“Something Like Happy” Book Discussion and Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes Themed Recipe

Annie is a depressed thirty-something loner who just wants to get through another day at her awful office job, then to the hospital to visit her mother with dementia, and then back to her tiny, damp flat and avoid her happy gay Greek roommate to watch more TV doctor dramas, only to wake up the next day to her same, empty routine. She never expected Polly, a vivacious blonde about the same age with a brain tumor which she’s named Bob, to shove her way into Annie’s life with a chocolate cupcake and an absurd 100 days of happiness challenge. Polly is a regular at the hospital where Annie visits her mother, and has the surly, Scottish Dr. Max who lives on Twix bars show her that Polly’s tumor means she only has about three months left to live. So live each day she will, even if it means jumping in fountains, having a nude portrait done, or adopting a puppy from a terrifying man. Polly has no fear or hardly even any inhibitions, which is perfect for the reticent Annie, who has long needed to stop crying over her life’s tragedies and letting those define all that she is. With Polly’s help, her brother George, the roommate, and even the cautious Dr. Max, Annie and Polly begin an adventure toward 100 days of happiness, even in small ways, and even when chased by the greatest griefs a person can experience. Something Like Happy is uproariously funny and heart-wrenchingly tragic, inspiring tears and laughter, and encouraging us all to find small ways to make ourselves, and those we’re accustomed to not even see, somewhat happier.

  1. Why was the “most dangerous London pest” the person who made eye contact and spoke to people on the bus, or even the homeless man on the street, like Polly did? How did these actions/mentalities reflect each woman’s perspective on life at the beginning of the book?

  2. How was Polly given an “amazing opportunity” by not having to deal with “any of that rubbish we spend our time on—bills, pensions, going to the gym”? Why were those rubbish to her? What things might be to you if you had a brain tumor? Do we waste too much time on those or similar things?

  3. What do you think of Polly’s statement “lottery winners go back to the same levels of happiness as before they’ve won. And people in serious accidents do too, once they’ve adjusted to their changed lives. Happiness is a state of mind.”

  4. Polly made Annie a list of “ten things to do at lunchtime within ten minutes from your office: yoga, a singing group, a street market.” Which things did she do, and why? What things could you do at lunch to make your workday more enjoyable, or even happy?

  5. Why did Polly choose Annie to try her happiness experiment on?

  6. Why did Polly’s friends treat her differently, more as if she’d break? Why did that bother her? How had Annie also lost all of her friends?

  7. What happened when annie and Dr. Max tried to return the puppy to a big, burly man?

  8. What was Annie’s tragic, “most pathetic” story, and how had she come to be in the situation she as in?

  9. Would you think it would make any difference to most people living their lives if they were reminded, as Polly said, that they were going to one day? What if they finally realized it and let it sink in? Would some people change some things about their lives? What would you change?

  10. Even though his sister was dying, and prompting everyone to go live their best life and not settle, how was George settling with a bad relationship, and why?

  11. Why did Polly cry about her husband instead of about her cancer when she found out the diagnosis about it?

  12. What were some of the similarities between Polly and Annie?

  13. Why did an ex-coworker come to see Polly, convinced at the eleventh hour that the cure for her cancer was avoiding “meat, sugar, alcohol, gluten, and all additives”? What made people like that think they could show up to see Polly now, now that she was finally dying, and why did making Polly’s tragedy her fault make them feel safer? Why did it make Valerie furious?

  14. Why did people like Polly or Annie live “in London, where we work just to pay for travel and rent on horrible damp flats on the tenth floor? Is that why Dr. Max appreciated his home in the country so much, in Scotland?

  15. Why did it mean so much to the homeless man outside the hospital that Annie talked to him like a person?

Right after Annie meets Polly, Polly asks her if she likes cake and offers her a cupcake, with wavy chocolate frosting. Again later, Annie offers a piece of cake to Johnny, the homeless man who lives outside the hospital. She notes that “Cake was a small thing, in the scheme of things, but she knew from her first meeting with Polly that it was still something.” And Dr. Max was often found at the vending machine with a Twix, sometimes one in each hand. To combine the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting and Twix candy bars, I created a recipe for:

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Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate and Caramel Frosting

*You can use store-bought or homemade caramel sauce. Homemade is best, and some great recipes for it can be found on the Sally’s Baking Addiction or Tasty Kitchen websites.

Other authors mentioned in the book are Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the book Man’s Search for Meaning.

Furiously Happy is a hilarious memoir by Jenny Lawson about living with depression and yet still trying to live your best life. Jenny Lawson’s books are notorious for blending wit, outrageous circumstances, and and tragedy into one moving story.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a hilarious, awkward contemporary novel about an introvert with a tragic history who begins to make some necessary, positive changes in her life, including her gut-busting first time getting waxed at salon, and learning how to even get along with coworkers.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a contemporary fiction about and old man whose wife has died and feels he has nothing to live for, until an obnoxiously needy yet bossy pregnant neighbor and her family move in next door and save him many times over.

“It was always comforting to see there were people who’d made worse decisions than she had.”

“That’s my brain tumor. I call it Bob.”

“My life, or what’s left of it, is now intensely concentrated, thanks to Bob..And I plan to make the absolute most of it.”

“I wish I’d come here once a week and just looked at this [painting]…but instead I just looked at lots of stupid things—work colleagues I hated and the inside of dirty trains and stupid internet stories about which celebrities got fat…I wasted all that time.”

“It’s normal, this kind of up and down. It’s all the emotions, hitting her at once like a wave. Trying to live your hardest at the same time you’re dying. The old rules don’t apply anymore. You just have to strap in for the ride.”

“People can keep going for a long, long time on autopilot. Hope is the last thing to die.”

“Do you realize you’re going to die? Maybe not today or tomorrow but one day…Let it sink in. Wouldn’t you drop everything and do the one thing you’d always dreamed of?”

“I wanted my life to mean something now, not just after I die.”

“That was what death meant. It meant it was too late for everything.”

“Sometimes our brain can’t take in the biggest thing. It sort of masks it, to protect us. I once cried for three hours because I couldn’t find my left shoe.”

“They’re sort of thrilled by it. Terrified it might happen to them, relieved that it isn’t. It’s voyeurism, really. And if they can think of a way it might be my own fault, that makes them feel safer.”

“You’re the brave one. You’ve had to live with the worst pain I can imagine. One that positive thinking and yoga could never touch. And you’re still going…That’s bravery. That’s a battle…You were swimming against the current, every day.”

“You talked to me. Like I was a person. That means more than you know.”