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.