Eric Swanson recently sat down with bestselling author Gretchen Rubin to talk about her book Happier at Home (now available in paperback). He said “it was like talking to a really good friend—someone wise, funny, resolutely practical, and refreshingly honest.” Here’s Part Three of the series. Check out Part One: Happier Holidays and Part Two: New Year Resolutions.
The wrappings are tossed. The decorations are stowed. The festive reds and greens have given way to a slightly mournful shade of blue.
Stripped of merry trimmings, my home doesn’t feel quite like home.
This year, I want a different experience.
Fortunately, I had an opportunity recently to speak with Gretchen Rubin, whose latest book, Happier at Home, describes her nine-month project to create a space where she could “feel more at home, at home.”
Home means different things to different people, of course. As Rubin points out in her book, a home reflects a person’s values, interests, and temperament.
“A true home,” she writes, “must suit the people who live there, by incorporating the elements important to them.”
But how do we discover those elements? Though I’ve lived a fairly self-examined life, I’m hard pressed to come up with a short list that says “me.”
Well, how about asking a few pointed questions?
“For example,” Rubin suggests, “when I ask adults, ‘What do you do for fun?’ they don’t really know. They do what’s fun for the whole family. Or they do what they think that everybody else thinks is fun. So a good question in that case is, ‘What did you do for fun when you were 10 years old?’ For most people, what they did when they were ten years old is probably something that they would enjoy as an adult, only adapted to the adult environment.”
Another question: “Whom do you envy?”
“Because envy is such an uncomfortable emotion,” Rubin explains, “a lot of times we don’t want to admit that we feel it. But it’s hugely valuable because it tells us that somebody has something that we wish we had. That envy is a clue. Sometimes we don’t acknowledge what we want.”
Or try: “What do you lie about?”
Often, we lie because our actions don’t reflect our values. And we’re uncomfortable about that.
“We’re happier,” Rubin observes, “when our lives reflect our values.”
Okay. I can work with that.
But once we get a glimpse at what’s important to us, how do we translate that into creating a “true home”?
One suggestion Rubin offers is to “cultivate a shrine”—to make a place of special dedication to something that you love.
Rubin has created several such places in her apartment, but one she’s particularly fond of is a shrine to children’s literature: an area occupied by a bookcase full of children’s books, her old Cricket magazines, and a Gryffindor banner a friend brought her from the Harry Potter theme park.
“When I pulled all these things together,” she continues, “I realized it wasn’t anything that I hadn’t owned before, but by mindfully arranging them, I energized it. And now that’s one of my favorite parts of my apartment, because here’s all these things that I love.”
Rubin is quick to point out that building strong relationships with other people is critical.
Visions of group therapy sessions begin a danse macabre in my head. But Rubin dispels them with a simple suggestion for enhancing the level of attentiveness and tenderness in relationships.
“We started a family resolution to give warm greetings and farewells whenever someone comes and goes. You feel better when somebody really acknowledges that you’ve come home or that you’re on your way out. You have a moment of connection.”
Appreciation for what we already have is also key.
“People who feel grateful tend to be happier,” Rubin observes. “Yet it’s so easy to take for granted all the things that make us happiest.”
After a fruitless attempt at keeping a gratitude journal (“It drove me crazy”), she found another, more immediate, route.
“In my apartment building there are two doors you have to go through, in or out, so there’s sort of forced pause—which to me is like the real threshold of my home. So whenever I go out or in, I use that transition to create a threshold ritual to remember how happy I am to be coming home or how happy I am to be going out into the world.”
As I ponder this, I feel as though I’m on a threshold, myself.
“To understand yourself,” Rubin tells me, “is to understand your home. And to understand your home is to understand yourself.”
Yes, I could dash over to Ikea to fill the void left by vanished holiday trimmings. But I could also ask some hard questions.
None of which have to do with décor.
>> Visit Gretchen Rubin online and discover new ways to create your unique happiness at GretchenRubin.com.
[Photo Credit: Zurijeta/Shutterstock.com]