Thursday, 18 August 2011

First Impressions of 'The Happiness Project' by Gretchen Rubin

Hi! This is my first impressions review of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

I must admit, when I first heard about this book and the project itself on several blogs, I didn't know what it was and I didn't have any interest in finding out. Recently, I joined the Facebook fan page ran by Philofaxy fans- only because it was something to do with Filofaxes! But then I stumbled upon some sort of description of it, and realised that a) it could be quite fun and b) it could help facilitate the self-improvements I want to make. I had been looking for a 'project' of some kind to do, because it's the uni summer holidays and I'm BORED!! Also, I wanted an excuse to buy (or rather, a purpose for) this Teal Finchley personal Filofax I had found on ebay, and was hoping to win. Although I didn't know much about the Project, I knew I could use a Filofax for it from a post by Kanalt. And I'll take any excuse to buy and use a pretty new Filofax!!!

I wondered, one day as I was sitting bored at home, if my local library had a copy of the book. I checked the online catalogue, and it did! So I went out that afternoon and borrowed it. I started reading it and I have been semi-obsessed with it ever since; with the interesting book, with filling in my new Teal Finchley, with the self-improvements and Happiness I could get out of it!

I've only read the first 3 chapters, but I feel I'm in a position to write my initial impressions about it now.

The book itself is the story of the author in her attempts to take action to become happier in her life. It isn't a handbook about how to set-up your own Happiness Project (although my copy, the paperback 2011 edition, has some pages at the back with advice that will help); but it isn't hard to use it to help develop your own. In the 'Getting Started' chapter, you can see the structure (commandments, areas of focus, resolutions etc) that Rubin's own Project took, and this will help you set up your own. In reading Rubin's story, you can take or leave as much as you want; adopt some of her resolutions, commandments, or let it spark your imagination about what areas your could focus on, or even realise fixable problems in your life you didn't even know were problems! It is, in itself, an entertaining book (and we all like reading about other peoples' lives), but it could also be an invaluable resource in helping the reader set up their own Project. But in the end, it is up to you to sort out your own Happiness Project, by identifying the areas in your life that need improving and taking individual actions (resolutions) to help improve them, in an effort to make you happier in general.
Here are the reasons I like this book.

The author is Gretchen Rubin, a writer who lives in New York with her husband and 2 daughters. And I think that is what makes this book and her story so understandable; she is a NORMAL woman. She's not a celebrity who takes a limo everywhere (she takes the bus) or has an army of maids (she cleans her apartment herself); she has many of the same problems as her readers will. Of course, her life, and therefore this book, won't perfectly match the lives of her readers; she says in the 'A Note to the Reader' section that everyone's Happiness Project will look different, because we all have unique lives, but our own Projects will mold to our own individual needs. For example, she is married with children; I still live at home with my parents. She was trained as a lawyer and is now a writer with 4 published books; I'm still a student. But while I think her life seems completely different than mine in those and other respects, I'm still learning from her experiences, such as in the February chapter where she talks about how she learnt not to snap, something I need to learn not to do at home.
    Rubin uses her own experiences to give the story of each individual resolution. She starts off each section by explaining why she needs to make those self-improvements, e.g. 'Go to sleep earlier', using her own experiences or habits, justifies it with her own research into how that resolution helps people in general, and explains how it has helped to improve her life as a result. When you read this, you understand this action helps in reality. Rubin has tried and tested this; she is her own guinea pig. And because she is a normal person, you understand that these can help your own life too.
    Another reason I like this book is because Rubin is a writer (and she has a wonderful writing-style).
1) She isn't a doctor, or a psychologist; this book isn't a self-help book. It doesn't patronise, or lecture; it gives Rubin's entertaining story of her own problems and her subsequent efforts to improve. I must admit, I have never read any self-help books, and I don't want to; but I can't imagine the expert author of a clinical or psychological self-help book would use him- or herself as the focus of the book, or the subject of the experiment (although I may be wrong). Rubin's 'experiment' is her own, that she just happens to have written down. You can tell through her wording that she did this for herself, and therefore she doesn't lecture the reader. It is enjoyable to read, and endearing.
2) Rubin trained as a lawyer, and has also written historical biographies. In both of these roles, research is incredibly important. Throughout the book, it is clear that she has done a lot of research into the subjects she is focussing on in her own project, reading books on philosophy, biology, psychology etc etc to research just the first few topics I have read about in the first 3 chapters, happiness, energy and marriage/love. Rubin did this research for herself (rather than for the book), to understand the best actions to take in improving the areas she wanted to focus on. This is very important, as it helps to scientifically justify to the reader, for example, the importance for your health of going to bed early, or the importance for your relationship of not snapping or nagging at your other half. Rubin isn't just making this stuff up, and she hasn't just happened to stumble upon some good approaches to self-improvement; everything is scientifically justified. This makes me confident to trust the book in helping me work out what is best for my own Happiness Project.

I am in the course of making my own Happiness Project. I understand this will take a long time, but I am prepared to stick with it. I think the book, and Rubin's associated blog, toolbox and facebook page are invaluable resources in this endeavour. I think everybody should give the book a go, even if you think you are happy enough already, you will undoubtedly learn SOMETHING from the book. Take as much or as little as you want from it to contribute towards your own Happiness Project; or just read the book because it's an interesting story. In this post I have discussed the reasons I like this book; but each specific chapter is up to the individual to read and analyse. When I read something I like, I underline it in pencil, then write notes in my filofax. Later I will review these notes and use them to help me set up my own Project. I am doing it this way because this is how I analyse articles for my university course. You can do it your own way. Just try it; borrow it from the library if you don't want to buy it.
My next post concerning The Happiness Project will discuss my own project, including the set-up of my HP Filofax. I don't know when this will be, but it might be in a few months, as this is an ongoing project for me. Wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Yay! I'm so glad you're liking the book. I think the HP has been so successful and popular is for the reasons you mentioned - she doesn't tell you how to do your own. Though she offers tips and suggestions and resources, she knows everyone's will be different and she focuses on that. And the book is just her story, not telling you how to do yours. Plus, it's entertaining and down to earth, with examples just about anyone can relate to. I'm looking forward to your next post!