Brain Pickings

The Happiness Project: Gretchen Rubin Spends a Year in Pursuit

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A year’s worth of ideas, inspiration and innovation from culture’s collective brain.

Last week, we looked at Charles Spearin’s music-meets-philosophy experiment, The Happiness Project. Turns out, perhaps due to the universal relevance of the subject matter, that it has a doppelganger.

One rainy afternoon in 2006, New York magazine writer Gretchen Rubin was sitting on the bus, having one of those inevitable-for-everyone epiphanies about the fleeting nature of life, the importance of savoring the moment, and all that jazz. But instead of shrugging it off as a contrived existential truism, Rubin decided to undertake an ambitious task: To test the multitude of theories about what makes us happy, from ancient philosophies to pop culture prescriptions to the latest scientific studies, and to write about the experience. Her blog, clever and wryly written, full of weekly happiness tips, quickly struck a cultural chord and was syndicated across a slew of cultural merit validators — Slate, Yahoo, The Huffington Post, even Psychology Today.

Today, the blog congeals as The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun — a wonderfully engaging memoir chronicling the project.

With its eloquent charisma and wit, the book successfully dodges the preachiness bullet, offering instead a captivating journey into the greatest human pursuit and the many, often crazy, ways in which we go about attaining that elusive holy grail. Both enlightening and entertaining, it’s the kind of read that takes you on a relentlessly fun ride and drops you off at a place of great insight, leaving you to marvel at how you got there without trekking through a jungle of discomfort and doubt.

For us, The Happiness Project is solid proof of our own credo: Do something out of passion and curiosity, and the rest — the syndication, the cultural traction, the “success” — will follow. The best cultural artifacts — the most compelling art, the smartest books, the most interesting films — didn’t begin with a business model, they began with a great idea, which in turn came from exploring the fringes of curiosity.

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