“The Happiness Project”April 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | 8 Comments
Stunt nonfiction is something I’ve always loved, but didn’t know the term until I read The Happiness Project. I did my own stunt of reading 500 books last year, and I’ve read books on cooking through Julia Child, reading the entire encyclopedia and the Oxford English Dictionary, and who knows how many more. Surely the idea of spending a year trying to be happier must be the most sensible of these.
Gretchen Rubin grapples with some challenges during her project: Other people tell her that thinking about her own happiness will actually make her unhappy, that it’s irresponsible to feel happy when other people in the world are suffering, and that her specific strategies are dumb. This is some pretty heavy stuff. I agree with her, though, that being happier makes us more likely to help others (and vice versa), that it is possible to teach ourselves new skills to improve our happiness and well-being, and that it’s valuable to everyone to do so. I’m already thinking out what my own happiness project will be.
The section of the book that caught my attention the most, though, was under the month of November: Give Positive Reviews. That’s what I try to do here, and sometimes I find others are not receptive to this. I’ve actually been asked why I liked a book that someone else hated – more than once. Is it really offensive to find that someone liked something you didn’t?
Why was it so deliciously satisfying to criticize? Being critical made me feel more sophisticated and intelligent – and in fact, studies show that people who are critical are often perceived to be more discerning. In one study, for example, people judged the writers of negative book reviews as more expert and competent than the writers of positive reviews, even when the content of both reviews was judged to be of high quality. Another study showed that people tend to think that someone who criticizes them is smarter than they are…. Being critical has its advantages, and what’s more, it’s much easier to be hard to please.
So there you have it. Try harder to enjoy things, just like I’ve always said. Look at critical reviews with a jaundiced eye, and suspect that you may have the capacity to get more out of the criticized book than that snarky reviewer managed to do.