Her [Gretchen Rubin’s] timing was unwittingly prescient, just ahead of the boom in happiness obsession that now permeates all aspects of the culture, from politics to movies, memoirs and self-help books prescribing all manner of things – forgiveness, singing, nature, meditation, touching, philanthropy, bicycling, you name it.
The premise of Ms. Rubin’s sequel is shrewdly focused on the home front, a place of great angst in the 21st century, with mothers still struggling to calibrate the perfect work-life balance and wondering if parenthood is even worth it. But unfortunately, with this book, it seems the greatest motive at play is simply this: write another bestseller.
And that’s because Ms. Rubin fails at ironic self-deprecation. She tries to make fun of her dogged approach to her work. The high-volume blogger confesses that she’s the kind of person who makes her bed in a hotel room even on the morning of check-out. But her attempts at self-mockery are ham-fisted and more than a little defensive, which don’t make her character endearing in a quirky way, just irritating.
A former lawyer, who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, she tackles happiness like a case she wants to win. And she’s not afraid to take on the opposition.
…. Ms. Rubin is a bit like Oprah on amphetamines. And if Oprah is emotionally intelligent, Ms. Rubin is intelligently intelligent. She arrives at happiness through her head rather than through her heart. Which isn’t all bad. Her intelligence often leads to heartfelt truths. It’s just that sometimes you wish she didn’t have to get all huffy about her process….
There’s a paradox inherent in Ms. Rubin’s character, which in itself is oddly ironic, as it’s exactly the kind of complexity she loves to try to unravel with her incisive, legal mind. One of her many mantras is “Be Gretchen … an effort to embrace my true nature and my real passions.” Well, all that anal, workaholic, legal-parsing business is Gretchen all right.
But here’s the dilemma. Can you enjoy reading about happiness tips, even good ones, from someone you don’t really like?
While Rubin’s fundamental point – it is through action and doing that we develop and ‘become’ – is valid, becoming happy by lists is like painting by numbers, formulaic, empty and transactional, rather than transformational and long-lasting.