Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Report: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, didn't make me very happy. In fact, it made me so unhappy that I nearly gave up on it after the first few pages. Which is saying something because I'm one of those diehard bookworms who insists on finishing everything. But because I planned to blog about it and wanted to be informed, I soldiered on. (Ironically, Rubin herself cautions against just such behavior, writing: "I did, however, vow to stop reading books that I didn't enjoy. I used to pride myself on finishing every book I started - no longer. " (229) Perhaps that's the one good point I can take away from this experience.)

So, what is this book all about? Gretchen Rubin, lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-writer, married mother of two, and New York city dweller, ponders why she, a woman who has it all, isn't happier. To find the answer, she embarks upon a year-long experiment to increase her happiness through twelve resolutions (one for each month), including "boost energy," "remember love," "be serious about play," and "make time for friends."

Obviously, this sounded good. After all, who doesn't want to be happier? What's more, I'm always attracted to stories about people (especially writers) who shake up their lives to set out on missions of self discovery. But Rubin's book failed to live up to the funny, self-deprecating, anecdotal account I'd expected. Instead, self-professed know-it-all Rubin offers up tired old advice about getting more exercise, decluttering closets, going to bed earlier, remembering friends' birthdays, and learning new things. She goes as far as to force herself to read obscure magazines in pursuit of this last one, the most notable of which was a periodical on horse hygiene. As for the decluttering bit, she becomes so obsessed by it that she insists on cleaning her friends' closets, too. Her husband has to intervene, suggesting that perhaps she is overstepping. Finally, she spends her family vacation reading books about overcoming cancer, addiction, and divorce because she "hoped that it would be possible for me to benefit from the knowledge that these people had won with so much pain, without undergoing the same ordeals. There are some kinds of profound wisdom that I hope never to gain from my own experience." (196). Reading such stuff struck me as a dubious road to happiness. Furthermore, Rubin's motive of tying to absorb sufferers' wisdom without suffering herself seemed a little shallow.

Reading Rubin's litany of self-imposed assignments, echoed by seemingly pointless happiness research and endless quotes, just plain wore me out. I'm more than ready for a nice slice of gooey, sugary, happily-ever-after fiction.

2 comments:

SparkleFarkle said...

Not too long of a while back,Gretchen Rubin was on The Today Show in order to plug The Happiness Project. Even the anchors/staff couldn't hide their distain for know-it-aller Gretchen. To say the least, they were not happy campers.

Yep, the title of the book certainly snagged me, but, with the help of Rubin's on-air tried and obnoxious take how we should pave our ways to happiness, the book turned into a hot potato: I never laid hands on it! I happilyagree with non-endorsement review.

The Tote Trove said...

Thanks, Sparkles. I never even knew about Gretchen's Today Show appearance, but what you said jives with what I read. I rarely give bad book reviews - I usually find something to like - but this one was a real dud. It's nice to know someone else is on the same page.