author Gretchen Rubin The Happiness Project Pragmatic Mom

Top 5: Similarities between The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin) and Tiger Mom (Amy Chua)

Happiness Project versus Tiger Mom

Seriously, I know that these books are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but hear me out. They both ultimately seek the same thing; they just go at it (hard!) in very different ways. Amy ‘s parenting style is based on  fear but her happiness derives from her children’s accomplishments. Gretchen’s parenting style is based on harmony and her happiness is a choice that she consciously makes for herself. She believes that  her children’s happiness is a derivative product of her own happiness.

Read on to see why Gretchen and Amy are really twins separated at birth!

p.s. If you like this post, I have two posts on Tiger Mom Amy Chua here and here.

author Gretchen Rubin The Happiness Project Pragmatic MomAmy Chua Tiger Mom PragmaticMom Pragmatic Mom

5. Both were editors of their law review at their respective top law schools. (Gretchen/Yale; Amy/Harvard).

Amy was an Executive Editor on the Harvard Law Review

Gretchen was Editor in Chief on the Yale Law Review

4. Both wrote novels.

Amy:  “[I] decided to write an epic novel. Unfortunately, I had no talent for novel writing, as Jed’s polite coughs and forced laughter while he read my manuscript should have told me. What’s more, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Jung Chang all beat me to it with their books The Woman Warrior, The Joy Luck Club, and Wild Swans. At first, I was bitter and resentful, but then I got over it and came up with a new idea. Combining my law degree with my own family’s background, I would write about law and ethnicity in the developing world. Ethnicity was my favorite thing to talk about anyway.”

Gretchen decided to write a novel in 30 days. “Writing a novel was a lot of work, but I had less trouble squeezing the writing into my day than I’d expected … It was a huge amount of work, plunked on top of everything else needed to accomplish in my days. Did it make me happy? It sure did. Writing Happiness took a lot of time and energy, it’s true, but it gave me a substantial boost in happiness. Tackling such a big project and carrying it through to the end in a single month contributed hugely to the atmosphere of growth in my life.”

3. Both rejected a corporate law career.

Amy: “I went to law school, mainly because I didn’t want to go to medical school… After graduating I went to a Wall Street law firm because it was the path of least resistance. I chose corporate practice because I didn’t like litigation. I was actually decent at the job; long hours never bothered me, and I was good at understanding what the clients wanted and translating it into legal documents. But my entire three years at the firm, I always felt like I was playacting, ridiculous in my suit.”

Gretchen: “Being Editor in Chief of the Yale Law Review, winning a legal writing prize — inside the world of law, these credentials mattered a lot. Outside the world of law, they didn’t matter at all. I’d become convinced that passion was a critical factor in leaving the law. People who love their work bring an intensity and enthusiasm that’s impossible to match through sheer diligence. I could see that in my co-clerks at the Supreme Court; they read law journals for fun, talked about cases during their lunch hours, they felt energized by their efforts. I didn’t…And the biggest clue; I was writing a book in my free time.”

2. Both have strong ideas about parenting.

Amy: “As the eldest daughter of Chinese immigrants, I don’t have time to improvise or make up my own rules. I have a family name to uphold, aging parents to make proud.” “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning…”The Chinese parenting approach is weakest when it comes to failure; it just doesn’t tolerate that possibility. The Chinese model turns on achieving success.” “…Chinese parenting in the West is a inherently closet practice. If it comes out that you push your kids against their will, or want them to do better than other kids, or god forbid ban sleepovers, other parents will heap opporbrium on you, and your children will pay the price.” “The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can take away.” and yet…

“What my father’s story illustrates is something that I suppose I never wanted to think about. When Chinese parenting succeeds, there’s nothing like it. But it doesn’t always succeed. For my own father it hadn’t. He barely spoke to his mother and never thought about her except in anger. By the end of her life, my father’s family was almost dead to him.”

“I love being able to count on Sophia. She has wells of inner strength. Even more than me, she can take anything: exclusion, excoriation, humiliation, loneliness.” “I hadn’t even known that Sophia was miserable at thirteen. Come to think of it, my mother hadn’t known I was miserable at thirteen either.” “Actually what really irritated me was that they were all grown up — teenagers my size, instead of cute girls…By squeezing out so much from every moment of every day, perhaps I imagined that I was buying myself more time.”

Gretchen: “Now that I’m a parent myself, I realize how much the happiness of parents depends on the happiness of their children and grandchildren.” “I could tell that my happier mood affected the household atmosphere. It’s true that ‘if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” and that ‘you’re only as happy as your least happy child.’ Each member of a family picks up and reflects everyone else’s emotions — but of course I could change no one’s actions except my own.”

“My goal for April, the month dedicated to parenthood? To become more tender and playful with my two daughters. I wanted a peaceful, cheerful, even joyous atmosphere at home — and I knew that nagging and yelling weren’t the way to achieve that.” “So many parenting books belabor the arguments about the importance of goals…we should acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings.” …”Much of children’s frustrations comes not from being forced to do this or that but rather from the sheer fact that the’re being ignored.”

1. Both write about happiness.

Amy: “The truth is that I’m not good at enjoying life. It’s not one of my strengths. I keep a lot of to-do lists and hate massages and Caribbean vacations… Happiness is  not a concept I tend to dwell on. Chinese parenting does not address happiness. This has always worried me. When I see the piano- and violin-induced calluses on my daugthters’ fingertips, or the teeth marks on the piano, I’m sometimes seized with doubt.  “…I have a hard time believing that Western parenting does a better job at happiness. … But here’s something I’m sure of: Western children are definitely no happier than Chinese ones.”

Gretchen, of course, has a lot to say about happiness:

First Splendid Truth:  If I want to be happier, I need to look at my life and think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Second Splendid TruthOne of the best ways to make myself  happy is to make other people happy.

Third Splendid Truth: The Days are LONG but the Years are Short.

Fourth Splendid Truth: One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself. If I think I’m happier, I am happier.

Finally: Both books were on the New York Times Best Seller List

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua was #2 on Feb. 6, 2011 and stayed on the New York Times Best Seller List for 11 weeks.. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin was the #1 on Feb. 7, 2010 for Hardcover Non Fiction and stayed on the list for 14 weeks. Her paper back version was #1 for three weeks from May 5th through May 29th, 2011 and been on the New York Times Best Seller List for 22 weeks to date but still going strong.
“A friendly, approachable, and compulsively readable narrative that will not only make you want to start your own happiness project but will also make you want to invite Rubin out for a cup of coffee.” San Diego Union-Tribune

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is the book we’ve all been waiting for – a candid, provocative, poignant and vicarious journey through the Chinese- American family culture. It will leave you breathless with its bluntness and emotion. Amy Chua is a Tiger Mother, a greatly gifted law professor and, ultimately, an honest, loving woman with a lot to say.”
-Tom Brokaw

The irony to me is that both these smart, talented, compulsively successful women arrived at basically the same place though raised very differently and expounding very different philosophies. Neither way is easy; both chronicle their struggles and each ultimately gets what she needs from her efforts. As Gretchen quotes from a Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Maybe Amy should meet Gretchen for coffee. They are, after all, neighbors within the tri-state area!

p.p.s. The similarities go on and on. Both have sisters battling disease. Gretchen’s sister has Type 1 Diabetes. Amy’s sister has Leukemia. Both their husbands are Jewish, studied law, are really nice and have a full set of hair. Both have two daughters. Both are notorious list makers. I will stop now.

To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Wow! I love how you compared these two books. That’s very clever of you, Mia. Now I just have to read Happiness Project. I can’t wait.

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