by Paula Poundstone
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Is there a secret to happiness? Beloved comedian Paula Poundstone conducts a series of “thoroughly scientific” experiments to find out, offering herself up as a guinea pig and recording her data for the benefit of all humankind. Armed with her unique brand of self-deprecating wit and the scientific method, in each chapter Paula tries out a different get-happy hypothesis. She gets in shape with taekwondo. She drives fast behind the wheel of a Lamborghini. She communes with nature while camping with her daughter. Swing dancing? Meditation? Volunteering? Does any of it bring her happiness? And more important, can the happiness last when she returns to the daily demands of her chaotic life?
The results are irreverent, laugh-out-loud funny, and pointedly relevant to our times. The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness is both a hilarious story of jumping into new experiences with both feet and a surprisingly poignant tale of a working mother raising three kids. Paula is a master of her craft. Her comedic brilliance, served up in abundance in this book, has been compared to that of George Carlin, Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin, and David Sedaris.
And even more surprisingly, I found this book to be somewhat scientific despite the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer in the title and the heavy use of ironically scientific report headers throughout. After all, what is science but testing out an idea and documenting your results.
This book is the result of seven years of intense personal research, and the results of the experiments are mixed. Some worked, some didn’t, and none were predictable, even within the same experiment. To tell you the truth, I’m impressed with the author for putting herself out there and jumping right into some things that were very much out of her comfort zone.
I loved the chapters that give the results in a running, time stamped log. The movie day one was hilarious. The mortifying foray into swing dancing was another favorite, both because of the humor, but also because the experience highlights another interesting result, that happiness is complex.
Anyhow, I really liked this book. While it wasn’t as over the top as I’d expected from a book by a comedian, it was real, it made me laugh, and near the end there, if I’m honest, it made me cry a little, too. I’d totally recommend this to folks who enjoy memoirs with a good dose of humor and also to those who want the inside scoop on finding their own personal brand of happiness.
I picked up the advance review copy of this book from NetGalley.
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