Book Review: The Happiness Project.

I got a large response from my post last week about being stressed... many empathized, while others criticized me for not using the “work” that was making me stressed as fuel for the blog… As in, Waaa Waaa Waaa… What do you have to complain about?

And yes, I agree. What DO I have to complain about? I have a great life, that I wouldn’t have any other way. A life I worked hard to build, just the way I wanted it…. that’s why it bothers me that I still have a cloud sitting on my shoulders! And it’s not depression, I know depression. It’s what I called a modern age malaise, a fog of to dos and virtual FOMO(Fear Of Missing Out)ed-ness constantly chirping in my ear. I know it’s all silly. And thats why I want to make it go away.

Enter author Gretchen Rubin, whose book, The Happiness Project, I stumbled upon in the airport. Actually, its been on my to do list for a while, but it never really struck my fancy until this Friday, as I was fleeing my life for a weekend of stress relief. Funny how that happens.

Gretchen finds herself in such a similar predicament to the one I felt last week.

“I had much to be happy about. I was married to Jamie, the tall, dark and handsome love of m life; we had two delightful daughters, seven-year-old Eliza and one-year-old Eleanor; I was a writer, after having started out as a lawyer;I was living in my favorite city, New York; I had close relationships with my parents, sister and in-laws; I had friends; I had my health; I didn’t have to color my hair. But too often I sniped at my husband or the cable guy. I felt dejected after even a minor professional setback. I drifted out of touch with old friends, I lost my temper easily, I suffered bouts of melancholy, insecurity, listlessness and free-floating guilt.” 

“I wasn’t depressed and I wasn’t having a midlife crisis, but I was suffering from midlife malaise- a recurring sense of discontent and almost feeling of disbelief. “Can this be me?” I’d wonder as I picked up the morning newspapers or sat down to read my e-mail. 

“The words of the writer Colette had haunted me for years: ” What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” I didn’t want to look back at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe and think “how happy I used to be then, if only I’d realized it.” 

Within two pages I think: Holy shit, this woman nailed it!!!! If I think about it, I can’t imagine a life I would rather have, and yet, sometimes I’m dreading the day to day of my life, and worse, I’m cranky. While I don’t share her feeling of “Can this be me?” in a bad way, I do fully recognize all the time, that yea, life doesn’t get much better than this.

Over the course of 1 year, Gretchen sets out to make herself happier, systematically, by bettering herself in different areas like energy, marriage, children, and lightening up etc… She makes charts and graphs, and basically works on this project like the nerdiest school nerd of all time. And the project isn’t about running away from your life, al a Eat, Pray, Love (a book that never resonated with me), its about enjoying the life you have and being the best version of yourself that YOU can and want to be. Part of that is to accept who you are and who you are not…

 Gretchen basically goes through her problem areas and tries to work on them, one by one. I’ve identified my main problem:

I am VERY unorganized. I used to think it lead to controlled chaos and that I just wasn’t a control freak. I thought it was ARTISTIC. Now I feel like this:

“Unfinished tasks were draining my energy and making me feel guilty. I felt like a bad friend because I hadn’t bought a wedding gift. I felt like an irresponsible family member because I’d never gotten a skin cancer check (and I have the super fair skin that comes with red hair). I felt like a bad parent because our toddler, eleanor, needed new shoes. I had an image of myself sitting in front of a hive shaped laptop, while reminders in the form of bees dive-bombed my head, buzzing, ” Do me!”  “Do Me!” while I slapped them away. It was time for some relief.” 

Gretchen nailed it again. My mental and physical clutter (she discusses that too!) is weighing on me and leaving me with this constant nagging feeling. Thats why I have a stomach ache when I wake up in the morning, there is already 100 things I didn’t do! This is, as far as I’m concerned, my biggest and worst flaw. AND thankfully, its something tangible that I can work on.

Another things that bothers me about myself: I can be negative. I am critical and  yet I take criticism very hard.

I particularly liked these passages about criticism:

Why was it so deliciously satisfying to criticize? Being critical made me feel more sophisticated and intelligent- and in fact, studies show that people whoa re critical are often perceived to be more discerning. In one study, for example, people judged the writers of negative book reviews as more expert and competent than the writers of positive reviews, even when the content of both reviews was deemed to be of high quality.”

“Giving positive reviews requires humility. I have to admit, I missed the feeling of superiority that I got from using puncturing humor, sarcas, ironic asides, cynical comments, and cutting remarks. A willing-ness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence- easy to deride as mawkish and sentimental.”

I like to think I can give praise where praise is due, but it is something that I work on. And I think as women, we all suffer from this a bit.

I loved these passages about enjoying the Fun of Failure– and though she doesn’t link them in her book, I have always thought that criticism and gossip is usually linked with the speaker’s own fear of failure.

On failure:

“Pushing myself, I knew, would cause me serious discomfort. Its a Secret of Adutlhood: Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. When I thought about why I was sometimes reluctant to push myself, I realized that it was because I was afraid of failure- but in order to have more success, I needed to be willing to accept more failure. I remember the words of Robert Browning: “Ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

I’d known that, obviously, and I have overcome fear of failure many times: every time I expose myself in a blog post, or try something new, I’m trying to squelch my fear of failure, and my fear of rejection. I have a nervous feeling RIGHT NOW, about how I am exposing myself emotionally like this and whether the readers will respond! And Gretchen actually wrote those words in reference to starting her blog!

Many other things in Gretchen’s book were things I had taught myself years ago:

I’d learned this many years ago, as a 20 year old, along with:

But the thing that makes me tear up every time I look at it is:

A one sentence knife to the heart. Ultimately, these terrible and awesome years of young child rearing will be gone before I know it. And they will never be babies again… It’s a painful thing to be a parent. To MISS a child that is still in your arms, to miss that child now, for the future. It’s a weird and twisted thing, to leave the beach one summer and think, next year, I’ll be bringing back a different child. It’s not sad, its happy, but its still sad. So ultimately, I want to be more present in the actual moments when I’m with my children. When Cookie was around a year old we used to go for neighborhood walks. I would take her once a day, with no cell phone, to walk around and look at the different things in our hood… I need to reinstate screen free time with my kids. We get it in bits and pieces, but we need chunks. Basically, I need to learn to compartmentalize. When I’m with my kids, be with  my kids. When I’m working, be working. (Thats not from the book, that’s from me.)

Gretchen talks about how all statiscs and reports show that people are actually less happy when they have small children living at home with them, but when asked, say that their children are their primary source of joy! She says the studies are wrong and again delivers this tip:

Of course I hate changing diapers, but the cumulative affect of being a mother makes me very happy. She talks about raising a family as a kind of fog happiness: like the hostess of a party, DURING the party, it doesn’t seem enjoyable as you bustle about. But the time and fog around and after the party makes you undoubtably happy.

There are so many other moments in Gretchen’s book that are helpful:

She talks about how money CAN buy you little bits of happiness, when you use it properly. She talks about overcoming her under-buying habit to stockpile toilet paper, so that her family will never run out!! Using money for projects with her kids, and using money to make her home a happier place. She talks about taking time to loosen up, laugh more, play more, try new things, form groups with like minded people… and living your life in an ATMOSPHERE OF GROWTH. Thats something that resonated with me, I’ve always been one to enjoy learning things, experiencing things, challenging myself. In fact, I feel shriveled up inside when I don’t get to do something creative every day. Thats part of the reason that I have the blog.

I’ve also always felt that the blog allowed me to enjoy my own friends more… Why? Because by finding like minded people around the world to share in my passions, I could stop pressuring the people around me IRL to be people who they weren’t. I could stop blathering on about wallpaper to people who didn’t give a crap- and I could stop being disappointed that they didn’t care, now that I knew people who did. (Remember the rule about “What’s fun for you may not be fun for someone else?!”)

I really could go on and on about the different moments and lines in the book that touched me, but I’ll cut it short until I work on myself some more…

Basically: I HIGHLY recommend the book, if you are, like me, an average person who has a happy life. A happy life that you want to enjoy more. Without doing anything crazy, leaving the country, or finding religion. It’s about finding and not denying who you are.

You can check out the book HERE, the Happiness Project blog HERE and the Toolbox HERE. 

Many of you asked me for a book review, and so here it is! Have you read The Happiness Project? Thoughts?!!?

Oh, one more thing: I’m not a very spiritual person, but I do believe in the power of a mantra, visualizing goals and yes, “The Secret”, The Secret being – know what you want and visualize it clearly. Keep it at the front of your mind and it will come to you, not because of the cosmos, but because of your own will power making it happen… All that said, I’ve always  been SO INSANELY critical of anyone with a quote or word printed out ANYWHERE in their home: EAT, DREAM, SLEEP, LIKE -FOREVER, I’ve mocked you in my head… and now all I want to do is print out mantras and paste them on my walls. Go figure.

OK- now you can spill it. And be kind to me, I’ve bared my soul. And if you aren’t interested in this, I’m sorry too. But since I’ve texted everyone in my phone telling them to read this book, I couldn’t not share it with you.

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  1. I picked up this book last April after spending a year watching my FIL slowly lose his battle to Cancer. It was a horrendous year and I just wanted to focus on something positive. The title was enough to make me buy it. I never ended up reading it or even realized what the book was really about. After reading your review, I now know that this is the right time for the lessons of this book to sink in. Can’t wait to crack it open!

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      Im sorry about your FIL, thats hard… Try the book, its really uplifting! AND yes, Ive been putting it off for a while too, not knowing what it was about!

  2. what?? Is this what I have? I feel like such a jerk all the time for having EVERYTHING and not feeling satisfied. I have FOMO, now I know. Thank you for writing this and opening up your feelings with us. I’m getting the book tomorrow.

  3. Lisette says:

    Being a mom of 2 gorgeous little monsters myself, I feel so lucky yet so….unhappy, unsatisfied and grumpy sometimes and often wondering is this what life is about??
    I’m soooo gonna buy this book!
    Thank you so much for sharing.
    And your blog is always something I look forward to every day x

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      Being a mom is such a bag of mixed emotions. Like waking up to two screaming and hungry kids this morning sucked, but playing with them before bedtime is heaven… its a constant back and forth on our emotions… isn’t it?

  4. Dori says:

    I am buying this book today! Those excerpts really resonated with me!
    Thanks for your blog. You are an inspiration.

  5. jerseygirl says:

    “Average” – you’re not an average person! I find it funny that you chose that word to describe yourself…I think I know what you meant by it, but in my mind it has such negative connotations…and you Nicole, are definitely not Average! I think you are super talented in so many ways – and I don’t even know you personally….Average? Never…

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      Ha! Thank you! But I just meant regular person leading a normal family life… Not in negative way! But thank you!!!

  6. There are NOT words to describe my LOVE of this book. It’s helped me to get my life back on track while I accomplish the things I wish to accomplish. Gretchen is brilliant! Good luck with your journey, and thanks for sharing your world with us! KJ

  7. Your honest post struck a chord for me and I appreciate it. As humans, we are not meant to feel giddy or happy all the time, even when things are going great. I also don’t believe that it is a sign of ungratefulness. For me, your emotion is a sign that something in your life needs a small tweak. You are AMAZING and HUMAN!!!!!

  8. WOW!!! what a heartfelt post. I really admire your honesty and how you put yourself out there. It struck a chord with me as I am going through similar thoughts at the moment. I am definitely buying the book. Thank you.

  9. Nanette says:

    This book has been on my list of “shoulds” for quite a while and your post struck a chord with me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It really is helpful.

  10. Your post just turned my day around. Thank you. I haven’t read the book, but I’m going to now!

  11. Marielle says:

    Nicole! I have to say, this post really touched my heart in a great way. being vulnerable allows other people to do the same! and what better way to grow than to share wise lessons of life with others and help them grow with you! you know what a worrier i was as a child- which is why i made it a goal of mine NOT TO WORRY! and although i have nightmares of mommy killing me for all the stupid shit i do( lol), i still do what i want because otherwise IM NOT ME! also, was checking out furniture on the website FASHION FOR HOME that you sent me, and in my response email i sent you this painting with the word RELAX printed on it! and asking if you could make me one for my apartment! so there you go, we are more similar than we thought! and even though you say u arent spiritual, this post was very spiritual. i really admire you for putting yourself out there and i hope you continue to do so! because the world deserves to know what a creative, special, unique, intelligent, and GREAT human being you are!!!!!!
    love always,,,,
    your lil sis!

  12. My friend has been recommending this book for awhile, but I always seemed to just pick up something else to read! This post really made me understand why she liked it so much, and now I am definitely going to read it!

  13. Loved your book review! Glad it gave you some perspective….I relate to ALL that you osted about…and that line about “the days are long and the years are short” Oh yes! exactly right. I will get it for my next trip. Cheers to a happier soul.

  14. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I loved reading this post. I felt like I connected with you on this. I think plenty of us can relate but it takes courage to speak out about it.

  15. wow, nicole i must read this. your post about this book pretty much sums up the whole goal of my blog! I cannot believe how she really hits the nail on the head! I also find it interesting to see how many people responded and connected with this. although we each have a unique life experience, we all really do share the human experience!

  16. Oh, beautiful Nicole; your honesty and trust with all of us is so refreshing, and welcome! I completely relate on so many levels, and am so glad you posted about this. It is TIME for me, too! Next week I’m flying around here and there and will be taking this on the plane! Thank you!!! xoxo

  17. MMish says:

    I admire you for being so open an honest, it cant be easy baring your soul to the world! Ive been having the same feelings lately so I definitely will be picking this up at the airport today. Time to get that damn cloud off my shoulders!

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      I think I was a bit hyperbolic at the end there! But yes, its hard to talk about things that we all feel… isn’t it?

  18. You are so very brave! I’ve never commented here before and I read your blog every day. I will be buying and reading this book immediately. I’ve suffered from depression for much of my life. It’s genetic and runs in the family. Talk therapy and medication didn’t seem to help. Then last year I began a search for happiness, not unlike this book. I found that for me, the answer was following my own intuition. I had been listening too much to what society had been telling me to do. I had to have the perfect job, the perfect decorated home, the perfect friends, car, husband, blah, blah, blah. But none of it was making me happy. So I started listening to that little voice inside. It told me to quit my job and start writing. It told me to give up some of my friends that weren’t going to help me grow, it told me to start a blovel, it taught me to look for coincidences and synchronicity in my life and how to follow it. Now whatever it tells me to do I do, and I’m like a different person now. And yes, this ties into “The Secret” and manifesting a life that I really, truly love. So, basically thank you for this. If you look, I’m sure you’ll find as I have that many people are shifting right now to this way of thought. Keep following that little voice inside. It knows what to do. This is just the beginning.

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      Im SO HAPPY for you! Sometimes just figuring out what you actually really WANT to do is the hardest part! Once you even know what you are striving toward it all comes into focus!

      Congrats! And thanks for your comment!

  19. Thanks so much for your very kind and thoughtful post! I’m thrilled to hear that my work resonates with you, and that you found it helpful as you think about your OWN happiness project. I so appreciate your nice words.

  20. You just convinced me to read this book and made me feel better about my own discontent in one blog post. Brava! “I can be negative. I am critical and yet I take criticism very hard.” That sentence describes me in a nutshell. Happiness takes effort. I need to put more effort into my own. Thanks for this post Nicole.

  21. Joyce says:


    This was such an awesome post!! Never realized how similar we are, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts… alwaysss think about the sad/happy/sad thing with my kids, glad to know I’m not the only one. Definitely going to pick up this book, thanks for the great review.

  22. Hey Nicole,

    I sympathized with your previous post about being stressed out. I started a blog in ’05 as a way to document a project, but soon the blog became the project – sound familiar? I started out as a designer and ended as an over emailed, over networked, overextended writer/editor. Insane juggling became a way of life. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great experience and brought a lot of good opportunities and people into my life, but it was equally great when I shut it down and gave myself the gift of time and space. Let happiness be the guide indeed.

    I pretty much unplugged – no twitter, no facebook, not a lot of blogging – and photographed my garden throughout an entire year. What I thought was a personal photography project actually was like nature therapy. It really made me happy. The artist Andrea Zittel wrote, “Ideas seem to gestate best in a void – when that void is filled, it is more difficult to access them. In our consumption-driven society, almost all voids are filled, blocking moments of greater clarity and creativity. Things that block voids are called ‘avoids.” Like you, I feel dead if I am not being creative, so I tried to do a variety of stuff and let my creativity be free with no mandate or end goal. It wasn’t always successful, but it was more about the process than the product at that point anyway – sometimes it still is. All of those experiences, including the blog, helped me focus in on and define not only what I want to do for a living, but how I want to live my life.

    Flash forward a couple of years, I broke up with my boyfriend, gutted my apartment and began doing interior design. After getting my feet wet working with friends and friends of friends, I knew I had to launch the business online, but I didn’t want a blog to be the focus this time. The website has a “journal” where I share things – when I can and feel like it. In some ways I feel relieved to not have a “following”. I want to see my business be successful, but not at the expense of my life, so it might take awhile. Something my friend’s husband said always sticks in my head, “Do you want to live your life or write a book report about it?” I am happy to share my work and snippets of my life here and there, but my business and my life – not the reporting on them – have to be the priority.

    So this is just a long winded comment to say that you have great creative skills that are clearly in demand. I don’t think there is anything wrong with restructuring your website, business and blog to focus on that. My jaw dropped when I read that you were turning down design work – my. jaw. dropped. I imagine there were a bunch of other things you’d rather have done than whip up a post about man bags or what you packed for your vacation. Sometimes you have to prune to grow. You’ll get through this. It sounds like you are already on the right track.

    Best wishes and I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  23. @ Abbey – I loved your comment. It reminds me of this quote from my favorite philosopher Bertrand Russell, who also wrote The Conquest of Happiness…

    “One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.”

    I was asked in an interview once if I had a life philosophy and I gave this quote, but of course they edited it out!!

  24. Kate says:

    Don’t for a second think that this detour from design and fashion is a bad thing. When I came across your post while catching up on my blog reader this morning, I got hooked. While I don’t blog myself, I understand what you mean about the design blogging community taking the pressure off of real life friends to have the same passions and interests, but in the same way, reading this particular post also helps me realize that there are others out there who feel the same way that I do. I think one of my biggest fears is not being happy, and sometimes that fear is what actually gets in the way of happiness itself! I’m not making a whole lot of sense here, but I just wanted to say thanks for sharing this! I’ve been caught up in the chaos of design school (something I chose to do in the interest of happiness, hah) and need to remember to stop and breathe more.

  25. Gloria D says:

    I bought this book to read over the holiday because of your post and I am loving it!- if only to better myself and increase the happiness in my day-to-day life. Thanks for the recommendation :)

  26. Simone says:

    Found it! Great post..already smizing ;)

  27. This was brilliant Nicole. BRILLIANT. I’ve got to get this book. B/c I’ve got the malaise, I’ve TOTALLY got it. And I have the sweetest husband whoever drew breath and a lovely child and home. And yet, I still have to chase after happiness like it’s a piece of meat I need to stake and pin down. (sorry)

    Totally going to get on this book. TOTALLY.

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      Thank you! I love your description: “chase after happiness like its a piece of meat I need to stake and pin down.”

      No one ever said it was easy! I guess some of us have to work for it, right?

  28. Suhaina says:

    The Happiness Project is an Awesome creation! Loved the book in all aspects.. I really enjoyed the ways it tells an individual to be happy… I do feel “life is short, there is no point just existing” ..We need to be Happy even for the shortest duration of our existence on this Earth.. Guys! its a must read.. I swear.. you ll enjoy it..


  1. […] My friend Nicole who writes SKETCH42, a blog about fashion, style, food, art etc. reviewed a book written by Gretchen Rubin, called “The Happiness Project.” Her review really resonated with me. In fact, the review pretty much sums up why I started this blog to begin with.  Check out her review here: Book Review: The Happiness Project. […]