Caroline's Reviews > Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin
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's review
Aug 29, 2012

really liked it
Read from August 23 to 27, 2012

I love this tighter focus on home and its specific sources of (or blocks to) happiness. Following Rubin through an academic year of themes and resolutions validated my feeling that my unease in my current home and my desire to once again create tranquility and refuge is not silly or superficial. I found the serious and thoughtful treatment of the topic, once again, reassuring. As a late August baby and a long-term lover of school, I am quite partial to any project that follows the academic calendar. New Year’s is a boost, but feels like more of a midpoint than a beginning to me.

I agree with the author that one often learns the most from someone else’s highly idiosyncratic reflections, even if the reader doesn’t always relate to the specific details. As a resident of Los Angeles who loves to drive, jumps at any chance to travel, especially far away, adores spicy food, is currently childless, and who is more of an overbuyer, I seem to have little in common with Rubin, a die-hard New Yorker homebody who dislikes spiciness, driving, and complicated travel and must consider all the plans she makes through the lens of being a parent.

But that wasn’t the case. My 5 favorite inspiring points are the following, some of which I have already acted on with varying degrees of success:

1. Suffer for 15 minutes: In January, when Rubin considers the theme of time, she resolved to spend fifteen minutes every day making whatever degree of progress was possible on a long-delayed task. I tend to dread things far longer than is necessary, and just diving in with a timer has been a success.

2.Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy: Recently, I have recently fallen in love with running. I read running magazines. I have bought crazy shorts that allow me to run when it’s hot. I have socks specific to left and right feet and I use an app that tracks how far, how fast, how long, where, and all kinds of other details about how I run. I have more energy as a result and I get very excited when I think about planning my running week. But do I love every minute of every run? Far from it. It is hard, scary, and I get sore. I get really red in the face and often feel ugly after running. I am self conscious about my skin condition. If I didn’t agree with Rubin’s truth about happiness above, I might have missed out on the whole thing.

3. Go shelf by shelf: I very much enjoyed Gretchen’s chapter on possessions, one I wasn’t sure I would connect to, since she is a self-identified “underbuyer” and I very much enjoy purchasing things that make life easier, prettier, or are shoes. However, I hate clutter and often feel the urge to simplify, even though it feels like a giant scary task. Her gentle approach of going shelf-by-shelf and deciding what is adding to life, what might be needed and what is wonderful but rarely used was a great reminder, and gives me more enthusiasm about the de-cluttering I have been planning for quite a while.

4. Collaborate with a sibling: Rubin’s sister lives in my city of LA, and therefore it is rarer that they are able to spend time together. Gretchen came up with a project they could both work on and created a fun topic to discuss and stay in more frequent contact. I am lucky, in that my brother lives about two miles away, but as his work schedule and mine are very different, he’s planning a wedding for next summer, and I am planning a move and in a new relationship, we haven’t spent as much time together lately as I’d like. It was a great treat, and a coincidence that my brother called and proposed a surprise birthday outing to Disneyland together as I was writing this post. During that conversation we also discovered a new shared interest that might become a larger project. Score! (and possibly news to come…)

5. Make the positive argument: This one spanned the whole topic of marriage and relationships, but I appreciate that topic throughout the book. I took a lot from Gretchen’s willingness to be open about her marriage, and how it is sometimes hard to fully understand another person’s point of view. The practice of making the positive argument (looking for evidence of positive things as an antidote to internally or outwardly criticizing a partner or friend) is so often a helpful one for me, and one that does not come naturally, sadly. I wish I could always make long lists of how everything works perfectly in situations or with people when I am feeling disappointed, but it’s a hard habit to break. Hearing about Gretchen’s success allowed me to move forward with gusto.

A slightly longer version of this review appears on my site:
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