Could you be happier? Is there something missing in your life that would make you more joyful? Many people are too busy with their everyday lives and responsibilities to contemplate these questions. Not Gretchen Rubin. She is the author of The Happiness Project. And Gretchen spent a year overhauling her days in an attempt to be happier.
After reading The Happiness Project, I considered the many books I have read that have brought me joy. There are books that have changed my outlook, inspired me to be a better person and made me re-think what is really important. Here is a list of the extremely diverse books that have brought me great joy. They range from fiction to autobiography, and from children’s literature to a book authored by a former president.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery — Do not be fooled by the appearance of this book; it is not for children, or at least not just for children. This classic fable puts all of life into perspective. If you have not read this since high school French class, read it again in English, without the burden of having to translate it. If you have never read it, it should actually be required reading. A friend told me she worked at a college where all freshman were required to read The Little Prince. Very wise.
Giving by Bill Clinton — A Republican business woman recommended this book after hearing Mr. Clinton speak at a conference. Not a Clinton fan to start, she was so moved by his message, she bought the book. Giving is a compilation of real stories about generosity. It is the stories of people rich and poor, but mostly ordinary, everyday folks, who have been moved to help their fellow man. I have gone to this book again and again on days when it seems there is no goodness in the world. And I am always reminded of the overwhelming kindness that dwells in the hearts of most. I cannot read this book without a box of tissues handy. But they are tears of joy.
The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giano — This is a book to treasure, to give as a gift, to donate to a library. It is the story of a simple man with a singular mission. Over the course of many years, our hero takes it upon himself to change the barren countryside where he lives. The gradual change is transformational, not just to the land but to the people who live there. This is a lesson in the power of one. I gave this book as a gift to someone who had acted with uncommon generosity. Her response? “This should be required reading for anyone living on our planet.”
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery — If ever someone was entitled to a bad attitude, it would be Anne Shirley. Anne is the orphan who ends up on a farm with an older couple who requested a boy. But Anne is the eternal optimist, and teaches us all to appreciate what we have. She is a study in resilience; she is a study in the power of love to melt even the hardest heart. Yes, this is a children’s book but Anne has a lot to teach grown-ups too. In an age of I-pads, I-phones, tablets and keyboards, this is a book to sit with and read out loud to the children you love the most. They will remember the story forever and the time you took to share it with them.
I Know Why The caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou — One of my favorite all time authors and human beings, this autobiography recounts the first sixteen years of Dr. Angelou’s life. Despite traumatic events and upheaval, the young Angelou is ultimately able to rise above. It is the love of her grandmother and others in her community that propel her to a life of wonder and creativity. Another story of incredible resilience, so eloquent, so exquisitely written, this is perhaps my number one book in all categories. I have had the very good fortune to hear Dr. Angelou speak on two occasions. What I always remember her saying, with her wide smile and twinkling eyes, and that voice, that voice as rich as dark-roast coffee, “Never trust people who don’t laugh.”
The Joy Diet by Martha Beck — This is a how-to book about joy, not food. It is a quick read; I read it on a plane traveling from Orlando to Bangor. Ms. Beck, always witty and at the same time wise, outlines ten steps to a happier life. The trick is, you can’t move on to number two until you have mastered number one, and so on. I recommend this book a lot. And it is surprising how many people cannot get past number one. It appears to be the simplest step of all. But in the age of the glorification of “busy”, it is very telling that people cannot take time for themselves, even if they know they will be better for it in the end. I always enjoy reading Martha Beck. Her humor is superb and makes reading a how-to book “a joy”.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin — This is Ms. Rubin’s story about her year spent with resolutions and charts, studying philosophy and trying to get her closets organized. Rubin’s motivation and energy were inspiring; I think many people will benefit from her experience. This was a fun read for me but it sure didn’t change my life. I am more likely to find happiness curled up with a good book than cleaning my closets.