Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Reading List: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I finished one of the books on my summer reading list! Mama gave me Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project in my Easter box to balance out all the chocolate. I'm so glad that I finally got around to reading it.

I also have to confess something to you all before we go any further: I like "stunt journalism" where someone spends a year doing something like trying to find herself, create an object lesson on what the Bible really says about being a woman, or see what it is like to be a low-wage earner. Prior to looking at reviews of The Happiness Project, I didn't know that some people consider books like these pedestrian. I just think they are an interesting way to confront an issue.

Rubin takes her inspiration from Benjamin Franklin's quest for moral perfection. She spends time researching what modern science thinks makes us happy and then divides up the year to focus on one particular facet of happiness each month. Some of her suggestions about taking up a project and eating real food inspired me to finally finish my 2010 campaign scrapbook and to finally kick gluten out of my life for good since a doctor told me in 2008 I should quit.

She does a great job of explaining how to find happiness, but it isn't until the middle of the book she explains why happiness matters. Maybe it's just my friends, but I actually know a fair number of people who don't value personal happiness. These folks think of it as, at best, an indulgence, and, at worst, a distraction from serving others. Rubin makes the really important point that research continues to suggest that happy people can make others happy. Unfortunately, she doesn't make it until about halfway through the book. I think the book would benefit from an upfront discussion about why happiness matters.

For all you teacher types working on your classroom libraries, I would recommend this book for higher-proficiency readers. While you all know that I'm not into any of that gender essentialism business, I do think that girls might be particularly drawn to the ways in which Rubin organizes and analyzes her happiness project. A book like this would have been just the ticket for me in high school when my obsession with ordering my life toward some defined purpose through lists and plans began, but I also wasn't reading enough non-fiction to prepare me for college.

Next up: River of Earth by James Still -- I have about a hundred pages to go.

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