Monday, December 14, 2015

Review: The Happiness Project (and Finals Week Tips!)

We've hit the part of the Seattle winter where it basically just keeps raining nonstop until February, with just a few gray days thrown in to keep holding on to hope. Similarly, it's also the first day of FINALS WEEK here at UW! Just the right time for me to read about a woman's quest to lead the ultimate happy life... 

Gretchen Rubin - a non-fiction writer and ex-lawyer living in New York with her husband and two young daughters - decided that she wanted to be happy. Not that she wasn't already... she just knew she wasn't getting as much out of life as she felt she should be. In an effort to prevent herself from watching her own life and her daughter's precious childhoods go by without her full attention, Rubin made the powerful decision to plan out a year of 11 Happiness resolutions, each with their own mini-goals attached. The Happiness Project is her documentation of her year of happy!

First of all, I liked the sentiment behind The Happiness Project a lot. I would bet dollars to donuts that there are a lot of people out there who aren't living their "happiest lives," and that even those who might already feel like they are happy people, might have something to benefit from little tweaks to their daily lifestyle, schedule, and attitude, that Rubin suggests. And it also appeals to my need for structured improvement in my own life: I'm a super goals-oriented person, and will flock to anything about being more happy and productive, so this was a concept I bought into pretty completely.

Which might explain why I wish there was more delineation within the book as to how a reader might be able to implement this program for themselves. Thankfully, there is plenty of information available elsewhere - for starters, Rubin's blog and Your Happiness Project starter tips on her website -  but yet, it all pales in comparison to the amount of work she says she did gearing up for it. If there had been more concrete, replicable work displayed in her own book, I think it would have been easier to grasp the breadth of what kind of effort she put in.

However, I realize that's potentially a matter of personal taste. Of the problems I had with the book, the ones that I did have were mainly matters of personal choosing; for instance, the resolutions she chose to develop and the manner in which they were discussed. Parts of the discussion within the book were also a little gratuitous and self-indulgent, and a little like bragging.

The biggest problem I had, in terms of "buying in" to The Happiness Project, was her treatment of the topics of depression. She acknowledged that the lack of depression in her life, versus those else who might follow her plan, would provide a notable difference, but didn't attempt to explore the topic at all. She also didn't attempt to apply or describe the application of her Project plan to any alternative lifestyles other than her upper middle class, straight, white, pretty one. I felt like a lot of her experiences just weren't translatable to a large amount of people, and she didn't acknowledge those areas of difference, nor does she make any motions to explore them further. That isn't exactly what she set out to do with the book, but it would have provided additional context and interest to the results of her project.

Final Verdict: The Happiness Project was an optimistic and friendly look at ways to improve your happiness, but  didn't address areas in the lives of readers that might serve to prevent it. While the topic was fun, the application and method wasn't terribly clear.

And how about this Final(s) Verdict: If there's anything in the deep, dark, gloomy days of winter that might make your life even more of a downer, it's Finals Week. Here are some tips from me, as to how you can knock out those last few obstacles between you and the golden days of Winter Break!

  • Don't get overwhelmed. As much as you may feel like you're being crushed by looming projects and exams, and as much as you think that all of your roomies and friends are getting done before you, there are still people on campus who are in the same situation. Everything you have to do is doable. You just need to get it done. 
  • Accept where you are now, and only go up from there. It's easy enough to send yourself into a massive shame-spiral when prepping for Finals: oh, if only you had just made study guides earlier / gone to the review sessions / reviewed the class lecture slides / etc! The fact is, you're where you're at right now, and the only thing you can do is go forward. 
  • Know your knowledge style. For me, that means making expansive handwritten review notes with lots of color-coordinated post-its and having all of my books within arm's reach. For you, that might mean listening to lecture audio while writing out a million flashcards and brainstorming essay topics with friends. Learn what methods work best for you, and employ them to your advantage. 
  • Take fun breaks! The only thing you're going to get from keeping your nose to the grindstone for long periods of time is a very messed up nose. Besides, it's the holiday season, and there are way too many bright, glittery things to check out to just sit inside all day! Even if it's a 10-minute Pinterest-palooza, give yourself time to sit back in the midst of a heavy study crunch. 

Are you done with your Finals yet? What are some of your favorite study tips? Let me know, in the comments below! 

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