The Happiness Project

Author: Gretchen Rubin
Genre: Self Help, Happiness, Philosophy, Healthy Living

I loved the concept of the book. The opposite of happiness may not depression. We don’t need to be in a state of misery or be thoroughly shattered with life to start thinking about happiness. For many of us blessed with a fortunate life – good work, good family, good health – there can still be a feeling of emptiness, a feeling of boredom. A feeling that this short life could be lived much more but we are just dragging along.

And that is exactly the ‘unhappiness’ Gretchen felt. Despite being from a top school and a successful lawyer, and blessed with a great marriage, health, kids and family (her husband’s family is worth $200m :); Gretchen felt she was not truly happy.

Unlike most of us, however, she chose to do something about it. She took a one year sabbatical, read a lot about happiness (from old sages to latest research), and made an action plan for the whole year.

She identified twelve very interesting themes that could give us more happiness and devoted each month of the year to each of those. The book is the story of her year long experiment and learnings.

So what are these 12 keys to happiness?

 The first is Vitality (physical and mental energy), the need to sleep well, exercise well and organize well. “Sleep is the new Sex!”

Both mental and physical clatter are drag , so clean it up.

Then comes Marriage, where often an accumulation of minor irritations reduce love and happiness. Also the need to show your love: “whatever love I may feel in my heart, others will only see in my action”. She recommends that couples play an outdoor and an indoor game together. She also recommends hugging as an antidote for stress.

The next chapter focuses on work and she says happiness is growth. Solving difficult problems can give us intellectual happiness.

And so on to Parenthood, Leisure, Friendship, Passion etc.

A chapter is devoted to Money and her take is: Money alone can’t buy happiness. But it can help find happiness. So it is okay to sometimes splurge and be happy. We just have to be cautious of the Hedonic treadmill: things that we think will make us feel good but very soon become a bore.

There is a chapter on contemplating Eternity. I liked the epitaph she quotes:

“Remember my friend as you pass by,

As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, so you shall be

Prepare then to follow me.”

An entire chapter is dedicated to Mindfulness – conscious awareness on the here and now. She claims that Eastern philosophies generally teach detachment as a way out of life’s sorrow, while the Western tradition is that of passionately pursuing our desires.

Attitude is another key to happiness. “He who would bring home the wealth of indies must carry the wealth of indies within him.” Meaning, to find happiness, we need to look inside, not outside.

While I liked the book, at parts I felt she was applying too much rigor, discipline and frameworks (Twelve Commandments, Secrets of Adulthood) on something so moment-driven like Happiness. But that is her point: what we do everyday forms our habits and then causes our happiness or unhappiness.

The other criticism could be a lack of originality: which of these happiness drivers are truly new? And haven’t volumes be written on it already? I myself have read a dozen (see the Movie Hector and His Search For Happiness, and his 12 learnings).

She also quotes rather extensively which tends to become overbearing (though she has chosen good ones).

But, despite those minor flaws, hats off to the author: thinking about happiness when others would criticize she is already living the American dream, making tough choices like taking a sabbatical for an Year, doing extensive research on her chosen topic, and then organizing her entire life around her chosen theme. Full marks on her resolve and systemic planning.

“Find the joy in your everyday life, discover your life’s purpose and vision, Get out of your own way and achieve your dreams.”

Why should you read it: If you want to be more happy but find something missing, or are trying to get inspired into following your dreams. Just follow her 12 keys to happiness. Also learn how to write a simple yet fact and research based memoir.