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The pursuit of happiness: Book offers practical tips for enhancing your life

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Author Gretchen Rubin writes that the good news is that it’s possible for most people to be happier. The bad news? It may take a lot of work.

In “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” (Harper, 2009), Rubin offers a how-to guide to raise one’s happiness quotient, including making lists and keeping a resolutions chart. A relentless list-maker, she provides plenty of food for thought and easy-to-follow recommendations, enough to captivate even those non-Type A personalities who likely wouldn’t devote as much effort to the quest as Rubin.

Given its broad-based appeal – who wouldn’t want to be happier? – it’s no surprise that “That Happiness Project” has remained on the advice best-seller list for more than 70 weeks.

Riding on a bus one day, Rubin writes that she had an epiphany: “I wasn’t as happy as I could be, and my life wasn’t going to change unless I made it change.” She subsequently embarked on a one-year journey to become happier.

She began her journey by reading books on philosophy, religion and science – any book that promised to reveal something on the nature of happiness – and determined that she would dedicate a month of the coming year to work on enhancing different aspects of her life.

After improving her energy level in January, for example, she focused on enriching her marriage, work situation, parenting, leisure time and friendships. In the second half of the year, she worked to fortify her attitudes toward money, spirituality, hobbies and passions, mindfulness and keeping a contented heart. During the final month, December, she attempted to keep all of the resolutions she made in previous months.

“The Happiness Project” includes some wonderful gems of insight, specifically relating to her thoughts about her marriage when she realized that nagging was not the way to achieve a better marriage, and not to expect her spouse to praise her for things she felt she was doing for the family. Rubin writes: “Instead, I started to tell myself, “I’m doing this for myself. This is what I want. ... I wanted to clean out the kitchen cabinets.” I also appreciated her suggestions on how to lighten up.

Rubin acknowledges that everyone’s path to more happiness is unique, and she provides helpful ideas to start people on their own journey. Still, it’s somewhat daunting to note the level of hard work she devotes to the quest, and some readers may find it difficult to implement her recommendations.

At the end of the book, she includes “The Happiness Project Manifesto,” eight pages of tips on how to exercise more, be a more lighthearted parent, get your significant other to do more chores, etc. Rubin’s website (happiness-project.com) offers a kit to kick-start a Happiness Project support group.

Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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