Book Review: The Happiness Project

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Who wrote it: Gretchen Rubin

What it’s all about:

The Happiness Project outlines Gretchen Rubin’s efforts to be happier and appreciate her life more — without actually making drastic changes. She admits that she’s an unadventurous soul and points out that she wanted to change her life without changing her life. Throughout the book, she talks about the resolutions that she strives to achieve every month and how they affect her level of happiness and her outlook in life. Her resolutions range from simple ones like sleeping early and removing clutter from their apartment to more challenging goals like launching a blog and writing a novel. Along the way, she gives the readers insights about her relationships with her husband, two daughters, sister, parents, in-laws, and friends.

Why I like it:

The Happiness Project is the first proper self-help book I’ve read, and it made me realise that reading self-help books is great. They’re not really entertaining like YA novels and sci-fi books, but they help you learn more about yourself, identify issues in your life, and find ways to deal with them.

The Happiness Project made me ask myself: Am I happy with my life? The answer is “No”. But that’s okay, because life doesn’t have to be perfect. However, it’s important for us to do everything in our power to at least strive for a higher level of happiness. No one else can make us happy; it’s our individual responsibility to make ourselves happier.

I love all the chapters in the book, but one of my favourites is the July chapter which, incidentally, is my birth month! In it, Gretchen talks about “the relationship between money and happiness”. I found this interesting because we’re often told that “The love of money is the root of all evil” but also hear “Money holds the key to happiness”. These contrasting messages can be confusing, especially for someone like me who either holds on to her money tightly or spends it all in one crazy shopping spree.

Gretchen tells in the book that she’s an underbuyer, and I realised that I’m an underbuyer, too (okay, most of the time). She says that this can be a good thing, but it can also be detrimental because she often feels “stressed because I don’t have the things I need” and is “surrounded with things that are shabby, don’t really work, or aren’t exactly suitable”.

I can relate; it took me around two years to work up the courage to buy an expensive bottle of sulphate-free shampoo that won’t strip my scalp of oil and make my hair fall. My thinning hair eventually convinced me to shell out the money for the shampoo — and I’m glad I did or else I would have ended with a bald head in just a few months. (There’s nothing wrong with bald heads, but I think they don’t go well with my chubby cheeks and almost-non-existent neck).

Through The Happiness project, I learned to tame my underbuyer tendencies and treat myself to a modest splurge every once in a while. I also learned to buy needful things, like a new pair of shoes to replace my tattered sneakers that have holes where my toes peek out. Gretchen also taught me to “spend out”, i.e. using things instead of saving them and hiding them in your cabinet. This principle gave me the courage to use my colour pencils instead of just letting them languish on a shelf.

Where to buy it: I bought my copy at National Bookstore in SM Consolacion, but I think it’s available in most National Bookstore and Fully Booked branches.

Favourite quotes:

“I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe, and think, ‘How happy I used to be then, if only I’d realized it.’”

This really hit home to me because, like many people, I’m prone to assuming that I’ll be happy only when I get to buy a certain thing or travel to a certain country or achieve a certain goal. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Sure, we have to relish the happiness that shopping, travelling, goal-achieving, and other things bring, but we should also learn to be happy where we are now.

Our lives might be boring, but that’s exactly why we should appreciate it: it’s boring because everything is going right. If you were going through treatment for a serious illness or getting imprisoned for a crime you did or didn’t do or dealing with a death in the family, you won’t describe your life as boring; you’d most likely think it was sad and depressing. You’d also feel all sorts of negative emotions. But if you’re bored, it’s a sign that everything is well.

Of course, this DOES NOT mean that boredom is good. Being bored is also a sign that you need to do something to remove apathy from your life and be excited by the thought of living and ultimately achieve happiness. I can’t tell you how to go about this because each of us is unique; what makes me happy may not have the same effect on you. But we can both use The Happiness Project to identify the things that can increase our happiness level and figure out how to achieve them.

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