Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project has been on the top of my reading list for a while now (it was the runner up for our last virtual book club selection), so when I heard she had a new happiness book out based on the idea of starting at home, I knew we had to tackle it here. And I’m so happy with that decision as I’m really loving this book! As much as I’m enjoying reading it, I’ve been swamped with extra projects this month and haven’t had much (or any) time to write about it. So, since Janssen did such a fabulous job helping me wrap up our last virtual book club selection, I decided to ask her to help with this one as well. Below are her insights. I’d love to know – what’s resonating with you so far?
I love Gretchen Rubin. I’ve read The Happiness Project twice (plus, my mom read most of it aloud to me when she came out to help after the birth of my first daughter) and this is my third time through Happier at Home.
I find her books to be full of interesting topics, inspiring actions, and thoughtful writing about living happily and meaningful, no matter your situation in life. In other words, this book is a perfect fit for this site, because it completely encompasses both mindfulness and simplicity. If you’re already read The Happiness Project, you might find some overlap in the beginning of Happier at Home, where she describes how she sets up her happiness resolutions, and how she views happiness (“To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth”).
These books, for me, are ones that really inspire me to think more carefully and seriously about how I live, how I’m using my time, how I’m cultivating my relationships, and how I’m dealing with the not-really-contradictory tasks of both changing for the better and more fully embracing who I already am, in all the roles I play. I hope you love her like I do. Let’s jump right in to the first half; we’ll cover September through December this time and in a few weeks we’ll discuss January through May.
POSSESSIONS – FIND A TRUE SIMPLICITY
I just recently read a fantastic book called Zero Waste Home that inspired me to take more control of my possessions, especially guarding what comes into my house (see here to read my gushing review, plus the changes I’ve made to my own house), so I loved this chapter about finding the right balance of possessions for your own life.
One of the things I appreciate about Gretchen is that she is rarely prescriptive – instead she discusses what works for her and why, and suggests ways that you might figure out what works for you, even if it’s completely different from her approach. I absolutely think that taking the time to work through your possessions and decide what you want in your home is worth the effort, and this chapter has fantastic advice for figuring out what you want (and don’t want!) in your house.
LIGHT BULB MOMENTS
- “Money can’t buy happiness, but spent wisely, it can buy things that contribute mightily to a happy life.” A couple of years ago, I realized that almost every time I got dressed up for church, a work event, or a date, I found myself frustrated by the absence of plain black heels in my closet. Finally, I decided I would just buy some. Do I think that one pair of black shoes is making me happier? No, but I certainly feel less unhappy every time I can quickly get dressed without spending twenty minutes trying to figure out what to wear.
- “It seems like a false choice. People can be important to you AND possessions can be important to you.” Isn’t this refreshing? I love not feeling like you have to choose between valuing people and valuing things.
- “Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for me.” This was an enormous breakthrough for me. Sometimes people ask me how I find the time to cook a lot, and I have realized it’s not hard for me because I love to cook. Likewise, my sewing machine can sit untouched on my kitchen table for weeks, making me feel frustrated because I’m not whipping out new clothing for myself like some of my friends. And it’s okay that I don’t like to do that!
- “Do We Use It? Do We Love It?” I feel like so many organizational ideas say that, if you don’t use something, you shouldn’t keep it. It’s a huge relief for me to feel like it’s okay to keep something just because I love it, even if I never use it.
- Gretchen says that you engage with objects by using or responding to them. Do you have some that you do both with? Like Gretchen, I love my books – just seeing them stacked (too high) on my bedside table or neatly arranged by color on my bookshelf fills me with joy, and I also love to read them. I enjoy cooking, and my kitchen tools are both used and just fill me with happiness to see my bright red dutch oven on my stovetop or tiny glass jars of spices on the counter.
- One of Gretchen’s Secrets to Adulthood is, “A change is as good as a rest.” As a parent, it can be exceedingly difficult to fit in a rest, but I can usually manage to make a change that refreshes me. I find that a walk (aka, a change of scenery) with my girls leaves me feeling much better, both physically and mentally, plus it wears them out! What ways do you get a change when you can’t get a rest?
- Do you notice the the endowment effect in your life, where you value something because you own it, even if the item itself is pretty useless to you? I’m trying to resist more free things, like too-large t-shirts, hotel shampoo, and plastic cups from restaurants because I don’t want to feel attached to them when I know, realistically, they are pretty useless to me.
MARRIAGE – PROVE MY LOVE
“More appreciation, more tenderness, more cooperation, more fun.” Gretchen is fantastic at boiling down big ideas to a few memorable words, and this is one of my favorites. As I read this chapter, I kept thinking how applicable these things were, not only to a marital relationship, but also to our relationships with our children. I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t want a parent focused on appreciation, tenderness, cooperation, and fun.
LIGHT BULB MOMENTS
- “The only person I can change is myself.” I’ve heard this many many times in marriage advice, but I’ve not thought about it in relationship to parenting. Of course, part of a parent’s job is to help mold and shape (so, yes, change) a child, but in many cases, some issues may be best solved by me working on changing myself.
- “If something’s important to me, I should make time for it.” Alternatively, if I’m NOT making time for something, I may need to reevaluate if it is actually important to me or not.
- “Men depend much more on their wives for reassurance and understanding.” As I read this part about how women get praise and emotional support from many people in their lives, while men generally get it almost exclusively from their partner, my mind flashed to our kitchen bulletin board. On it, I have about five cards from various friends over the last few years that are very lovely and say nice things about me. None of my husband’s friends have dropped off nice little notes and treats for him that I can ever remember, so I need to be sure to fill that need for him.
- Have you tried making the positive argument? I’m bad at remembering to do this, but when I do remember, I’m amazed at what a difference it makes in how I see my husband or other close friends and family. It’s so easy to give examples of all the previous times people have behaved badly, but how often do we do it the opposite way, remembering all the times they’ve done things well?
- What kinds of Gold Stars are meaningful to your partner or your children? As my toddler has gotten older, I’ve noticed how well she responds when I point out things she’s done well without her telling me about them first. She also is absolutely thrilled whenever my husband leaves her a little note if he leaves to work before she gets up. And when I tell someone else, in her presence, about something good she’s done, I can see her just light up with happiness.
- How are you “choosing the bigger life?” I desperately don’t want my relationships to be plagued with petty things – nagging my husband about minor household details, getting after my children for acting like children, and this phrase is one I think I need stamped on my hand. I want to make decisions, big and small, based on having the most full, rich life I can possibly create for my family.
PARENTHOOD – PAY ATTENTION
As soon as I read the four mini-resolutions in this chapter (under-react to a problem, enter into the interests of others, go on Wednesday adventures, and give warm greetings and farewells), I realized they all basically boil down to positive and intentional interactions.
LIGHT BULB MOMENTS
- “The way we acted toward on another would shape the way we felt about one another.” It’s so easy to let my feelings govern my actions – letting myself act grumpily toward my family when I’m tired or snapping at my innocent bystander husband when I smack my knee on the corner of the bed. But my actions can really shape my feelings as much as the other way around.
- “Children crave to be taken seriously.” This reminds me of the part in “How to Talk. . .” where they discussed respecting a child’s struggle. To be dismissed, whether unkindly or semi-lovingly, is really hard on a child. I clearly remember how much I wanted to be taken seriously when I was younger. I want my children to know their opinions, thoughts, and preferences are heard and respected (even if they can’t always get their way).
- “If I didn’t get a moment of acknowledgment, it was hard to settle in.” I consider myself very much an introvert, and I’m always grateful when I arrive at a party or another event that’s already going, that someone welcomes me in, even if with only a two or three word greeting. I’m trying to be better about this when I’m the person already in a group. And I definitely want to make my children feel this way too – that they are acknowledged and welcome.
- Like Gretchen, I grew up in a family where unkind teasing was absolutely off-limits, and I firmly agree with the point Gretchen makesa bout how teasers don’t understand how their teasing is perceived. Do you allow teasing in your home?
- How do you fit in individual time with your children? It’s easier for me to spend alone time with my older daughter right now because my baby naps so much during the day, but I know it will get increasingly difficult as they get older and I have more children.
- Do you see yourself getting more of what you have? I’ve found that when I’m social and outgoing, I’m invited to more get-togethers. When I share books or recipes or ideas with friends, more come back around to me. When I’m patient with my children, they are more patient with me. And when I’m feeling anxious and frazzled, more things seem to happen that make me more frazzled.
INTERIOR DESIGN – RENOVATE MYSELF
In some ways, I’m surprised to see this chapter after the previous three. Wouldn’t you think that finding your own happiness would come before working on your possessions, your marriage, or your parenting? And yet, it’s kind of nice to pause at the half-way point and focus on yourself after having looked outward for the past three chapters. And, in some ways, these are the most difficult resolutions yet – giving gold stars seems positively easy compared to digging deep when you really just want to fly off the handle, especially if you have good reason to.
LIGHT BULB MOMENTS
- “Act the way I want to feel; behave the way I want to behave.” It’s always gratifying to live up to your own standards, but when someone else is making it more difficult, I think it can be even more rewarding (and challenging, of course). It’s easy to be a happy, calm mother when my children are behaving perfectly. It’s much harder when they’re falling apart in the grocery store, whining while I try to clean the bathroom, or sobbing irrationally while I try to take a phone call.
- “Respond to the spirit of the gift.” I actually had occasion to practice this at Christmas. My husband got me an iPad which was much more expensive than the budget I had in mind (I am extremely price-sensitive). Also, I have a smartphone, so I didn’t feel like I really needed another portable digital device. AND I was working on spending less time online, so this seemed like it’d be quite unhelpful in meeting this goal. It was deeply tempting to me to say, “I don’t need this; let’s just return it.” But, I recognized he’d thought it would be a great gift for me, that I’d really enjoy it (I love technology and all thing media), and that it’d be a fun surprise (I was very surprised). And so I let got of my hesitations and just enjoyed a really nice gift, and have found that I really love it.
- “As our self-control gets used up, we find it harder to resist new temptations.” This makes me realize why I’m much more patient and pleasant in the morning, but by bedtime, it takes much less to set me off. I feel like just recognizing this has gone a long way to helping me control my actions better.
- How do you avoid happiness leaches? I’ve started being much more selective about the people I follow online – I recently removed many people from my Twitter and Facebook lists who were consistently posting things that made me feel depressed, upset, or combative.
- I love Gretchen’s Personal Commandments. I’m currently in the process of working up my own list, including “If it takes less than two minutes, do it now.” What are some of yours?
- Are you a moderator or an abstainer? I’m definitely a moderator – it’s easier for me to go running three days a week, knowing I get every other day off. It’s easier for me to give up a dessert on a weekday, knowing I can eat them on the weekend.
There is so much good stuff here – I could write a whole post about every chapter. What sections have you found the most useful so far? Are you interested in setting up your own happiness project? Please share your thoughts in the comments – I love discussing these books. *Post contains affiliate links
P.S. Looking for more ways to simplify and connect with your family?