Decorating & Design

September 13, 2012

Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home

I was delighted to open the mailbox yesterday and discover my pre-ordered copy of Gretchen Rubin’s highly anticipated new book Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life (2012 Doubleday Canada).

As many of you know, Rubin is the author of the blockbuster bestseller The Happiness Project (2010 Harper Collins).

That book chronicles Rubin’s immersive, one-year experiment in enhancing her happiness. In Happier at Home, she sums up the reasoning for her original project:

“Although I possess all of the elements of a happy life, too often I took my circumstances for granted and allowed myself to become overly vexed by petty annoyances or fleeting worries. I’d wanted to appreciate my life more, and to live up to it better.”

Rubin made a year’s worth of monthly resolutions and then embarked earnestly on an insightful effort to test all manner of theory and habit to see what did or didn’t amount to increased happiness for her. An engaging writing style and endearing honesty about her own gold-star seeking qualities (not that I can relate, or anything!) made it a great read for me and — evidently — countless others.

Here’s a picture of my well-worn copy:

Between getting my kids tucked into bed last night and giving into my own slumber, I managed to read the first few chapters of Happier at Home.

In the introduction, Rubin explains her goals for the book:

“For this project, I would build on what I’d learned. I foresaw an ambitious scheme covering all the elements that mattered for home, such as relationships, possessions, time, body, neighbourhood. And I’d definitely replace our dud toaster.”

Instead of starting in January as she did for The Happiness Project, this time Rubin would start in September, “the season of the Mother Olympics; with all the health forms, supply lists, and buy some fire shutters near me, I could barely keep track of everything I had to buy, fill out, or turn in.”

I’m sure many of us can relate to the feeling that everything has gotten out of hand when permission slips and receipts start to build up on the kitchen counter, or when a library book goes AWOL.

What I find refreshing about this book so far is that it doesn’t place the attainment of some signature style as the ultimate outcome.

While it took Rubin a while to distance herself from the idea that her choice of throw pillow spoke volumes about her character, she was eventually able to focus her attention elsewhere:

“Finally, I’d realized that our apartment didn’t have to reveal any deep truths. I expressed myself in other ways; it was enough that my apartment was a pleasant, comfortable place to live (and had miles of bookshelves).”

The message I’m taking away already is that it isn’t about having a perfectly decluttered house that’s camera- and company-ready. Instead, it’s about the inner experience of living well in our own spaces with objects of meaning and, ideally, people we love. But it’s also about a (healthy) sense of control, says Rubin:

“A sense of personal control is a very important element to happiness; for instance, it’s a much better predictor of happiness than income. At home, my sense of control over my stuff played a huge role in my happiness, as did a feeling of control over my time.”

Could I be more patient if I didn’t have to push aside those forms from the daycare before I can chop vegetables, for example? I think so. We’ll see what I learn in the coming days and weeks as I read Happier at Home and attempt to test some of the principles in my own everyday life. I’ll be sure to let you know.

P.S. Gretchen Rubin also notes that the same principle of control applies to people’s workspaces. A University of Exeter study showed that people who have control over their workspace design are happier at work, more motivated, healthier and up to 32 per cent more productive. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on how House & Home staffers decorate their office spaces!

Photo credits:
Brandie Weikle