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exploring the equation of being ‘happier at home’ (win a copy of gretchen rubin’s latest hit book)

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.

learn more

(Disclosure: Books purchased from Amazon links give me a small commission that I use to buy more books for future giveaways on the blog.)

Categoriesand such woo woo
  1. Jac says:

    I am most happy and appreciative of my surroundings when I hang clothing and bedding on clotheslines. Second to bicycle riding, the worship of the sun, my garden, and the flowing fabrics in the act of hanging clothes is my at home asanya.

  2. Sue Blando says:

    I’m happier at home now that I’ve (finally) made the leap to working from home as an esthetician. My room is peaceful, my products are great and everything smells wonderful. I am home so I can cook for my family, keep our house a Home and see my clients. What could be better?

  3. Robin says:

    I am happy harvesting a ripe honeydew from my garden. I’m happy when I have made a meal entirely from my garden, and the venison we processed ourselves.

  4. Cori B. says:

    I have been dissatisfied at home for a while now, but it is still my very favorite place to be. Like Gretchen September is the start of my new year (I am the long-time parent of four children, so I think it is a back-to-school mentality), and so I am hopeful that I can start to address some of my issues with my home: clutter, disorganization, shifting priorities for space and possession as the kids grow up, doing needed repairs and maintenance, etc. I am really excited about the possibilites of this new phase of my life.

  5. Beth Robinson says:

    It used to be that I was the happiest and most alive when that first chilly night of Fall arrived; the flannel sheets came out and the autumn leaved quilt was on the bed. But lately, that’s changed. Anymore, it’s when there is a rare day of peace … when the personal lives of my adult children are without drama, when my dear husband’s business has had a few customers and for the briefest moment, his stress is a little less. Perhaps it’s when my 7 yr old grandson throws himself into my arms from the school bus or the first moments of seeing my newborn granddaughter and the absolute joy on my son’s face. So I suppose that my “happy” depends on what the day brings. I feel like my personal “happy” is harder to find than it used to be. But as somber as this sounds, let me share something that made a difference to me this year. On a rare visit to Barnes & Noble, I found Margaret’s book, read the cover and immediately walked to the cashier. As I soon discovered, here was someone with the very same longings for peace and serenity and a life less encumbered. I must have reread this book cover to cover at least 3 times and on the crazy days, just to hold it for a moment or two made me stop and breathe. A copy of the Yeats’ poem is now hanging on the wall in the office I share with my husband right next to photos of our small eccentric house in the Adirondack State Park. This is to be our “Innisfree” in the next couple of years. It is here that “peace comes dropping slow” in the sheer and absolute quiet where one can hear the whirring of a hummingbird’s wings and the swamp roses are beyond fragrant. Nowhere else do we leap out of bed and race to a miniscule back porch to watch the dawn arrive, dressed in fleece and clutching hot coffee. Autumn puts on a show that defies description and every year we swear that it’s never been more beautiful. No place else is snow quite so silent or lovely. We move from window to window in sheer delight as it falls. And when it’s time to return to our “real” life, we carry this little brown house “in the deep heart’s core.” So I thank you, Margaret, for your words which arrived when I needed them most, in a year when my personal “happy” was harder to find.

  6. Michelle says:

    I am most happy when I bring the clothes in from the line and inhale the beautiful fresh air as I push my nose into the materials, I love the roughness of each piece in my hands and their sweet intoxicating scent; have 2 trashbags filled with clothes to take to goodwill after I have just cleaned out my closet; see the just vacuumed livingroom; and when my cats and dogs curl up together in the winter months creating the fluffiest and most unique living fur quilt.

  7. Chris Nicholson says:

    When I drive down the bumpy lane from the town street to our hidden “country house” that is 150 years older than the neighboring houses my heart sings
    “How do I deserve to live in heaven while I’m still here on earth.” My gratitude goes out to the folks who found this place back when settlement occurred here and using the rocks, clay, and trees they found gradually built the homestead that we have today in our hidden valley;

  8. Angie says:

    I happier when spending the weekend at home cleaning the house, playing with the dogs and picking raspberries among many other things.

  9. Kaaren says:

    I’m happier when I’m “playing house.” My favorite pastime when I was little was to spend long days with my “across-the-street-girlfirend” playing variations of this game — dolls were always included — baby dolls, not Barbie. (I know this dates me.) When I retired, and friends asked “What do you do all day?” I could happily claim what I loved as a child — “Playing House.” How wonderful to read all the above comments and know I’m not alone.

  10. Judy says:

    I’m happiest at home in our 100 year old house. I tell people, ‘I live in the past and I’m very happy there’. Every day is a gift…enjoy it!

  11. Stacie says:

    I am happier when I stop to just be. We get so caught up in our never ending to-do lists, chores, errands and schedules. Sitting in my back yard smelling the basil in my garden while watching my large willows sway in the breeze at sunset brings an undefinable calmness. Pausing for a moment, I can fully appreciate the beauty of Earth and be thankful for my own little piece of this world.

  12. fern says:

    I’m happier at home when I’m cooking with vegetables I’ve grown in my garden, or, after mowing the lawn, gazing upon my wild kingdom with a bottle of beer on a hot summer day, or watching the bees and other pollinators swarm my autumn joy sedum, or watching the bluebirds nest in the box or seeing wild turkeys passing through or hearing a tiny hummer scold me with its clicking noise

  13. Vicki K says:

    I’m happier at home because it’s my sanctuary from the world. A place to go that I’ve created to provide comfort surrounded by the things and people I love. A place you want to be. My cat is there too

  14. Jeanne says:

    Warm water for a shower. Something green growing in a pot in every room. Plenty of ice cubes to chill my drinks. Time for deep breaths. And space to just BE. (Oh! and great stories to read on the shelves at my local library!)

  15. Poosahkie says:

    It is all about the comfort of the dogs – being able to turn them out to a large yard where there are interesting things to check out, places to accept old weary bones, space to sit and watch the sun come through the woods and move across to the far side of the hill with one or all three of the dogs close- yes, I am happiest at home.

  16. Kris says:

    Happiness is listening to my four-year-old and his daddy laughing, or hearing them say, “that smells yummy” as they walk into the kitchen, or getting a huge hug from either of them.

  17. kathleen says:

    I stopped washing windows seasonally and started washing them when there was something lovely going on outside…which is always. Makes me smile to see them sparkle!

  18. Nicole says:

    Ways I’ve boosted my happiness at home: cleaned out my closet; got a killer new washer and dryer; just paid to have all the bushes and trees trimmed; sifted through and organized the paper clutter!

  19. Lois says:

    I’m happier when I bake something in the morning (usually fruit breads or muffins) so it sits on the counter all day for anyone who goes by to grab a quick filler.

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