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Review: "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin

Smile and sing in the morning; Enjoy now; You’re happy if you think you are; Be you.

I picked up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin at my public library. One of my best friends knows me well, and she suggested we go to the library sale where a full bag of used books cost only $3. I added The Happiness Project to the bag because of the bright blue cover and the inkling that I’d heard about it from somewhere. However, when I finally read Rubin’s work, I realized how much more there was to it than merely an appealing cover and a hazy recommendation.

The Happiness Project is Rubin’s memoir of the year she spent trying to make herself happier. She divides the year up by months, and each month comes with its own set of “resolutions” – ways she thinks she can make herself happier – and their corresponding subsets of rules. These resolutions and rules range from “Snapping Less” to encouraging herself to “Do Good; Feel Good,” and she describes how effective she finds each one.

I found Rubin’s examination of her rule “Be Gretchen” fascinating. She discusses how she wished she both liked jazz music and disliked reading young adult books, because she wanted to enjoy activities she found “sophisticated.” But it was only after she created a book group for YA books and realized she would rather read than go to a jazz club that she achieved true happiness. These realizations allowed her to reach a level of comfort with herself which she wouldn’t have accomplished otherwise. Her understanding resonated with me. I often wish I enjoyed art museums more or liked listening to rap music, but I don’t. And to get the most joy out of life possible, I, and everyone else for that matter, have to grow comfortable with my own interests and focus on those as much as possible. “Be Mikaela” became my mantra after reading this book, and it has prevented me from feeling guilty if I don’t like something and has allowed me to feel happier – at least so far.

Another idea I found particularly intriguing in Rubin’s memoir was that one can be happy if she thinks she is. Rubin discusses forcing herself to sing and smile in the morning. She found it impossible to feel sad if she sang and smiling also lifted her spirits. These two tasks seemed simple, so I decided to try them myself. One morning, I woke up exhausted. However, instead of letting that ruin my mood, I started humming a song I’d heard on the radio. And after I brushed my teeth, I shot my reflection in the mirror the most convincing grin I could muster. I’ll admit I felt silly, but it worked. Instead of treating the day like an impossible challenge, I had fun and generally felt happier. It shocked me that these tasks changed my outlook, but it was nice to realize how easy it was to put myself in a good mood.

Although these are aspects of Rubin’s book I found particularly interesting, she also discusses many other concepts. Some of these topics include whether money makes happiness, how organization creates calm, not expecting praise, and why she wrote 1,667 words a day for a month. Although I wasn’t interested in all of her ideas – this was her happiness project, not mine – I found her memoir worthwhile as it pushed me to pursue happiness in everyday life. While happiness may be everyone’s aspiration, Rubin proves that taking steps to achieve it can also be really fun.

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