Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Happiness Project

In the list of phrases I would use to describe myself and my reading, "self-help books" is pretty much dead last. I've read more Stephen King books (four) than I have read self-help books in my life. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Seven Stars as part of a bookstore-hopping expedition, and The Happiness Project was out on one of the front tables. I picked it up and read a few pages about how cleaning out her closets improved her life. Since I had found the same orderly home = productive mind effect in my own life, I checked out the author's blog. I spent most of the weekend reading her archives, then got the book for Kindle so I could read it on my phone. (Oddly enough, I feel okay buying "practical" books in e-formats, but strongly prefer pleasure books to be physical objects. Perhaps that isn't odd.)

One thing that I think makes this one stand out a bit from most self-help books is that the author (Gretchen Rubin) has actual chops as a researcher (law school is good for something!). The book is well-organized and well-written. Though she knows her audience well enough not to include footnotes, there is an extensive list of pointers for further reading in the back. If you keep up with the news at all, you're likely to find yourself nodding at times and thinking, I remember hearing about that study.

Not only the book, but the project itself is well-organized. Taking one major topic a month, a handful of tangible goals and practical methods to attain them, and a number of inspirational writings, is a good way to go about such a big effort. Rubin addresses ways to keep track of success, and isn't afraid to abandon strategies that aren't working for her. She's adamant that what works for one person may not work for another--in fact, one of the central theses of the book is that what makes one person happy doesn't have to make anyone else happy, and that knowing (and accepting) what makes you happy is a key to achieving it.

I loved this book. I'll almost certainly read it again. Amusingly enough, the experience of reading it alone made me happy. I liked her stories, her commentary, her successes and failures, and most of all I liked her systematic, practical approach, which fits well into my own strategies for life. I don't feel any inclination for a year-long personal overhaul, but I did feel inspired to at least think about what areas of my own life could use work. I joined a few list-making and goal-setting sites, like Day Zero and Listography--not to pressure myself to use them if I ended up not liking them, but just to see what I would come up with. 2011 has been a banner year for getting out of our ruts to see the people we love, and I want to make sure that 2012 keeps it up--without turning into a harried treadmill of obligation that leaves us too tired for our regular lives.

The Happiness Project is not only a blog and a book these days, but includes an online toolkit for anyone looking to make their own resolutions. It's worth looking at if you feel the self-improvement bug, but aren't sure how to go about it.

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