Atypical Type A Book Nook: The Happiness Project

Alright, it’s time for the June book nook!

I had been following Gretchen Rubin’s blog on and off for quite a while and enjoyed her bite-sized morsels of food for thought so I was really looking forward to digging a bit deeper in her book The Happiness Project.

So what’s it all about then?

The premise is that Gretchen decided to undertake a year-long experiment to see if she could improve her own happiness. She established 12 resolutions, starting with one in January and adding a new one each month until she was practicing all 12 by the year’s end. Each resolution was paired up with a relevant Commandment (such as ‘remember love’ for the marriage month).

Gretchen then shares her own experiences, punctuated by the wisdom of philosophers and snippets from her blog readers. She also weaves in so-called Secrets of Adulthood and Splendid Truths as additional guiding principles.

Personal highlights

I won’t analyse each chapter individually since there are so many (it’s a much longer and denser book than what I would typically be reviewing here). Instead, I’ll share a few of my personal highlights.

  • I found it funny that the opening chapter recommends getting enough sleep and uncluttering your home as the first step since I was in this process before I started the book. She is right: it has decreased my stress levels and given me more energy during the day.
  • Tackle a nagging task – left undone they drain your energy and make you feel guilty (don’t I know all about that!). I had been thinking about implementing a semi-regular Get It Done Day so this gives me more motivation to do so. Oh, and I have a dentist appointment tomorrow.
  • One of her Secrets of Adulthood is ‘act the way you want to feel‘. You know what? It works. After weeks of unsuccessfully trying to drag my arse out of bed early I changed my attitude this morning and bounded out of bed looking forward to getting a head start on my day. (Okay, I lied, there was definitely no bounding but I did get up at 6.20 without hitting the snooze button.)
  • Happy and unhappy are not two sides of the same coin, they are independent. You need to work on increasing happiness and also reducing unhappiness. I have never thought about it like that before but it’s true for me that if I minimise the negative (stress, clutter, money worries) there is more opportunity for happiness.
  • Be a treasure house of happy memories by keeping photo albums, stories and keepsakes. Note to self: need to get on to updating those photo albums!
  • Find more fun in your life – and be honest about what you actually find fun as it may not be the same as what others enjoy.
  • Buy some happiness by directing your money (within reason of course) toward things that bring you joy, strengthen bonds with others or reduce unpleasantness in your life. (We already do this with things like travel and socialising but totally need to take her advice of treating myself to a decent pen!)
  • Practice gratitude and mindfulness in everything from food to spiritual matters.
  • Make time for your passions (if you don’t know what you’re passionate about, ask yourself what you did in your spare time when you were 10 years old).
  • I need to try to forget about results and enjoy the process.
  • Growth is more important than achievement. I am constantly growing in my professional life but I need to cultivate the same atmosphere in my personal life.


I’m not into the woo-woo meditating brand of finding happiness so I was delighted to discover someone tackling this big topic on a practical, every day level. Her Happiness Project was not about running away from her life to some exotic locale on a soul-searching mission; it was about finding the pleasure and joy in the moments of daily life.

Like Gretchen, I’m not unhappy, but I often find myself losing patience easily, being too hard on myself and focusing too much on ‘getting things done’ at the expense of enjoying the moment. Most of all, I am such a goal oriented person that I have trouble enjoying the process.

I have a lot of similar personality traits as her so I found her struggles very relatable (almost uncomfortably so at times!) but she does share other people’s experiences too to give a broader relevance.

I didn’t necessarily agree with everything she advocates (e.g. keep an empty shelf and a junk drawer) but everything is presented in a non-preachy way that encourages readers to find what works for them.

The only minor issue I had was that there were a few too many Lists of Things in Title Case (12 Resolutions, 12 Commandments, Secrets of Adulthood, Splendid Truths, True Rules…). The wisdom in these were great but there are so many I can’t possibly remember them all which loses some of the effectiveness.

It was gratifying to find that some of the recommended actions I was already doing (maintaining relationships, getting enough sleep, fighting right, asking for help, making time for passions) however there is still a lot of room for improvement in a bunch of other areas (ahemexerciseahem).

While I don’t have any plans to do some kind of formal, documented Happiness Project, I’ve been given some great ideas to try as well as the methods and motivation to get me there.

The Happiness Project was one of those books I can see myself re-reading year after year gaining something each time.

Buy this book if you:

  • Find yourself just ‘going through the motions’ and want to experience more joy.
  • Know that you want to improve yourself but aren’t sure how to go about it.
  • Are going through an upheaval or transition in your life (e.g. bereavement, graduation, career change, break-up, empty nest, retirement, children, marriage).
  • Are generally happy but want the best out of life.
  • Are a person. Any person. Read it.

This book may not be for you if you:

  • Are looking for a book with advice about depression.
  • Are looking for spiritual guidance to find happiness.

Buy the book here!

Have you read The Happiness Project? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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3 Responses

  • I started this book, and then I stopped reading because I am a master procrastinator. Which is kind of ironic, because one of the things she talks about is not putting things off. Sending in my laptop for 3 weeks on Saturday, though, so I will have some time to finally finish this book!

    • Ha, yes it is rather! One of the great things about the book is that many of the suggestions are simple tweaks that can be done a bit at a time so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by changing everything at once :)

      Hope you had a lovely weekend and managed to squeeze in some reading.

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