Book Review – ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project’ Gretchen Rubin

‘The days are long but the years are short’ is a quotation that echoes through this uplifting, inspirational book. It serves as a call to action to Gretchen, a writer based in New York, to begin a year long project to bring more happiness and fulfilment into her work and family life.
The practical nature of the book really appealed to me as a lot of self development literature is long on abstract theory but short on day to day application. And often it is only when you listen to someone’s story of applying the theory that you begin to understand how challenging it can be to introduce new, positive behaviours in the face of life’s daily pressures. Gretchen’s writing is honest about this; she shares her joy when things go well but is equally frank when things get tough and she sometimes falls short of the person she is aspiring to be.
Before beginning the project, during which she sets herself the objective of concentrating on a different aspect of happiness each month of the year (kind of the ultimate New Year’s Resolution), she reads everything she can find on the psychology of happiness. Not just contemporary output on positive psychology, but also classical literature, philosophers and novelists, so this is a book based on very sound research on what makes us happy and how we can be happier.
She starts in January by boosting her energy as this will be the fuel to get her project off the launch pad and sustain it through the year. This contains an interesting section on how she improves the quality of her sleep and the book is peppered with brilliant little insights – for example in this section she reflects on why it often seems easier to stay up than go to bed, even when you are exhausted.
She also focuses on becoming better organised and appraises everything in her apartment from the perspective of Toss; Restore or Organise. She invokes the one minute rule; don’t postpone a task that can be done in less than a minute and keeps telling herself ‘if you can’t find something – tidy up.’
In February she focuses her attention on her husband Jamie, her daughters Eleanor and Eliza and her family. Called ‘Remember Love’, in this chapter Gretchen concentrates on strengthening the bonds that tie her family together and bringing more love into all their lives. This begins with the realisation that the only person’s behaviour she can change is her own, so she works on appreciating Jamie as he is rather than how she would like him to be, recognising, and suppressing her need for praise, giving lots of proof of her love and ‘fighting right’ ie only dealing with the issue in hand, de-escalating disagreements and making ‘repair attempts’. Really important, as she learns from John Gottman’s research that for a marriage to thrive, positive experiences need to exceed negative experiences by a ratio of 5 to 1. So avoiding or minimising negatives has more impact, and is potentially easer to achieve than trying to create lots more positives. Another priceless little nugget she shares is that you need to hug for at least 6 seconds to get a full dose of feel good serotonin.
In March she sets herself the challenge to aim higher and during the month launches a happiness project blog, committing to post every day. This had a strong personal resonance for me as I want to do more writing and is one reason why you are reading this review. Thanks Gretchen.
As the year progresses she shares posts on her blog from her readers and these add richness and new perspectives as the book unfolds.
Other months that particularly impacted on me were June – ‘Make Time for Friends’, July – ‘Buy some Happiness’ which gave me some really helpful insights into my own spending habits and November – ‘Keep a Contented Heart’.
There is also some great stuff on parenting when she puts into practice some of the ideas she learns from the book ‘How to talk so kids will listen’. And a really touching story about the importance of living in the moment when she describes how she spends time helping Eleanor, her one year old, practice climbing some stairs rather than go and read an interesting article in the newspaper she has just bought. ‘This is it’ she says ‘this is my precious, fleeting time with Eleanor as a little girl.’
In December, in ‘Boot Camp Perfect’, she pulls together everything she has learned into 30 days of radiant, vibrant perfection. Not really……. she writes ‘Did I have one single day perfect day in December? Nope. But even when I had a bad day, it was a good day’.
It’s a book that makes a very compelling case for actioning the changes we can all make to create happier lives for ourselves and those around us. If Gretchen can do it we all can.
Check out her blog at – www.happiness-project.com

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