Furiously Happy

by Jenny Lawson

Cover image

Publisher: Flatiron
Copyright: September 2015
ISBN: 1-250-07700-1
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 329

Buy at Powell's Books

Jenny Lawson, who blogs as The Bloggess, is best known for a combination of being extremely funny and being extremely open about her struggles with mental illness (a combination of anxiety and depression, alongside a few other problems). Her first book primarily told the story of her family, childhood, and husband. Furiously Happy is a more random and disconnected book, but insofar as it has a theme, it's about surviving depression, anxiety, and other manifestations of your brain being an asshole.

I described Lawson's previous book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, as the closest thing I've found to a stand-up comedy routine in book form. Furiously Happy is very similar, but it lacks the cohesiveness of a routine. Instead, it feels like a blog collection: a pile of essays with only some vague themes and not a lot of continuity from essay to essay.

This doesn't surprise me. Second books are very different than first books, particularly second books by someone whose writing focus is not writing books, and particularly for non-fiction. I feel like Let's Pretend This Never Happened benefited from drawing on Lawson's full life experience to form the best book she could write. When that became wildly popular, everyone of course wanted a second book, including me. But when the writing is this personal, the second book is, out of necessity, partly leftovers. Lawson's recent experiences don't generate as much material as her whole life up to the point of the first book.

That said, there is a bit of a theme, and the title fits it. Early in the book, Lawson describes how, after the death of a friend and a bout of depression, she decided to be furiously, vehemently happy to get back at the universe, to spite its attempts to destroy her mood. It's one of the best bits in this book. The surrounding philosophy is about embracing the moment, enjoying the hell out of everything that one can enjoy, and taking a lot of chances.

A lot of the stories in this book come after the beginning of Lawson's fame and popularity. She has book tours, a vacation tour of Australia, and a community of people from her blog. That, of course, doesn't make the depression and anxiety any better; indeed, it provides a lot of material for her anxiety to work with. Lawson talks a lot about surviving, about how important that community is to her, about not believing your brain when it lies to you. This isn't as uniformly funny as her first book, and sometimes it feels a bit too much like an earnest pep talk. But there are also moments of insightful life philosophy mixed into the madcap adventures and stream-of-consciousness wild associations.

Lawson also does for anxiety what Allie Brosh does for depression: make the severe form of it relatable to people who have not suffered from it. I was particularly struck by her description of flying: the people around her are getting nervous and anxious as the plane starts to take off, and she's finally able to relax because her anxiety focused on all the things she had to do in order to get onto the right plane at the right time. Once she didn't have to make any decisions or do anything other than sit in one place, her anxiety let go. I don't have any type of clinical anxiety, but I was able to identify with that moment of relief and its contrast with anxiety in a deeper way than with other descriptions.

Furiously Happy is a bit more serious and earnest, and I'm not sure it worked as well. I liked Lawson's first book better; this felt more like a blog archive. But she's still funny, entertaining, and delightful, and I'm happy to support her with a book purchase. Start with either her blog or Let's Pretend This Never Happened if you're new to Lawson, but if you're already a fan, here's more of her writing.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2016-06-20

Last modified and spun 2016-06-21