Book Review: The Happiness Toolbox
In eleven chapters and a preface, this large-format book presents a thoughtful exploration and dozens of exercises to help the reader develop approaches and techniques to find happiness. Throughout, Dr. Paquette presents the research underlying our current understanding of the elements of happiness in a clear and easily understood way.
From the outset, this workbook announces itself as an engagement for the reader to define his or her own specific and personal ways to find happiness, purpose, and productivity in work and life. Even in the preface, there are eight opportunities for the reader to engage with the material by writing their own experiences and definitions, including what the word happiness means to them and what roadblocks to happiness they personally experience.
The exercises in each chapter (five to seven per chapter) follow a standard presentation throughout the book: each exercise lists the duration (e.g., 5-10 minutes), the frequency (e.g., once, daily) and the level of difficulty (easy to moderate to difficult). They begin with an overview of the practice, followed by instructions to guide you in putting the new technique into use. Each exercise is followed by a section titled How and Why it Works (always interesting to learn!), and then a note section for your own reflection on that exercise.
Readers can write in the book itself, as plenty of space is set aside for personal responses. The broad topics covered are gratitude, kindness and compassion, mindfulness, self-compassion, connection, optimism, forgiveness, cultivating strengths, savoring the good, and health and happiness. If you have done much reading (or self-reflection) on happiness, these will be familiar landmarks.
Chapter 5, Self-Compassion, opens with two quotes, one by Jack Kornfield (“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete”) and one by Lucille Ball. The presentation of this material focuses on the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, one of the world’s foremost experts on self-compassion, and introduces the reader to what is meant by self-compassion, reasons to practice self-compassion (psychological, health, and interpersonal benefits), and a brief discussion of brain responses to the practice of self-compassion.
If you’ve struggled with offering yourself compassion, you may know these things but still find it hard not to be hard on yourself. The exercises take you head-on into an exploration of your own thoughts and experiences in six focused exercises: a letter of self-compassion (repeat monthly or as needed); self-compassion break (daily or as needed); loving-kindness meditation (daily or as needed); seeing the double standard (weekly); self-appreciation (weekly or as needed); and self-criticism vs self-compassion (weekly).
By noting the frequency of each exercise, I see my own practice developing, and by writing very personally about my own experiences and struggles on this topic — in an ongoing, reflective way — it’s easy to imagine that my difficulties with self-compassion will release their grip. I found the presentation of each exercise to be compassionate and inviting, important because a lack of self-compassion is already critical, and the exercises themselves focus on the elements that personally challenge me. Even just working through them once to prepare this review helped me think more clearly about why this is so hard for me.
Readers who use this book in greater depth over a sustained length of time will add to their own toolboxes of personal understanding and techniques to help them find more happiness. Even if you feel like you’ve heard all there is to say about a topic — gratitude, for example — don’t neglect the chapter! You might already have some understanding of a topic and perhaps even already practice strengthening it, but the exercises are so thoughtful and practice-oriented, you’ll undoubtedly find new ways to get even better at the topic.
I am a social psychologist — the subdiscipline that includes positive psychology — and have spent a great many years thinking about this topic and seeking ways to help myself be even more resilient in this important area of my life. This workbook made me excited about ways to build and strengthen happiness as a practice. It’s easy to be happy when you’re happy, but when difficult experiences occur that could be soothed and helped by focusing on gratitude, kindness and compassion, mindfulness, self-compassion, connection, optimism, forgiveness, drawing on your strengths, and savoring the good, you will find your toolbox well stocked by working carefully through this great workbook.
I look forward to incorporating these exercises into my own daily life, and will be recommending it to anyone who thinks about happiness, explores their own happiness, needs a way to build and strengthen their responses to life, and to grumpy people.
The Happiness Toolbox
PESI Publishing, March 2018
Paperback, 214 pages