January means resolutions. My guess is that at least one of your resolutions falls under the category of being happier in some area of your life. If so, you might want to take a look at Gretchen Rubin’s new book, “Happier at Home” (2012). Her previous book, “The Happiness Project,” was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for months. Although I hadn’t read that one, I bought her next book as the “perfect” gift for someone. Before I wrapped it I skimmed it a little further than in the bookstore. Soon I was reading each page and knew I had to have my own copy. This is a valuable and inspirational reference for any individual, family or home — the kind of book you might not read at one sitting or from beginning to end, but snippets on a daily or weekly basis. With a highlighter.
This book is not just Rubin’s personal philosophy which one might think, “Well, how can someone else’s idea of happiness be the same as mine?” But rather she has studied the field intensively and shared many philosophies. One reviewer calls it a cross between the Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness” and Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” I personally think the seven-page bibliography of books and extensive research that she includes is worth the price of the book alone. The books that have most influenced her life and this project are “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” (Yale Press), “Therese of Lisieux,” spiritual memoir, “Story of a Soul,” and everything written by Samuel Johnson.
In “Happier at Home,” Rubin says, “A happiness project is an approach to the practice of everyday life. The key word here is everyday. Let’s face it, most of our time is spent in “everyday” living, not at DisneyWorld. What better place to find the joie de vivre than in our daily tasks. First is the preparation stage where you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction and engagement as well as what causes you frustration or unhappiness? Second is the making of resolutions, where you identify what actions will bring joy and reduce the opposite. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions.”
Rubin divides her book into nine sections, for the months of September through May, much like a school year with each month devoted to focusing on an aspect of daily living: possessions, marriage, parenthood, interior design, time, body, family, neighborhood, and now. Although those were the months she chose to focus, the principles and ideas could apply to any month or person’s schedule.
As she labored to identify the fundamental principles that underlay happiness, she identified what she calls “Four Splendid Truths:”
To be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth.
One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.
The days are long, but the years are short.
I’m not happy unless I think I’m happy. (credit to the artist Delacroix)
I might add a quote here that is credited to Abraham Lincoln: “We’re about as happy as we make up our minds to be.”
Here’s an example of one of Rubin’s suggestions under parenthood: “Give Warm Greetings and Farewells.” Seems simple enough and we might say, “Well, I do that all the time already.” But she tells of an anecdote where she ignored her own advice due to life pressures, and time crunches. The child called her on it, which told her it had become meaningful in her life. Rubin’s style is not preachy but very real from trial and errors of daily living.
Tolstoy said, “Each time of life has its own kind of love.” Rubin says she didn’t want the time her young children were at home to slip past, unrecognized and unremembered. Any parent will appreciate her “bus” incident. It is priceless and confirms, the days are long, the years are short.
I found one of the most interesting sections to be the one on possessions. Or as we often call it, our stuff. How much stuff do we need? How happy does it make us?
She addresses these issues in a way that causes one to think of their relationship to their possessions. Her process makes it so much more than a “How To Get Organized” column.
“Cultivating possessions isn’t a simple matter of organization, elimination or accumulation; it is a matter of engagement. When I felt engaged with my possessions, I felt enlivened by them and when I felt disengaged I felt burdened.”
Engagement can take the form of both use and response. For example, if every time we walk by a certain photograph we have on display we feel a sense of joy remembering the occasion, we are definitely engaged. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, the frustration we experience when new gadgets or equipment causes us grief. As technology rapidly caused the author to master new skills almost on a weekly basis — the DVR, the downloading of iTunes, the uploading of photos, the countless remotes — she realized these possessions were more frustrating than valuable. Then she applied her first rule: Identify what causes unhappiness and correct it. Read the manual, the instructions, or else get rid of something we will never take the time to figure out but merely frustrates us each time we see it.
There is an interesting chapter on creating the space we spend most of our time in, be it at work, our office, at home, in our kitchen, so that it is a pleasurable place to be.
In doing so she discovers a “Fifth Splendid Truth.” I can build a happy life on the foundation of my own nature. I think this resourceful book can help one discover their own true nature as well as more splendid truths.
Rubin has written other non-fiction, such as “Forty Ways to Look at JFK,” and “Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill.” She began her career as a lawyer and was working for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer. She currently resides in New York City with her husband and two daughters. To sample her writing, visit her daily blog: www.happiness-project.com. I bet you’ll be happy you did.
Former bookstore owner Vy Armour has been a resident of Ahwatukee Foothills for more than 20 years. She is an adjunct instructor in communications at the University of Phoenix and reviews books on her blog, http://serendipity-reflections.blogspot.com. Reach her at email@example.com.
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