When people ask me what book has had a lasting impact on me, has changed the way I see the world, I always mention Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Reading that book illustrated to me that I could be active about my own happiness, that the only person that could change my happiness quota was me.
Sounds fairly straightforward, but I’d never realized it before. I also really appreciated her practical approach to happiness – her book was full of simple every day things that anyone could do to make themselves happier: make your bed, sing in the morning, clear up clutter for 10 minutes before you go to bed.
I recently started listening to her podcast too and recommend it to anyone interested in her ideas – they are just 20 minutes and a great way to get introduced to her work if you haven’t already had the pleasure.
I meant to read Rubin’s follow up, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life, as soon as it came out but never got around to it. But then I added it to my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge (hosted by Roof Beam Reader) list and suddenly voila! Crossed off the list!
This book is an easily digestible read – I finished it in about 3 hours. In it, Rubin decides to embark on another, home-focused, happiness project after realizing that time was going by really quickly and she wanted to make sure she enjoyed the here and now. Rubin’s daughters, 11 and 6 at the time of writing, are growing up quickly and she realizes that it will all be over too soon. She resolves to make an effort to enjoy the moment, to be more mindful so that when the time has passed she will feel like she actually enjoyed it fully while it was happening.
But of course, in true Gretchen Rubin fashion, she isn’t content to just make these plans and hope that she will just start being more present. She comes up with a schedule and concrete ideas for how to actually achieve this. Each month she will focus on one aspect of her home life and come up with a few ideas of things that she can actually do to measure her success. In turn, Rubin concentrates on possessions, marriage, parenthood, interior design, time, body, family, neighbourhood and the now. In the month that she looks at her marriage, understanding that she can only make changes within herself and not force them on her husband, she resolves to kiss in the morning and at night, make the positive argument and take driving lessons. When she looks at family, she has an uncomfortable conversation with her parents about living wills, plans nice small surprises and collaborates with her sister.
I continue to learn so much from Rubin. I’ve read criticisms of her that she and her husband actually have piles of money, live on the Upper East Side in NYC and have loads of help so it’s easy for her to run on about what other people should do to make themselves happier. I disagree completely. Rubin never tells anyone to do anything. In fact she stresses constantly that these are the things that she does that make her happier but that it’s different for everyone. And while she’s writing about doing all these small, simple things to make her happier, she shares with her readers the research she has done into happiness. Does the fact that she and her husband don’t really have to worry about money make any of these things less worth learning from her? No.
I learn so much from these books and this time I’m sad that I borrowed this from the library. As I’m sitting here writing this post, flipping back through the book I’m reminded of how many times I read something out loud to my husband or went “hmmm.” The thing about Rubin’s books is that one of her biggest commandments is to “Be Gretchen”, meaning that she knows herself very well and understands that something that works for a friend, won’t necessarily add to her own happiness and she’s very much ok with that. This commandment was a big part of her first book and it played a big role in this follow up. The other one that was a big part of this book was that it’s not enough to love, you must prove it. That is, the people in your life probably know that you love them, but showing them is better.
Here are some of the other things that stood out for me as surprising or illuminating:
- People with sisters are happier.
- The human response to smell is not innate, it’s learned.
- Married people actually treat their spouses with less civility than near strangers.
- We react more strongly to an unexpected pleasure than a planned one.