The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project is about the author Gretchen Rubin’s one year experiment on making herself into a happier person. This is not a book where the author abandons her job and existing life and goes off to an ashram in India to find herself. The Happiness Project is about making simple, practical, and research-backed changes in our everyday life. Sure, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we would be happy if we could just win won a million dollars, but this book answers the more important question: how to find happiness in the here and the now.

Each month, Rubin focused on an area of her life she wanted to improve. January was about improving her energy levels. In February, she focused on her marriage, October was all about becoming more mindful. You get the drift. In structuring her experiment and book this way, she is inspiringly (if rather unnervingly) productive. She is the kind of person who probably uses a spreadsheet to keep track of all her other spreadsheets.

The book has an easy conversational tone. Rubin is honest, witty and self-deprecating. (One of my favourite lines: “Being asleep is a great way to avoid being critical.”). She also deserves props for the sheer amount of research she did and translating that research into actionable steps that anyone can take.

What I didn’t like

My main problem with The Happiness Project was that the author never tried to uncover the reason why she wasn’t happy in the first place. It’s fascinating that Rubin spent all this time and effort researching happiness and never once tried to figure out the source of her problems. Her tendency to avoid introspection comes up multiple times in the book; she deliberately stayed away from therapy, meditation and long-form journaling, all of which have well-documented happiness benefits.

I suppose Rubin does deserve credit for identifying much of her behaviour as prideful. She admits multiple times that she has a need to be praised and that she is overly critical and argumentative. However, she has no idea what is causing this behaviour. It seems to me that she is the classic insecure over-achiever, with a poor understanding of her own insecurity.

Top Three Things the Book Teaches us to Unknow

  • That we cannot change how happy we are. As Rubin’s own Happiness Project (and her readers’ comments) show, we can all find ways to happier by making simple changes in our lives.
  • That happiness is a selfish goal. As Rubin found out: To be happy yourself, you need to make others happy.
  • That we need to do the usual stuff that society says will make us happy: going to parties, being “outgoing” and “adventurous” etc. To be happy, we need to embrace what we truly like doing, even if people think our interests are boring or weird.  

Who Should Read it

  • Anyone who wants practical advice on how to be happier
  • Anyone who wants to be encouraged out of their comfort zone. There’s something about Rubin’s extreme determination to go after she wants that leaves you feeling inspired.

Who Should Not Read it

  • Anyone who is irritated by privileged people being unhappy
  • Those who dislike Type A personalities. Rubin is ultra organized, efficient and controlling. It may be a bit too much for some people.