Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

21853666 (1)A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter, thirty-two, lets her annoying, ten years younger brother talk her into signing up for a wilderness survival course. It’s supposed to be a chance for her to pull herself together again, but when she discovers that her brother’s even-more-annoying best friend is also coming on the trip, she can’t imagine how it will be anything other than a disaster. Thus begins the strangest adventure of Helen’s well-behaved life: three weeks in the remotest wilderness of a mountain range in Wyoming where she will survive mosquito infestations, a surprise summer blizzard, and a group of sorority girls.

Yet, despite everything, the vast wilderness has a way of making Helen’s own little life seem bigger, too. And, somehow the people who annoy her the most start teaching her the very things she needs to learn. Like how to stand up for herself. And how being scared can make you brave. And how sometimes you just have to get really, really lost before you can even have a hope of being found. – Goodreads

The best books are the ones that completely exceed your expectations. You know, the ones where you have an opinion or assumption formed before you even read the first page, only to have those opinions or assumptions completely blown out of the water? That’s what happened to me with Happiness for Beginners.

Ehhh, looks like a Wild knockoff, my pessimistic self said as I requested it on NetGalley. But you liked Wild, so you might like this one, too. Plus it’s almost spring. Hiking equals spring. 

I loved this book so much. Sure, it had three things in common with Wild: a divorce, a woman trying to find herself, and hiking in the backwoods. However, the differences outnumbered the commonalities.

For starters, Center’s style really reminded me of a Giffin or Weiner novel, mostly in the witty, snappy sense. I really loved how she constructed Helen’s character, and I felt like I WAS Helen by the end. In fact, Helen and I were so similar, it started to creep me out.

Though hiking and the backwoods set the scene and were a large part of the story, it wasn’t about the blisters, sore muscles, grueling hikes, or grime. It was a story about finding happiness. It wasn’t a story about some crazy enlightening trip—it’s truly about a shift in thinking.

For the first half of the book, Helen was a negative Nancy. She suffered heavily from self-pity. She refused to believe she could be loved and she was just…so negative. I can’t find a damn synonym.

So, at 57%, I posted a Goodreads status updated that said, “I loved you Helen, until you turned into a whiner. :(” because her whining was alright up until that point, and then it became obnoxious. She’s very upset that the group of hikers are all young fraternity and sorority folk, and she’s “ancient” at 32-years-old. That’s actually not ancient, but that’s okBcay. But when she complained about not being included in their conversations, a choice SHE made, I got angry.

And then at 58% that thinking changed and I had to revise my update to “Nice, Helen! Total attitude change. Guess the whining was part of the self improvement process. I spoke too soon.” Because I did.

The meat of the book focuses on the meaning of happiness and how we can bounce back from it. How happiness isn’t about the acquisition, it’s about appreciated what you already have. It’s about gratitude. Happiness isn’t a destination. Happiness isn’t hiking for three weeks in the Wyoming backcountry. Happiness isn’t having the perfect man, the sleek car, the big house, or the fat bank account. Happiness is taking stock of what you have and really being grateful for it.

If you’re looking for a feel-good, light romance that maybe has to do with hiking, this is your ticket. I highly recommend it. I rated it a 5/5 on Goodreads.

lauren (2)

Huge thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Griffin for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review! 

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