Review by Meghan Phillips
In recent years, there seems to have been a surge of self-help books about cultivating happiness. Some are simply collections of images and inspiring quotes—think the bound version of the cat-dangling-from-a-limb “hang in there!” motivational poster—while others are data-driven volumes by psychologists or academics.
There are happiness memoirs, like Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (2009), and books that offer individuals—Catholic saints or Buddha or Winnie the Pooh—as happiness models. Perhaps sensing that the happiness trend wasn’t going anywhere, the editors of O, the Oprah Magazine compiled stories from the fifteen years of the magazines archives to create O’s Little Book of Happiness.
On the happiness book spectrum, O’s Little Book of Happiness falls somewhere between happiness memoir and motivational cat poster. The collection consists of over fifty essays, the majority of which offer insight or advice based on the writer’s personal experiences. The essays are organized within the larger theme by headings like “Simple Pleasures,” “The Joy of Discovery,” and “Oh! What a Thrill.”
O’s Little Book of Happiness includes selections from a number of well-known writers and thinkers, including Jane Smiley, Brené Brown, Amy Bloom, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Ask Away” celebrates the importance of asking for what you want. Roxane Gay meditates on the best cure for complaining in “Stop Whining!” The stand-out essay from the collection “My Unplanned Adventure” by Catherine Price details the writer’s four day trip to Tokyo, during which she makes all her plans based on the recommendations of strangers. There are some real gems in this collection; however, some of the pieces do skew toward the sentimental and saccharine. The ultra-short pieces in particular offered what felt more like needlepoint platitudes than substantive insight into the writer’s experiences.
My engagement with the essays waxed and waned, but luckily, the audiobook format is well-suited for listeners like me. As previously mentioned, some pieces, like “Tall Tales” by Victoria Redel, are barely a minute long, while others, like the aforementioned “My Unplanned Adventure,” are over ten minutes. The variety of story lengths makes the two and half hour audiobook go by quickly, as do the narrators that alternated reading the stories. The five distinct voices—Alison Eliot, Cynthia Hopkins, Helen Litchfield, Joanna Adler, and Scott Shepherd—leant this audiobook a sense of intimacy that I don’t think would have been achieved with one narrator. The personalities of each speaker are well-matched with the pieces, and listening to this reminded me of hearing stories told by family members and friends.
O’s Little Book of Happiness is the kind of self-help book that offers inspiration rather than data or directions. Though I’m not sure that the world needs another happiness book, fans of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books and O, The Oprah Magazine are sure to love this collection.