Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Book Review: The Happiness Project (2009) by Gretchen Rubin.

Surprisingly, Gretchen Rubin somewhat undermines her thesis that happiness is intentional.

At the outset, she writes: "According to current research, in the determination of a person's level of happiness, genetics accounts for about 50 percent; life circumstances, such as age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, income, health, occupation, and religious affiliation, account for about 10 to 20 percent; and the remainder is a product of how a person thinks and acts." (p. 6.)

In other words, if at least 50 percent (and likely much more) is governed by circumstances beyond one's control, isn't that a little depressing? (sorry)

But, if heredity isn't destiny, then most of Rubin's book uplifts. She breaks her project into twelve parts--one for each month. Not all monthly projects are created equal, however. For example, her chapter for April on "Parenthood" stands out. She offers some helpful tips, including trying to reverse the propensity of parents to speak negatively to their children. Rubin reports that "[s]tudies show that 85 of adult messages to children are negative--'no,' 'stop,' 'don't'--so it's worth trying to keep that to a minimum. Instead of saying, 'No, not until after lunch,' I try to say, 'Yes, as soon as we've finished lunch.'" (99.)

By contrast, her chapter for August to "Contemplate the Heavens" and "eternity" from an "reverent agnostic" (195) falls flat. While Rubin hints at aspects of "spirituality" that may increase happiness, she does not enjoy the depth of background to harvest the fruit presented by this bountiful topic.

Further, the two quoted passages above (6 and 99) illustrate an annoying tendency in the book to cite "current research" or "studies" without any footnote, endnote or citation for support. As a result, the reader has no idea how credible this research is. As a former Supreme Court clerk, who left the law to write, perhaps Rubin intentionally shunned writing like a lawyer in this respect.

As an interesting side note, her father-in-law Robert Rubin (former Treasury Secretary) makes several appearances in the book (and receives favorable treatment).

In sum, while Rubin might receive criticism for gimmickry (which she acknowledges), the book contains some useful food-for-thought as to what influences happiness, and how one can take intentional steps (thoughts and actions) to maximize it.

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