Book review : The Happiness Project

I finished reading the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin last night. It was well written, and often quite inspirational, especially in the first chapters. Rubin kept linking back to  the motto “ The days are long but the years are short” which is very true of life and underpins the need and the reasons for trying to achieve quality long lasting happiness in our daily life.

Sadly though by the end of the book I was also applying the motto to the book. Well my take on it – “The book is long, but the chapters are often shallow”. More to the point, I developed a really strong dislike of Rubin. To me, she became a  ever complaining, self-centred, egotistical bore. Maybe it was me, but I don’t think I would like the Gretchen as constructed in the book.

I am always enforcing the rule with my students that they should never attribute an author’s writing with the author, but in this type of  twelve months to complete a project text writing is very personalised and so one comes to live with, and through the writer.  Perhaps it is the difference in age – I mean I would be 15 years older than Rubin and in a completely different place in my life – by to me she became a nagging, obnoxious egocentric person, whom I sensed, despite her best intentions, remained honestly indifferent to the real needs of her husband and family.

Maybe it was just the style of writing. It was obvious that Rubin set out to write both a book and a blog to attract publicity, a publisher and financial gain from the project, and no doubt she had to flesh out the activities to make the word length of a book. However, after awhile I started skimming paragraphs to try and lift the information from the complaints.

That said, it was a good book to read as a first read in any self-improvement project. There are many helpful suggestions. I found the comments from readers of her blog particularly interesting and underpinned, for me, how happiness is different for everyone.

I suspect that this is really a book for the twenty-thirty something woman. Someone without small children, a secure economic foundation, or a little older might not relate so well. This is one issue that I have with many of the books in this area – they do not address the newly empty nesters. Not the empty nesters who one day look at their husbands and decide that they no longer need them, and so resign their jobs, pack up their art books and move to France, or Italy or wherever the other like minded women have gone. Also, not the type of empty nester looking to reconnect spiritually.

My point is that Rubin’s book doesn’t address the Flamingo Dancers of the world; mature women who want to remain happy by recreating their life within their existing paradigm with the wisdom already learned through a life well lived. Women who want to flesh out what they already have. Women who don’t need to purchase something to reward themselves; and women who are setting up the next 40 years of their life. The women who want to hail that great big yellow taxi to the kerb and keep the meter running a little longer.

people who do lunch

A 93 year old, an 88 year old, a sister-in-law, a carer, Mr FD and I. There was more life at the last supper.

 We arrived at the sports club to celebrate FIL’s 93 birthday and SIL started instantly on again about joining the sports club. I was going to drop to the motley carpet and sink my teeth into SIL’s  knee cap, but Mr FD folded and joined. It was now obvious that he had adopted the moral high ground and had taken the decision to go with the flow, plastering an agreeable expression on his face and waiting for the day to end. Some might say he went over to the dark side, I understood that it was a survival mechanism. However, he should have forewarned me, given me time for a battle plan  of my own. I thought we were fighting this together, but obviously it was every Flamingo Dancer for themselves.

 Each to their own then. Obviously flesh ripping was off the list so I adopted the Prince Phillip stance instead – walking three paces behind everyone else and looking as though I was engrossed in the wall paper, anything but the spectacle before me.

 We seated the old people and went to look at the menu. Mr FD and I quickly chose something from a very limited menu, but SIL and the carer, who is just as controlling as SIL, had  vouchers for discounts and major discussions about heavens knows what continued between them until the line was six deep behind us. I gave up and wandered over to the bar to order drinks and lord, I so wanted a glass of something to settle my nerves. Hell, I would have drunk enough to settle the nerves of everyone in the room and the car park. Sadly, Mr FD and I had plans to donate blood after lunch and so alcohol was not on the list. We settled for orange juice. Life is so unfair. One just suffers and suffers.

 SIL would only allow the oldies one fish basket between them, so when it arrived the carer jumps to her feet and started dividing it up for the old people. No one had asked them whether they wanted a fish basket, but once I received my steak sandwich which was only one notch away from leather hide, I thought it might have been a wise choice as at least the oldies could gum the battered fish.

 A clerk from the office arrives at the table and asks me if I am Flamingo Dancer. Obviously they don’t get many strangers in them there parts as she tracked me down very easily. It may have also been the company I kept.

 Apparently I didn’t fill in my birth date on the membership form. Heavens the world was going to cease revolving no doubt. No I said, I don’t like giving my birthday details (as that is a great way to have your identity stolen). “Oh but you won’t get a birthday card from us!” Honey I can live without it, is my answer, but SIL rises to the occasion.  “You have to fill in your birthday; they send you vouchers for all sorts of discounts for your birthday!” It now occurs to me that only an idiot would try to steal my identity and have any connection to this family and so I fill in the date. I know Scottie is never going to beam me up, even he got shot far, far away a long time ago.

 Minutes later Mr FD and I hear our names being called over the public address system. Mr FD hobbles up to the admin desk. Apparently our official membership cards were ready. Oh happy day!  He comes back with the plastic cards and a couple of discount vouchers. He offers both vouchers to SIL who plays the “oh no you keep them” game until I can’t bear the pain anymore and between clenched teeth I hiss “SIL, we only come here once a year with you, you take the damn vouchers.”

 SIL then includes the carer in the game and they play “you have one, no you have one”. In the end it is decided that they will take them, but keep them at the oldies house for either to use. There is much discussion whether to keep them on the fridge, under MIL’s chair (?) or in a drawer. I am about to offer them a place where the sun don’t shine when carer is distracted by a raffle draw. No doubt the conversation will resume at some stage.

 The highlight of lunch was when SIL takes a piece of  gravy covered roast beef form her plate and wraps it in a paper serviette. She then places the parcel next to her plate. My head was spinning at this stage and with the noise around me I couldn’t quite make out the comment that passed between SIL and the carer but I did hear the carer say “you won’t need dinner tonight. You can just have scratch.” Now SIL is far, far from the poverty line, so she has no need for “take away” food of such a nature. She does not have a pet. Her daughter has pets, but they live on the other side of the city and I don’t think she was heading that way. We will just muse awhile on that won’t we?

 SIL then disappears across the room as she has spied the ex-wife of  the plumber, who “comes here every Tuesday”. Carer disappears to the poker machines. Mr FD goes off to the men’s room. I am alone with the oldies. I shout a few remarks to them across the table. The waitress arrives to collect the plates and asks if she may clear the table. I practically fall upon the poor woman, gushing “oh please do!” in the hope the meal with come to an end.

 Waitress picks up SIL’s piece of meat. She does a double take when she realises she has a hunk of gravy covered meat in her hand but continues around the table. She checks her hand out a second time, them a third. No doubt making sure it wasn’t a turd though if it was anything like my steak sandwich it might well have been. MIL mumbles something and the waitress thinks she has said something to her. “Did you want this piece of meat dear” asks the waitress, “ for your dog dear?”

 MIL’s carpet peeing dog was put down a couple of years ago, but MIL nodded yes in her vague old lady way as she does to everything and so the waitress continues “It is illegal to take food away,” she says, “but I’ll do you a favour.” She then takes the meat and wraps it in more paper serviettes and hands it to MIL. “It’s illegal to do this, so don’t let them see you – put it in your bag right now.” MIL puts the gravy covered meat wrapped in serviettes in her handbag.

 Mr FD returns to the table just as I am contemplating taking both the walking sticks from beneath the table and beating the brains out of his entire family. He recklessly jokes about the wild behaviour at the table during his absence. Little does he know the truth, but I know he will as soon as we reach our car, and all the way home in fact.

  He thinks that he is funny as both his parents are like walking cadavers and only here because neither wants to die before the other merely because they want to dance on each other’s grave. I tell him it is time we went to the blood bank while I still have blood left to give, as seconds before I was seriously considering impaling myself on the nearest knife and fork.

 Mr FD knows when it is best to make a retreat and so we say goodbye, but SIL insists that we say goodbye to the carer and so leads Mr FD off through the poker machines in search of the carer. At first she can’t be seen and so we are forced to do a double circuit of the room until she is spied in a corner. She is vey excited because she has worked a dollar up to $3.40 and says she can’t leave it now!  I had the feeling that Mr FD thought she was going to kiss him goodbye as I saw him put distance between them more agilely than any movement I have seen him make in weeks.

 We escape and as we drive off, Mr FD announces that his knees are hurting so much that he can’t face up to the blood bank and just wants to go directly home.

 I could have drunk myself into incoherence. I suffered through painful sobriety for nothing. Someone is going to pay for this. Hell, everyone is going to pay for this!