Book Reviews

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

I received an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Okay, full disclosure: I did not know who Paula Poundstone was until reading this book. I love standup comedy and the Internet says it’s a given that I should know Poundstone, but I didn’t. I read this book without knowing who she is, and I still liked reading it.
Goodreads synopsis:

30753999“Is there a secret to happiness?” asks comedian Paula Poundstone. “I don’t know how or why anyone would keep it a secret. It seems rather cruel, really . . . Where could  it be? Is it deceptively simple? Does it melt at a certain temperature? Can you buy it? Must you suffer for it before or after?” In her wildly and wisely observed book, the comedy legend takes on that most inalienable of rights—the pursuit of happiness.

Offering herself up as a human guinea pig in a series of thoroughly unscientific experiments, Poundstone tries out a different get-happy hypothesis in each chapter of her data-driven search. She gets in shape with taekwondo. She drives fast behind the wheel of a Lamborghini. She communes with nature while camping with her daughter, and commits to getting her house organized (twice!). Swing dancing? Meditation? Volunteering? Does any of it bring her happiness? You may be laughing too hard to care.

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness is both a story of jumping into new experiences with both feet and a surprisingly poignant tale of a single working mother of three children (not to mention dozens of cats, a dog, a bearded dragon lizard, a lop-eared bunny, and one ant left from her ant farm) who is just trying to keep smiling while living a busy life.

The queen of the skepticism-fueled rant, Paula Poundstone stands alone in her talent for bursting bubbles and slaying sacred cows.

Like George Carlin, Steve Martin, and David Sedaris, she is a master of her craft, and her comedic brilliance is served up in abundance in this book. As author and humorist Roy Blount Jr. notes, “Paula Poundstone deserves to be happy. Nobody deserves to be this funny.”


I liked reading this book despite not having previous knowledge of Paula Poundstone. She conducts happiness experiments throughout this book, which are written in lab record format. Paula is obviously a witty person. I love self-deprecatory jokes and those are aplenty in this book. I was snorting occasionally at some of her jokes.

This witty human loves Harry Potter as much as we all do–she has cats named Sirius and Tonks! The occasional Potter-related jokes had me cackling while reading the book in public.

“Why does everyone make such a fuss over Harry? He couldn’t even do a summoning charm without Hermione.”

Poundstone’s jokes are what drives this book. She has a witty way of saying seemingly normal things and this will definitely make the reader smile in appreciation.

“He’s extremely funny, a naturally sarcastic man who not only sees the glass half-empty but also suspects that someone may have spit in it.”

Bonus quote:

“To me, the Fairy Godmother is an enabler. If Cinderella, a grown woman, sits in a corner and cries, she gets her wish. Perfect.”

I LOVE this woman now. I really do!

I wouldn’t say I loved the book as much as I love Paula, though. At one point, the number of experiments got tiring. There were also some moments were I just wasn’t able to relate. I got a little bored at the 70% mark and was waiting for the book to end. I started enjoying the book again towards the end, at the last experiment, where Paula goes to a senior citizens care facility. That right there gave me a lot of of happiness. 🙂

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

What did you think of this review? Do you like Paula Poundstone? Would you read this book when it comes out? Let me know in the comments!

~ Shruti

8 thoughts on “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

  1. You’re not the only one who had no clue about who Paula Poundstone is, Shruti! Thanks to your review, now I’m ready to binge-watch some of her stand-up comedy. I love stand-up comedy and watch a lot of Indian stand-up comedians like Kenny Sebastian and Aditi Mittal, so this is going to be one hell of an experience. And Paula’s a fellow potterhead? I’m in. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Err.. I don’t know who Paula Poundstone is! Your review wants me to look her up though! Can get used to some get-happy study material and pass’em off as original gyan😜 Let me check out her shows first!

    Liked by 1 person

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