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Reading 2012: Happier at Home

September 19, 2012

After profitting from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project earlier this year, I was eager to read her newest book along the same thread, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life(It’s currently #2 on the New York Times bestseller list.)

Gretchen Rubin is a master at bringing to the forefront life observations that should already be common sense, but does so in a way that makes it stand out and make her readers pause and think, “ah ha!” While a good bit of Happier at Home is along the same theme as The Happiness Project, it definitely includes fresh content and a more in-depth focus on dwelling in happiness at home. I felt like reading The Happiness Project got me moving on a certain trajectory, and Happier at Home aligned with it and propelled me further toward pursuing and cultivating happiness within the realm of home life.

Happier at Home

Although The Happiness Project followed a year-long course, Gretchen chose to do her home happiness project following the school calendar, beginning in September and ending in May. Her nine months each focused on one area related to home, in the following order (also see Table of Contents below): possessions, marriage, parenthood, interior design (herself), time, body, family, neighborhood, and now.

Gretchen focuses on many writers and thoughts throughout history, but gives particular precedence to the writings and sayings of Samuel Johnson and Saint Thérèse.

Take on the difficult things and “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Pursuing happiness, of course, doesn’t mean you avoid hard work or even all dreadful things. In fact, one area that Gretchen worked on in this book’s project was specifically devoting 15 minutes per day for working on a disliked project that was easy to keep putting off (beyond things that need everyday or frequent upkeep, such as cleaning). Her first project was to go through several years of digital photos and have them printed into an album. She devoted 15 minutes a day, and eventually was able to click the “order photo book” and receive years worth of photo albums that she’d put off doing. Although she had a “perfect” photo book in mind, she chose not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and let her idea of perfect keep her from getting it done at all. She chose and edited the photos she wanted, but let the photobook program arrange her pictures for her (assumably in order) and then hand wrote the captions (as another 15-minute-per-day) project once they arrived in the mail. Incidentally, compiling photo books for several years and family vacations is still on my “to do” list, so I found this illustration particularly relevant (and plan to take it on as my first 15-minute-per-day-do-something-you-dislike projec)t. Of course, I don’t dislike working with my photos, but I do dislike the huge project that is looming ahead of me. I’ve definitely let the perfect be the enemy of the good, here.

Home Life Lived Purposefully
Another theme that ran through the book was working to pursue home life deliberately. Gretchen wrote, “when my days were following their ordinary course, it was hard to remember what was truly important, and my happiness project helped charge my life with more gratitude and contentment.” Although I feel like we live many areas of our home life intentionally, this reminder was a good shot in the arm, and will likely be for anyone, regardless of the particular season of life or progress already made.

True Happiness?
It seems there is a lot of flux in the dictionary definitions of happiness, what people think of happiness, and what it seems like happiness in this book is made out to be. Some people hear the word happiness and grow fearful that it is an shallow emotion devoid of true contentment; others see it as a synonym for contentment.
I think what Gretchen Rubin is aiming for here is a happiness that denotes a satisfying life. What she pushes for here is not an empty happiness based on perfect circumstances or affluence, but happiness that often includes doing difficult tasks, looking inward and changing our attitudes and outlooks, and disciplining oneself to view life through an inner lens of contentedness. There is a fine line between hedonism and asceticism, between chosen circumstances and peaceful contentment, and I think the happiness that Gretchen promotes here exists as a healthy tension between these extremes.
It seems that as Christians, we can rightly pursue happiness, without making it our ultimate goal or idol. In some seasons of life that will mean pursuing time and passions that we love; in other times, it will mean accepting the circumstances that surround us and realizing that although we cannot force others around us to be happy, we can pursue it for ourselves.

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  • Johanna Hanson September 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Excited to read this one as I gleaned quite a lot from her previous book. I’m still number 35 on my library waiting list! It will be awhile. 🙂

    • Keren September 30, 2012 at 8:59 pm

      Ha! I just got something from the library that I was #28 for! 🙂

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