I was inclined to hate Gretchen Rubin. It’s a natural response to someone who is living your dream life.
From what I can tell, Gretchen came from a family with money (at least, a lot more money than my family had), got her law degree at an Ivy League school, married a man with money, practiced law with a Supreme Court judge, then moved to New York City and became a published author. Oh, and she’s now a wildly popular blogger who seems to have made friends with tons of people I admire.
When I describe what I write about to people for the first time, I almost always hear some version of, “oh, like Gretchen Rubin?”, which is the same thing as telling a writer to unplug her laptop and think about going back into marketing.
In other words, my envy-fueled dislike was totally justified.
All that being said, it seemed irresponsible to continue to write about happiness without reading the day’s most popular book on the subject. Also, I couldn’t very well explain how I was different from Ms. Rubin if I hadn’t actually read her books. And so, almost two years after it’s release and a full year after it had hit the best-seller list, I finally picked up The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun*.
The book details Gretchen’s own “happiness project”, a year-long, methodical pursuit of happiness. Rubin tackles a different area of her life every month with a handful of resolutions inspired by extensive research on the things that are supposed to make us happy. She covers her physical well-being (get enough sleep), her marriage (kiss every night), parenthood (go on weekly adventures), and nine other areas that I can’t for the life of me remember now.
The book contains no earth-shattering wisdom, but I wouldn’t really expect it to at this point in human evolution. I mean, haven’t we been thinking and talking and writing about happiness forever? It does, however, chronicle the story of a woman who decides to take a proactive approach to her life. That’s not a bad thing.
One thing that troubled me about The Happiness Project, however, was it’s focus on fixing things that Rubin perceived as wrong with herself. Her approach to happiness was less about acceptance and more about trying to become a perfect person, which drove me nuts. Still, I admired her resolve to actually do something rather than just theorize. In the end, I didn’t hate the book or Gretchen, and I appreciated the format, but I wasn’t rabidly recommending it.
Despite my lukewarm response to her first book, I had to pick up the second. You can’t write about happiness and declare 2013 the year of the home and not read a book called Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life*.
I liked this book much, much better.
The format was the same: a month-by-month system to creating a happier home and life through a series of resolutions. The sticker chart she uses daily to monitor her progress with each resolution makes a comeback, as does her obsession with research. But this time, her methodical approach made sense.
Maybe it’s because I’m focusing on my own home right now.
Maybe it’s because I’m more comfortable with the idea of perfecting a place instead of a person.
Maybe Gretchen herself was just a little more accepting and confident this time around. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed this memoir so much more that I was actually compelled to tweet my good impressions to the author (and she responded, like a real person. WHAT?!?!).
Before and since reading these books, I’ve been asked both what I thought about the books and how I’m different from Gretchen. I won’t get into our differences, but I will say that the books are worth a read. No, she doesn’t approach happiness through the same lens that I would, but she does so much more than approach it. She stalks it, studies it, and vows to master it. I appreciate her enthusiasm and her commitment, as well as her complete willingness to be accountable for her life.
That is, ultimately, the best thing about both the books and Gretchen’s blog. She encourages readers to take responsibility for their own happiness. And whether you pursue happiness through introspection or a daily regiment of well-researched tasks, it’s taking responsibility for the journey that matters most.
Have you read either book? What did you think?
*These are Amazon affiliate links; I checked out both books from the library.