Friday, 15 October 2010


A few months ago, I was in Anthropologie. I picked up a book that looked interesting, opened it in the middle and started to read. The author was talking about happiness, and the chapter I had opened to was about money and happiness. I only read a few pages, but I remember the author talking about how people have different approaches to purchasing - that they tend to be either satisficers or maximizers - Satisficers have criteria they are seeking to meet with their purchases (eg: I need a red shirt, not too low cut, flattering) and once they find something that meets their criteria they buy it. Maximisers, on the other hand, think I am looking for the ideal red shirt and will leave no stone unturned until they find it. The interesting thing about this phenomenon is that satisficers tend to be happier with their purchases, because the maximiser may have bought something nicer, cheaper, whatever than the satisficer but they are still thinking what if there was something better out there and I missed it?

"Huh!" I thought. "Interesting". And I kept reading, and there were quite a few other things that made me go "Huh!" again. And then I put the book down, and continued my quest for the perfect red shirt.

I found myself thinking about this book quite a few times over the next few weeks. I told my mum about it - my parents are trying to build a house and can't quite make up their minds about what it is that they need. I even used the concept I'd read to bring my 6 month sofa search to an abrupt end by saying to J: "Hey! This perfectly adequate sofa is hugely reduced! Let's just buy it!" and we did, and we're really happy with it. Without this book, I suspect I would still be googling "UK sofa vintage leather" in my spare time and frankly I'm glad I'm not.

Now, I wanted to read the rest of the book. Of course, I had no idea at all what the book was called, or who wrote it. And I wasn't motivated enough to do anything useful like call the store (which is in London), ask them to open up all their books to the middle, find which one talks about purchasing styles and then post it to me. So I kind of forgot about it.

Then, on Saturday, I was in London again, vaguely cruising for the perfect handbag. I found myself in Anthropologie again and there it was! The book!

It's by Gretchen Rubin, and it's called The Happiness Project*.

I forgot all about my handbag quest, went to the till and gleefully purchased it.

Then I got it out to read and thought what have I done? She's got this lovely, perfect life and she wants me to follow along on her quest to be more happy? Give me a break! and then I saw that someone had compared it to Eat, Pray, Love on the back cover and my heart sank even further because while I've never actually read that book, I've read this and enough similar opinions to make me pretty sure I would hate it. So I'm thinking Okay, it's got some good stuff about shopping but what have I done?

And then I started to actually read it, and it was wonderful. It's not a book about depression or adversity. She is very open about the fact that she has a great life, and talks a lot about happiness as a duty. My life is great, she is saying, I ought to be happy. I have no excuse not to be. And so she spends a year alters her own attitudes and actions. The most surprising thing about this book is that she is largely focusing on altering herself, not her circumstances. She writes about becoming happier in her marriage not by finding someone else but with the resolutions: Quit nagging, don't expect praise or appreciation, fight right, no dumping and give proofs of love. It's not about trying to change him, but changing herself. Each month focuses on a different area of life. I liked that she is so honest about how difficult this was. If she had said, at the end of the month 'and then everything was PERFECT' I would have been ill inclined to keep reading. But it's not that simple. She acknowledges all the complexities, and keeps on going.

When I began to love the book, I did find myself wondering, at times, how well this totally secular quest for happiness fits into my Christian worldview. Should I be loving this book as much as I am? She's wanting to be happy, but largely ignoring God. (I'm a Presbyterian at heart. We struggle with these things). And it's true that I did find the chapter on 'Contemplate The Heavens' the least satisfying. She learns a lot from reading about a saint, but has made what must be a very deliberate decision to totally leave out any discussion of God himself. Commercially, this was probably a very good choice, but I found myself thinking 'there is so much more here!' But while I was reading about her efforts to be happier - which are largely efforts in unselfishness - I found myself thinking that a lot of what she is striving for is what the bible describes as the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patience, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. This book is full of practical wisom on encouraging these characteristics - that has to be a good thing. And Christians, we should be happiest of all, and so often we are not. Sometimes I say I'm looking for 'contentment' in life, when really what I mean is that I'm trying to spiritualise my grumbling. As a Christian, I felt hugely convicted by this very secular book - she is absolutely right. Happiness is a duty. Not selfishness, but happiness. When I confuse the two, I'm getting something very wrong.

I found this book compelling because so many of her struggles are my struggles. A sharp tongue. Cynicism. Well, when I say struggles, often I'm not struggling at all, I'm just coasting along and not dealing with them.

A quote she comes back to several times is: "It is easy to be heavy, difficult to be light". I keep finding myself thinking about this. I know how easy I find it to become negative about things. For me, this is the lazy option. It really is difficult to be light. And sometimes, recognising something as difficult is a good start in moving towards it. It's easy to think 'perhaps I'm not that way because I'm just not made that way'. But no - for me, I'm not that way because too often I'm lazy about it. I find it easy to think about what upsets me, what annoys me. I've always had trouble with Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." I'm rarely thinking about such things. I'm usually criticising them in my head, instead.

This might make it sound like the book is very po-faced and worthy - it doesn't feel like that at all. It's about happiness, and it's a very happy book. One of the concrete ways she becomes happier is by targeting her time more effectively. This reminded me of the rule that J and I have for ordering in restaurants -we always look at the menu, look at each other and then say "order what you DO want, not what you think you SHOULD want". Sometimes this means I end up having a burger, even though it's a fish restaurant, but you know what? It really works. She's basically applying this principle to time - do what you DO want in your free time, not what you think you SHOULD want. Why didn't I think of focusing like that? Well, I will from now on.

I mentioned above that I felt like I was reading about my own personality struggles. Well, my most surprising moment of self-recognition was when she admitted to eating brown sugar straight out of the jar. I thought I was the only person who did that! (Yeah, don't accept cake at my house). I found myself convinced that she must be my soul sister, my long lost BFF. And I guess that is the joy of her writing - I suspect she will make you feel like that too, even if you don't have the same sugar issues that I have. She says often that what she is learning to stop being someone else, but instead to 'be Gretchen'. At the end of this book, after spending a year watching her learn about happiness, I wanted to be Gretchen. But not like a stalker, I hasten to add.

It's hard to review this book properly, because I think my babies have just woken up and there is still so much that I want to rave about. I particularly liked her secrets of adulthood - too long to type them all out here, but they're along the same lines as my restaurant rule above. Some of my favourites were bring a sweater, what's fun for other people might not be fun for you, over the counter medicinces can be very effective and people actually prefer that you buy wedding gifts off their registry. Ah, so true.

Have you realised that I think you should all read this? Since I can't forcibly march you all to the shop to buy a copy, I'm going to do the next best thing. I've never done this before, but it's my 200th post and I'm feeling a bit giddy so I'm having a giveaway. I'm going to give away a copy of this book to one of you, yes you. I'll choose a winner using a random number generator. You can live wherever you like - I don't think anybody reads this in the UK so if I closed it to international readers I would be buying a second copy for myself. I'll order the book from Amazon in your country (or post it if you don't have Amazon) so it doesn't matter. Just leave me a comment with your name - and you get an extra entry if you also leave me your favourite happiness tip, or one of your own secrets of adulthood.

You've got a week - comments close next Friday at 12pm GMT.

By the way, I've just done one of her resolutions, from November - give positive reviews. And do you know what? I do feel happier.

*Having just found this on Amazon to link, I've seen that it was a New York Times #1 bestseller. I guess that means everyone else has already read it and I'm terribly behind. I'm trying not to think negative thoughts about that.


  1. I'm a new follower and what a perfect day to stop by!!! Hi *waves* your place is so happy so how fitting is this post?!

    My friend just finished reading this novel a few months back and the title alone captivated me! I would love to read the novel and winning a copy would be top notch! So I'd love to be entered in on the fun!!!!

    If not I guess I'll buy my copy... it seems I'm more behind then you are!

  2. Please enter me! My happiness tip. Hmmm- not sure if this counts. but I'd have to say that I get discouraged when I try so hard to figure something out. I'm a reasonably intelligent person- I should be able to solve this problem or negotiate that issue. But when I try and try and can't quite get there. I realize- God didn't bring me here- to this state of confusion. Let it go. Give it to God. And suddenly- the world is brighter.

  3. Ooooooo Claudia! A giveaway! How exciting! But what do you mean no one reads you in the UK? You need to get one of those live feed tickers that tell you where people who log on are from. I tried that once but it totally creeped me out. It made me feel stalked. Which sort of defeats the purpose of having readers....

    I digress.

    So you want a happiness tip, huh? My happiness tip is to always have the correct beverage at the right time:

    coffee in the am
    seltzer in the afternoon and
    wine in the evening.

    It's important to stay "properly" hydrated. ;-)

  4. You can sign up for Happiness Project emails from that author--I have been getting them for the past few months and your post reminds me I ought to read them more carefully :).

    I'm also in the middle of reading How to Raise Happy Children by Christine Carter (I think that's the author). I've been struck lately by how easy it is for my daughter to come away from experiences and chronicle the problems (e.g. yesterday she got a thank you note from a friend and ended up complaining that the letter was not detailed enough!). So I'm trying to bring moments into each day--either supper or bedtime--where we all have a chance to say two happy things from teh day and two challenges from the day. It makes room for frustration and happy.

  5. Well, golly, I've got this book in my cart at Amazon, but haven't gotten around to actually ordering it. Mmm... I do SO like a good giveaway.

    I would like to offer a brilliant and insightful Secret of Adulthood, but sadly the first one that came to mind was: When eating at Indian restaurants, bring Kleenex.

  6. I've been wanting to read this book! And now that my little one actually sleeps through the night, I think I may be able to stay awake long enough to get through an entire book!


  7. That was a great review. I think this could become my go to Christmas present, even without reading it!

    Happiness tips...hmmm...I definitely try to do what I want, not what I should be doing with my free time...worked a lot better before 3 year old twins! And brown sugar straight from the jar is divine. Have you tried maple sugar yet? That and margaritas, which also worked better before the boys! Really, though, parenthood has made me the most exhausted but also the happiest I have ever been. I guess I had way too much time to obsess about myself before the boys!

  8. Interesting review. You've got my curiosity peaked. Times I am happiest are when I am noticing little things. Sometimes I write three things I am thankful for each day in my journal, which helps me to reflect. These days, that is about all the reflection I can do, yet WHEN I do it, I am left with perspective, gratitude and a little happier.

  9. I've seen the book and have been curious about it (if course I should admit to living eat pray love-but I did read it while in India and Bali so....) my number 1 happiness thing right now is to watch my kids run. Baby boy has thus delightful Billy Elliot shuffle that makes me SO joy filled it's crazy. And baby girl runs all bride if Frankenstein it just makes me laugh. There u go. When I'm done I make my kids run. :-). -kat

  10. I haven't read it but I have heard of the Happiness Project, just didn't know it was also a book.

    My happiness tip: Stop thinking about how you *will* be happy when ____ and start being happy in the now.

    I have to remind myself of that early & often.

  11. A Giveaway!?! How darn cool! So sign me up!
    *and my happiness tip (so I can be signed up again) is this: just pretend to be happy and cheerful. I do this all of the time when I'm grumpy. Before long you convince yourself and you forget that you started out grouchy. It's also nice because it gives transparency to our feelings- I am always amazed that my moods or perceptions of things aren't solid- which means that they can/do change.


    I've heard about this book so if I don't win, I will add it to my wishlist :)

    My happiness tips? Loud worship music, grey skies and looking at creation. Cheers me up in no time at all.

    And my best adult tip - guilt is a wasted emotion. There really is no point.

    LOVE the blue :)

  13. Enter me, def never heard of it yet. so i am behind as well.

    my happiness tip is not a secret but i don't always remember: i am happiest when i am serving others.

    doing something to make someone's burden lighter helps me shed my woes faster than anything.

    also, exercise. but service first.

  14. First confess: I enjoyed E,P,L (but I also found it self-indulgent)
    Second: as someone else mentioned, I, too, am loving the blue
    Third: Happiness Tips
    #1) Celexa (works for me but may make you discount my other answers)
    #2) For the non-pharmacuetically inclined - google search Traditional Ethiopian Gurage Music Youtube. Let your kids see the monitor. Watch them boogie. Our favorites are "Zibalo-Gurage Traditional Music and Dance" and "Guragigna Music Hailu Fereja - Esherrerre"
    #3) Stop at all construction sites and let your kids watch the work. Which is part of
    #4) If you are lucky enough to HAVE NO AGENDA - recognize that fact, stop feeling guilty, and instead feel like the best parent in the world because you stopped to let your kids look at the ducks for as long as THEY wanted to.

  15. Hi Claudia! I have been reading for a while but not commented and this has totally got me off my butt to do so! I am taking a course on compassion fatigue (common in caregivers - and when I read the symptom list I am totally fitting them). I am trying to be more happy as that has definitely NOT been the case.

    Brown sugar or demerara - yummmy. And my tip - have a critter - the countless number of times my dufus dog (appropriately named, b/c he IS such a Wally!) has made me smile as he tries to get the fat cat (who outweighs hum by several kilos) to play, and puppy kisses are wonderful.....


  16. Dipping my toes in this blogging world again and this seems like a nice place to reemerge. (-;

    Happy 200th post, my dear! And those babies of yours are just too cute. Seriously, their personalities shine right through in your photos. Love it.

    I am a brown sugar eater too - right out of the freezer. Not often, but when the mood strikes, I am guilty as charged. My favorite happiness tip is music...mostly Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin, or The Beatles.

  17. I so need this book. One of the "discussions" DH and I often have revolves around our different approaches to happiness. I'm on the negative side. As for a happiness tip, if I had one I could easily come up with then this post wouldn't have resonated so much with me. I do have some secrets of adulthood. The one I remind myself of constantly is that people are much more self-absorbed than you think. They're much too busy wondering if their jeans make their butt look fat to notice whether yours do.

  18. Dang it! for two reasons: 1. I saw this book at the Multnomah County Friends of the Library Used Book Sale last weekend and didn't get it.
    2. I missed the deadline for entering the giveaway.

    Oh well, I'll look for it at the library. Thanks for the review.

  19. One secret to happiness? Optimism! I am optimistically feeling that I will win this giveaway because one year ago I won Julie's giveaway which was to guess the number of her ugly cries during the holidays. :)
    THis books seriously sounds like a must read for me right now. Feeling like it is so so easy to be heavy these days...

  20. Don't include me in the drawing. I am on the waitlist for it from my library. I did read E,P,L and I also read the sequel one and I enjoyed them, but did not love them. Especially when she talked about her divorce, you would think she was the first person who ever got divorced which leads me to believe she may behave this way in many areas of life. Then they made a movie out of it? With Julia Roberts as Liz Gilbert? No way in hell will I watch that. This book, I am very much looking forward to reading. My book suggestion to you: anything by Malcolm Gladwell. I have an intellectual crush on him, maybe even a real crush. I think it's his hair.

  21. I could not sleep and actually started thinking about happiness last night. Some thoughts ... happiness as a duty sounds kind of harsh to me, lacking room for grace when we are just not happy sometimes. Kind of like when I say to myself, "Must lose weight, you fatty!" (Not nice or particularly motivating). Speaking of faith, I think we are called to joy rather than happiness. I think joy can be deeper, less fleeting and withstand more than happiness. It may just be semantics, but that is what I was thinking about in my now constant half-brained life.

    Anyhoo, still want to read the book! And I hope I did not offend.


  22. Hey there! My name's Mandie, and I have to say you have intrigued me with this book review.

    I felt very convicted by what you said about being a Christian and having a hard time being truly "happy". We SHOULD be happy! After all, we have God and all of his wonderful promises to be glad about.

    My family has been going through all sorts of health issues - cancer, pre-cancer, miscarriages, seizures, heart disease, etc. It's so easy when things are going wrong to get down. To forget that each day is a gift - to be HAPPY! But, you have reminded me; so, thank you!

    Personally, I have found that something that reminds me to be happy is just (very purposefully) telling myself to not take little things for granted. I tell myself each morning, "Look at that beautiful view you get to see every day from your bedroom window!" Then, look up at the beautiful blue sky...enjoy the architecture of the city I'm in...cuddle with my husband in his fall sweater, etc. You'd be surprised how just being mindful and purposeful about being grateful will make you feel so much happier!

  23. Hello Claudia,

    I would like to enter your giveaway.

    My happiness tip is to appreciate what you have instead of wishing for what you do not have. It seems obvious and common-sense but not that easy (at least for me) to do!

    Thanks for the funny and interesting blog.


  24. Please enter me into this contest and congrats on your 200th blog post!!!

    My happiness involves taking a long hot shower, curling up on the couch to watch a girly movie, and eating my favorite snack Pita Chips!

  25. That does sound like such a good book, and what I'm on my way to doing this year with myself. Focusing on what is good in my life, and letting go of the perfectionism that my parents have poured into me--which means I have never felt like I was good enough for anything. I am slowly changing, and that is a great feeling.

    Please enter me in your giveaway! Found your blog as a link from another blog that was, in turn, linked from another that I read every week. So glad you were linked, I love your posts so far (ok, I've read TWO--part of your journey into Addis, adopting, and this one. :)

  26. Hey chica- I'm not familiar with the book you're talking about but the idea of being a "maximzer" is also in Barry Schwartz's book "The Paradox of Choice"

    I too, am often an maximzer (though not always!) Hence, I'm still looking for that PERFECT shade of brown leggings that are NOT capris so I can wear them in my knee high boots without worrying about them creeping their way up higher than the boot-top. Sigh

    So for now, my beautiful long-denim-button up shirt with a fabulous elastic-wide belt still hangs in my closet until I find said perfect leggings (that will match the belt and not creep up my leg and be bothersome).


  27. Thanks for reviewing the book. It sounds fascinating. There's another new book on happiness, called Thrive, where the author names my home town as the happiest town in the US. (no, it's not Disneyland.) His prescription for happiness seems to relate to this one.

    Thanks for commenting/following my blog. Slow bloggers unite!

  28. My current happiness project (or really just "improve my life" thing) is to overthink things less. It's GREAT!!!!! I'm trying to learn to let things slide mentally - I tend to give waaaay to much headspace to things that are worthy and interesting but it really doesn't achieve much except making me tired / judgemental / angry.

    I like the sound of the book, and it reminds me of a book I'd love to lend you, which has some similarities, but talks about how the gospel is the answer to our problems incl unhappiness / discontent. If only you lived around the corner.....!

  29. Okay, so I am reading this book now and have no intentions of doing a happiness project, but I see that just reading the book is having an effect on me. This is the most potent thing I got out of it so far: "There is no love, only proofs of love." It took me so damn long to figure this out in relationships with men, such a huge time waster to be with someone who doesn't treat one right. But also, I now think that about life. Do a life that you love. If you don't love your life, do some stuff you love to do, go somewhere you'd love to go, enjoy it for a little while and see how you feel, right? I know, easier said than done.

    And lastly, one thing I noticed about doing a happiness project, it takes a lot of intention, focus, and work.


Over to you!