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"Happier at Home" virtual book club - discussing the 2nd half of this great book.

Virtual Book Club: Happier at Home – Part 2

Hi friends – how are you?  I’ve been a bit distracted lately, have you noticed?  Hopefully not thanks to the continued great work of our MPMK contributing team.  I’m dealing with a lot that’s taking me away from the blog these days – getting ready to list our house next week, our dog begin seriously ill and hospitalized, and the end of school (eek!).

I hope to be back in the swing of things soon but until then Janssen has my back today with her wrap up of Happier at Home.  Have you guys grabbed your copy yet?  I think I could really use a lot of the messages in this book right now!

I’m so excited to share the second half of Happier at Home with you. I feel like the first half is slighlty more personal, while the second half focuses a bit more on family and community. I feel like this is a book I need to read with a pen and notebook so I can list all the things I want to read, focus on, improve, and experience. I’d love it if you shared your thoughts in the comments too.

TIME – CRAM MY DAY WITH WHAT I LOVE

GENERAL IMPRESSION

I am, like most people probably, endlessly interested in personal time management. This chapter is such a great way to jump back in to the book because it covers not only daily time management, but also larger, overarching ideals when it comes to taking control of your life. I especially appreciate her focus on taking control of your child’s time – I feel like that’s not a topic I see addressed often, but it’s been on my mind a lot since I first read this book.

LIGHT BULB MOMENTS

  • “I do have time, if I make time for the things that are important to me.” I love the idea of cramming your life full of what you love. If something is going to fall off, it will be the things you don’t really value as much.
  • “Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.” I am so guilty of this! I can procrastinate all day long by doing things that “need” to be done like the laundry or checking prices of airline tickets or any other dozens of things that are necessary, but aren’t actually as important as whatever it is I’m procrastinating.
  • “Many of my most important ideas have come to me in these loose moments.” Like Gretchen, I struggle with wanting to feel productive all the time. It’s helpful to remember that time to let your mind wander and observe the world around you can be just as valuable, although in a perhaps less obvious and quantifiable way.
  • “One of the most important lessons of childhood is discovering what you like to do.” I had a lot of free time as a child, and I spent most of it reading. Choosing an undergraduate degree in history, where I could read endlessly, and then a career in librarianship were natural and fairly obvious choices. I’m so grateful that I had parents who didn’t schedule me to death so I could have the time to explore what I wanted to do.

QUESTIONS

  • Have you ever picked a single word or phrase as an overarching theme to work on? I have friends who have, but I’ve never done it myself. It’s been fun, though, after reading this chapter to brainstorm what some possibilities might be.
  • What are your tricks for controlling the cubicle in your pocket? I try to spend Sundays off-line, and I try to turn my computer off after my girls get up from their afternoon naps.
  • What do you read to cheer yourself up? Gretchen loves Samuel Johnson. I gravitate toward the Emily series written by L.M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables), Sarah Dessen novels, and self-help non-fiction like The Happiness Project and Happier at Home.

BODY – EXPERIENCE THE EXPERIENCE

GENERAL IMPRESSION

I love that Gretchen combines big ideas with funny little things like, “a Secret of Adulthood: Everything looks better arranged on a tray.”  This chapter about physical things really resonates with me because I’ve found that being a parent is such a physical experience, from childbirth to bathtime to kids who want to taste and smell and touch everything.

LIGHT BULB MOMENTS

  • “Ask for a Knock, Give a Knock” As my older daughter gets more talkative, it is a struggle for me to stay engaged with her whenever she’s talking because she just talks so much. When she was littler, I would say, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” and now she says it to me, which I find both helpful and also a good reminder that she definitely recognizes when I’m zoning out or ignoring her.
  • “I love traditions, but I dislike hassle” As a mom, I really want to create fun traditions for my children, but I also don’t want them to be so unwieldy and complicated that I give them up after a year or two. I’m also realizing that my children don’t need things to be big for them to be fun.  I love the idea of holiday breakfasts – it’s simpler than a big dinner and starts the day off in a really fun way. This is making me think about the Fourth of July and what kind of fun breakfast we could have that day.
  • “Happiness is a goal and a byproduct” I love that Gretchen really rejects these false choices and helps me recognize that I don’t always have to choose between two opposites.

QUESTIONS

  • How do you engage more deeply with the physical world? I love this aspect of cooking – I like chopping, stirring, smelling, and tasting. It’s all such a physical experience from beginning to end. Do you find that your children help you do this more?
  • Gretchen didn’t find acupuncture particularly effective for her. What have you tried that other people swear by, but hasn’t been all that great for you? I think parenting is FULL of these kinds of things – parents who swear by some method of sleep training or potty training or education, but it’s not right for your child or your family.
  • How do you pursue happiness? For me, I keep huge piles of books around, I write on my blog, and I try new recipes. I’d love to hear in the comments what things you do!

FAMILY – HOLD MORE TIGHTLY

GENERAL IMPRESSION

I feel like these chapters just keep getting better and better. This one, about family, is so relevant to my own life (and probably yours too). I want my family life to be as happy as possible, but sometimes – maybe even most of the time – it takes a lot of effort to get that to happen.

LIGHT BULB MOMENTS

  • “People tend to overestimate what can be done in the short term, and underestimate what can be done in the long term.” I am so guilty of this, but I’m trying to improve. I’m working on running more consistently (even if it’s a shorter distance) and doing a little bit of educational time with my daughters each day.
  • “Collaborate with my sister.” This, of course, could apply to anyone you want to spend more quality time with, but I actually do have two sisters and after I read this chapter last year, I was inspired to start a blog series with them (each on our own blogs). We rotate choosing a topic and then we all write about it on the same day. Sometimes we each share a recipe, sometimes we reminisce about holiday traditions, sometimes we take pictures of our clothing. Frankly, whatever the topic is, I just love the chance to connect with my sisters every couple of weeks.
  • “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” I’ve never heard this Eisenhower quote, but I love it. I think it’s a key to living with children, where good planning makes everything run more smoothly, but you have to be ready and willing to set aside your plans at a moment’s notice.
  • Bad feelings highlight what I try to conceal.” What things make you feel envious? What things do you have the urge to lie about? And what steps can you take to avoid those? These questions shocked me into looking at some of my own habits (like how much time I spend with my own pocket cubicle. . . ).

QUESTIONS

  • Do you love the place you live? I absolutely love living in Austin, TX and I feel grateful all the time to live somewhere that I can so wholly embrace. Has it changed since you had kids?
  • What uncomfortable conversation should you have? I hate conflict of any kind and quitting a job, changing plans, or telling someone something I know they don’t want to hear is always something I dread for days or weeks or months beforehand.
  • Has someone planned a little surprise for you? My mom is really good at this – I’m always finding a nice card or small gift in my mailbox. When I went away to college, I got more mail from my parents (funny postcards, silly cartoons, etc) than probably the rest of my dorm floor combined. I want to be this kind of mom to my children too. What kind of surprises have your children enjoyed most?

NEIGHBORHOOD – EMBRACE NOW

GENERAL IMPRESSION

Isn’t this so relevant to parenting small children? It can be difficult to embrace the now, but it’s such an important part of life with our little ones. This is the only childhood they have and our only chance to parent them through it. Finding meaning in the important task of raising people makes it all that much better and I love Gretchen’s suggestions for making it worthwhile.

LIGHT BULB MOMENTS

  • “Practice non-random acts of kindness” I think sometimes it seems easy to do random acts of kindness because it doesn’t force you to look as hard for someone close to you who could use some help. And I agree that making other people happy makes me happy.
  • “We get healthy self-esteem from behaving in ways that we find worthy of our own respect.” I have found this to be so true. When I am wise with my time, when I play intently with my children, when I’m patient when things annoy me, when I am productive, I like myself more. Teaching this to my children is a high priority for me.

QUESTIONS

  • Do you love to travel? I actually do, but I find it so refreshing to see Gretchen admit that she doesn’t really want to. Isn’t it nice to let yourself off the hook for things other people love but you don’t?
  • Where in your city have you been meaning to visit? There is a sculpture garden here that I’ve never been to, but I think my girls would LOVE. This month, I’m committing to packing a picnic and going as a family. 
  • Have you found your Calcutta? I don’t feel like I necessarily have yet, at this point in my life, but I love hearing about what other people consider theirs.

NOW – REMEMBER NOW

GENERAL IMPRESSION

“Now is the time to be happier.” Following right on the footsteps of the previous chapter, this chapter brings it all home. What can I focus on that will make my family life happier now?

LIGHT BULB MOMENTS

  • “One of the persistent follies of human nature is to imagine true happiness is just out of reach.” I suffer from this like most people do, but I feel like having children has helped me with this. Now I look at my little girls and think “this is the only now I have. They’ll never be just like this again.” I remember feeling sad before the birth of my second daughter that my older daughter would never be my only child. Of course, now I can’t imagine it any other way, but that time is gone forever, and I’m glad I appreciated it while it lasted.
  • “We’re not playing tea party; this is real” I have this sensation of “playing” at being a mom all the time. I go to the grocery store and think, “they probably all think I’m doing a good job acting like a mom of two.” But I AM a mom of two!

QUESTIONS

  • Do you experience that skipping feeling, where you feel like things have just begun and then, just seemingly moments later, it’s almost over?
  • Do you think Laura Ingalls Wilder is the ultimate home writer too? I am a lifelong fan of the Little House books (and can’t wait to read them to my own children in a few years), and this was just the perfect ending to the book for me.

Thank you so much for reading along with me – I’ve loved getting to reread one of my favorite books in this format. I find Gretchen Rubin’s writing so inspiring and uplifting. If you haven’t read The Happiness Project, you should definitely check that one out too.

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Janssen is a former librarian and avid reader who is always maxing out her library card. She now stays at home with her two-year-old daughter (with another girl on the way) and blogs about books for readers of all ages, her favorite recipes, and parenting adventures at Everyday Reading.

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