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Review: Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Homeschool moms have made a massive investment in happiness at home, not only for themselves but also for their children.  As Charlotte Mason pointed out, a significant part of education is the atmosphere that surrounds the children.  Everyone knows that, ‘if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.’

So perhaps we need to think about being happy.  As a Christian, the basis of my joy is God’s goodness to me, but there are dozens of ‘little’ things I could, and probably should, do to improve the atmosphere I radiate.

Those ‘little’ things are what Gretchen Rubin discusses in her new book, Happier at Home:  Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life.

It is important to understand that Happier at Home is about the quest for self-knowledge and self-mastery, not self-indulgence.   As I wrote in my review of Gretchen’s best-selling The Happiness Project,  ‘Happiness is not hidden in a tub of chocolate ice cream nor does it involve a life of laziness. Paradoxically, it can occasionally require a lot of self-discipline, hard work, and activities that are not fun.’

In this delightful and profound book, Gretchen discusses how she prepared for her Happier at Home project and what she did in nine different areas of her life:

  • Possessions:  To make way for the really important stuff, she wanted to have her possessions under control, to understand, use, and value what’s truly important to her.
  • Marriage:  A strong marriage and happiness are closely associated.  While ‘the only person I can change is myself’, changing oneself can have a huge impact on both one’s marriage and one’s spouse.
  • Parenthood:  We want our children to be happy, but we can’t make them happy.  Things we can do to help: underreact to problems, be interested in their interests, and have fun with them.
  • Interior Design: No, this isn’t about sprucing up the living room; this is about fixing up ourselves on the inside.  ‘To make my home happier, I needed to demand more of myself.’ 
  • Time:  Gretchen wanted to cram her days full of things she loved as well as to cultivate an atmosphere of unhurriedness.  But what, and how?
  • Body:  The basics of physical self-care were addressed in Gretchen’s earlier book The Happiness Project.  But there are many other physical things that can influence our happiness, like wonderful smells….
  • Family: Siblings and parents, in-laws and more, cultivating gratitude, making wills, doing things together—these are all part of being happy with family.
  • Neighborhood:   There’s happiness in seeing your locale with the fresh, interested eyes of a tourist, in being kind, and in contributing.
  • Now:   Although Gretchen has not kept her resolutions perfectly for even one single day, she has discovered that the attempt has made her and her family happier.

For Gretchen, happiness projects are a sort of attempt to master fate, to be prepared for eventual disaster…and as her husband has an incurable disease, she knows more clearly than many of us that disaster will eventually come.

For me, the fascination of reading about happiness projects is that they give me more tools to ‘rejoice always’ as Christians are commanded to do.  Yes, we are saved, but a few minutes of a child on a squeaking rocking chair can transform our joy into irritation, and a family member’s illness can fill us with profound gloom. Learning about happiness helps me eliminate many temptations to be grumpy or sad, and so improves the atmosphere in my home.

Will this book make any difference in my life?  Yes, it already has.  Even just reflecting on what gives me joy and what bothers me has helped me  to be happier and, hopefully, to radiate joy to those around me.  I’m planning to make a few simple resolutions every month, in keeping with Gretchen’s ideas, but suited to who I am—which is uncannily similar to who Gretchen is.  And after hearing so much about this book, my husband is making a determined effort to be more cheerful as well.  Now, that’s joy!

I also learned something else from Happier at Home:

Weaving together research results, wisdom from the past, and her own experiences, Gretchen tried to understand how she, as Gretchen, was meant to live, and how to make that work in her everyday life at home.  But she realized that her faults never seem to improve.  After a period of discouragement, Gretchen took comfort from the fact that great saints also made the same resolutions over and over.  I think of the apostle Paul who exclaimed in Romans 7, “Wretched man that I am!” when discussing his problem of not doing what he wanted to do.

C.S. Lewis said that “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good…Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.”   And it isn’t until we clearly see how we continually fall totally short of perfection that we begin to understand our need for salvation.  Gretchen does not mention this at all, but it struck me as a key result of the book.

Besides providing a happy home for our families and ourselves, besides learning to obey the ‘rejoice’ commands, this may be the most important benefit of Happier at Home:  by trying so hard for self-mastery and self-knowledge, we come face to face with our need for a Savior.

I highly recommend Happier at Home.  It is such a fundamental book about living.  Even though she does not claim to be a believer, Gretchen has found a lot of truth, and in the process of implementing it has discovered even more.

More information, a book trailer, and a sample chapter are available at the Happier at Home webpage.  You can pre-order the book there or wait until it arrives at your bookstore on September 4.  If the cost is beyond your budget, do encourage your library to buy it.

This is yet another book in the in the 2012 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, The Better Mom, No Ordinary Blog Hop, Encourage One Another Wednesday, Women Living Well Wednesdays, Works For Me Wednesday ,and Raising Homemakers.

Disclosure I received a review copy of this book from Gretchen Rubin and the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.  I was not compensated for this review, and the opinions expressed are my own.

6 Comments

  1. Karina says:

    Visiting via WomenLivingWell. Thank you for this review. Sounds like this book has some interesting, thought-provoking, and challenging thoughts. Oh that we would stop making the “little” things steal our joy away, and really learn to revel in wonderful gifts God gives to us each day.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, you’re so right! It does all come down to being thankful to God for what he gives us…. Somehow, I find Gretchen’s ways of thinking about happiness help me to be more grateful and less grumpy. But there are a lot of deep thoughts involved and I don’t understand them yet.

  2. briana says:

    Oh, this looks good. I read and enjoyed the happiness project so I should probably add this book to my library list. Thanks for the review!

  3. Melinda says:

    Thanks for the review! I read and enjoyed “The Happiness Project.” I’ll have to see about getting a copy of this one to read as well.

  4. Jenn4him says:

    I’ve been eager to hear what you thought of this book. I read her other book and read her blog often. I have the audio book on hold at the library, can’t wait!

  5. Annie Kate says:

    I think you ladies will enjoy the book!

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