The Happiness Project By Gretchen Rubin

I read The Happiness Project a few months ago. A couple of weeks later I went back to the library to check it out again. It made such a big impact on me, I wanted to read it again.

How The Happiness Project started

The Happiness Project is not a novel. It is not a biography. It is not a self-help book. The Happiness Project is a journal of sorts of Gretchen’s year-long commitment to increasing her happiness.

As she put it, “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change. And that single moment, with that realization, I had decided to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.”  

That moment self-awareness that ultimately led to her personal happiness project actually occurred while riding the city bus. It sounds very self-absorbed to spend so much time and effort analyzing her level of happiness. But it didn’t come across that way in the book.

An unexamined life

As Thoreau said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” She didn’t find her life lacking, but her happiness in life lacking. If all she did was examine her life, all she would have gained is a better understanding of where she was. She not only examined her life, she methodically set out to improve it.

She began her project where I would have, doing research. With a stack of library books, she drove into heavy reading for background information before writing a personal action plan. And by heavy reading I mean Plato, Montagne, Bertrand Russell, Thoreau and others I have never heard of. She explored the world’s religious traditions, positive psychology, and pop culture. Gretchen read biographies, novels, and philosophy.

She probably could have  gotten bogged down in her research and never progressed to her actual Happiness Project. But she didn’t. She designed a calendar and a scoring chart to record her resolutions and give herself a daily grade.

Areas of improvement

The areas she chose to focus on were marriage, parenthood, friends, eternity, attitude, work, play, passion, energy, money, and mindfulness.  She made lists of practical actions for each resolution. She addressed one each month, starting with energy in January. 

Each following month she added another resolution. Then in December she tried to follow all 11 resolutions perfectly.

Not only did she have eleven resolutions to tackle on a monthly basis, she also wrote her personal Twelve Commandments which included let it go, do it now, enjoy the process, and lighten up.

Another, more light-hearted, list she came up with was her Secrets of Adulthood list which included: it’s okay to ask for help; bring a sweater; over-the-counter medicines are very effective; and people actually prefer that you buy wedding gifts off their registry.

This girl is obviously a list maker!  She is also obviously creative and funny. I enjoyed her lists  as much as anything else in the book.

Surprising response

One thing that surprised me was the lack of encouragement she received when she shared the idea for her new project. The responses she received ranged from a lack of understanding to being openly discouraging. That surprised me because I found the whole project fascinating. I would have been genuinely interested in hearing more about it had she told me about it at a cocktail party!

The book, The Happiness Project, details each month’s resolution, beginning in January with energy. Among her practical applications for this were go to sleep earlier and exercise better.  How many of us would benefit from consistently practicing just those two things?

As the months rolled by, she continue to add new resolutions and chronicle the results. In December she attempted to practice them all at the same time, a daunting task. She confesses to not being perfect, but much improved!

Gretchen experienced some pretty impressive outcomes from her year-long happiness project. In addition to feeling happier she also started a blog and a podcast. Since her blog then stirred so much interest in others to do their own happiness project, she created and shared resources to assist others to do so, and created a group for people doing happiness projects.

That is quite a list of accomplishments!

Perhaps the reason I so enjoyed this book is that a few years ago I had a similar revelatory experience.

My personal experience

had gone to the doctor with some problems that were caused or or exacerbated by stress. When my doctor asked me to describe my life, I drew her a picture. There were several big circles on the page representing being a mom, homeschooling a few children, selling Pampered Chef, serving at church. In all the space between the big circles I had drawn little circles with other obligations. In other words, my paper was totally covered. There was no space for me.

My doctor looked at me and said, “At this point, aren’t you supposed to be enjoying your life?” I almost laid down on the floor and cried, it hit me so hard. I was not enjoying my life, at all. Stress and adrenaline were the only things keeping me going.

So I examined things. I eliminated as much unnecessary stuff in my life as I could, including income-producing activity that looked pretty important to us. I tried to remember what I like to do. The list I came up with included going for walks, reading, making homemade bread, and sitting by a fire in the backyard. So I related to Gretchen’s self-examination and redirection because I have been through a similar process.

Reading The Happiness Project motivated me to make an action plan to prepare for our rapidly approaching empty nest. Instead of just waiting to see what it was like when our last child left home, I prepared. For the full story, read Perched On The Edge Of Our Empty Nest.   

Read this book!

I really enjoyed this book. Not in the can’t-put-down, stay up all night reading a novel way. I enjoyed it because it motivated and equipped me to change my life for the better. It made me think. And since I love to make people think, I highly recommend it.

So, thank you, Gretchen Rubin, for sharing your happiness project with us. 

If you would like to, you can purchase The Happiness Project here. Please let me know what you think of it!


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My name is Peggy McGranahan and I started this blog, Shaped By The Waves, to share my experiences and life lessons as I navigate the waves of change in my middle-aged life. I love reading, chocolate, geocaching with my hubby, and Jesus. I am actively battling my weight, and sometimes I win the battle! Now that all 5 of our homeschooled chicks have left home, my nest may be empty but my life is full. So welcome to Shaped By The Waves. Come ride the waves of change with me.