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“The Happiness Project”

Well, dang! I need to return “The Happiness Project” to the library because there are people waiting for it. I like this book, I really do, even though there’s something about it…that part of me kept wanting to hate.

I came across it through some Internet hopscotching. Our Assistant Library Director, Greg Mickells, chose an intriguing Seth Godin posting (no longer available) as a discussion piece for a Management Team meeting. I was interested in a post by the author of the blog, The Brazen Careerist. As I was reading her blog entries, I clicked on her mention of Gretchen Rubin, saw Rubin’s website, and promptly put a request in for “The Happiness Project.”

So that’s how I got to it.

Rubin decides that she’s going to make a “reality project” of spending one year doing the things that happiness research indicates will make her, well, happy. The chapters go month by month with her reporting on that month’s theme, her resolutions, and the outcome. There’s a wide variety here…singing with her daughters, being the one to get the cash instead of insisting that her husband do it, getting exercise, being herself, and on and on.

I love a memoir, and so I was ready to enjoy this. I’m intrigued by research about happiness…I learned so much from Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism,” and that was in this book’s favor.

I have a couple of quibbles. I would have liked for Rubin to tell a little more about the research. She includes a sturdy “further reading” section, but I wanted her to talk a little more about just what this research was about. And maybe I would have liked for her to be less self-centered. At a certain point, I wanted to give her some Loretta Leach (my mom) or Hazel Schneringer (my mom’s mom) advice, such as “Quit your bellyaching” or “Some fresh air will do you good!” or “The day goes better when you make your bed!” or “Let me show you how to make some really good devilled eggs.”

When I was telling people about this book, I said that despite the variety of resolutions that Rubin describes, basically her year comes down to getting out of the kinds of ruts to which we all cling even though we know they aren’t doing us any good. And yet we return to them over and over because they’re familiar. So we lose our temper, skip exercise, and neglect to send a card. Rubin used the year to get out of those ruts and cut some new grooves. Grooves trump ruts.

So, really, despite my complaints, I liked this book. Rubin seemed like a friend I liked despite myself. I admire her gumption and her willingness to tell us about her less lovely aspects. I appreciate that she wanted to do better. So she’s been an over-achiever. So she lives in New York. So she’s rich enough to afford a nanny and a housekeeper. So what!

And she doesn’t need me to bring this book to anyone’s attention. Sunday evening as I was finishing it up, I saw a promotional for a story about Rubin on Omaha’s Channel 6, and then my husband pointed out an article about her in the Sunday New York Times.

I hope you’ll read it, and then talk with me about it. I’m recommending this to people who like contemporary memoirs, who make their own resolutions, and who enjoy personality.

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