The Gretchen Rubin Trilogy — Part 1: The Happiness Project (2009)

When I decided to launch this blog, I knew without a doubt which three books would be the first to be examined. The books that inspired me to launch this project and move my life in this new direction are my all-time favorite non-fiction books, The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before: all by Gretchen Rubin. Late this summer I re-read all three of her books (for the fourth time each) and was reminded why I love her writing so much: it never fails to inspire me to reach for a “bigger life.” This blog is my attempt at a bigger life!

Gretchen Rubin's books in their permanent spot on my bedside table.

Gretchen Rubin’s books in their permanent spot on my bedside table.

Centered on the premise that happiness is a worthy goal within reach of everyone, these books offer readers evidence that the smallest, simplest changes can have profound effects on your life. Rubin uses her experiences, and to some degree those of friends and family, to demonstrate that improving our lives can start right now! Happiness is ours for the taking, and it can be cultivated in the most humble of experiences and the most ordinary places.

Because I am an upbeat optimist, most of the time, her books speak to me very deeply even though her topics are not necessarily “deep.” Rubin shows us that we have the power to be happy simply because we have the power to decide to be happier. It is that simple! By knowing ourselves, seeking out the truth about what truly makes us happy, we can then learn to look for ways to invite more of those experiences into our lives.

Both practical and poetic, Rubin offers small strategies — she calls them resolutions in her early books, habits in her most recent — that can help us begin to find our own path toward a more happy and fulfilling life. Study yourself, she urges, and you can find what you really love and what you really would rather leave behind.  Rubin’s idea of self-study is different from and less threatening (and definitely less expensive) than psychoanalysis. She asks her reader: observe yourself, your actions and responses. Her books are not a prescription to endlessly mull over the thoughts behind your thoughts, or find the deep-rooted past experiences that make you hate party-planning or going to the gym. This seems a simpler but perhaps profoundly more effective way of affecting self-growth than traditional therapy might offer.

Many people stumble along thinking that what others do for pleasure should be the things they do as well. How enlightening to be encouraged to dig deep into everyday matters and find the real answers to what makes us happy! Finally, we can admit “I really do not like going out to restaurants” or “re-reading Harry Potter is my favorite way to spend a rainy day.” She calls on us to stop doing things that drag us down (hate parties? say “yes” less often) so we can carve out room for the events, people, or experiences that do make us happy. Genius!

Happiness Project focuses on Rubin’s own path to a happier life, detailing her work to keep resolutions aimed at making her happier such as sleeping more, arguing less, getting exercise, and saying yes to new experiences (even if starting something new makes her less than happy at the start). Along the way, Gretchen Rubin and I find out much about ourselves and are challenged to identify what we love and to take concrete steps to welcome more of that love into our lives.

Find more about Gretchen Rubin at


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