A Year Can Change Everything- Or Can It?

Over the last few months I have listened to three audiobooks: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs. It takes me awhile to get through them, since the only real time I listen is while walking the dogs, or occasionally on the treadmill. Last time my theme was "memoirs by funny female comedians," while this time it was the idea of changing your life in a year. 

The idea of self-improvement is something I find fascinating and something I take fairly seriously. I'm definitely not one to buy books or take off on any crazy fad programs, but over the years I have committed to regular exercise, a healthy social life, intellectual stimulation, and balanced eating. Making changes to your life isn't easy, and it's interesting to see how other people tackle the challenge. Plus, it's nice to know that you're not the only person that's flawed and hungry for change.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The lowdown: The Happiness Project is set up by month, Rubin tackling a different area of her life during each. For example, she focuses on her marriage, finances, parenting skills, fitness, spirituality, and hobbies. She makes both big and small changes based on current research and what will work for her family. 

What I found helpful: I didn't find anything ground-shaking in this book, but I did take away two tidbits that I still remember. The first was from the parenting section- she talked about how sometimes people just need to hear their feelings validated. This is something I use a lot with my students at school, for example, "Yes, Jose, I understand that you're upset you got a D on this essay, so let's look at my comments" or "I can see why you're worried about passing this class, English is really important for graduation." And it's true- it's important that our emotions are understood by others. Another piece advice is to not keep saving things or waiting to use "the good stuff." I'm horrible about this, especially with things like expensive perfume, dresses, and makeup. Who cares! We buy things to use them.

Yeah, but...: Rubin is pretty annoying and I don't feel like she really ended up that much happier. 

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Lowdown: Trying to move on past an extremely messy divorce and a saddening breakup, Gilbert decides to spend a year soul-searching in Italy, India, and Bali. She experiences the cuisine, spiritual practices, and locals, all the while trying to steady her own nerves and heal her psyche. 

What I Found Helpful: I think the idea of getting outside of your comfort zone, alone, as Gilbert did, is really important, no matter what age we are or what our living situation is. Single and not tied down? See the world! A working mother of two? Take a class or go on a day trip exploring a nearby city without your family. It's fine to love others and care for them, but you have to cling to some sort of shred of independence- you are an individual, after all. I loved the different areas of the world she traveled to and was extremely jealous she was able to spend a year abroad.

Yea, but... Gilbert is pretty annoying  (deja vu). Also, the fact that her trip was paid for by an advance made the whole thing quite a bit less authentic. 

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs

The Lowdown: After contemplating his health and longevity, Jacobs decides to live as healthily as he possibly can. He focuses on different parts of his body each month, accumulating quite the list of things to do to be healthier. He works on everything from his cardiovascular health to his memory to his hands and feet. He utilizes a variety of research and consults with experts in every field.

What I Found Helpful: First and foremost, I appreciated Jacobs' mild self-deprecating tone and willingness to try just about anything. He also did a fairly good job presenting both sides of various health-related arguments, and not being too preachy about the decisions he made. He encourages a busy lifestyle and considers health to be more than just the number on the scale or ab definition. He's also a proponent of building exercise into your routine, which is a great option for busy people. 

Yeah, but... The project as a whole is really unrealistic. Most people don't have the time he does to dedicate to exercise and overall health, nor do they have the financial resources he does. One doesn't have to spend tons of money to be healthy, but having some cash to spend on a gym membership, quality produce, and a water filter does help. Pushing beyond that into the realm of sleep studies, various exercise classes, and consultations with top experts is just not happening. 


  1. Thanks for the reviews. Usually when people set out to be happy, it doesn't happen. It's like trying to focus on falling asleep.

  2. I've been curious about Drop Dead Healthy. Mostly because I read and adored his book about reading the whole Encyclopedia Britannica. (Titled Know it All, I think?)

    These sorts of books are decent. The off-putting thing is that most of us won't be paid to explore something for a year ;)

  3. AJ Jacobs is one of my favorite authors, but I found Drop Dead Healthy to be less structured and put together than his other books. While I still found it interesting, he fluttered around rather than committing to one thing, so I found it pretty useless as anything other than some funny essays.

    Have you read Tim Ferriss's Four Hour Body?