Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happier at Home – wouldn’t that be nice?

Gretchen Rubin openly admits to being happy.  Even at the point when she decided to start her Happiness Project, she wasn’t miserable.  She had a great husband, beautiful children, a busy and fulfilling career and a lovely home in a city she loved.  She was happy; but she just felt that there must be ways to allow herself to be happier.

So began her year-long investigation into how to be happier, taking a different topic for each month (health, family, home, money and so on), which fed into her blog, which resulted in her writing a Manifesto for her personal happiness (which included her twelve personal commandments and eight splendid truths, paradoxes of happiness and other happiness theories she rejects).  Rubin’s first book The Happiness Project became a world-wide sensation apparently overnight, spawning not just her website, blog and second book, but an International happiness movement.  Happiness Groups have been formed, with hundreds of blogs featuring her readers’ own happiness projects.

Rubin’s second book, Happier at Home, was published last month and this week she visited Houston as the speaker at the October meeting of the Great Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and I was pleased to have been allowed to sneak in to see her (even though I’m not a member and I’m not in commerce).

At first glance, it appeared that Gretchen Rubin was addressing a room full of already happy women (and a couple of happy men).  They appeared to be professional, successful, smartly dressed, eloquent and intelligent – lawyers, realtors, entrepreneurs, bankers, life-coaches, financial advisers – so what could she tell them about being happier in their lives?  But when she began by suggesting that one of the most important secrets to being happy was getting enough sleep, the assembled crowd laughed and shook their heads and muttered as one, “I wish”.  They nodded in agreement when she suggested replacing huge holiday festivities with easily manageable ‘holiday breakfasts’ (and waved her secret weapon – a packet of food coloring – so pink Valentine’s scrambled eggs and green St Patrick’s pancakes etc).  They typed notes into their smart phones about her suggestions for an immediate energy boost (jumping up and down a few times, making sure both feet leave the floor at the same time), or a cheap and speedy mood enhancer (having a hit of your favorite scents, using candles, small vials of liquids, or even just sniffing the vanilla essence in your baking cupboard at home).

None of Rubin’s suggestions to make yourself happier at home are rocket science, none of them come from deep clinical investigation (though many come from her extensive reading of philosophical and literature figures, particularly Samuel Johnson who features in the subtitle for the new book); her suggestions are all very obvious to anyone.  But because of that, they are easy to miss, to forget or to dismiss as too easy or without value.  She also told the audience that while her suggestions for happiness might not be able to clear a path through a huge trauma in someone’s life like illness, divorce, financial problems or bereavement, they are still useful tools to create moments of relief in what can sometimes feel like relentless misery.

Over the next few months, I will try to report on my own responses to her tools for happiness including my newly created empty shelf and my recent addiction to sniffing vanilla extract and coffee beans!), because couldn’t we all do with feeling a little bit of happy every day?

You can sign up for Gretchen Rubin’s daily happiness quotes, her regular email newsletter and also for her short and always sweet videos at The Happiness Project.   

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