Natasha's review of this book is perfect. I think Natasha should re-write The Happiness Project and then it will truly be a project about happiness. _...moreNatasha's review of this book is perfect. I think Natasha should re-write The Happiness Project and then it will truly be a project about happiness. ____________________________________
Natasha wrote ..... "A short while ago I started a blog post by saying that I was depressed about the book The Happiness Project. I felt that I knew what the book was about and that I could have written it but now that it was written by someone else, my idea for a self-help book was taken. I said I was "depressed" as a humourous play upon the title of the book -- it seems counter-intuitive that a book about happiness would make someone depressed, right?
Except now that I have finished reading the book, the joke's on me: I actually am depressed about it. It was a sad read, in parts, because it was abundantly clear to me that the author doesn't really understand the secret of happiness. I don't feel like the book came to any conclusions on how to be happy in a lasting way. I think the book managed to get published because she was already a published author, so she had connections, and because the publishers were cashing in on what author Gretchen Rubin mentions as "stunt genre journalism", in this case, doing something for a year and then writing about it.
Before I delve into my criticisms, the book was not without merit. There are little nuggets of inspiration, like when Gretchen drastically improves her drawing ability by taking a class that gave her profound anxiety. I would be surprised if anyone could read The Happiness Project without feeling inspired to go outside her comfort zone and do something new.
But the inspiration ended there.
Basically, Gretchen wants to be happier. Her husband doesn't understand why she wants to be happier because she seems happy to him but it becomes clear before long, as she describes many insufferable habits and traits of her own, that she's not really happy.
So, instead of digging deep, getting at the root of her issues, she makes monthly theme resolutions, travelling the surface streets of why she's obnoxious, putting a superficial band-aid on her flaws.
This is not a book to read if you're looking to identify with someone else's unhappiness to have a "light bulb moment" about your own, unless you really are so uncomplicated and flawless that your only source of unhappiness is not enough extra-curricular busyness in your life, in which case you don't need to read a book to solve that problem. If she were relaying her poor behaviour so that she could follow it up with an explanation of the root reason for her behaviour and what she realised about herself and how that realisation changed her, then this book would be a worthwhile pursuit. Instead, it reads like a confessional journal, a list of sins and the penance that followed, and the lack of profundity made me sad. I felt uncomfortable for her knowing that this self-flagellation was not bringing her any lasting insight into why she was unhappy with herself.
For example, on page 266 she starts,
"... I realized I had one particular characteristic that I urgently needed to control: I was too belligerent. The minute someone made a statement, I looked for ways to contradict it. When someone happened to say to me, 'Over the next fifty years, it's the relationship with China that will be most important to the United States,' I started searching my mind to think of counterexamples. Why? ....I know very little about the subject."
She goes on to say that criticizing is "deliciously satisfying", that it made her feel more sophisticated and intelligent. She describes herself as a "know-it-all" who strives to drop literary observations to appear intelligent, a "topper" who tops other people's stories with a bigger and better one, and a "deflater" who finds something negative to say about things that other people were excited about.
On page 269 she describes the difficulty she had with trying to squelch her inclinations,
"Giving positive reviews requires humility. I have to admit, I missed the feelings of superiority that I got from using puncturing humor, sarcasm, ironic asides, cynical comments, and cutting remarks. A willingness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence -- easy to deride as mawkish and sentimental."
On page 272 she describes a situation where her daughter is throwing up and she asks her husband to get a towel. He brings the towel and she says, "Folks, that was not the fastest action we could have had." She then asks why she tossed out that negative comment, but doesn't give the answer.
Answering the whys proves difficult for her throughout the book. She's able to narrow behaviour down as being prideful (and I admire her for her frankness) but she doesn't analyse the source of the pride.
So, without really knowing (or divulging) the source of her problems, she decides that to fix these character flaws she will give up drinking because it enables her belligerence, and she will force herself to be like Pollyanna for a week, including wearing a bracelet to remind her to remember about "Pollyanna Week". Pollyanna Week succeeds in cutting down her negative comments for that week and has "lasting effects" later, which she doesn't describe. I immediately noted the irony in going about being less negative by... negative reinforcement. "Stop saying negative things." That's not a positive approach. It's like trying to lose weight by saying, "I hate being fat. I'm going to stop being fat," instead of "I miss feeling thin and I'm going to be thin again."
(And besides, my theory is that the people around us will well tolerate our negative attributes if there are simply more positive ones than negative. Everyone is negative sometimes. We don't need to zip our mouths and be as perfect as impossible. We just need to be more positive than negative. If we're enthusiastic a lot of the time, people will forgive us for being critical some of the time. If we are frequently celebratory of our friends' successes and interests, people will better tolerate when we indulge in self-absorption for a while.)
Why didn't she just work on being more loving? Because, by her own assertion, it was "vague" as well as being harder to fake. Negative comments were easier for her to spot and measure. It's easier to stop doing something bad than to start doing something good, but... if you can succeed in being more good (instead of merely acting more good), then you have a more lasting change than the one you have by merely willing yourself to stop being bad.
As well, giving up drinking and getting more sleep is great, but not everyone who drinks or is tired is belligerent. Why is she this way under the influence when some other people are silly and more gregarious when they're boozy or tired? She doesn't ask that question.
It seems to me that the source of many of her problems is basic insecurity. She resolves early on to "Be Gretchen" and throughout the book when she runs up against insecurities, the insecurities are solved by her mantra to "Be Gretchen". So, the lesson here for the reader, when having troubles with insecurities: Be yourself. Problem solved. Why didn't you think of that, Reader?
At one point (and I can't find the page) she asks "Why?" about her behaviour and then says she has no idea.
Finally, she admits that her Happiness Project made her more judgmental of others for not being happy.
I wonder if she would have had the discipline to keep up with all her resolutions, if she would have challenged herself to take a drawing class that gave her panicky anxiety if she was not doing it for book fodder. Without the resolutions, there would be no story to tell, really, so it seems that the book is in existence for the book's sake.
The strange thing is that she's obviously a very intelligent woman who seems introspective enough that I do believe she is capable of getting to the heart of the matter of her problems, of asking the important questions and getting real answers. I just don't understand why she didn't do it for the book. I guess it just wasn't the style of book she was looking to write or HarperCollins was looking to publish?
Further, what made me sad was reading of Gretchen's struggle to love herself and others in a pure, unshakable way that comes from God and comes from a deep-seated knowledge of the value of another soul. She describes her life as having been fairly easy, her childhood being happy, and she even sounds insecure about that in about three places where she wishes she had hardship to draw on to give herself "legitimacy". I suspect that her happy upbringing is why she struggles to have true compassion for others without having to talk herself into it so much. Compassion is hard to come by without experience. It's easy to have an intellectual awareness of the need to cut people some slack, it's easy to repeat to one's self: "Everyone is doing the best they can." but it's quite another to feel that understanding of another person's soul because it comes from a place of experience.
On page 259 she said,
"Along with a more humorous attitude, I wanted to be kinder. I'd considered kindness a respectable but bland virtue... but researching Buddhism, with its emphasis on loving-kindness, had convinced me that I'd overlooked something important."
Important? Ya think? Wow. "...a respectable but bland virtue"? That really threw me. In my world, and in much of the world's religions, kindness is a branch of love, which is the most important commandment, the flavour of life, our raison d'être. How can kindness ever be bland as an idea or a manifestation?
"I wanted to practice loving-kindness but it was such a vague goal -- easy to applaud but hard to apply. What strategies would remind me to act with loving-kindness in my ordinary day? ...Perhaps mere politeness wouldn't engender loving-kindness in me, but acting politely would at least give me the appearance of possessing that quality -- and perhaps appearance would turn into reality."
Am I the only one who sees the problems with this paragraph?
The entire book is sprinkled with talk of "strategies", with wishful thinking, with "perhaps"s and "maybe"s and "acting". Is it possible that she does not see that true happiness does not come from acting kind but being kind?
On page 275 she says,
".... if I keep my resolutions and do the things that make me happier, I end up feeling happier and acting more virtuously. Do good, feel good; feel good, do good."
Again, she describes "acting" instead of "being". Tsk. And besides that, how is this a revelation worth publishing a book about? Hey, this just in folks: If you keep up resolutions for things you know you should do, it will make you happier. So, keep up your resolutions, okay? Tell us something we don't know, right? Like, how to keep those resolutions without merely gritting our teeth and digging our heels in. I know that if I would be kinder to Jim-Bob that I would feel better and that feeling better would then make it easier for me to be kinder to Jim-Bob. But how do I get the momentum to do something I don't really want to do, and won't he sense the falseness anyway?
This is why she finds it so easy to judge other people's behaviours -- she doesn't focus on the heart, she focuses on the outward appearance. If it's so easy for her to change her behaviour (um, easy because she has to or she doesn't have book fodder), then other people should be able to as well.
This was the only preconceived expectation I had when starting this book -- that she would strive to change herself by merely digging her feet in and, with sheer willpower, change her habits. I was otherwise expecting to enjoy this book. I am blown away by its superficiality and its inability to inspire me or to change anyone in a profound, lasting way. Its methodical layout, its quotes from philosophers, its articulate writing, and its New York Times bestseller's list placement does not trick me into thinking it's a life-changing book. The only reason it changed Gretchen's life was because she was writing a book. It serves as more of a mostly humour-less journal, really. It couldn't even be categorised under "self-help".
I find it profound that in the last chapter she asks her husband if her happiness project has made him happier at all. He answers, "Nope." Then she says, "But he had changed" and explains all the changes. But... that doesn't mean he's happier. Maybe he wasn't happier because he was already happy. Maybe he was happy being the kind of man who doesn't reply to her emails. Maybe he was happy not doing the things that would make her happier if he would just do them. Maybe he was happy in his imperfections... and hers. Maybe it's just Gretchen who thinks that happiness can be found in resolutions, in gold stars, in being likable.
I felt like I was reading my own journey to discovering the secret to happiness, from when I was in my early 20's. At one point I actually thought it would be a good idea to make a list of all my negative qualities and all the bad things I did. Why I thought this would be beneficial escapes my recollection. And maybe it's this reminder that made me so sad. Maybe if I didn't identify with what I see as her confusion, I wouldn't even notice it.
I think it's the idea of happiness that attracts people enough to make this a best-selling book. Bite-sized blog posts about the topic are interesting to most of us, but I expected a book to be more substantial.
(Needless to say, I am no longer bummed out that someone else wrote my book. The Happiness Project has made it easier for me to write what I need to write about, to fill in the gaps, to explore the human psyche, as pretentious as that sounds. Am I qualified? Sure. What makes Tiger Woods qualified to teach about golf is that he's good at golf. I'm good at introspection and answering tough questions honestly. My friends should expect much badgering from me for their experiences and opinions. :-) As well, there are many works to read as reference, such as Voltaire's Candide. So far, I'm only about 5000 words into my book writing but I have an outline and an inkling and a nanny. I just need some sleep, some time, some privacy, and a writerly mood. It's the passionate mood that's so hard to come by and without it, writing is so excruciating and never as good. So, we'll see.) " - Natasha of http://www.becomingsomething.com/(less)
Catching Fire was a very satisfying second book. I didn't predict the rerun of the Hunger Games in Catching Fire. The second games were action packed...moreCatching Fire was a very satisfying second book. I didn't predict the rerun of the Hunger Games in Catching Fire. The second games were action packed and full of intrigue but lacked the intensity and character development of the first. Still a very good read that I finished in a few hours. I look forward to the final book which will have to tread completely new territory. Mockingjay should be a dramatically different book, and I’m awaiting it all the more eagerly for this reason. I'm dying to know the fate of poor Cinna, beloved Peeta and look forward to more page time with Gale. (less)
I wasn't sure if I was going to like this one because I've already read many books about Southern life - which always is interesting to me, but I wasn...moreI wasn't sure if I was going to like this one because I've already read many books about Southern life - which always is interesting to me, but I wasn't sure this author would have something to say that I hadn't read in other books. I was wrong. By chapter three (Skeeter), The Help became addictively, compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are an unlikely trio, but their work on the project unites them under a common cause and proves to them that women can connect with each other regardless of their color. Southern life described from Aibileen and Minny's point of view makes The Help and its message unique.
The Help is well-written, and it is clear that the author really understands Southern life and has made great efforts to understand what life was like for black women who served white families. The author presents sad stories that leave a great glimmer of hope. Though she examines the differences and mistakes of white women, she highlights their humanity to wonderful effect as well. And while this is a serious book, it also has wonderfully lighthearted moments, humorous moments, and strikingly funny insights into women and their behavior. It made me really examine my feelings about segregation, the Civil Rights movement and what has changed since that time. How much is really changed? What strains of racism still exist today? A complex subject that the author tackles with courage and fine ability. I love this book and was sad when I finished. I heard there will be a movie...
Some of my favorite quotes from the book;
“For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought.”
"See, I think if God had intended for white people and colored people to be this close together for so much of the day, he would've made us color blind. "
"Only three things them ladies talk about: they kids, they clothes, and they friends. I hear the word Kennedy, I know they ain’t discussing no politic. They talking about what Miss Jackie done wore on the tee-vee."
"Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision. You gone have to ask yourself, "Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?"
"All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe."
"Oh, it was delicious to have someone to keep secrets with...It was having someone look at you after your mother has nearly fretted herself to death because you are freakishly tall and frizzy and odd. Someone whose eyes simply said, without words, "You are fine with me."
"You got nothing left here but enemies in the Junior League and a mama that's gonna drive you to drink. You done burned ever bridge there is. And you ain't never gone get another boyfriend in this town and everbody know it. So don't walk your white butt to New York, run it."(less)
The Spirit of the Lord is not something that may be programmed, plotted out, manufactured, or elicited; t...moreWhen No Clear Answer Comes
excerpt chapter 7;
The Spirit of the Lord is not something that may be programmed, plotted out, manufactured, or elicited; the influence of the Holy Ghost certainly cannot be demanded or coerced. We cannot force spiritual things. Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7–8). The Prophet Joseph Smith likewise taught that “a man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him” (D&C 130:23). We know that the Spirit will not dwell with those who are unclean and thus unworthy of its companionship (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19; compare 1 Nephi 10:21; 15:34; Alma 7:21; 3 Nephi 27:19).
In addition, we cannot always tell when we will be filled with the Spirit and when we will not. We may end the day on fire with the power of the Spirit, rejoicing in our blessings, grateful for the closeness we have felt to the Lord. When we arise a few short hours later, it would not be uncommon to feel as though we had lost something, to feel that the distance between us and Deity had increased dramatically. We ask ourselves, “What happened? Did we do something to change what we were feeling only a short time ago?”
President Joseph F. Smith taught that “every elder of the Church who has received the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, by one having authority, has power to confer that gift upon another; it does not follow that a man who has received the presentation or gift of the Holy Ghost shall always receive the recognition and witness and presence of the Holy Ghost himself, or he may receive all these, and yet the Holy Ghost not tarry with him, but visit him from time to time.” President Smith also observed that “the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, may be conferred upon men, and he may dwell with them for a while, or he may continue to dwell with them in accordance with their worthiness, and he may depart from them at his will.”
Just because we may not always recognize the workings of the Spirit in our lives does not mean that the Spirit is not with us. In looking back over the past forty years of my life, I find that I have had a variety of experiences with the Spirit and with receiving answers to prayer. Many prayers have been answered so directly, so clearly, so unambiguously that there was no doubt as to the course I should follow. On the other hand, many times when I have gone before the Lord in deep sincerity, hungering and thirsting for insight and direction, I have pondered and prayed and pleaded and wrestled and waited upon the Lord. So far as I could tell, I was not guilty of serious sin, and yet no clear answer was forthcoming. President Brigham Young taught us what our course should be in such cases: “If I do not know the will of my Father, and what He requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask Him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from Him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, He is bound to own and honor that transaction, and He will do so to all intents and purposes.”
I believe there is more to President Young’s counsel than meets the eye. It is certainly true that we should pray with all our hearts for direction and then make the wisest decisions we can. It is my conviction, however, that even on those occasions when we feel so very alone—when we wonder if God is listening—if we are trusting in our Lord and Savior and relying upon his marvelous merits, the Lord is nonetheless directing our paths, for he has so promised us. No doubt there are seasons of our life when we are called upon to proceed without the clear recognition of the Spirit. Yet that does not mean we are alone. I believe that one day, when we are allowed to review the scenes of mortality from a grander perspective, we will be astounded at how closely the Lord directed our paths, orchestrated the events of our lives, and in general led us by that kindly light we know as the Holy Ghost.
Perhaps it is the case that over the years the Spirit of the Lord works in a quiet but consistent manner to educate our consciences, enhance our perspective, and polish our wisdom and judgment. After all, the Prophet Joseph explained that one of the major assignments of the Holy Ghost was to convey pure intelligence through “expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge.” It may be that one day we will look back on what we perceived at the time to be a season in which we were required to make decisions on our own, only to discover that the Lord had been, through the honing and refining processes in our souls, leading us along in paths of his choosing. That is, maybe we will learn that our own wisdom and judgment were not really our own.
Sometimes answers to our prayers do not come as quickly as we would like. We try and try again, too often concluding that God must not love us, must not hear us, or must have chosen not to answer. “The answers to our prayers come in the Lord’s due time,” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained. “Sometimes we may become frustrated that the Lord has delayed answering our prayers. In such times we need to understand that He knows what we do not know. He sees what we do not see. Trust in Him. He knows what is best for His child, and being a perfect God, He will answer our prayers perfectly and in the perfect time.”
Finally, it is worth noting that we may well have an experience with the Spirit, a genuine and true experience, and yet not know exactly what has taken place. Over the years it has been my privilege to work with Latter-day Saints who were struggling to repent of their sins and become clean before God. It has been one of the joys of Church service to witness the light growing in the countenance, the heart being softened, and the consciousness of right and wrong returning. But never in all my years has a member of the Church said to me, “I have been justified of the Spirit” or “I have entered the rest of God” or “I am redeemed of the Lord” or “I am born of the Spirit.” Those who have had their sins remitted and have renewed their covenant with Christ could, in fact, use any of those doctrinal phrases to describe their state or standing, and I would understand what they meant. Generally, they have said such things as “I feel good all over” or “I feel clean and pure” or “I am at peace.”
During the period of darkness before his visit to the Americas, Jesus spoke to the Nephites. “I am the light and the life of the world,” he said. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:18–20; emphasis added; see also Helaman 5). Far more significant than a theological explanation is the value of a religious experience; whether we can give a ten-minute discourse on spiritual rebirth matters but little when compared to the change of heart that such a rebirth brings.
The work of the kingdom—whether at 47 East South Temple Street in Salt Lake City or at our own address—goes forward hour by hour and day by day, even when the path is not clear for the time being. “Salvation cannot come without revelation,” Joseph Smith declared. “It is in vain for anyone to minister without it.” The Almighty has promised to point the way, and so we trust in his promises and wait upon him “in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:5), though on occasion we cry out, essentially,
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom; Lead thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene—one step enough for me.
Answers have come. Answers will continue to come, for “we believe that [God:] will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9). God does not want us to proceed along the path of life on our own. - all excerpt MILLETT(less)