Happier At Home: Embracing My Neighborhood, Plus a Giveaway

Our Book of the Month for September is Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, a personal experiment in making home a happier place in categories like marriage, parenthood, time and body. We’re test-driving Rubin’s ideas all month long, and you can have a chance too – we’re giving away 10 copies of Happier at Home on our Facebook page! Enter by Sept. 16. —BBL Editor

Thanks to my experiment from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project I am a much happier person – especially in the morning. So I jumped at the chance to try tips from her latest book, Happier At Home. Since I just moved to a new neighborhood in New York City, I flipped right to her “Neighborhood” chapter.

I have lived in New York City my entire life, and, like Gretchen, I find it very easy to “let the city fade into backdrop,” so when I moved to Brooklyn last month I decided to follow Gretchen’s resolution to “be a tourist without leaving home.” I went on a mission to learn everything I could about my neighborhood’s unique history, smells, views, shops and people.

I attended a picnic at the local church where Henry Ward Beecher preached about abolitionism and took a tour of the historic sanctuary; I stop to read all the Historical Landmark plaques on the buildings I pass; and have joined the walking tours hosted by a local historical society. I even started to notice the smell in my subway station that is totally unique to that station and the interesting folks I pass on my way to work each morning.

Now that I had a better respect for what makes my neighborhood unique, I decided to tackle Gretchen’s next resolution: to act with greater neighborliness by practicing nonrandom acts of kindness. So, instead of just walking past the lady I see every morning walking her adorable black Labrador puppy, I decided to smile at her yesterday. (It sounds simple, but hey, it’s New York. Smiling at someone here is like inviting someone to dinner in another city.) This morning I asked her the puppy’s name and got a nice wet kiss from the little guy as I leaned down to pet him. I smile at the man in the booth at my subway station, and he now waves to me as I approach! I hold the door open for the older gentleman neighbor who always happens to be returning to my building with two cups of coffee at the exact time I am leaving — this morning he actually thanked me and smiled.

These nonrandom acts of kindness make me happier because I can see my neighbors appreciating the effort, however minimal, I make to acknowledge their presence in my life. My experience of the neighborhood would be much different if these people weren’t a part of my daily routine, and it makes me happy to let them know that with just simple, friendly gestures.

Gretchen quotes Gertrude Stein at the beginning of the chapter, stating “Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.” Words to remember as you pass by your neighbors every day…

Learn more about Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project

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