In her No. 1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin offered readers provocative insights into happiness gathered from her own yearlong “test drives” of research on the subject. The author even maintained a blog that chronicled her journey and gave tips on living a more blissful life.
For her follow-up, Happier at Home, we talked to Rubin about her “narrower and deeper” exploration into making her pad more a place of Zen. Here, she tells us about making the most of the foundation for all happiness—the home.
You say that this book isn’t a self-help book, but it’s self-helpful. Can you tell us more?
I think people learn most easily and deeply from another person’s story, even when we’re not that much alike. There’s just a way that we can take someone’s individual experience and relate it to ourselves that’s easier than reading research. Studies of big populations can be interesting, but hard to apply in terms of your own life.
I read these things and try to apply them to myself. I am not giving advice really to anyone other than myself. People take from that what they will. You’re probably not going to go out there and read all those books and try all those resolutions, so I’ll do it! And you can pick and choose what works for you. I can act as a filter, glean experiences for you.
You collect quotes and weave them artfully throughout the book. How did you keep track of it all?
I have a really good memory. Once something strikes me, I will say, “What was that Blake quote about exuberance?” and I can search for it. I’ve collected quotes going back decades, and I love them.
There were actually many, many more. In the editing process, I saw it was too much. One reason that I started my “moment of happiness” e-mail is that I had so much stuff on the cutting-room floor that it was breaking my heart…and so I decided to send one out each day, and then I could have the fun of promulgating my favorite quotes.
You’re a devoted blogger, and your blog informs your book and vice versa. How do you see the relationship between the two?
I have two identities, one as a traditional book writer, which I’ve been for a long time, that’s my most salient work identity. But I also identify as a blogger. It’s interesting to have two writerly identities that don’t necessarily cross over altogether.
These are such different kinds of writing. A book is so much more complex. You can tell stories, weave things in and out over the course of thousands of words…it has such reach. But a blog is a good discipline. You’ve got to say what you want to say in 500 words. It’s good discipline, because you have to be writing constantly. It’s helped my ideas flow. I need to come up with new ideas all the time, so it’s helped my creativity. And certainly hearing back from people, what they think, spurs my ideas. It’s not just me talking to myself. I’m hearing what other people are responding to.
What message do you hope this book offers people?
It is possible to be happier within the confines of your ordinary day. By paying attention to these little details of life you can get as much happiness as possible, given your circumstances. And certainly there are times in our lives when it may not be possible to be happy, and it wouldn’t even be appropriate.
But are you as happy as you can be given your circumstances? It interests me how little things, like warm greetings and farewells for example, can really change the atmosphere of your day and how you feel about your life. And it’s very much within reach.
Take that little thing—jump! Just try it sometime! Here is this little thing that takes you no time and very little energy and it’s kind of silly but there it is! Some of these things are so simple and we know them, but sometimes we just need someone to point out the possibilities. “You know what? You really need to go to bed on time.” Or, “You need to make time for your daughter.”
It wasn’t hard to actually spend time with my daughter, but I had to decide to do it. And I got the idea from someone else. Sometimes when you hear about it, you know, This is what I want. This would make me happier. So I hope that by presenting things that worked for me, people will get ideas of things that could work for them.