Thomas Nelson, $19.99
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As a professional skeptic, I turn a critical eye toward any physical item that claims to improve happiness—unless it’s made of chocolate. I don’t need a bunch of pastel, made-for-sharing Instagram quotes to tell me to “Dance like nobody’s watching” (pass 40 and you won’t care if Isadora Duncan herself has risen from the grave to evaluate your skills), or “When one door closes, a window opens” (sometimes they both stay closed, and that’s okay. Have you met 2020?). So when I was asked to review Plan a Happy Life, written by Happy Planner impresario Stephanie Fleming, I had my questions. Specifically: Could a book really teach me—a die-hard crosser-offer of to-do list tasks—anything about organization and planning that I don’t already know? And could a book make me feel better just by flipping through it?
First, let’s talk about Plan a Happy Life’s physical appearance. The book is, in a word, pretty. Between those nice, sturdy hard covers and printed endpapers are more than 200 substantial-weight, tactile pages, all laid out in Fleming’s signature bright, bold, visually arresting style. There’s also a ribbon bound into the spine for easy bookmarking. While the book is plenty colorful and—dare I say—happy, it’s not over-the-top. (Whew.) It’s great for gifting as is, or when combined with Fleming’s Plan a Happy Life collection of products.
Plan a Happy Life is separated into four parts—Defining Happy, The Four Ps (purpose, planning, positivity, persistence), Nurturing Happiness, and Living Happy—with at least three chapters per part. Although it is a self-help book, Fleming is less life Sherpa and more supportive gal pal, walking you through a variety of thought processes, exercises, and pep talks oriented toward giving yourself permission to be creative on your path toward specific goals. To that end, Fleming includes a little bit of everything: positive affirmations, self-reflective questions, practical exercises like writing a letter to yourself, and DIY instructions for things like vision boards.
She also spends a good amount of time on wellness. Happily (see what I did there?), Fleming does not traffic in the questionable treatments so common to today’s wellness gurus. Instead, she talks about the many facets of well-being, from physical and emotional to creative, occupational, and financial. She then covers how planning and goal setting can help you define—and achieve—healthy, realistic objectives.
Plan a Happy Life does have an extended chapter on the power of positivity, which I’ll admit I skimmed. Blame those faux wellness gurus, but I think we’ve all heard the “just be positive” message a few too many times, so it becomes easy to tune out. My only other gripe: the passages that encourage notetaking and written exercises are printed in the book itself, rather than in a separate workbook. I might be in the minority, but I wouldn’t want to foul something this pretty with my chicken scratch.
Does Plan a Happy Life make me want to go out and create a vision board? That’s a negative. Those types of exercises just don’t resonate with me. But Fleming has plenty of other practical tips to satisfy my hard-core planner self, and motivate me to try a new way of thinking about my approach to creativity and purpose. Especially right now, with the world in an unprecedented state of flux and many of us trying to figure out what our next act will be, Fleming’s message couldn’t be more timely.
Robin Catalano believes in the power of storytelling to connect communities and cultures. She’s applied her creative approach to writing for magazines, books, blogs, websites, and a wide variety of marketing projects, and has published more than 75 articles and 1,000+ blog posts. As an editor, she has worked on more than 350 books for publishers including Penguin Random House, Workman, and Simon & Schuster. She has also served as a book coach for independent authors, helping them take their ideas from concept to print. An avid traveler and travel writer, Robin lives, reads, and writes voraciously in upstate NY.