed be a daily and ongoing process, with no “end” in site. There is no perfect home, especially if humans and pets are involved. yet so many folks still keep trying for the magazine-perfect abode. Not gonna happen.

    Some of the “happiest” people I know have somewhat chaotic (to me) lives, messy homes and less-than-perfect anything. But they are flexible, open to life, accepting of the mess of it at times and able to enjoy themselves even when stuff is less than perfect.

    That’s more in line with my goals for the next year. To not let what isn’t (whether it’s a cluttered room or a less than perfect meal, etc) get in the way of enjoying what is. Accepting that even in a moment where life is tough, it can also have some joy and fun. That they aren’t mutually exclusive. Most of all, I’m not gonna worry about being “happy.” whatever that means, cause I still don’t know what it’s supposed to mean!

  4. posted by Kelly on

    Stella – Beautifully said!

    I think you’ll like Gretchen’s approach, based on what you wrote. I haven’t read the book, but I follow her site. I heard about it here or read about Unclutterer there – can’t remember which. But one of her 12 Personal Commandments is “Enjoy the Process.” Basically dealing all of the things you mentioned in your comment.

    Erin – Thank you for the review. I’m anxious to check out the book. I think it will be a good companion to yours, which I devoured and now need to go back through and start implementing the ideas.

  5. posted by Book review: The Happiness Project | communicatrix on

    […] Rooney Doland, who writes at Unclutterer and wrote a really great book herself recently, posted an excellent review of The Happiness Project on her blog. In addition to thoughtful observations about Gretchen’s process, Erin makes some really good […]

  6. posted by suzanne on

    Just ordered it from the library!

  7. posted by Erin on

    This was a very kind and well written review. I pre-ordered her book (as I did yours) and when telling my mother and sister about it, I really honed in on what you just wrote – “happiness can be an action item.” Finally, like Gretchen, I too feel that uncluttering and having a cleaning my environment is one of the quickest things I can do to get a boost of happiness (that is often lasting) – and I really credit your blog in helping me unclutter.

  8. posted by Joan on

    Right on, Erin!

    I’ve commented on Gretchen’s posts on my blog as well. She has the ability, with her posts, to remind me not to get bogged down with the little things in life, but to incorporate what has true meaning, “happiness”, into my everyday living.

    I appreciate her insight, will purchase her book, and will continue to use her advice in my own life.

    Thanks Gretchen! And thanks Erin for introducing other people to The Happiness Project!

  9. posted by Arjun Muralidharan ( on

    Thanks for the heads-up!

    I’m looking forward to this book as I feel that in all the uncluttering and organizing we do, we must find the driving motivation, as you pointed out.

    Part of my January will go into re-assessing and re-aligning my current life (job, education, family, friends, AND posessions) with my goals and values. It’s worth investing the time in doing this.

  10. posted by Arjun Muralidharan ( on

    Thanks for the heads-up!

    I’m looking forward to this book as I feel that in all the uncluttering and organizing we do, we must find the driving motivation, as you pointed out.

    Part of my January will go into re-assessing and re-aligning my current life (job, education, family, friends, AND pose§ssions) with my goals and values. It’s worth investing the time in doing this.

  11. posted by Andy Chilton on

    Even though you say you haven’t done things specifically to make you happy, surely that is implicit.

    I try to find time to change my life, almost all the time, to make me happier. Doing it once a year at New Year is weird to me – I think it’s a constant point of review in my life.

    Can’t wait to read the book 🙂

  12. posted by Richard | on

    Her blog is great everyone. She has these 12 personal commandments that are really cool.

  13. posted by Gretchen Rubin on

    Erin, thanks SO MUCH for your kind words! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the book. As you know, I’m a huge fan of yours and UNCLUTTER YOUR LIFE IN ONE WEEK, and I’ve been reading Unclutterer for years, so am especially gratified to hear that you found it useful.

  14. posted by Cristin on

    I just bought this book last night on my Kindle, and have been enjoying it very much!

  15. posted by Imene on

    Thank you so much Erin!! I have since started reading the book and implementing this project.

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