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When Mama Ain’t Happy…(You Know the Rest): Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Cover image of Happier at HomeAn enjoyable follow-up to The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling memoir about her year of researching theories and following advice from happiness experts), Happier at Home is about Gretchen’s second happiness project – this time focusing on family and home life over the course of a school year. Kind of like a five-year status update, Happier at Home is the author’s book-length response to questions about what difference her year-long happiness project really made in her life and a continuation of her research into ways to feel happier and more appreciative of the many good things in her life.

She emphasizes in both books that her reason for pursuing these happiness projects isn’t that she’s unhappy, but that she wants to be more mindful of her good fortune on a daily basis and more consciously happy, not every moment like some kind of whacked-out Pollyanna, but over all. Some of her resolutions aimed at boosting her happiness at home require inconvenient effort or the tackling of unpleasant chores, but they contribute to her having a happier life in the long run – like knowing you will feel better after exercise, even if you don’t enjoy the exercising itself. She also stresses that the happiness project idea isn’t going to be helpful in cases of actual depression or overwhelmingly difficult situations; it’s for people who, like herself, are happy enough, but could become happier with some adjustments to the way they do things or view themselves.

One important lesson from my first happiness project was to recognize how happy I already am. As life goes wheeling along, I find it too easy to take my everyday happiness for granted, and to forget what really matters. I’ve long been haunted by a remark by the writer Colette: “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe, and think, “Then we were so happy, if only we’d realized it.” I had everything I could wish for; I wanted to make my home happier by appreciating how much happiness was already there.”

I read The Happiness Project as a memoir, a stunt memoir along the lines of A. J. Jacobs‘ books or Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, where the author does something wacky or difficult for a period of time and writes about it. I don’t read many self-help books because I know I’m not ready to change anything major about myself or the way I do things, but I kept thinking of anecdotes from The Happiness Project even months after reading it, so it made an impression on me. Although the author’s books and blog may inspire readers to start their own happiness projects, the books aren’t really self-help but the author’s personal story. What makes each person happy is so individual that each happiness project has to be designed individually by the person embarking on it. Reading Happier at Home, I enjoyed learning about how she tweaked her original project, acknowledged herself to be a homebody at heart, and concentrated her efforts on creating a happier home and family life through changes in her own behavior, schedule, outlook, etc..

The author does talk a lot about herself, which I guess some reviewers found annoying in her first book, but it makes sense that she discusses her own thoughts and motivations, and uses them as examples in her book, since she can’t make resolutions for anyone but herself (although she admits that – like most wives and mothers – she would like to.) I also think she was trying not to reveal details of her life that would infringe on the privacy of her husband and two daughters. (Thankfully, she avoids the cringe-inducing over-sharing of Julie Powell’s second stunt memoir, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, for which she apprenticed herself to a butcher and revealed intimate details about her marriage and extramarital affair that must have made her husband squirm.)

Although it stands on its own, Happier at Home is best read as a follow-up to The Happiness Project. I would recommend The Happiness Project and Happier at Home to readers who enjoy memoirs of research projects with a touch of whimsy – like Drop Dead Healthy by A. J. Jacobs, Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, or A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.

Read an excerpt of Happier at Home here.

Enter each day over the next couple of weeks to win a copy of Happier at Home from the author’s Happiness Project page.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Happier at Home signed by the author from HarperCollins during Book Expo America.

Happier at Home
Rubin, Gretchen
Crown, Sept. 4, 2012
$26.00 U.S., $31.00 (Can)

11 Responses

  1. I haven’t read The Happiness Project yet and it sounds like I need to read it first. I actually enjoy stunt memoirs like that.

    • Yes, I think if you’re only going to read one, it makes sense to read The Happiness Project and then go on to the next one if you’re intrigued and want to find out more.

  2. I really go back and forth on my rating of The Happiness Project. Like you, many ideas resonated long after and I do try to understand the story was HERS and not a guide for ME to copy (but she does offer the tools with the caveat to adjust to each person) so yes, THP was a good book. I really wasn’t that annoyed with her until I let bad petty jealousy crowd in a bit. How’s that for showing my warts. But I’m not ready to read MORE of it.

    Also, I like how you called it ‘whacked-out Pollyanna’! Growing up, I always wondered why people were so critical and mocking of Pollyanna-ism because I just can’t fault it. So what!? Find the good in every situation. 😀

    • I’m pessimistic by nature, so I probably identified with the way the way Gretchen Rubin didn’t naturally look on the bright side, but had to force herself to do it by putting it out there publicly on her blog! 😉

  3. (not that you called the booked whacked-out but that you gave Pollyanna an adjective that most would assume already.)

  4. I love that line about recognising your current happiness. It’s so true–it’s very easy to always be searching for more, more, more when often what we have is pretty good to start with!

    • That’s right. The older I get, the more I want to pay attention to happy moments. But deliberately creating more of them is so damn hard! 😉

  5. I didn’t realize that there was a follow up. I really liked THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. It really spoke to me and stuck with me. When I’m struggling to deal with my two-year-old, I often recite the manta “The days are long, but the years are short.” I’ll definitely be looking to read this one too!

  6. I saw a documentary about The Happiness Project and loved what I saw. I didn’t realise this new book was out, but it sounds like something I’d enjoy.

    PS. I love your blog and have just added it to my google reader. I love BBAW for drawing my attention to new blogs. 🙂

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