The Happiness Project

It’s time to discuss The Happiness Project!

the happiness project

We’ll be voting on the PBF December Book Club book later today, but for now it’s time to dive into November’s selection.

This review is a long one, so buckle up!

Brief Summary

The Happiness Project follows author Gretchen Rubin as she dedicates an entire year of her life to improving her happiness. Every month she strives to improve happiness related to a different part of her life (marriage, friendship, money, work, etc.) and implements small changes while documenting her findings. The author references theologians, philosophers, researchers and writers and includes detailed research to back up many of her happiness experiments.

My Review

When The Happiness Project was selected for our November Book Club, I wasn’t overjoyed. The concept intrigued me, but I prefer to climb into bed with a page-turning fiction novel rather than a memoir or self-help book.

Within the first 10 pages of The Happiness Project, I found myself dog-earing pages so I could return and reread passages. I was hooked.

Gretchen Rubin is incredibly self-aware and managed to write about happiness in a way that made it seem attainable. As she focused on clearing the clutter out of her life, I wanted to do the same. When Gretchen vowed to “be in the moment,” I wanted to focus on enjoying moments as they happen as well.

For me, the best way I can think to properly review this book is to share some of my favorite takeaways. When I think about The Happiness Project, certain passages and quotes jump into my mind. The takeaways that left a lasting impression include:

  • Enjoy Now: We often imagine a happier future and tell ourselves things like, “Once I finish this project, then…” which causes us to focus on anticipated future happiness, rather than the joy we can find in our lives right now. If we can enjoy the present, we don’t need to count on and live for the happiness that is (or isn’t) in our future.
  • Address Clutter: For some people household disorder and clutter can have a serious negative impact on overall energy levels. I am one of those people, so Gretchen’s section about clutter, while seemingly simplistic, really appealed to me. Implementing the “one minute rule” and vowing to tackle tasks that take me less than one minute had a shocking impact on my overall happiness. Our house is less cluttered and my office is more organized which helps me feel much more peaceful.
  • “Be Gretchen”: Several times in The Happiness Project, Gretchen recognizes her personal struggle to “Be Gretchen” and her desire to find certain things that other people love appealing. Like going to a Knicks game. Eating dinner out at a fancy new restaurant. Drinking. Going to a lecture on international markets. She wanted her interests to appear more valuable, interesting, cultured and adventurous. Rather than wish she enjoyed these other activities, Gretchen realized she needed to embrace the activities she truly does enjoy. I identified with this wholeheartedly as I sometimes feel like my interests aren’t in line with my peers. To me, a quiet night at home can be just as fun as a crazy night out. I really value my alone time and get great joy from reading by myself or working on a craft project. It’s okay to love less glamorous activities and embracing them will only bring you more happiness.
  • Give Positive Reviews: “It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” The joy exuded from positive people isn’t inexhaustible and requires effort.
  • One of the Best Ways to Make Yourself Happy is to Make Other People Happy: And one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself. “Do good, feel good; feel good, do good.” Cultivating generosity and kindness breeds happiness. Gretchen included this quote from Tolstoy in her book: "Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness." It deeply moved me and weighed on my mind for days. Like I’ve said on the blog before, “I want to see and be the good in the world.”
  • Spend Out: Gretchen discusses her tendency to cling to things, saying she would save things like beautiful stationary rather than use it. But how often did something extraordinary surface that warranted the use of the things she saved? Rarely. I noticed that I tend to do the same thing. I save a new top for a special occasion. I won’t write a blog post on a certain topic one day because I want to “save it.” But for what!? “Spend out” and enjoy the good things now.
  • Don’t Expect Praise or Appreciation: According to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “When one loves, one does not calculate.” Don’t think about return. Giving without expectation creates a wealth of love and tenderness.

Blogger Link Up

You can find additional reviews of The Happiness Project on the following blogs:

Discussion Questions

  • What were some of your key takeaways from The Happiness Project?
  • Did you implement anything Gretchen discusses in The Happiness Project in your own life?

Comments

  1. says

    I haven’t read the book yet, but you’ve made me want to. The one that really rang true was the “being Gretchen.” Being a single 27 year old, a lot of my friends/peers don’t understand how I’m content staying in on a friday night, cooking a good dinner, and reading a book. Or waking up early on a Saturday morning to go for a run. These are the things that make me happy but since they aren’t exactly in-line with what they think is “fun” they think something is wrong. It really does boil down to being happy enough with yourself to stick by things/activities that you enjoy to do without caring what other people think. We’re too old for that!

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  2. Anna says

    I haven’t read it yet but I am excited to! I am huge advocate of de-cluttering and organization in one’s life, yet I get a little sentimental sometimes when I look back and wish I would have saved some things (inner pack-rat coming out!) It will be nice to see how someone else handles this!

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  3. Lindsay says

    I loved this book! Along the same lines of the “one minute rule” I read a quote on another blog that said “Do it, Do it right, Do it right now” which I find really helpful. Typically when I’m putting something off, I can say this to myself and it helps motivate me to get it done!

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  4. says

    Great review, and great take home messages! “Don’t expect praise or appreciation” is a tough one, I bookmarked that as well! I felt the exact same way, unsure of whether I would like it, then before I knew it, I was highlighting like a crazy person because of all the great advice. She makes everything attainable, lists out specific goals, and then goes after them. I thought it was great!

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  5. says

    After reading several others’ reviews on this book, you all seem to mention the same take-aways – obviously, because those were the important things that stuck with many readers. Besides those takeaways that you listed, do you really think the rest of the book offers enough insight to read the whole thing? I’m just curious because I too am intrigued but not thrilled about reading this, and I am quite picky with what makes my reading list.

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  6. says

    These are great takeaways. You’ve got me intrigued about the book now. I really, really struggle with “enjoying now” and have a tendency to always be on the lookout for the next best thing. Forward thinking can be a good thing, but not when you realize that it’s all you do. I’d like to get better at living in the moment.

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  7. says

    Thanks, Julie! I think the biggest takeaway for me was to “acknowledge the reality of others’ feelings.” It’s so fantastic that we can make people feel better just by tuning the world out, listening to people, and then repeating back to them what they’re saying and how they’re feeling. Such a simple act that leads to such positive results.

    I can also identify with the “Be Gretchen” truth. I’m such a homebody. I’ve never sewn wild oats (unless needing to stop after half a margarita counts!). And I’m pretty sure I would have been just fine as a nun (except for the whole I love my husband thing). Many times in my life, I’ve felt like (and even been told that) I should enjoy this or try that, so it was refreshing to read Gretchen’s take.

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  8. Christina says

    I haven’t read the book yet either but as soon as things settle down and winter break arrives it will be the first one on my Christmas reading list. Just from the points you’ve outlined I’m really looking forward to reading it! We all get caught up in the negative from time to time-sometimes everyone just needs a small reminder to live each day to the fullest! A great post-uplifting in itself! :)

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  9. Karey says

    Loved this book! There were sooo many things I took away from this book. The 1 minute rule and the 10 minute cleanup at the end of the day have made a huge improvement on my life. This is definitely a book I am going to keep and reread! Now for me to work on “being karey”……its my biggest struggle not to compare myself to others and just be happy with who I am. I’m working on it! :)

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  10. Katie says

    I’m glad you liked the book and you’ve convinced me to pick it up myself! It’s funny though, because I feel like so many of the things you listed as your takeaways are things that already exude in your life, which is what keeps me coming back to your blog time and time again!

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  11. says

    This sounds like such a great book! I was very happy to see that I already have some of these ‘take-aways’ in place in my life. But the ideas of spending out and enjoying now are two that I really need to work on! I am always just ‘hanging on’ until the next season of life which I convince myself will be so much better than this one.

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  12. says

    Oh man, this sounds like a book I’d love to read. I really like the one minute rule concept. Just this morning on the way to work I was thinking about how all the clutter in my life really stresses me out, and if I’d just stop being lazy and actually file things away when I’m done with them, I could really cut out a lot of clutter (and thus a lot of unnecessary stress) from my life. I’m definitely going to try to implement the one minute rule!

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  13. Mary says

    I guess I’m the only one, but I just was not in love with this book. I felt like a lot of her citations and references were somewhat irrelevant and took away from what she was trying to convey to the readers. I did like the takeaway points that you mentioned above, but I didn’t think they were groundbreaking enough for me to finish the book. I just felt very “meh” the whole time I was reading.

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  14. says

    After reading your post yesterday about “it will only take a minute”, I decided to give it a shot and found myself constantly repeating that mantra throughout the day. Instead of just thinking about all the little and big things I needed to get done, I was pleased and content with the little things I had done just because I decided to stop procrastinating. After reading your review this morning, I ordered the book from Amazon and I’m looking forward to when it arrives. I generally like to read books that I can’t put down but I think this one will be a good thought-provoking option. The winter months always seems to give me a case of the blahs so hopefully thinking about how to makes changes will help!

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  15. says

    Like you, I was a little disappointed that this was the book chosen because I typically like reading fiction. Also like you, after the first chapter, I was definitely hooked. Loved this book and I’ve taken so much away from it. Can’t wait to implement some of Gretchen’s advice!

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  16. says

    I should really read this book.
    I’m TERRIBLE for those things that “only take a minute.” In fact, my most hated chores only take a few: emptying the dishwasher, throwing laundry into the dryer, etc.

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  17. Mary says

    I am going to read this book and give it to my two sisters for a Stocking stuffer. There are so many things in your review that we could benefit from. Thanks Julie. It may not be a page turner but I enjoy reading a variety of books so am looking forward to this. Mary

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  18. says

    I NEED to read this book. I wish I was able to join in for the book club but I’m definitely taking note that this is a book to read ASAP. And I know I’m one of those people who can’t handle clutter. Living with my parents for a few months has just brought about that realization even stronger as I can’t stand the clutter but since it’s not my house, I don’t feel like I can DO anything about it and it’s draining. Weird, but I definitely get it.

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  19. Lisa says

    I’m still working on finishing it (reading in small chunks to fully digest it!), but for me one of the biggest take-always is being mindful to be a happier presence in other people’s day to day lives. I’ve started to become more aware of how something as simple as my tone of voice, the choice of words or a cheerful facial expression can change the dynamics of something that otherwise would have been less positive.

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  20. says

    I read this book a while back ago and I got a lot of great ideas from her own goals and how to kickstart my own. Her thoughts on ‘Enjoying Now’ really resonated. I am always thinking about whats next on the horizon rather than focusing on the now and I constantly have to remind myself to take a step back or I’ll miss all the things I have right now.

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  21. says

    I haven’t read this book yet. I was unsure about it after reading some not great reviews! Now that I’ve read your thoughts on it, I think it sounds really interesting and something I’d enjoy. I’m definitely going to read it. Thanks!

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  22. Robyn says

    So, I’ve been on the waiting list for The Happiness Project and Divergent from my library. The Happiness Project came first, and I thought that she was a litle unrelatable but there were good takeaways. I too liked the “Be Gretchen”.

    Now Divergent? Oh my stars. I shall never doubt you! I ADORED it. Ridiculously great. I don’t know that I would have come across it had you not praised it so highly. Thank you!!

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  23. Casey says

    I must read this. Sounds like some great reminders and new ideas. Love the Spend Out idea. Too often my favorite outfits sit in my closet waiting for somewhere worthy to wear them, only to fine out a tear later they ate no longer my fav and I barely wore it. I’m going to be feeling good hittin up the grocery store!

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  24. says

    It’s been awhile since I read this book, but I remember the “Be Gretchen” section really struck me as well. I always thought that I didn’t care so much about what others thought, but I found myself rethinking that when I read this.

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  25. says

    When you started reading this book last month, I was right in the middle of
    1: a Beth Moore Bible Study on the Fruit of the Spirit
    2: a Francis Chan Study on the Holy Spirit called Forgotten God
    3: reading The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer
    Needless to say, I didn’t think I could do it. But now that I read your review, I will have to make time to read it. It sounds right up my alley. I am a self help junkie. Plus, I just finished the Beth Moore study, so now I have a little more time. Besides, my blog is called The {Happy} Travel Bug, my web address is happyhoyt.blogspot.com and my email has happy in it as well. It is a must read for me!

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  26. Irene says

    Yay, my first time reading along with you Julie! I liked a lot of things about this book, and I definitely think I learned a number of things. I like the points you and others pointed out, and I have always related to the idea of “you can’t change anyone’s actions but your own” and she relates to that in a number of interesting ways. I was inspired to clean out my closet too, and hope to continue decluttering! I liked that she illustrated everything with stories from her personal life, rather than just giving data and instructions from positive psychology research. I’ve got to say, my least favorite thing about the book was how it was written, and I’m guessing that’s why some readers couldn’t get into it. By the end of it, I was pretty sick of a few things that she KEPT REPEATING over and over like “Be Gretchen”. I was disappointed, because I knew the author had clerked for the Supreme Court and figured she must be an amazing writer, but I was left feeling like this was a really, really intelligent woman who was trying to write a book for what she imagined an average woman was like and she didn’t quite succeed. But I’m glad I read it, and I will probably go back through some of my favorite chapters and try and glean more, especially some of the quotes that I thought were really terrific. I haven’t decided if I’m going to try her second book or not , so if anyone has read it, please give your thoughts!

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  27. LG says

    Thanks for that recap! Especially the one about being yourself. But also the one about clutter – I often set the timer for 5 or 10 minutes and the hubs and I “fly at it” to clean up in that time.

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  28. Tania Stanwood says

    This is a must read for me, I was just browsing for ideas on various sites for some good self-help books as I am almost done with the one I am currently reading, A Rebel Chick Mystic’s Guide by Lisa Selow. It has really been an excellent read and I have taken away a great many things from it! Now I am glad to know that I can take a look at this book! lisaselow.com is where you can find Lisa’s book if anyone is interested as well. This was a great review, sold me on it!

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  29. Jenna says

    Hey Julie did you see the final book in the Matched trilogy is out?!?! I am pretty sure you said you read the other two books, if I’m wrong sorry! Anyways I’m excited to read it. I didn’t get to read The Happiness Project but didn’t know where else to post this!

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  30. Jessica Wilkinson says

    This book review reminded me of an awesome article I read! I would definitely recommend reading it, it’s short and sweet. http://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/general-relief-society-meeting/2011/09/forget-me-not?lang=eng

    My favorite is the third point, if you scroll down to it.

    “So many people today are waiting for their own golden ticket—the ticket that they believe holds the key to the happiness they have always dreamed about. There is nothing wrong with yearnings— the problem comes when we put our happiness on hold as we wait for some future event—our golden ticket—to appear.”

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  31. Shannon says

    I loved the “spend out” she talks about in her book. I’ve totally embraced the concept. I’ve also started my own happiness project of sorts. I’m now aiming for 5 minutes of purposeful silence per day (meditation, shivasana, whatever). I’m also addressing things immediately instead of putting them off if it only takes a couple minutes. I’ve started answering yes/no questions with yes or no–no more excuses or apologies! I’ve got other things on my list of things to attempt at least for 30 days. We’ll see what sticks!

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  32. says

    I wish I’d have actually read this book instead of listening to it as an audio book. I liked it but didn’t love it, mainly because her reading was awkward. Sometimes a good narrator takes a mediocre story and elevates it, I think Gretchen did herself a disservice by reading her own work. Also, I would have liked to dog-ear pages and go back to reference things but audio doesn’t allow for that.

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  33. says

    i need to read this book!
    i saw it on another blog, and like you i didn’t seem particularly interested in reading a self-help type book…but i love your review and how you make it relatable. off to go download it to my kindle tonight!

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  34. says

    Julie:
    I read the book last year and LOVED it. It really made a positive impact on my life. I recently did a post about it on my site. I posted my “commandments” for a Happier Life. I’d love for you to check it out.
    I now looking forward to reading her second book over the Holidays.

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  35. says

    So I just started reading this over the weekend (I only have about 10% left) and I’m completely hooked. It’s such a fantastic viewpoint and outlook on happiness. After I read the chapter about organizing clutter I put down the book (as hard as that was) and started tackling my messy kitchen. It was insane how much better I felt after a few tweaks.

    I’m presenting this at work today during our staff meeting (we each get a turn to present something fun or interesting to the group every few months). I really hope other people can find this information useful.

    So glad you recommended this. I really think it’s going to help me a lot!

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  36. says

    Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your website and in accession capital to assert that I get in fact
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