03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gretchen Rubin Spent A Year Researching 'The Happiness Project'. Can It Help You?

I don't know Gretchen Rubin very well --- we're Facebook friends, occasional e-mail pals and, once a year or so, we have lunch --- but I would have said she's got the world on a string.

She's described her husband as attentive and loving, her kids as smart and adorable.

She lives on a good block.

Her books get published.

And, long before she became a wife/mother/writer in Manhattan, she was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Review and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

So I was a little surprised when she began a year-long "happiness project" and now, on the first page of her book --- 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 --- explains why: "The days are long, but the years are short. Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." Her conclusion: "I was in danger of wasting my life."

I thought: Just goes to show, some people are greedy for money and power, some people want more of the intangibles. But pretty much everyone wants...more.

Even Gretchen.

I read on. And saw I didn't quite have it right. Because on page two, she quotes Colette: "What a wonderful life I've had. I only wish I'd realized it sooner."

That's when I twigged that Gretchen was a greedhead in exactly the way I am: greedy to feel more alive, ambitious to see what would happen if she pressed her foot hard on a happiness accelerator.

Gretchen Rubin turns out to be the ideal guinea pig for such an experiment. Before starting, she leaned into her student/teacher past and read a laundry list of philosophers, psychologists, novelists, even the more articulate pop culture gurus. Then she divided the year into months, and assigned each a special priority (January; boost energy, February: remember love, etc). Finally, she listed her preliminary goals and beliefs:

* Be Gretchen.
* Let it go.
* Act the way I want to feel.
* Do it now.
* Be polite and be fair.
* Enjoy the process.
* Spend out.
* Identify the problem.
* Lighten up.
* Do what ought to be done.
* No calculation.
* There is only love.

And then she set out to live more happily.

Correctly, she starts with health. Which means, above all, enough sleep. Eight hours of sleep. Next she confronts her relationship, focusing on nagging, appreciating and consideration. (I looked in vain for advice about sex. Indeed, the combined messages of her first two chapters puzzled me. We must be up at 6 AM. That means we should be asleep at 10 PM. But our daughter is often up until 9. Does Rubin really believe we should have sex between 9-10 AM? I know humans are adaptable, but....)

Non-fiction books are often seriously padded --- I often say there's no self-help book I can't write in 4,000 words. Not this one. Gretchen Rubin doesn't just write about her experiments in having fun and lightening up and failing to keep writing a gratitude journal. She dives right into her Diet Coke and Fresca habit, watching TV with her husband, the wisdom of her savvy but not cloying seven-year-old. And she's not above dispensing practical advice: When you buy a device, put all the stuff that comes with it in a labeled Ziploc bag.

How does a book like this end? Well, in December, she tries to act on all eleven of her resolutions --- at once. And, at the same time, she assesses how well she's incorporated her project into her life. That is, how much happier she is. If any.

No spoilers here. Let me just say Gretchen Rubin is about to be cherished by many more people --- women, especially --- than her family and friends. Because there's always great happiness in giving, this will make her happy. It certainly makes me happy to commend her book to you.

[Cross-posted from]