IT HAPPENS AFTER the first cooler nights; good sleeping weather makes me long for change, for lightening the load (even as I pile on the blankets). I want to feel even happier tucked in at home, as I know I will soon be more often than in the warm days. I always think that means tossing things: rambunctious garden plants, extra T-shirts, shoes I haven’t worn in years, all those damn empty yogurt containers I saved on purpose, but can’t remember now just why. Good thing Gretchen Rubin, author of the New York Times #1-selling “The Happiness Project,” has followed up just in time with her new hit “Happier at Home.” Get some tips, and maybe win a copy of the book.
September is the new January, says Gretchen, so “Happier at Home” chronicles a series of experiments and adjustments to her life that took place from September to May. (In Gretchen’s smart, not-preachy school of self-improvement, we happily get the summers off apparently!)
“To feel more at home at home, I had to know myself, and face myself,” she writes, and her curriculum starts with a hard look at topics like Possessions (the September chapter), Body, Marriage, Parenthood and even Time (that devilish one), among others. As different as she and I are–Gretchen, a former attorney, is a mother to two small girls, an urban dweller, a wife–I found something thought-provoking in every section of “Happier at Home.”
Gretchen doesn’t garden, or want to garden, but on her blog recently she posted this footnote to a story she wrote:
She can tell gardening makes me happy, I think. For me, of course, home is everything—because it is in the terra firma surrounding the literal dwelling place where I make my beloved garden, my companion and catalyst through it all these last 26 years. I leave home as little as necessary now (only two sleepaways in five years!), and yet find my surroundings endlessly new and fascinating every day.
After reading “Happier at Home,” I was inspired to mark what makes me happier, to voice it like an affirmation. You can read my list, or just scroll down to see how to win one of three copies—two home-centric blogging friends I love are joining me in this giveaway.
My list of little and not-so-little awarenesses:
i’m happier at home when…
I’m happier when I go slow. I said I am endlessly entertained, even in weeks when I don’t leave the house. Going slower—often with camera in hand, to really notice little things, and not just the big, colorful, obvious full-bloom moments—helps. You know, little leaves of a Japanese maple, fallen to the ground and about to disappear. Nature doesn’t hurry, and I try to remind myself to follow her cue.
I’m happier when I have lots of extra paper towels, toilet paper and tissues in the closet, and if the dish-soap dispenser by the sink runs out, when there’s a backup supply in the cupboard. Silly, maybe, but true, so even with my tiny household unit of one, I shop big on such essentials. It made me smile to read on page 249 of “Happier at Home” that a stash paper towels in the bank made Gretchen happier, too. (It makes me happy to know I’m not alone in my idiosyncrasies, it seems.)
I’m happier when things smell good. That said, it might surprise people to know I’m not much for heavily fragrant flowers. For me, the best smells are more fresh and green: artemisia but not lilies, bee balm more than roses. Gretchen (a rose-lover) spent time exploring how scent—a factor that’s so easy to shift for the better by just sticking your nose in the fresh laundry, or making a pot of soup—affected her life, and added this to her mantras: “Embrace good smells.”
I’m happier now that I am a pet owner. (I cannot believe I just typed that.) Long the “just say no to pet hair” type, I now live with towels and sheets draped on the furniture, because Jack the Demon Cat brings me more joy than all the extra vacuuming takes away. Just to be clear: I’m not a pet person now, exactly, but I’m a Jack person.
I’m happier when I am not trying to resist something I have a tricky relationship with: foods I don’t think are good for me, for instance (but taste delicious), or a glass of good wine with dinner (that then spoils my good night’s sleep). But shall I indulge, or forego? What a struggle!
“Abstainers and moderators scold each other,” writes Gretchen of the two camps of thinking about “dare I or not?” and frankly that back-and-forth even happens inside my own head. Like Gretchen (whose would-be seducer is her love of sweets), I find it easier to “X” some things off the list than to try to moderate. Even though they make me momentarily happy, over the long haul, I am happier without.
I’m happier because I have a sister. (And apparently she’s happier when she has a cabbage, which I don’t think necessarily connects to the fact that we came from a cabbage patch, right?). I’m a first-born sister to a sister, and apparently sisterhood is not just nice from a personal perspective, but statistically indicative of a happier life, notes Gretchen (likewise the older of two girls, and now the mother of just such a transformative duet). Marion and I could have told the researchers that: having a sister makes you happy-happy.
I’m happier when the kitchen knives are sharp, when the blender blends things smooth, and the vacuum picks up the dirt. Fill in the name of any equipment you want in there along with its purpose—and I don’t want to waste time being frustrated when that’s not being delivered. Saying this out loud here gives me a little nudge to have the right tools on hand for the job of living well, not luxuries but facilitators, and to keep them in good working order. No big deal–but such a big deal in terms of payoff.
“For most people, including me, possessions, wisely chosen, could be a boon to happiness,” Gretchen says. She’s no big shopper; me, neither. But a toaster that really delivers evenly browned bread or bagels? Priceless, we heartily agree. Ditto a camera, which produces much lasting joy, if not breakfast. Think about your list.
I’m happier outside than in, or near a window if I can’t get up from the chair just yet. Which brings me back to where I began: tuck-in time is coming. I’m looking forward to it, actually, as I always do. Like my plants, I crave a dormancy after a long season of “be up, be doing,” as my Grandma Marion, the first gardener I ever knew, used to love to say.
What about you?
3 chances to win the book
I’M HAPPIER ALSO BECAUSE I KNOW Pam Kueber and Katrina Kenison, my two “virtual colleagues” who see me through each week with their shared knowledge and moral support. Pam and I help each other with our blogging–commiserating, cheering each other, you name it–and Katrina is my ad hoc writing partner, with a book coming the same time as my next one (January 2013), from the same publisher. The three of us are all what I’d call home-centric, which is why I invited them to do this three-way blog event together.
Each of us has bought a copy of “Happier at Home” to share with you. Simply comment below by sharing some way you’ve boosted your happiness at home, then copy your comment to all three blogs (to KatrinaKenison.com here and to RetroRenovation.com at this link) and triple your chances to win. Feeling shy? Just say, “Count me in” if so. Your entry will be official.
Winners will be chosen at random after entries close at midnight on Sunday, September 16. Good luck to all—and much happiness in your home and garden, from which all blessings flow.
(Disclosure: Books purchased from Amazon links give me a small commission that I use to buy more books for future giveaways on the blog.)