Books I’ve Read: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Hello again! I have lapsed once more in posting, but alas, I have finally finished another book. Since probably around the time I posted last (January… ahem), I’ve been working on The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It’s not a particularly long book, the font is fairly large in size, and it’s quite a casual read. I just have been cramming all kinds of things in and was reading slowly. Like one chapter a week on average slowly. Which is very slow for me.

The Happiness ProjectSome of you may recall that I’ve also been listening to podcasts which include Ms. Rubin’s Happier. So when I walked into work and saw The Happiness Project on our communal bookshelf, it was a no-brainer; I had to pick it up.

Happiness is such a buzzword lately, and there are so many different strategies to get there. Some say to focus on gratefulness, others say to drop all but your passion, and some say to just hang out with people more and invest in experiences. And Gretchen Rubin tried all of them. Over the course of a year, she charted myriad resolutions she pinpointed– through an unfathomable amount of research– that were supposed to make a person happier. She established rules, discovered secrets and truths, and found out a great deal about herself as she worked her way through this very disciplined endeavor. It was awe-inspiring.

It was also a bit daunting. The discipline required to do what she did has felt so far out of my reach since I graduated high school. The only thing I do on a daily basis is make myself a cup of coffee before work. And maybe (definitely) spend way too much time scrolling through Facebook. Endeavoring on a project with charts and gold stars and things just… so far out of my capabilities.

The nice thing is that none of the things she was working on were very big at all. She did not take a year off to travel the world, she didn’t quit her high-paying elite job to chase a passion into an uncertain future (she actually did… but not during this whole project). Instead, her happiness project consisted of small things like not nagging, clearing clutter, and embracing silliness. All of these things have been shown to increase happiness.

This all may seem too good to be true, but I can attest to the strategy behind it all, which is really “cultivating an atmosphere of growth.” As I mentioned in a previous post— and likely as demonstrated through the books I’ve been blogging about– I’ve really been focusing on improvement in a variety of areas. From health and wellness to professional development, I’ve been learning and expanding my experience. And I have to say that I really do feel happier than I have in quite some time.

Perhaps my favorite part is all the references Ms. Rubin provides. From classical poetry through to modern scientific studies, the resources for happiness theories seems endless and encouraging. The variety implies that there truly is a way for anyone to be happier, and that makes the concept all the more powerful. And not only does she provide all of her research, she’s also established her own resources like the podcast, a website with an example happiness chart, and even app, which I most definitely did not ( totally did– download.

So of course, the question is would I recommend this book? My answer to that is that I’m going to be returning it to our communal bookshelf to pick up another of her books on the four personality tendencies (she talks about these in The Happiness Project; the next one is aptly titled The Four Tendencies, so keep an eye out for a blog on that in the near future).

Get happy, my friends.


Books I’ve Read: The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg

I’m really excited that this is happening even sooner than I thought, but I got to a point where I really wanted to get the information this author was providing.

The Education of MillionairesThe Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg is a dissertation against traditional higher education. He rails against the cost, the structure, and the lack of real measurable skills that are associated with a college degree, and demonstrates through real-world examples just how successful one can be by learning skills that are not taught in a classroom. Many of his examples are multi-millionaires without a degree or even a high school diploma.

This book really spoke to me personally because I went the traditional route. I graduated high school and then immediately went to college, taking on a large amount of debt to be able to pay for a piece of paper that certifies I know things. But then… I stopped. I was lost because I didn’t see the value in the classes I was taking. I felt like I chose the wrong path. I became first disengaged, then lapsed into what was likely depression. Once I made the choice to withdraw from school, I immediately felt better. And though it took some time, I found a different path that I’m walking now. I’m still taking classes because for the job I want, I do need that piece of paper. But I think these are more relevant, and I’m supplementing with books, articles, industry info, and networking, taking my education into my own hands. I think Mr. Ellsberg would approve.

The premise of The Education of Millionaires is this: there are certain skills that will help you become successful, either as an employee or as an entrepreneur, and these cannot be or are not taught through academic papers and homework assignments on a college campus. College is cerebral and theoretical. These skills are hands-on and applicable. There are 7 skills he outlines, including networking, marketing, and “bootstrapping.” And they don’t necessarily cost thousands of dollars; in fact, many cost nothing. It’s a very Good Will Hunting type of philosophy.Good Will Hunting Libray Fee Quote

Now for all the academics out there or those who really did need a college degree, or who really did find great value in their college experience, he doesn’t outright condemn the whole university system. He admits that there a definitely benefits to higher education, and especially if you are going into medicine or engineering. But he disagrees that every single person needs to go to college and get a degree. He opposes the fact that society has created this notion that all 18-year-olds need to take out massive loans for an esoteric education that no longer guarantees a job.

The nice thing about this book is that, even though I read the whole thing, I’m not finished with it yet. Ellsberg provides a wealth of resources for teaching yourself about these skills, so I’ll be going through those in the weeks to come.

So would I recommend this book? I definitely would, especially to high school juniors/seniors or anyone who couldn’t/didn’t get a college degree and feels stuck. Parents, employers, educators, and really anyone who could potentially influence the education or employment of anyone else. The information is engaging and useful, and the writing style is very casual (read “contains some explicit language”). Pick up a copy!

Books I’ve Read: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I feel like I’m going through a quarter-life crisis at the moment. Confused about my goals and purpose in life, flying by the seat of my pants into most things, juggling work and relationships and school and hoping to somehow throw gym time and cooking time and the ever elusive good night’s sleep into the mix. It’s fun.

I’m thinking more and more that this is why I’ve suddenly changed direction with my reading habits. Where I used to get lost in Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, I’m not getting lost in The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. I’m looking for something, and I’m not quite sure what.

The Power of HabitMost recently, I picked up The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and found that to be rather intriguing. I found it fascinating how well it meshed with my last read, Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, with a number of similar themes though they were often applied to different spheres. However, the concepts in each could certainly be used to better oneself, career, or business. The Power of Habit is especially well suited to this, going a little deeper into why strategies that were also presented in Uncommon Service can be so effective.

I liked the anecdotal quality of Habit, with plenty of real-world examples of how cues, routines, and rewards drive anything and everything, from personal bad habits up to toxic corporate culture. I like that it demonstrates how those habits can be changed. It definitely helped that there’s was a decent amount of scientific research to support these ideas as well. The development of Febreze, the renewed success of two football teams under Tony Dungee, and a complete overhaul of an international company’s culture all came down to small habits, minute changes in routines and rewards that are triggered by a cue. These are just a few of the more impressive and recognizable stories about the power that habit has over our lives.

Would I recommend it? I think this is a great read, especially if you’re looking to change something in your life– getting healthy, eliminating vices, improving productivity, etc. It’s easy to get through and has some neat tips on identifying and adjusting habits. Definitely a good read.



Books I’ve Read: Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss

Ever since I started working, I’ve been in customer service. Every position has focused on the thankless task of answering people’s questions, catering to their wants and needs, and cleaning up after their indulgences. And I absolutely love it

Not all of it, of course. It’s hard getting yelled at about things you have no control over (the weather, for example). It’s hard when you want to but can’t solve a problem due to lack of autonomy or lack of resources. It’s hard to put energy into tedious tasks that have been outsourced from the customer to you, and with little thanks from those who no longer have to bear that burden. There is no glory in customer service, it seems.

But Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, which was not what I expected in terms of focus, seems to give hope that the trenches of customer service have more potential for greatness than it appears.

Uncommon Service

My favorite part is that it somewhat confirms what so many front-end employees often learn quickly but back-end management tends to be ignorant of: bad service is not necessarily the fault of the employees. Negative feedback only occasionally centers on the attitude of a specific employee. More often than not, people are complaining about service or product offerings, production time, quality, and price– all things that base level employees can’t change.

I was surprised by this book because I was expecting ways to be a better customer service representative. Instead, it told me that I’m likely already doing the best I can and that the system I’m working in probably needs some help. It’s a nice confidence boost.

Uncommon Service goes way deeper though. It isn’t just about treating employees better to get better interactions out of them, and it certainly isn’t about catering to every customer’s whims. Instead, it’s about creating a system of excellence, within which employees can only provide excellence. It’s beautiful because it takes the impetus off of each individual and puts it on the whole.

There are many ideas that might seem counter-intuitive, like striving to be bad at parts of your business, but it makes a lot of sense when they explain why– and provide compelling examples. Huge names like JetBlue and Zappos regularly make appearances as poster children for some massive changes and heavy-lifting strategies that really make it easier to be great at service.

Overall, it gives some great insights into the pitfalls of customer service-oriented businesses and how to avoid them with grace and even panache. Whether you’re just starting a small business or transforming a flailing massive corporation, the strategies and arguments in this book are exciting and compelling.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! Especially if you’re involved in business, customer to CEO.

Books I’ve Read: How Starbucks Saved My Life

I worked at a Starget ( a Starbucks inside a Target) for a little under a year. It was stressful. We ran out of coffee, and quite frequently. Our espresso machine was down for a whole week once. And there was often only one person scheduled for Saturdays from open until early afternoon– the time frame when EVERYONE decides to do their shopping. This was all after changing management and definitely influenced my decision to go back to Cedar Point for my second year. But it wasn’t all bad. A lot of the people, especially those early in my employment, were really wonderful. And this was what I thought about while reading How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill.

This is the story of a very well-to-do older gentleman who falls from the graces of high society. Mr. Gill was a big shot in advertising until he had too many years on him, and was fired from a high-ranking, high-paying advertising job which he got right after graduating from an ivy league school that he didn’t have to worry about paying for because his father was a big time newspaper executive. He was part of the 1%, and suddenly he wasn’t. As you can imagine, he lost everything: his job, then his money, then his family. And then he found true happiness when he was offered a job at Starbucks by complete chance– by a person he would never have thought would be his savior, namely a young black woman (the narrator is an old white man). And he gained friends and experiences that made him happier at 64 than he had ever been in his previous lifestyle.

How Starbucks Saved My Life is kind of sappy, though I appreciate the coming-up story. I enjoyed following the thoughts and actions of a son of privilege as he navigates life outside of his bubble, from his spiral into poverty to his extramarital affair and child, from his failed attempts at holding on to his spot in the upper echelon to his embarrassment at his family and former friends seeing him struggling. It may seem like I was laughing at him, but I was fascinated by his observations and the connections he made from is old life into his new. The fears he experienced were relatable for those who grew up with struggle, too. Fear of not being good enough, people not liking him, important peers and relatives being disappointed, being too old to do a job, and so on and so forth. His insecurities were universal, which made this easier to read.

My biggest complaint about this book is that the lows weren’t low enough– rather, they weren’t portrayed that way. This man, Michael Gates Gills, is almost too positive throughout his whole self-redefinition. He almost brushes over the whole divorce with his wife, he focuses on how bad his previous employment at a ginormous advertising firm is rather that how perfect it was which makes his firing less heartbreaking, and he uses such weak words to describe the discomfort of his children seeing him at Starbucks or his former friends watching him take trash out in his apron and hat. He’s so positive that it’s hard to feel bad for him. It just keeps going up.

It’s not a bad book overall. I think it’s interesting, and a good look into privilege and how it can frame the world, and also the hardships that come along with it (of course it’s not all rainbows and butterflies). I also find Starbucks to be a wonderful company, even if they are kind of expensive and there are ways they could do better, especially about their waste *cough cough*.

Would I recommend this book? For a light read, it is a good one to pick up.

Books I’ve Read: Brave New World Revisited

I first read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as a junior in high school. I was the only person in my class who absolutely loved it. I thought everything about it was fascinating. This was a world where everything we had ever learned to be taboo was completely acceptable and even encouraged– sex, drugs, designer babies, and mass discrimination, all under governmental control. I was floored. And I was extremely disappointed when we had to write a paper on Lord of the Flies instead. Yes, yes, the conch is a symbol of innocence and when it breaks, it signifies that their innocence has been lost. Groundbreaking.

I did enjoy reading the latter novel, but something about Huxley’s dystopia has stuck with me all these years. Occasionally, I’ll read an article about a scientific breakthrough or global leadership and see a scene from Brave New World in my mind. Talk about doing your job well.

But this isn’t about the original story, it’s about the author’s reflections decades later on if and how any parts of his creation are coming true. I saw it in a bookstore, Brave New World Revisited, and just had to buy it. After sitting on my shelf for a couple years, I’ve finally gotten through it. And once again, I am floored.

In Revisited, Huxley talks a great deal about dictatorships, propaganda, and controlling the population, themes that were laid on heavy in his novel. With these reflections, he has now seen the Great Depression, the rise and fall of Hitler and Mussolini as well as other dictators, and two World Wars; a second “police action” in full swing and civil unrest over Vietnam; and culture changing drastically with the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of “hippie culture” (in this case meaning drugs), and tremendous technological and medical advances– including birth control. Many parts of this landscape are the same factors that lead to the disturbing society of Brave New World.

This short but very heavy read is frighteningly relevant even today. More than anything, his analysis of how dictators (though really anyone in power or who would like to be) utilize media and language to gain, inspire, and mobilize followers against a perceived enemy makes me look at the current socio-political climate of the United States and shudder. Something written five decades ago with Adolf Hitler as the poster child for population manipulation should not be a reflection of current events, but as it stands in my eyes, this is the case.

I enjoyed reading how the author perceived his vision to be right or wrong, and the ways he worked in various philosophical and scientific ideas to support his analyses. More than anything, I was intrigued and a little scared at how science fiction of the past is slowly morphing into our present and future. There are definitely times where I wish we would consider the fiction of yesterday a warning against tomorrow. But alas, we do not seem to make the connection.

Would I recommend this book? On its own, likely not. But if you start with the novel, the essay is brilliant.


Books I’ve Read: 13 Reasons Why

I have a habit of adding books to my reading list and only getting around to them when someone decides to turn them into movies and tv shows. This is no exception. I heard about 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher months ago on another WordPress blog (I would link, but I can’t for the life of me remember what blog it was!) and immediately added it to my growing list, then never picked up a copy. Fast forward to the future, and I finally got my hands on the book now that Netflix has made an original series out of it.

I have not watched the series. I wasn’t going to start until I finished the book. But I don’t know if I want to watch it now. I don’t think the series will be able to compete with the power of this book.

Synopsis: High school student Hannah Baker committed suicide. Before she did, she recorded 13 stories on tape and sent them posthumously to 13 people explaining how their words and/or actions contributed to her decision. Clay Jensen is on those tapes, but he has no idea why. And so he spends the night listening to this story to which he only knows the end, following the path that leads to it.

This story is dark. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you’ve ever been bullied, heard rumors, or really even gone to high school, this story might sound familiar. And that’s why it’s so powerful. Everything in it is real, plausible, believable, because these things have happened to us, or to someone we know, or we’ve read a news story or heard someone speak on the issues in this book. And while this story is set in high school, it could have happened in college, or at work, or across several settings. It’s relatable. And it hurts.

I will provide a trigger warning. If you have been bullied, or sexually assaulted or harassed, or are suicidal or know someone who is or has killed themselves, this book might not be for you. But it could be a good tool for reaching out to people, for helping them understand your struggle or the struggle of others, and just how impactful words and actions can be, long after the fleeting moments in which they occur.

Would I recommend this book? I cried and wanted to stop reading because it broke my heart, but I had to find out what was on those tapes. So yes, I think you should read it.