The pursuit of happiness

happy faceThis past week, I’ve read two completely different books on the subject of happiness. I was going to wait for my WWW Wednesdays update to post my reviews. Then I thought they deserved a post of their own, so I can rather your feedback, especially if you’re read one or both books.

A few months ago, I read a wonderful book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, which focused on positive psychology (you can read my review of The Happiness Advantage here). I found the subject fascinating: how cool is it that you train / retrain your brain to think in a more positive mindset? Ah, the power of the mind…

I recently shared how I’m going to focus on the positive in 2013, so I thought reading a few books on happiness would be a good start. Well, I had completely opposite experiences reading the two books below. Because I’m focusing on the positive, I’ll start with my bad experience and finish with the better one. Happy thoughts!  :-)

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
How this book became a New York Times bestseller is beyond me. There have to be millions of very unhappy people who thought this book would turn their lives around, so they rushed to buy it. The Happiness Project is disappointing in so many ways, I can’t describe all of them. Or worse, it would make me unhappy.

After reading The Happiness Project  (well, technically I browsed the rest of the book after reading the first 100 pages – I figured I wasted enough time already), I understand why Gretchen Rubin was so unhappy with her life. It seems she has NO clue how to enjoy it. And what a life it is, one I can’t even relate to. Doesn’t she have it all: the ritzy apartment in NYC, the super rich, super nice husband (his family has hundreds of millions of dollars), her part-time job as a writer, her housekeeper, her nanny, her personal trainer, her big wallet…

After reading about her life for the first 100 pages, I couldn’t figure out why she was complaining about being so unhappy. And yes, she complained, and whined, and nagged (mostly her husband, poor guy). Then it dawned on me: she appears as a rigid, ungrateful, controlling grouch. At least she’s honest in her self-evaluation, but it’s a little disturbing. She clearly LOVES making check lists, about everything, and it’s the only way she’s figured out to include happiness in her daily routine. How pathetic is that?
– Remember to smile at one person. Checked!
– Sing a happy song. Checked!
– Laugh out loud. Checked!

Seriously? Is it how we should live life in order to enjoy it? Er, I’m not signing up for that program!

Well, I’ll admit it, I did laugh out loud reading this book. Especially when she described that reorganizing her closets made her happy. Wow, more organized and cleansed, maybe. Happy? She’s stretching it. The poor woman doesn’t know how to have fun, how sad.

Oh, are you ready for this one? Gretchen Rubin tried to keep a gratitude book, where she would write down a few things she was grateful for every day. She didn’t last two weeks because it “annoyed” her! She didn’t like “forcing” herself to find things to write down so often. I think it may have more to do with the fact that she can’t grasp what gratitude really is. I keep a gratitude notebook and even on my worst days, I still find things to be grateful for, including “I’m grateful this day is finally over and I get to start fresh tomorrow!”  :-)

And the list goes on. She decided she wouldn’t read books that included “unjust accusation”, including To Kill A Mockingbird. Seriously? Did you know Gretchen Rubin is a lawyer? Now, that’s disturbing.

The most laughable part? When she realized that “money CAN buy happiness”. Well, not s^%t, if you’re stinking rich like her. Ha! What a joke.

She “forced” herself through so many new experiences that were very unpleasant to her. Laughing out loud was one of them. She didn’t want to watch funny TV shows because she didn’t want to feel “obligated” to laugh. Obviously she’s never watched Modern Family. But then again, she probably wouldn’t find the show funny. I bet what made her the happiest was to create all those check lists, along with her happiness chart, and her happiness project toolbox. You can download it all on her website. Woohoo! Ugh, no thanks.

This book is such a downer, I think reading any other book will make you happy, including the one below. If you really liked The Happiness Project, I want to hear about it. Really, tell me.

The 100 simple secrets of happy people by David Niven

The 100 simple secrets of happy people by David Niven

The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People by David Niven
This little book is great! It’s full of happy thoughts and ideas. Each happiness “secret” starts with a basic statement, with a short explanation below. Then follows a real-life story as an example. Finally a short paragraph explains the research, includes statistics and references. The secrets of happy people cover a lot of areas, including friendship, health, career, free time, leisure:
– Turn off the TV (one of my favorite)
– Money doesn’t buy happiness (thank you for being right on this one, unlike Gretchen Rubin!)
– You always have a choice (I love it!)
– Accomplish something every day
– Be  your own fan
– Say “so what”
– Have a purpose

Here’s an example of one of the secrets, Enjoy the ordinary:

100 simple secrets of happy people - example

100 simple secrets of happy people – example

One item I didn’t see on the list is “Stay away from negative / unhappy people”, but I truly believe in it. Those people can suck the happiness out of you faster than Harry Potter’s dementors. Wait, J.K Rowling was right, there ARE real dementors walking this earth. Fortunately I’ve trained myself to smell them a mile away and I flee them like the plague.

The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People is a very simple book, very hands-on. It serves as a great reminder of how happy life can be if you make simple changes that affect your perspective, thoughts and actions.  I recommend this quick read for anyone interested in finding new sources of happiness, or someone feeling stuck in a rut.

Have you read great books on happiness? What are some of your favorite? Do you consider yourself a happy person, or would you like to be happier but are not sure how?

17 responses to “The pursuit of happiness

  1. G. Rubin sounds like she needs to be in control of everything, in order to attain her definition of happiness! The lists she comes up with seem more like commands.

    While they are not specifically about happiness, I read a lot of travel books, which are sometimes written by people searching for some kind of happiness. I got about 50 or so pages into ‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner. I found the author to be too grumpy, too focused on his job as a journalist to interact with the people he meets. Much better was ‘A Time of Gifts’ by Patrick Leigh Fermor. A memoir of a walk from Holland to Turkey in 1933. Entirely focused on personal interactions and an appreciation of the culture, art, and food of Europe. A great book!

    • That’s exactly what I felt when I read her book! She was not only making changes to her life but to the people’s lives around her, like her kids. Very disturbing and too controlling. Not my version of happiness.

      Thanks for sharing your review of The Geography of Bliss. I’ve had it on my to-read list but now it might stay there a lot longer than I planned. I’ll check out A Time of Gifts.

  2. Oh, poo, I bought The Happiness Project and it’s sitting on my shelf. I rarely buy books like that, but someone had highly recommended it, so I came upon it one day at a discount price, so I bought it. I trust your judgment so I guess it will be a skimmer for me. Of course, now I’m kind of intrigued, so I’ll have to give it a peek. :)

    • Oh, you HAVE to read it and let me know what you think! I bet some people can relate to her and her life (she’s got lots of positive reviews somehow). I just couldn’t. Please, please, please read it! And get Killing Floor ready after that, so you know you have at least one great book waiting for you on the shelf. :-)

      And seriously, if you want to read a great little book on happiness, go for the second one. Two sittings and you’ll get a lot of feel-good inspiration in you.

  3. Catherine Johnson

    Awesome evaluation! I love ordinary days!

  4. I’ve read many books on happiness . . . most have something to offer. My favorite is Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James. It’s about getting in touch with who you are and choosing your own priorities.

    I enjoyed Geography of Bliss . . . it gave a slice of life in other countries. Anecdotal, not scientific. But fun to read.

  5. Great post. It’s so funny how two books on happiness can be so different. I will stay far away from Rubin’s book. Ick. Your other one sounded like great advice that I read about in Secret of the Millionaire mind a while back. Even though it had a financial theme, I found it full of practical tips for how to be successful in all facets of life.

  6. Pingback: WWW Wednesdays – January 23, 2013 | Perfecting motherhood

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