The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

The first book I’ve read as part of my ‘Fuck it, Enough’ crusade is ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin. I didn’t hear anything about it in advance, just saw it in a bookshop and thought: this could be a goodie right now as I want to be happier. A New York Times bestseller, I thought it was a “nice” book. Why do I only say nice – a pretty pathetic platitude? Well Gretchen is a self-confessed happy and unadventurous homebody who wanted to know if it was possible to be happier. She has a good life, stable home, secure finances, good hubby, calm kids, and a community of family and friends close by who support her. She willingly confesses that life is good, she just wanted to see if it could be even better. Fair enough.

My take-away – anyone who wants to be a little bit happier could benefit from reading this book. She’s done her research in most areas, and it’s jam packed full of reminders of the simple things we can all do to be a little bit happier – such as changing your mindset, don’t nag your spouse, put up happy memory charged things like photos, clean your home, be organised, let go, etc… There is definitely more to it than that, but overall, that’s what I took away – lots of good little tips I can do to make my life happier – and I’m going to do some of them. For example, being in temporary accommodation for more than two years, I don’t have any photos up – me, I know!! But it’s more pathetic than that. I haven’t put up any photos from the last two years, nor have I even printed our weddings photos from 2005, a truly fantastic day – well 10 days really – in my life. So that was a good reminder to get onto that.

However, if your life is currently shit house, you’re going through massive change or challenges, you’re dealing with a major illness, your spouse is a massive pain in your arse, your kids are driving you to drink, your work is unsatisfying, your income is not covering your costs, or worse you’re broke, your friends couldn’t give a shit, your family couldn’t give a shit, etc, etc, etc… you may find it all a bit trite? A couple of people I’ve spoken with who started reading and didn’t finish it, can definitely vouch for it lacking in substance, and I agree with them to an extent. However, I don’t think anything like this is ever really bad, because sometimes reminders to do the small stuff are good too.

Two aspects irritated me though. The first was the comparison between a New Yorker and a beggar on the streets of Calcutta. Now Gretchen (who admits she is not adventurous) has never met or spoken with people living on the streets of Calcutta (and perhaps not even in NYC), and when interpreting her words, I took it that she thinks happiness can be measured in the same way world-wide – which I certainly don’t agree with. Maybe I misread it, but as an adventure-monkey who has spoken with (and been deeply touched by) people on the streets of NYC and Calcutta, there can be absolutely no comparison made between the two. Expectations for life in India are very different at such a deep level – something that may change as India evolves – but the very foundation of India’s religious beliefs is part of this discussion too. A big topic, so just a little observation here, because it annoyed me.

Secondly, she does a month on spirituality and essentially interprets the essence of Buddhism. She’s not wrong in what she writes, but having spent my life delving into spiritual literature (for and against), and understanding it far beyond the border of religion, I found it a bit weak. With that said, for people who’ve never looked into this massive subject, it’s a nice introduction. But if you’ve spent years trying to work out what it is and how you can integrate it into your life in a way that is meaningful to who you are, there is not a lot of substance. She never claims that it is going to be substantial, but I almost wish she didn’t cover it in the book, because by touching on it so briefly, she trivialized it.

Anyway, just a couple of observations and Gretchen, if you somehow read my blog (because sometimes authors do comment on my blogs about their books), I know you take criticism personally, which I really appreciate. I just want you to know I think you’ve done a great thing for a lot of people, and I will certainly take on board some of your learnings, but it didn’t blow me away and change my life. It’s a worthwhile contribution, but I personally need something meatier you know?

Who else has read it and what did you think?

Yours, without the bollocks

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