As we stumble out of the holidays and into a shiny new year it’s almost impossible to avoid considering resolutions. Personally, my resolutions have always had the habit of erring on the side of cliché: lose weight, eat healthier, get ahead, etc. [In fact, my most successful commitment to one of those resolutions
.] But in
The Happiness Project
, Gretchen Rubin takes the age-old, bittersweet institution of New Year’s resolutions and turns it on its head, dedicating every month of the year to a different resolution and breaking each resolution up into practicable tasks. The one goal surrounding her resolutions: happiness. Rubin is quick to illustrate her life for us and to explain that hers isn't a tragic story; there’s been no great upheaval in her life and she isn't actually an unhappy person. Yet, she knows that sometimes life gets so busy and skews our perspective so much that we’re not able to fully appreciate the happiness we already have. Buoyed by her naturally inquisitive personality and a deep love of research and note-taking, she decided to dive into the very essence of happiness, unearthing the wisdom of the ages and exploring her own role in bringing happiness into her life and the lives of those around her.
There was a lot that I enjoyed about The Happiness Project, but there were also times when I couldn't quite connect with Gretchen; this actually intrigued me more than if I’d felt perfectly akin to her, though. It was interesting to read one woman’s perspective of her journey to "change her life without changing her life", but it was even more interesting to read the perspective of a woman who has traits that are in many ways the polar opposite of my own. As much as Rubin cites statistics throughout the book (a habit done to a degree that I recognized it as a characteristic quirk), one of the things I noticed about The Happiness Project is that it offers itself as a study of individuality, as well. It was an unexpected aspect, but I enjoyed it. In some ways it proved to me the elusiveness of happiness: not only is it a struggle in life to achieve happiness, but we must find our unique brand of happiness first; of everything I took away from the book, I think that was my favorite.
In many ways, The Happiness Project is a book about the author’s flaws. Many of Rubin’s resolutions revolve around behaviors that are ultimately blocking her happiness. She paints herself in the form of a nagging wife, an occasionally pushy friend, an exasperated mother; as argumentative and self-concerned in social settings. In essence, she shows herself to the reader in what amounts to being not the very best light. Throughout the book it struck me as an incredibly brave thing to do, and I really came to admire her by the final page. The phenomenal research she put into the book take her narrative into a deep, detailed place – I enjoyed the many quotations of famous thinkers and spiritual leaders on happiness – and the result is a book that has unexpected layers. I think The Happiness Project has a way of going beyond its premise with its unique offerings, making it one of those books that will truly have a different effect on everyone who reads it.