Friday, August 2, 2013

Half-Review: Happier at Home

Right up front you should know that Happier at Home is basically a second part to Gretchen Rubin’s other book, The Happiness Project. I am a big fan of The Happiness Project. I subscribe to her blog and e-newsletters, co-led a book class on The Happiness Project, and am even leading a women’s retreat this fall about Happiness which will utilize the book. So, I’m biased. I love the subject.

Couple things you should know about Gretchen’s style and writing. First, she is the over-achiever of over-achievers. She gets more done than the average bear, and certainly you and me. She obsesses over things that might not fall on your radar. But – she does her research and her writing is accessible and inspiring, which forgives a lot of sins.

If I asked you right now, “Are you happy?” what would be your answer? Honestly? Are you as happy as you could be? And more importantly (for Gretchen’s purposes) do you appreciate how happy you are and could you be even happier?
My guess is that you said you’re pretty happy under the circumstances, but you’d like to be happier and you don’t always appreciate all that you have. That’s my answer, so of course I assume it’s yours.

If you’d like to actively pursue happiness, Gretchen’s books are for you. If you only have time for one of them, then by all means, go with The Happiness Project. Today I’m reviewing Happier at Home, which gets into more micro-happiness issues than macro-happiness (that would be THP).

When I first started the book, I became slightly irritated with Gretchen because it seemed like she was reaching a little. She made plenty of money on the first book, had she just conned me in to spending more money to hear the same things? Maybe. But having followed her blog and read her writings, I do think she sincerely wants to help people be happier. In part because she will make some money in the process, but also because making other people happy makes her happy. It’s one big sick circle, but it’s a good turn.

The book is broken up into nine chapters, beginning in September and following the school year. It covers one topic each month, offering ideas, resolutions, and projects to help you be happier in that particular aspect of your life. The topics include – possessions, marriage, parenthood, self, time, body, family, neighborhood, and now. Full confession: I have only read as far as time. (July was a BUSY month, but I plan to finish.)

Throughout the book Gretchen reiterates her personal commandments which she shared in THP. In fact, there are so many references to wisdom revealed in THP that I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not wanting to read THP. The structure and format are identical; the only big difference is random pictures. And they are random – a picture of her four retired laptops, a Christmas ornament, her daughter’s shelf shrine.

I think my favorite part of the book so far came just beyond the halfway mark. Gretchen confesses to being tired of her own rambling about happiness and frustrated with her endless projects and resolutions. She doesn’t feel like she’s making any progress and actually lists all the ways in which she’s failed. As I read this, I heard in my head the voices of some of the class members last spring when we discussed THP. Some people thought Gretchen was too perfect. This section of the book was refreshing. I absolutely identified with the words – “I was weary of myself – my broken promises to do better, my small-minded grudges, my wearisome fears, my narrow preoccupations.” I wrote nearly the same words in my own journal just a few days ago. If I had thoughts of putting this book down, they were whisked away by the honesty of Gretchen’s writing in this section. Yes, she is a ridiculously overachieving, but she is also human. I like human. It inspires me.

Since I haven’t read the entire thing, I’ll share some of my favorite points/quotes so far and leave it at that.

Gretchen spends a lot of time thinking about possessions. She is not a materialistic person and tends to underbuy (a concept presented in THP), but she does believe the possessions you have should bring you happiness, not stress. Therefore, she goes “shelf by shelf” cleaning out and organizing her belongings. She gets rid of things that don’t bring her happiness, like gifts she doesn’t use, but feels obligated to keep. Her daughter’s belongings are the hardest to part with. I can understand that. There are objects that belong to my own children that were critical to their lives when they were in preschool (stuffed animals, blankie, polly pockets, books requested every night…). Instead of pitching these items, she created a “memory box” for each child and filled it with sacred items no longer needed/wanted but that have strong sentimental value.

She gathered the numerous small plastic objects that her girls accumulated from gifts, happy meals, prizes, etc. and placed them all in an apothecary jar on a shelf where they became decorative instead of annoying.

She set aside 15 minutes every day, even setting her computer timer to remind herself and began tackling a nagging task. Hers was sorting and organizing pictures. She was zealous about stopping what she was doing the moment the timer went off and quitting her project the moment 15 minutes ended. Her logic is that everyone has 15 minutes and getting these gargantuan, tedious, much post-poned tasked done would give her happiness. She called it “15 minutes of suffering.” I liked this idea and will test-drive it as soon as I decide which task – filing? Scrapbook? Cleaning out the basement? Repairing broken jewelry? Cleaning my tack?

 I underlined lots of favorite quotes so far in this book. I’ll share them here.

gimcrack” – I just loved this word and had never seen it before. Don’t know what it means? Look it up!

Happiness is not having less; happiness is not having more; happiness is wanting what I have.”

About her husband – “…he pervades my entire life, so now sometimes it’s hard to see him.” This is so true. But it’s also sad. I want to think about this.

Five Fateful Questions Gretchen answers when faced with difficult decisions:
1.      What am I waiting for?
2.      What would I do if I weren’t scared?
3.      What steps would make things easier?
4.      What would I do if I had all the time and money in the world?
5.      If I were looking back at this decision, five years from now, what will I wish I’d done?
And then she sums it up with the admonishment – ‘Choose the bigger life.’

“We were in the rush hour of life now….” This is the God-honest truth for many of us parents now. It’s helpful to realize it’s a time in life, but it won’t last forever.

“You get more of what you have. When you feel friendly, people want to be your friend. When you feel attractive, people are attracted to you. When you feel loving, others act lovingly toward you.” This is a tough truth, but one worth acting on.

“The internet is both my lifeline and the plastic bag over my head.” –Manisha Thakor

One last point that really spoke to me – Gretchen writes about “loose moments,” that time when you aren’t doing anything purposeful. It’s the time when some of our most important ideas come to us. But with technology suffocating us, we have fewer and fewer loose moments. I resolved to stop reaching for my phone so instinctively every time there is a lull in my day. I need those loose moments. We all do.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the book. I apologize for the half-review. But one of my own happiness project resolutions is to cut myself some slack. Hope you can too.

August book: YOU Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty by Michael F
Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.
(I'm already leery of this book which looks daunting, but flipping through I noticed that there are lots of pictures and some larger print, so there's hope I'll make it at least 3/4 through this one. Why don't you join me? After all, who doesn't want to stay young?)

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