Book Review
Title: "Happier At Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life"
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Publisher: Doubleday Canada, 2012; 288 pages; $26

When you think of the words "project" and "home," what comes to mind automatically are probably images of power tools, paint swatches and those blasted furniture assembly instruction sheets (why, oh why are there always leftover screws??!!).

Gretchen Rubin proposes to power-tweak your word associations for projects at and around your home, documenting her own home-centric "happiness project" in her latest book, "Happier At Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life."

Rubin, who related her experience of a yearlong series of whole-life happiness initiatives in her first book, the best-selling "The Happiness Project," was inspired by a Samuel Johnson quote ("To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition …") to do a deep-dive happiness project focused on various elements of home life, among them: relationships, possessions, time, body and neighborhood.

Armed with this inspiration and a passel of insights and lessons from her earlier project, Rubin set out to spend her children’s school year executing on a series of mindfully selected, concrete resolutions to level up the happiness she and her family experience in and from their already-happy home.

Here are a few of the areas Rubin focused on during her school-year adventures of doubling down on happiness at home:

1. Possessions. In an effort to get mastery over her "stuff" before she moved onto the people and experiences that mattered more, Rubin started out her "happy at home" project on a mission to manage the contents of her place. Starting with the knowledge that her personal inclination is to purge, shed and simplify things to an extreme, Rubin sets out to boost her home’s "comfort and vitality" by ditching unimportant objects "shelf by shelf" to make room for more precious items and more effectively engaging with useful things she didn’t know how to use by reading their manuals.

She also resolved to cultivate shrines, building small areas of "super-engagement" around the house, dedicated to the passions, activities and values that take place there, from a rotating, seasonal family photo gallery to enshrining her office to reflect and foster her love of her work.

Rubin ultimately found that this investment of time and energy into possessions did not at all run counter to her characteristic nonmaterialism. Rather, "a possession was precious only if I made it precious, through my associations … with important relationships and experiences."

2. Marriage. On the theory that her definition of home included wherever Rubin and her husband were, together, she set out to "foster a tender, romantic, light-hearted atmosphere" in which their relationship could continue to thrive. Emboldened by the fact that her "love and marriage"-related resolutions from "The Happiness Project" (e.g., "Quit nagging" and "Give proofs of love") were some of her most fruitful, Rubin focused on making changes only in herself, knowing from experience that her own happiness increases had a track record of spreading to her husband, Jamie. Rubin took up new practices like:

  • a morning-and-night kissing ritual;
  • doling out more "affective affirmations," from "I love you’s" to "thank you’s" and vocal, public celebrations of his wins at work and elsewhere; and
  • taking driving lessons, so she could share in the responsibility of driving in a way she’d never been able to before.

3. Parenthood. Rubin undertook four resolutions in an effort to become the mother she wanted to be, again focusing on her own behaviors — rather than her kids’ — under her cardinal rule of happiness projects that she could only control herself. Rubin resolved to "underreact to problems" and get engaged in her kids’ interests (even ones that didn’t pique Rubin’s personal interests), creating the tradition of taking her older girl on Wednesday adventures and focusing on giving consistently "warm greetings and farewells."

On net, her parenthood initiatives generated innumerable precious moments, offset her concerns about losing out on time with her newly independent middle-schooler, and helped Rubin achieve her aim of appreciating the fleeting time frame of her children’s youth.

Along with these three critical home-life happiness silos, Rubin also tackled everything from interior design, to her own body, to time management and many points in between "in an effort to make [her] home a haven of comfort, warmth and tenderness."

Reading "Happier at Home" is like reading a next-gen "Walden," from the perspective of a 21st-century mom; it’s a set of real-life stories that entertain as they deliver an education about how to boost happiness and inspire us all to take strategic action toward that end.

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