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The Happiness Project Summary and Key Lessons

The Happiness Project, written by Gretchen Rubin, is a self-help book about a 12-month-long experiment that the author conducts in spite of having everything that she could ask for. 

Quick Summary: Gretchen Rubin embarks on a year-long quest to increase the state of her being happy. Through research and personal experiments, she discovers and shares practical strategies, offering insights into how small changes can lead to greater contentment in everyday life. An exploration of the nature of joy awaits.

The Happiness Project Full Summary

Introduction and Setup

At the start of the project, Rubin recalls an epiphany she had while on a bus in the rain: Despite having everything she could wish for – a loving husband, two adorable children, a successful career – she wasn’t as happy as she could be. 

She wasn’t depressed or deeply unsatisfied, but she felt that she could experience more happiness in her daily life. This realization led her to launch a year-long experiment aimed at increasing her overall happiness. 

To do this, she decided to set monthly resolutions focused on different areas of her life, using both age-old wisdom and contemporary science as her guides.

Foundations of Happiness

Before diving into her monthly resolutions, Rubin lays out some fundamental concepts. She acknowledges that what makes one person happy might not make another person equally happy. 

Recognizing the subjective nature of happiness, Rubin created her “Twelve Commandments” and “Secrets of Adulthood” – personal maxims that would guide her year-long journey. 

One of the key tenets is “Be Gretchen,” emphasizing the importance of understanding and accepting oneself. Throughout her journey, Rubin often revisits these foundational beliefs, ensuring that her actions and resolutions are aligned with them.

Monthly Resolutions

Each month, Rubin tackled a different area of her life, setting specific and actionable resolutions. 

For example, in January, she focused on boosting her energy, which involved going to bed earlier, exercising better, decluttering, and taking time to do fun things. 

In February, she addressed her marriage by remembering birthdays, planning date nights, and quitting nagging. 

Other months addressed parenthood, work, leisure, friendship, money, and more. Each resolution was backed by research on happiness, anecdotes from her personal experience, and feedback from her blog readers. 

This structured approach allowed Rubin to systematically evaluate her life and integrate habits that fostered happiness.

Challenges and Insights

While some resolutions came easily and had immediately apparent benefits, others were challenging. 

Rubin was candid about the struggles she faced, from resistance to change to moments of backsliding. Throughout her project, she realized the interconnectedness of her resolutions. For instance, improving physical health not only increased her energy but also made her more patient and less prone to negative emotions. 

One of her key insights was that small, everyday changes can lead to a significant boost in happiness. Moreover, by focusing on her personal happiness, she noticed positive changes in the people around her, underscoring the idea that happiness is contagious.

Concluding Chapters

At the end of her year-long experiment, Rubin reflects on the journey. While she didn’t achieve a state of perpetual euphoria, she felt more appreciative, content, and engaged in her daily life. The Happiness Project underscored the idea that happiness is a continuous pursuit, requiring attention, self-awareness, and effort. 

Rubin encourages us to create our own happiness projects, emphasizing that it’s never too late or too early to start. 

With a mix of humor, wisdom, and rigorous self-experimentation, “The Happiness Project” is both a memoir and a guidebook, prompting us to ask themselves what truly makes them happy and how they can foster it in their lives.

the happiness project summary

Also Read: Braving the Wilderness Summary and Key Lessons

Key Lessons

Personalized Happiness Pursuits

Core Concept

Happiness is deeply personal, and what brings joy and contentment to one person may not necessarily do the same for another. Throughout her journey, Rubin emphasizes the commandment, “Be Gretchen,” reminding herself (and the reader) of the importance of self-awareness and authenticity.


To achieve genuine happiness, one must introspect and understand their own values, desires, strengths, and weaknesses. 

This understanding is fundamental because blindly following someone else’s happiness blueprint might not yield the desired results. Instead, we readers are encouraged to take time to recognize our passions, set boundaries, and identify what they can let go of or prioritize.


When you are attuned to your personal needs and wants, the steps you take towards happiness become more effective and satisfying. It reduces the chances of chasing societal definitions of success or happiness that might not resonate with you.

2. Incremental Changes Yield Big Results

Core Concept

Throughout the book, Rubin underscores the transformative power of small, daily actions. Instead of waiting for monumental shifts or grand gestures, Rubin’s approach emphasizes the cumulative impact of minor changes.


Rubin’s monthly resolutions are actionable and often revolve around everyday activities or habits. 

For instance, decluttering a small area of the home, introducing a few minutes of daily exercise, or expressing daily gratitude can lead to improved mood and well-being. 

It’s not about overhauling your entire life overnight but making consistent, incremental adjustments.


Over time, these tiny shifts can create a domino effect, leading to a more profound transformation in happiness and overall well-being. 

This approach is also sustainable because it doesn’t rely on bursts of motivation but builds resilience and consistency over time.

3. Happiness Is Contagious

Core Concept

One of Rubin’s profound realizations was the interconnectedness of her happiness with that of the people around her. When she felt happier, she noticed it had a ripple effect on her family, friends, and even strangers.


By focusing on one’s personal happiness, it’s possible to inadvertently elevate the mood of those around you. This is because positive emotions, attitudes, and behaviors can be infectious. 

When you prioritize your well-being, it often manifests in improved patience, kindness, generosity, and understanding, which in turn can make others feel valued and happier.


The realization that our happiness can influence others serves as a powerful motivator to continue working on it. It not only underscores the personal benefits but also the broader social impact. 

This interconnectedness reminds us that our pursuit of happiness isn’t a selfish act but one that can contribute positively to the community at large.

Final Thoughts

The Happiness Project underscores the idea that happiness is often within our control, and proactive, intentional actions can elevate our sense of well-being. 

The book’s strength lies in its practicality; by breaking down happiness into manageable monthly chunks, Rubin makes the process accessible. Her candid reflections on failures and successes make the narrative relatable. 

While every reader’s happiness project will look different, Rubin’s journey provides inspiration and a potential roadmap for those seeking greater contentment in their lives.

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