The Happiness Project — Gretchen Rubin

This book made me happy. Gretchen Rubin did her research, found out every possible method for becoming more happy, and then spent a year trying them all out. In the end she decides it has worked — she is happier — and she evaluates which methods worked best for her. She’s read a stack of popular psychology books and self-help guides, so we won’t have to.

The thing that works best for her is a resolutions chart: for example, she’ll resolve to sing every morning, and then put a checkmark on the chart every morning when she remembers to sing. She says that was the best thing because it helped her get other things done, but mainly because it was so satisfying to award herself a checkmark and to look back on the month and see all the evidence of resolutions kept. It’s interesting that this technique, often recommended to help children remember to brush their teeth or put their clothes away, can also work well with adults. I bet Rubin had very clean teeth as a child, and probably still does.

Rubin was pretty open-minded about trying all sort of things in her quest for happiness, but I was disappointed at her utter failure to even try meditation. Somehow she couldn’t bring herself to attempt it even for 15 minutes. It makes sense that a person as busy as her might feel she can’t sit still for that long, but it’s a pretty glaring omission in a supposedly comprehensive survey. She needs to heed the old saying: you should meditate for 20 minutes every day unless you’re really busy — then you should meditate for 40 minutes.

Apart from all the happiness-boosting tips, which are all covered in more depth in other places, The Happiness Project is fun to read for inspiration and because it grounds all the techniques in a real life lived by a real person. I get a good sense of Rubin’s family and how they react to her experiments (her husband comes across as a bit of a drip, but I’m sure he’s much nicer in real life). It’s fun to read her take on things and see how the different techniques work for her and her friends and family. The things the work for Rubin are probably different from the things that would work for you or me, but the book has so many pointers to so many ideas that everybody should be able to find some ways to boost their happiness level. I already use quite a few of the techniques in my own life, but I’ll be trying some new ones after being inspired by this book.

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