I’m great at making resolutions. Not New Years’ Resolutions, I just make them all the time. I’ll exercise more, I’ll be up at a certain time, I’ll do a writing exercise every day, I’ll read a hundred books a year… I’m really great at breaking the resolutions that I set for myself.
In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin makes lots of resolutions for herself, and what I like about the book is Rubin’s systematic approach to making herself follow through on her promises.
The basic premise of the book is that Rubin makes a mission of studying happiness, and spends a year making systematic resolutions that will supposedly make her happier. Following Benjamin Franklin’s idea of perfecting himself by focusing on various virtues, Rubin focuses on a different facet of her happiness every month.
It sounds trite, but I found this book inspirational. There was a lot of stuff that Rubin tries that I took on board. I found myself energized by how specific her resolutions are, and in putting some of them into practice for myself I’d have to say that I think specific, accountable resolutions are the key. Rubin doesn’t just decide to focus on lifting her energy in January of her happiness project; she breaks this focus on “vitality” down into achievable, concrete ideas: “go to sleep earlier”, “exercise better”, “toss, restore, organize”, “tackle a nagging task”, and “act more energetic”. She does this for a different virtue, every month for a year.
By breaking down her aims into these little specific ideas, Rubin has instilled in me a weird kind of tendency to think in mantras. By the end of the book, she recognizes that she does this herself. I’ve started trying to employ the resolution to “act more energetic” – and whenever I find myself tempted to be lazy, that phrase pops into my head. “Act more energetic!” – truisms are helpful.
While I found this book on the “memoir” shelf in the book store, it would probably fit just as well under “self-help”. It’s a funny little book though: Gretchen Rubin’s just an average woman. Before starting her happiness project, she’s pretty happy – she simply decides that her happiness is important, and that she should know what it’s all about, especially in preparation for the possibility of bad times in the future. So it’s not any kind of misery memoir of overcoming the odds and finding happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s not depressed, she’s not hard done by, she’s not even very unhappy. She’s utterly regular. I liked that about the book.
I wasn’t so sure about the way the book treads the line of being overly positive. I know that sounds ridiculous, reading a book about happiness and being unsure about how positive it is, but perhaps because of the utter normalcy of Rubin’s life, I sometimes felt like the obstacles she overcame weren’t very convincing as genuine obstacles. But I guess that’s how life is. Sometimes achieving something isn’t very dramatic, but the fact that you get there in the end is important.
There’s a terrifying endorsement on the back of the book: “An enlightening, laugh aloud read” – from Christian Science Monitor. Don’t let that scare you off. The book isn’t trite, and it isn’t hardcore self-help. It’s a regular lady’s story about figuring out who she is, and what makes her happy. Rubin’s overly-organized approach to that task really appealed to me, and I’d have to say I picked up a lot of good ideas from this book. We spend so much of our lives trying to be “happy” – Gretchen Rubin recognized her own happiness as a priority, and wrote a really enjoyable book about it.