A Short Guide to a Happy Life

From the author of Blessings and Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen’s classic reflection on a meaningful life is the perfect gift for graduation, or any occasion.

“Life is made of moments, small pieces of silver amidst long stretches of tedium. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves now to live, really live . . . to love the journey, not the destination.”

In this treasure of a book, Anna Quindlen, the bestselling novelist and columnist, reflects on what it takes to “get a life”—to live deeply every day and from your own unique self, rather than merely to exist through your days. “Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us,” Quindlen writes, “because unless you know the clock is ticking, it is so easy to waste our days, our lives.” Her mother died when Quindlen was nineteen: “It was the dividing line between seeing the world in black and white, and in Technicolor. The lights came on for the darkest possible reason. . . . I learned something enduring, in a very short period of time, about life. And that was that it was glorious, and that you had no business taking it for granted.” But how to live from that perspective, to fully engage in our days? In A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Quindlen guides us with an understanding that comes from knowing how to see the view, the richness in living.


  • Hardcover: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (October 31, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375504613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375504617
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (248 customer reviews)
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6 thoughts on “A Short Guide to a Happy Life”

  1. Tuesday I was at the bookstore when it opened to buy this book. I bought a copy for myself and one for my daughter, then went to sit on a bench overlooking the ocean to read it.
    This tiny gem of a book contains many thoughts that are just common sense until you see them written down. Then they become points to ponder, to think about and mull over in your mind and heart. Which is exactly what I did after finishing…I sat and looked out at the sea, thinking about what I had just read.
    Much of the text of this book was part of a commencement address that Quindlen was to give at Villanova. She released the speech after she cancelled and I have been told that it was so well-received that she was asked to put it into book form.
    This is a book to savor and to read over and over again and to give as a gift to a loved one. I plan to return to the bookstore to buy several more copies.
    Some of the thoughts in the book:
    On life: “there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.”
    On being a mother, a wife, and a friend: “I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.”
    On being charitable and good to others: “if you do not do good… then doing well will never be enough.”
    And on living for today: “I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get.Read more ›

  2. This is a great little book. It seems like we all know what the aurhor is saying but we need a gentle reminder each day. If you are looking for a gift for a loved one, I would recommend that you buy this book and the book An Encounter With A Prophet and combine the books as one gift. Little is the only negative about the entire book. I wish there was more of it

  3. Most books take the vantage point of the author being an expert in the
    subject or a celebrity. A Short Guide to a Happy Life claims to come
    from neither foundation, even though the Ms. Anna Quindlen will be
    well-known to many for her best-selling books and Newsweek
    Instead her perspective in this book is a humble and common
    one, that of someone who experienced what we will all experience in
    due course, but at an earlier age — the loss of her mother to ovarian
    cancer when her mother was 40 and the author was 19. That early loss
    changed Ms. Quindlen’s perspective on life, and she thinks it will
    eventually and should now change yours, too. “Do you think you’d
    care so very much about [your career] if you developed an aneurysm one
    afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?”

    She describes her qualifications for describing the happy life,
    “I am a good mother to three children. I have tried to never let
    my profession stand in the way of being a good parent.”

    “I am a good friend to my husband.”
    “I am a good
    friend to my friends, and they to me.” ….
    Now that you have
    the perspective, what is Ms. Quindlen’s prescription for you:
    “Get a life in which you are not alone.” “All of us
    want to do well. But if we do not do good too, then doing well will
    never be enough.”
    The simplicity and ordinariness of that
    perspective gives it a power and eloquence that the expert and the
    famous person cannot command.
    But what was remarkable for me was
    the insight that she shares with us, that I would never have developed
    on my own….Read more ›

  4. Having lost my beloved 12 year old son to brain cancer, I am always drawn to authors who have faced adversity & loss in their own lives. Anna knows in her heart of hearts how to look at the sky for beauty and hope, so she can teach us something….which she certainly does in this wonderful little book. She gives new meaning to the words “get a life”…how to use our losses to help us see the real beauty of each day. I shall certainly buy this book for my college-age daughter. Thanks, Anna!

  5. A beautifully written essay (combined with exquisite black-and-white photos) about what’s really important in life (“It’s so much easier to write a resumé than to craft a spirit”). It’s very short; it’s the kind of book that can be read in one sitting. However, it’s also the kind of book that SHOULD be read over and over again. Highly recommended for anyone who’s grown tired of the urgency addition that pervades the normal American lifestyle.

  6. I have always liked Anna Quindlen’s writing, but this book was truly disappointing. There is not much more to this tiny book than “you should get a life, and appreciate it.” Over half the pages are unoriginal stock photos (and black and white at that).
    If you want a little book filled with truly thought-provoking advice on living a happy life, I highly recommend “Open Your Mind, Open Your Life” by Taro Gold.

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