Happiness is serious business for Gretchen Rubin
"Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life" (Crown Archetype), by Gretchen Rubin
Friday, September 7, 2012
Gretchen Rubin tapped into something with her best-selling book, "The Happiness Project," about finding ways to feel more satisfied with the life you have. Her new sequel, "Happier at Home," takes a closer look at how to improve areas that usually mean the most — bonding with family, creating a comfortable living space and utilizing time management.
Fans of Rubin's first book should enjoy "Happier at Home," which offers some new solutions for old problems and useful tips to make changes that cultivate quality of life.
Her latest project spanned nine months, with each chapter focusing on a different goal. Rubin rejects vague platitudes like "love yourself" or "be optimistic." The book offers concrete actions to elevate moods and behavior. Suggestions like singing in the morning, acting the way you want to feel, or mentally making the positive argument instead of dwelling on the negative are small remedies that could reap big results.
Some fixes are so simple they seem obvious — like breathing in a favorite smell or knocking before entering a room — yet most people are too busy to take the time.
Rubin advocates de-cluttering and encourages ways to incorporate enjoyable objects into living and working environments to increase productivity. She concludes that it isn't the amount of possessions she has, but whether she's engaged with the objects that counts.
To create closer bonds with family she started traditions like holiday breakfasts, special outings with her daughter, and developed a project with her sister. But not all experiments were successful. When Rubin tried to plan monthly adventures with her husband, he wasn't interested.
Those stories make Rubin more relatable. Her thoughts on the hard work necessary to keep a marriage happy may also move readers. "It isn't enough to love; we must prove it," says Rubin.
The book makes valuable points about how technology has created new work that's never done. There will always be another email or social media post, and smartphones and laptops have made it possible to work anywhere, anytime. Rubin warns the Internet can be a constant distraction, a dangerous form of procrastination, and can hinder your flow of ideas and leach contentment.
A few months into the project, Rubin admits slacking on several goals, slipping back into old habits and feeling down. But then she hauls out her "bag of happiness cures," including reading about 18th-century writer Samuel Johnson.
This is where she may lose some readers. Describing herself and her husband as "conscientious" people who work hard and spend a lot of time on computers, she says they rarely drink or take vacation. Her intellectual, methodical approach to happiness often makes it feel like a chore. She regularly quotes great philosophers and writers, and uses myriad examples, evoking a research paper. Once a Yale legal scholar and Supreme Court justice clerk, it's no wonder some of Rubin's exacting, dry language reads like a law brief.
For Rubin, happiness is serious business, and although she shares personal anecdotes, her plain writing lacks conversational style and humor.
Rubin says she often wishes she could forget her resolutions but knows she's more fulfilled when she sticks to them. She found her project not only increased her happiness but also the happiness of her family. One of the book's themes is that happiness is different for everyone and you have to be true to yourself to find it.
But first, you have to buy the book.
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