I actually finished this book before my Paris trip, but did not get the chance to write my review prior to leaving. I have often looked at this book at Chapters. The bright cover drew my attention and the lure of a project that could make one happier. Who doesn’t want to be happier? I find the concept of happiness one I often consider. What is happiness? How do you attain happiness? Job? Appearance? Relationship? Material possessions? And is happiness really something you can work towards and check off your list? “I have reached my ideal happiness. Checkmark.”
Gretchen Rubin takes an interesting approach as she seeks to be happier; she creates some overarching principles and each month is given an improvement area. She actually creates a checklist for each month with a list of goals related to the area such as money, mindfulness, and work. In each chapter, Gretchen describes that month’s subject area and her goals, related research about that subject and its relationship to happiness, and her personal stories as she seeks to keep her resolutions. Through the course of the year, she also discovers Four Splendid Truths: One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself. The days are long, but the years are short. If I think I’m happier, I am happier.
It is hard to put my finger on what I didn’t like about the writing. Perhaps I was expecting more depth in the exploration of happiness as a subject instead of the month-to-month personal stories appearing under subdivided goals. The chapters ended too quickly and I felt like more could have been said on each subject. The book felt a little shallow to me and too easy of a read for such a complex subject. However, I do recognize that happiness is a huge topic and Gretchen is simply sharing her own experiences not wrestling the theoretics of happiness. Despite my dislike of the writing style, this book did inspire me and made me think a lot about happiness. I think though that I could have gotten the same inspiration about happiness by reading her blog instead of buying the book.
I am like Gretchen in that analytic, type A, checklists-make-me-feel-productive kind of person, so I responded to her method of tackling how to practically be happier. I also appreciated her touching on some difficult topics that come with happiness such as whether seeking happiness is selfish or even a reasonable pursuit. Again, I felt like these difficulties could have been explored more but that wouldn’t have fit the monthly structure and personal focus of the book. Gretchen does touch on some really important truths that 2 weeks later are still sinking in with me. She emphasizes that you can change your life without changing your life. Perhaps you can’t get a new job, buy a bigger home, find a spouse, lose the weight….whatever it is that you perceive will make your life better, but is unattainable currently. Yet you can change how you perceive the things in your life and how you live your life day to day. Gretchen acknowledges some of the shortcomings in her goals (she couldn’t sing in the morning every day, she grew tired of her gratitude journal), but she also shows, through her own experiences, that happiness can be increased through little changes such as consciously laughing more, nagging less, and remembering birthdays.
We have to stop expecting that suddenly happiness will just fall on us. It takes work to be happy, but the work is worth it. And often that work is changing your attitude; attitude is essential to happiness. It reminds me of this one holiday morning where I had planned to make a quiche. I opened my fridge and discovered to my dismay that I didn’t have enough eggs. I felt myself slipping into a dejected state of pity over the fact that I was looking forward to surprising my husband with a fancy breakfast and had forgotten this one item on my grocery list. I jerked myself back and looked again at the situation. I realized that there were many other delicious things I could make for breakfast and I would just have to use the eggs that I have now. By changing how I looked at the situation (no matter how little and silly it seems now), I was able to have a pleasant breakfast with my husband instead of sulking that I didn’t have enough eggs.
To add my own Splendid Truth, the way you treat the little things will affect the way you approach the big things in this life. Perhaps there is a big change you need to make in your life to be happier, but there is still merit in cultivating how to be happy with what you have, who you are, where you are right now.
3.5 /5 bacon strips
Gretchen Rubin’s website is definitely worth checking out if you are also interested in the subject of happiness: http://www.gretchenrubin.com/