The Happiness Project (and other great reads)

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A few weeks ago a friend of mine recommended Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project as a light read that I might enjoy. While I enjoyed the book immensely, I wouldn’t describe it as light. Even though the context of Rubin’s quest for happiness does not stem from a life altering dramatic experience, her suggested building blocks toward happiness are identical to some of the steps I have taken in rebuilding my own life. Without realizing it, I too had embarked on a Happiness Project, and one of the reasons for beginning this new blog was to share some of these resources with others.

It was about six weeks ago that I experienced what I would describe as my “rock bottom” moment. The combination of TC’s arduous recovery, my mom’s battle with cancer, and this endless winter had me feeling more hopeless than I had ever remembered feeling before. It took a few really hard days for me to see my way out of the darkness and begin looking forward again. What propelled me forward was the realization that, for many reasons, I have to live through this difficult period. And if I have to live through this, I have to stay healthy. And while eating well and working out are important, our psychologies also play a huge role in our physiologies. Therefore, the only way to go forward was to acknowledge what I could not change and work on changing what I could: myself.

I began putting real effort into altering my mindset, paying attention to my breathing, and staying present. Yoga was no longer an optional part of my lifestyle. It was essential. I started experimenting with all kinds of small changes that I hoped could manifest in big improvements, and so far, I feel drastically happier. 

Many of the little things I had long suspected contributed to happiness are identified in Rubin’s book. She set a series of happiness resolutions each month related to a specific focus. It’s definitely more ambitious and time consuming than anything I would think to do, but the underlying purpose of her experiment is pretty admirable: to find maximum joy in her present life. In designing this project, Rubin was led by an understanding that I wish I has grasped earlier. She didn’t want to wait for a fall-to-your-knees, heartbreaking catastrophe to start appreciating her blessings. She wanted to live fully and graciously in the moment. 

This is a book I will likely read every year or so. It’s so chock full of suggestions that it’s probably wise to take notes while reading, otherwise it’s quite easy to forget some of the “Ah ha!” moments that occur. In the future, I am very much looking forward to blogging about some of the specific strategies she mentions and how they have found meaning in my own life.

One immediate takeaway from The Happiness Project is the importance of being honest about how you like to spend your time. As I examine the content of my days over the past few weeks, I am surprised by how much pleasure I take in reading and writing. Now that I recognize how important these two activities are to me, I have been spoiling myself with plenty of time for both. Racing through three or more books a week, I finally decided to give http://www.goodreads.com a real go. I was dying to get suggestions from friends and to share some of my favorite reads with others. When I return to the classroom, I think it would be really cool to incorporate this site into my language arts instruction and help my students ramp up their enthusiasm for reading. 

In the meantime, here are a few books I’ve enjoyed over the past few weeks:


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This book is absolutely hysterical. If you loved Tina Fey’s Bossypants or just appreciate Mindy’s work on The Office, you will enjoy this quick read. She does a masterful job of articulating the young female brain and all its idiosyncrasies. 

While I’d label it as the perfect spring break/beach book, be forewarned should you choose to read it in public. There were many parts I was laughing creepily out loud or trying to contain my laughter using weird, tight lipped grins. Read in public at your own risk.


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Just to be clear with the family members who groaned when they saw me carrying around this one, I have always been a health book junkie! Last summer I read Dr. Furhman’s Eat to Live and I was astonished by all the logic surrounding plant based eating. Diet is not the focus of Anti-cancer, but it certainly plays an important part in building healthy immune systems.

Because I would certainly like to spend less time in the hospital in the future and because I am witnessing first-hand the misery that is chemotherapy, I thought it was important to educate myself about some of the simple ways we can help our bodies fight cancer on a daily basis. 

Most everyone I know has been affected by cancer in some way. This book does a beautiful job of illustrating how we can better support our loved ones through a cancer diagnosis and how we can modify our own lifestyles to avoid cancer. Spoiler: it involves a lot of green tea and Indian food.


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Fun facts about this novel:

1) It was written by the cousin of one of my good friends.

2) It’s currently being made into a movie produced by and starring Hilary Swank.

3) Once I picked this book up, I literally could not put it down. The characters in this story are so compelling, I felt like I knew them personally. Anyone who has served as a caregiver before will appreciate Michelle Wildgen’s delicate storytelling and the dignity she gives to the character of Kate. It’s a beautiful story.

                                                    Are you reading something you love? Please share!


8 thoughts on “The Happiness Project (and other great reads)

  1. Try “Life is a Verb” for the same happiness-focused inspiration (and if you love writing, the journaling bits are helpful). For novels, “Love Walked In” is one of my very favorites.

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  2. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer a few years back (stage IV lung), I bought her The Cancer Fighting Kitchen (http://rebeccakatz.com/books/the-cancer-fighting-kitchen/). While there are a couple of recipes we have tried and hated, most of them are really awesome. And the book is full of helpful information on foods, spices, cancer, chemo, etc. Ultimately, my mother lost her battle (at 55), but she LOVED this cookbook and my family has continued to use it in an effort to do things to keep ourselves healthy.
    I’m totally looking forward to “Anti cancer” – thanks for posting the recommendation – it looks like a good read.
    Best to you and your sweet family!

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  3. The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feller. Seriously amazing. Hilarious lines because they are so true like – “Even our metaphors are outdated. Sandwich generation? wouldn’t dare serve processed luncheon meat to our kids. So what are we, then, just schmears of organic hummus in a vegetarian wrap?’

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  4. I’ve been reading the Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. I’ve been struggling with balance in my life and this book definitely makes me stop and assess how I approach things.

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  5. I love fiction– I’ve been reading Ender’s Game for a few days now. It’s a sci-fi novel, but it raises so many questions about human dignity and individual choice. A great read, from what I can tell!

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  6. I’m in a nonfiction phase and loved Buzz Bissenger’s book “Father’s Day”. He is the guy who wrote “Friday Night Lights”, but it is different kind of book. I couldn’t wait until I could read again – that good!!

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  7. Hi Abby! I love your new blog~
    I’ve been curious about the Mindy Kaling book–now I will read it. I think the last truly good book I read was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, though it’s a drama, and definitely not light. For pulp fiction I really love the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, and some of Elmore Leonard’s stuff. A fun non-fiction read is The Company We Keep by the Baers (it’s a husband-wife CIA couple–I first heard about it on NPR–Terry Gross interviewed the wife). For short stories I’m in the middle of William Trevor’s latest collection–he’s great.
    I love to read, too–can you tell? and need to stop feeling guilty about doing it!

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  8. Hey Abby!
    Spot on with Kaling’s book–I was always cackling like a crazy person on Metro. I walk to work now. I might suggest What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self. My dad bought it for me a few years ago and I reread it a few times a year. In short, extraordinary women write letters to themselves when they were younger–facing a crisis, not knowing what path to take…you get the idea. In fact, if I were you, I’d contact the editor, Ellyn Spragins, about your writing–she seems the kind of editor who could understand your ideas and facilitate the amazing works I know you have inside you!

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