Book – “Happier at Home”

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Happiness is a touchy subject.  People like to think they’re happy, and that any reasons they aren’t happy are outside of themselves.  Very rarely, this is true, but more often, I believe that people make themselves unhappy, either intentionally or unintentionally.  At various times in my life I have been happier than others, and during the times that I am happy, I feel that I have made myself happy.  But I’m interested in how to do that more or better, and I do enjoy the occasional self-help book, as well as books that are about year-long projects (starting long ago when I read The Year of Living Biblically – which is ridiculous and fascinating).  And my friend Sarah is a big fan of Gretchen Rubin, so long ago I put her on my “to read” list, and in the process of writing my Overdrive post, used her book as the example book, and in doing so…decided I ought to actually read it.

The idea is simple: Gretchen has done a happiness project in the past, but she is reading Benjamin Franklin, and decides that if she wants to be her happiest, she needs to make her home – the place where she spends the majority of her life – a place that encourages and nourishes happiness.  That is, “A happy home was not a place that I could furnish, but an attitude of mind that I must develop.”  So each month she tackles an aspect of her home life in an effort to make it a happier place, creating resolutions for the month.  She uses some rules from her previous book in creating those resolutions, and came up with a list of things she would try to do.  I originally copied each month here, but instead I’m going to pick out the things that really spoke to me.

Posessions – Cultivate a shrine.  The idea is to appreciate the things that you have and keep for sentimental reasons that have no apparent use.  Make sure they are displayed somewhere that can be appreciated, and that way they will make you happier than if you simply keep them stored away somewhere.  I’ve started trying to do this with pictures by creating photo books.  Photos do me no good in a folder on my computer, but if I have a book with photos in it, I might actually look at it every once and a while, and those pictures will make me happy.

Posessions – Go shelf by shelf.  This is something that is hard.  Obviously, we all have things that we do not need unless we (*coughtheboycough*) already live fairly spartanly.  And even then, we have a tendency to hold on to objects for no good reason.  It is better to go through things all at once and decide if we need it in our homes in that immediate confrontation.  Packing all my stuff has been good for me to do this, and I’ll have to do this again as I take everything out of boxes.  If you look closely at all of your things individually, it gives you a chance to do the KonMari thing of asking yourself “does this sparky joy?”  It’s important in this moment to realize that “sparking joy” can mean everything from “it makes me happy to use a knife to spread peanut butter of my waffle” (what – does no one else eat toaster waffles with peanut butter?” and “it makes me happy to have toilet paper instead of scrambling in the bathroom” to “this jacket makes me happy” and “I love this vase”.  As William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  So this is the goal of this resolution.

Marriage/Relationships – Make the positive argument.  We are all so quick to assume the worst about people.  Why did they do or say that awful thing?  Probably because they wanted to hurt us, of course!  No.  That’s not it at all.  Just as we do not intentionally mean to be awful or hurtful (unless you are, in which case…ugh), so other people are not doing it either, especially the people who love us.  If you are cursing someone in your head for something they said or did, stop and take a breath, and then think about the ways they could have been trying to do good (for themselves or others) with what they just did.  As a worriwort pessimist, this is one I need to work on.

Parenthood – Underreact to a problem.  As someone who is not a parent yet, but who has two young girls in the house, this is important.  Things will go wrong.  They can be fixed.  This is something I especially see with babies and toddlers – if they are running around and then fall down, most of the time they do not cry until the parent starts making a fuss.  So…just don’t make a fuss.  Perhaps we need to let our children get bumped and bruised, and they will learn to be more resilient by seeing us taking these temporary pains in stride.

Parenthood – Go on Wednesday adventures.  This is one I plan on saving for when I have a child of my own who needs more attention.  The idea is to have a regular ritual that gets you and your child together and exploring the world.  Gretchen and her older daughter go to museums, shops, and lots of other interesting places for an hour or school after school on Wednesdays each week.  I could see that being quite a lot of fun.

“Interior Design” – Resist happiness leaches.  As in…people who leach happiness from your life.  They are the complainers, and sad-sacks who will take any good moment and turn it around to be a) about them and b) their misery.  Avoid these people at all costs if possible.

Time – Suffer for fifteen minutes.  This is one I’ve actually been trying to do for a while.  One of my daily habits in Habitica is to clean for 15 minutes.  All of the books and blogs about clutter and cleaning will tell you that it’s easier to take 15 minutes out of your day to do maintenance cleaning than it is to take hours on end at the weekend or whenever to do a major top-to-bottom clean.  I do not always succeed, but it’s something I try to do each day, and I feel like it has sort of given me a head start when I’ve had to tidy up for parties or other guests.

Body – Jump.  Jumping is a silly thing for adults to do in their daily lives if it’s not involved in exercise.  And doing it makes you happy.  Whether it’s leaping down the stairs or skipping on the sidewalk, it’s a physical boost that I tried, and enjoyed.

Family – Have an uncomfortable conversation.  Not all the things we do to be happier will make us happy while they’re happening, but they need to be done.  And when they’re done, we’ll be relieved that they’re over.  Gretchen does this by making sure her parents having living wills/power of attorney documents signed.  This may mean something else for you and your family, but it reminds me that I need to keep having discussions like this with my parents so that I know everything is in order.

Neighborhood – Find my own Calcutta.  Inspired by Mother Theresa, the idea is to find the cause in your own area that calls you and requires your attention.  We will be more at home in our neighborhoods if we have a connection to the place, and a real hope for the success of those around us.  I already have something in mind that I want to do when things begin to quiet down a little (someday?  never?  we’ll see…)

Gretchen gives the following advice for creating resolutions as part of your own happiness project:

Decide what makes you feel good, and what makes you feel bad.
Decide what you would change, and what doesn’t make you feel right in your life/home.
Decide on sources for growth – opportunities to become more of the person you want to be.

For the resolutions to be good ones, they must be specific (not, “exercise more”, but “exercise for 30 minutes per day”) and measurable so that they can be accounted.

So…what did I think?  It was interesting.  It got me thinking a lot about my own home, and what I need to do to be happier in it.  I didn’t do much immediately, but it gave me ideas of how things could be.  Much like when I read Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up“, I have a feeling that the things that I read in this book will stay with me in a way that pokes me as I make my way in life, especially the specific resolutions that I mentioned here.  And perhaps at some point in the future, I’ll take on an official happiness project of my own.  But for now I’ll say that this book is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in being the impetus for making your own life better.  You may not agree with everything in it, and you may not find Gretchen particularly to your taste, but a lot of what she has to say is useful, and could be applied in different ways to each of our lives.

PS – It is also through this book that I discovered my new favorite quote:
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower

Details: “Happier at Home” by Gretchen Rubin, published 2012 by Three Rivers Press.  Gretchen’s website.

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