The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin (2017)

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)

Four Tendencies G Rubin

As frequent readers of this blog are well-aware, I am an enormous fan of Gretchen Rubin’s work — not only her books, but her blog and podcast as well. In fact, you can follow the tag “Gretchen Rubin,” on this website for reviews of several of her books.

The Four Tendencies serves as a follow-up to Rubin’s 2015 Better Than Before, where she delves further into her signature personality framework to offer advice to readers on how to create accountability structures that best help you shape your habits to meet your goals…what ever those goals may be. (You can read a review of Better Than Before here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1Ds )

At the heart of the book is the Four Tendencies framework a tool that tries to identify “how a person’s responds to outer and inner expectations.” Based on those responses, Rubin groups us into one of four categories (from page 6):

  • Upholder — Responds readily to outer expectations and inner expectations
  • Questioners — questions all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations
  • Obligers — respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations
  • Rebels –resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

You can take the quiz here https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3706759/Gretchen-Rubin-s-Quiz-The-Four-Tendencies

Dividing the book into four distinct sections, Rubin tries to distill the best practices, unique tips, advice, and strategies that allow you to exploit your natural inclinations to make setting goals and keeping habits as easy as possible. Not easy, but easier. Rubin argues that fighting against our core personality traits make reaching goals an uphill battle, but making subtle adjustments that take our tendencies into account can smooth the way by working with our strengths rather than against them.

In addition to advice aimed directly at readers — great advice, I might add, which is concrete and immediately applicable — there is a wealth of information about how we can work with and best encourage those of other tendencies. There are scores of examples about how one might support a spouse, child, co-worker, client or patient of another tendency. After all, an argument that most motivates an Upholder will send a Rebel running in the other direction.

As an Upholder, it is easy for me to stick to routines; meet commitments to myself and others; and to say “no” to things I do not want to do or I think are unnecessary. These are all traits that are hugely beneficial to me…but can seem rigid to others. Furthermore, because it is easy to create and stick to habits, I am often unsympathetic to people who struggle to do things for themselves. Reading Rubin’s work has made a huge difference in the way that I view the decisions of others and infinitely more accepting of the fact that other people need more support to meet their goals than Upholders like me.

As the wife and mother of two Obligers (so far…my younger sons are still too little for me to guess their Tendency), I used to resist and (honestly) resent how much they needed me to prod them to act and monitor them as they tried to form new habits. After discovering Rubin’s framework, I realized that by taking a few extra moments to remind them of workouts or appointments can make it enormously easier for them to complete them…if they think I am watching and keeping track of them, they can see things through with less effort. (On a side note, a Questioner friend who I used to butt heads will all the time about her constant changing of plans — would this restaurant be better? should we do x instead of y? why not meet later? — and her endless questioning of my decisions. I now get along with her much better now that I know this is just a quirk of her personality; not a comment on how little she trusts my judgement.)

The Four Tendencies is self-help at its best: non-judgemental, direct, and easy to incorporate ideas for “knowing yourself better” so that you can live your best life. And so that you can encourage your friends and family life their best lives, as well.

 

 

 

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Lonely by Emily White (2010)

I have always loved reading memoirs. I find that one person’s deep journey into her or his personal experiences uniquely informative, all the more so if those experiences are vastly different from my own. Memoirs offer us an opportunity to think — sometimes for the first time —  about how different lives have been lived. Lonely is a perfect example of reading a memoir that brings into focus something that I never thought too deeply about before: loneliness. Lonely is raw, vulnerable memoir that brings the author’s battle with chronic loneliness into the light for intense examination.

“Given the choice, [loneliness] is not a journey I would have gone on. I would have preferred to have lived a life of connection, one in which loneliness did not assault me on a daily and yearly basis. But we don’t get to choose the main facts of our lives. Loneliness was something I was born into, something that claimed me as its own.  The only thing I could do in response was to try to follow and understand it, to chart it as fully and cleanly as I could. If it was clutching me, the last I could do was twist in its grip and really look at it. If I couldn’t ward it away, I could at least see it as clearly as it saw me.” 6

Like everyone, I have suffered from bouts of loneliness on and off through my life, but my experiences are what White terms “situational loneliness:” short-lived moments of loneliness that arise out of a huge life change, such as a move or a new career. White’s affliction of chronic, lifelong loneliness is vastly different; a state of living that is physically and emotionally dangerous and puts the sufferer at great risk for illness, depression, anxiety, and (paradoxically) even more intense bouts of social disconnectedness.  This work opened my eyes to a struggle that so many face, but that I was largely unaware was such a huge and lasting challenge.

White’s book is a honest description of her own battles with loneliness; first as a child of divorce, then as a college student battling depression, and finally as an adult lacking in deep and meaningful relationships. From the beginning, White disputes the common belief that loneliness is a “punishment” for social awkward or inept people, but rather a sense of social disconnection that causes the person to feel unhappy and isolated.  She paints a picture of herself — and a cast of fellow sufferers who populate the book through interviews conducted and reported on by White — as people with adequate social skills but who nonetheless find great difficulty in forging deep and lasting social bonds.

It is also further noted that solitude and loneliness are not the same thing.  Even though those who identify as lonely do admit to being comfortable with a certain amount of solitude, there is a line in which lonesomeness is no longer nourishing. White writes, “the relationship between loneliness and solitude can be hard to delineate: the former is often seen as canceling out the legitimacy of the latter, as though a lonely adult or child is simply not entitled to want or need time alone. But the feelings of isolation that accompany loneliness are entirely different from the more sated and creative feelings that accompany solitude.” (13)

“What lonely people find is that they are drowning in absence. They have to struggle with the unnerving sense of being too much on their own, and having to rely on themselves in an effort to meet their own needs. And once the self has been searched and patted down for a sense of companionship — which is something it can’t provide — the the lonely person is left with is a worn out sense of insufficiency.” 28

White’s book  draws not only on her personal experiences, and that of her interviewees, but from a vast trove of data from research studies and social-psychology experiments which back up her claims of the risks lonely people face. These risks include impaired physical health, mental and emotional strain, anxiety, stress, and fear.  She notes that the human need to connect with other people — to share, touch, talk– is a deeply rooted, biological need that has serious consequences for those who are lacking. The longer the state persists, the greater the risks and the harder the sufferer must work to overcome their fears to reach out to others. “Loneliness can start to feel rooted in your life, as central and definitive as your work or your marriage.” 81

Although she does not spend too much time on making distinctions between the types of loneliness — lonely for a romantic partner; lonely in a new city; lonely for someone to have deep conversations with; lonely for a person’s ‘quiet presence’ — they are mentioned through out the book as separate but equally important connections to restore. White highlights all of the ways we need to find like-minded people to share our lives with in order to remain healthy and happy

“What I needed was someone at home with me, some whose breath I would hear as I sat reading, whose footfalls would sound in the hallway, whose voice would reach me from an adjoining room. I needed the strong, steady companion that a friend, lover, or family member could offer and without it my loneliness persisted.” 73

A truly thought-provoking discussion of a problem so deeply stigmatized it is almost overlooked, but one that is clearly an enormous challenge for millions of people suffering without being able to voice their need for fear of social condemnation.

The podcast that brought Emily White’s memoir to my attention, Episode #110 of “Happier with Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft,” can be found here: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2017/03/podcast-110-lonely/

A thought-provoking examination of the different strategies for battling loneliness, by author Gretchen Rubin, can be found here: http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2013/11/feeling-lonely-consider-trying-these-7-strategies/  and here http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2016/01/lonely-5-habits-to-combat-loneliness/

Celebrating the International Day of Happiness!

Today, March 20th, is the official International Day of Happiness, a day of global celebration and reflection: celebrating those things we have to be happy about and reflecting on our level of contentment with the lives we are living and whether we could do more to help others lives happier lives as well.

Happiness is a subject that I spend a lot of time thinking about — my own, but also that of my family, friends, and community — and, because of I love reading, the subject of many of the books that I read.

In honor of the International Day of Happiness, here is a list of some of my favorite books on the subject:

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

An author’s year-long exploration of what small changes we can all make to create a happier life for ourselves and our loved ones. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/gretchen-rubin-part-1/

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Reflections on how our home, family, and neighborhood all can contribute mightily to our level of happiness and offers ideas on how to cultivate habits that keep your home source of contentment and happiness. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/happier-at-home-by-gretchen-rubin-2012/

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

A habit-strategy book that explores how knowing yourself better can help you find the best solutions for starting, and keeping, good habits. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/better-than-before/

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

A fierce and fiery memoir about one woman’s discovery that she had the power — all on her own — to overcome addiction and build a life of love for herself and her family. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/love-warrior-by-glennon-doyle-melton-2016/

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

A book that introduces the idea that people have very different ways in which they feel loved and by learning what actions you can take to show how much you care, you can improve your relationships and strengthen your love for one another. This book has had profound impact on how I treat all of the people I love — my spouse, for sure, but also my parents, children, and friends as well. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/the-five-love-languages-by-gary-chapman-2010-edition/

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

A small and cheerful book about why it is important to cultivate simple, cozy rituals that help boost your happiness and appreciate all the good things — food, home, friends, naps — in your life. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/the-little-book-of-hygge-by-meik-wiking-2017/

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

A book about harnessing your creativity — in whatever form it takes — to enrich your life and help you share your knowledge and ideas with the world, all while embracing and encouraging those around you to do the same without judgement or competition. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/big-magic/

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Maria Condo

I am always astounded by what a profoundly negative effect peoples cluttered homes have on their lives. Condo preaches a form of simplicity that starts with one simple idea: throw away the junk that is filling up your house and holding you back. Not for everyone, but definitely thought-provoking look at how we confuse having stuff with being happy. https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up-by-marie-kondo-2014/

The Far Side by Gary Larson

My kids recently “discovered” the wonderful, hilarious comic strip The Far Side. They checked out all 25 books in The Far Side Collection from the library and we all have been laughing over them for almost two weeks. Since each is only one panel, it only takes a few seconds to read and get the giggles. They have made us all so much happier!

A Walk in the Woods and Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

These books are not about happiness, per se, but they are so funny and that I laugh the whole way through reading them, which is a huge happiness booster! (Both are great audiobooks too!)

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/a-walk-in-the-woods-by-bill-bryson-2008/

https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/neither-here-nor-there-by-bill-bryson-1992/

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (2017)

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living

Hygge Manifest2

“Hygge has been called everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy,’ ‘coziness of the soul,’ ‘the absence of annoyance,’ ‘taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things’ or ‘cozy togetherness.'” Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allowed to let our guard down.” vi

This book, and the Danish lifestyle it describes, have become very popular in America lately. Hygge is the idea that creating a simple, cozy, warm home and opening it up to friends for simple celebrations is the secret to Danish happiness. Hygge is theory of living that encourages you to create a celebratory atmosphere all the time with a few simple “ingredients” — candles, low lighting, perhaps a fire, cozy clothes, delicious food, simple and inexpensive entertainment, and the company of people who make you happy.  And then, once all those things are in place, you take a moment to be thankful for all you have and enjoy your life, just as it is.

Wiking offers up few hard and fast rules for what it takes to create a truly Hygge environment. He does point to some ideas for people to try as they try to try out a Hygge lifestyle: candles and a fire for sure, good food jointly prepared, indulgent pleasures ready to be served up, cozy clothes, simple entertainment (think books, music, or games), and blankets, and no electronics allowed. Most important of all…loved ones! Friends and family, he points out, are the ultimate secret to happiness and offering them a cozy, relaxed placed to hang out without expectations or pretension is ideal for strengthening bonds and building happy memories.

Hygge, is not simply about about creating an atmosphere of cozy relaxation, but also about celebrating not doing, but rather being and enjoying. Americans feel an overwhelming compulsion to be busy every single moment of their — and their children’s — lives. Errands, sports, play-dates, outings, day trips…hardly anyone I know sees the value in spending time at home doing nothing; boredom is unheard of. In fact, I know very few children outside of my own, who can spend an entire rainy day on the couch, reading, napping, or doing art projects. We all are responsible for our own entertainment, and we all agree to do our own quiet thing, but all together. Usually, a decadent meal is simmering or roasting away in the kitchen; candles are always burning; and music is sometimes playing in the background.

A major component of Hygge is embracing, not resisting, the cold and wet weather. There seems to be a innate understanding among Northern Europeans that — while winter has its draw backs — it also presents a unique opportunity to create an indoor environment is the antidote to the outdoors: warm, cozy, dry, and lit by candles and a fire. Winter is a time for reading, napping, catching up with creative projects, and spending time with your loved ones. A winter celebrated and embraced, Hygge-style, offers a chance for everyone to restore and replenish themselves so that come summer, we are refreshed and ready to conquer the season.

I am proud to say that — before it was trendy — my husband and I embraced the Hygge ideals. We have always been unapologetic about relaxing at home; we have always tried to encourage our friends to come over at the last minute, just as they are (this is harder than you might think!); and celebrating the winter months as a time to hunker down and enjoy each other…because we know come summer, we will be busy enjoying sunshine, swimming, vacations, beaches, and relaxing by the pool.  Fall and winter are the months we use to recharge our batteries for the busy months ahead.

A fun book that brings some European ideas to an American audience…in my opinion, we could all use a bit of Hygge.

America the Anxious by Ruth Whippman (2016)

I found this book after reading a thought-provoking article by Ruth Whippman in the March 2017 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, which focused on the importance of adult friendships and how difficult they can be to form. You can read that full article here: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a42903/ruth-whippman-i-didnt-have-any-friends/

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“It seems as though happiness in America has become the over-achiever’s ultimate trophy. A modern trump card, it outranks professional achievement and social success, family, friendship, and even love. Its invocation deftly minimizes others achievements (‘Well, I suppose she has the perfect job and a gorgeous husband, but is she really happy?’) and takes the shine off our own. Part of this is that Americans seem to have a deep cultural aversion to negativity. This can be a welcome change, but the pressure to remain positive at all times often results in some complicated mental gymnastics.” 3-4

In her much talked about book, America the Anxious, Ruth Whippman — a UK transplant to California — presents the idea that relentlessly pursuing a state of blissful happiness actually has the exact opposite effect: making happiness seekers anxious, depressed, and, well, unhappy. Whippman presents — with humor, not rancor — the other side of the happiness coin: namely, how ridiculous and evasive things such as mindfulness, empowerment, self-actualization, and other tenets of the “happiness movement” can be when studied closely; and how pursuing happiness at the expense of all other things results in eliminating the very euphoria a seeker hopes to achieve.

Focusing on a wide range of areas in our lives where were can find happiness (or not find it), such as in marriage, parenting, work, religion, online, and through self discovery, Whippman presents her view  that despite all of their talk about happiness, Americans are miserable. The deeper her research takes her into the study of happiness, the more the author finds that sometimes the very things that make us happy often are simultaneously making us unhappy as well.

In the early chapters of the book, the author presents a highly cynical and hyperbolic view of the way in which some Americans pursue a happier life. The discussions of self-help methods and happiness at work are decidedly one-sided and occasionally condescending, and there is definitely an air about her research that suggests she may have drawn her conclusions first and then sought out extreme, insincere examples that prove her point often at the exclusion of much simpler examples that might not have supported her theory.

As the book progresses, though, Whippman’s examples begin to even out, and her discussions on the effect that parenting, religion, and social media have on personal happiness are approached in a much more even-handed manner and as a result introduce readers to some fascinating ideas. For example, her thoughts on whether the modern approach to parenting may be making our children mildly happier (and only in the moment) while making parents utterly miserable are definitely worth discussing. As is her conclusion that the role that religion plays on happiness may be much more about social connection and relationships than about any one individual’s spirituality. I also whole-heartedly agree with her argument that Facebook is making everyone unhappy, so much so that I have never joined, nor will I ever join, the site.

“Happiness is the currency of social media and the loophole in the generally accepted no-bragging rule. This is social media’s basic Faustian pact: you believe my Facebook fiction (and allow it to make you slightly envious and insecure) and I’ll do the same for yours.” 167

Overall the book brings to light some interesting new perspectives on the search for happiness, and the author’s sense of humor lends a much needed levity to the book, which otherwise could have taken a rather somber tone since much of her research has an air of “we’re all doomed.” The truth remains that there is good advice out there for being happier: advice that is easy, practical, and logical assuming you make an attempt to unearth it.  The author truly seems to struggle with the fact that she needs to look outward for answers about how to be happier and less lonely; that simply just “being happy” is not always possible. Despite her distress at having to search so hard for answers, the truth is that sometimes, we all need help finding ways to be happier. And yet, we need at times to stop taking our search for happiness so damn seriously.

In reflection, I think the book is making an unspoken argument that anyone who claims to be happy is lying to themselves, lying to us, or both. I must disagree with this assumption as I am a very happy person. I am not pretending to be happy, nor am I crafting a facade of happiness to present to others, nor am I living in a state of denial or ignorance. Rather, I make the choice every day to be happy with my life and to enjoy it as it really is, even if it’s less than perfect…hell, even if it’s awful.  In my personal experience, happiness is usually found in the dozens of everyday interactions and experiences we have — laughing at jokes our kids tell us, indulging in a wonderful book, sharing a glass of wine with your spouse on a sunny Friday evening — but perhaps we have grown a bit too busy and weary to recognize those events as “happiness.” It is inaccurate to portray people who seek out gaining more happy experiences as selfish or out-of touch, gullible fools racing off to spend their money to be told by a phony self-help guru that there is only one path toward happiness. It may be better to look to those people who want a lighter and more cheerful life and see individuals who are trying to be as happy as they can be given the current circumstances of their lives.

When my husband and I were very young and newly married, we found ourselves 3,000 miles from home with absolutely no money, living in a depressingly tiny apartment with sketchy neighbors…but we were ridiculously happy! We had each other, we were starting our life together. We lived in a lovely little town filled with free things to do, lots of other poor students to befriend, and plentiful amounts of cheap wine sold at the Trader Joe’s. By choosing to focus on the wealth of things we did have, not the thousands of things we did not (like a bed or a TV or jobs), we were able to build a day-to-day life together that was fulfilling and happy. That approach to life has served us well and we continue to feel happy and grateful every single day, no matter what challenges we may be facing.

“If we genuinely want to build a happy society, we need a shift in thinking, and acceptance that happiness cannot be achieved by emotionally cloistering ourselves, that it needs other people to flourish. We need to think of well-bring as a shared responsibility, rather than a personal quest, and to develop a discourse of happiness that engages with other people’s problems rather than dismisses them.” 218

END NOTE

As I have written on this blog many times, I am a devoted fan of Gretchen Rubin and her writing about happiness. As much as I love what Rubin has to say about the subject, it can be refreshing, and indeed important, to consider the arguments made against those put forth by my favorite happiness expert. While Whippman’s book is very insightful, it at times presents an oversimplified and overly cynical view of the search for happiness. The author calls much attention to self-help experts who are out to make themselves rich selling Americans a bunch of grandiose, “pseudo-Buddhist,” nonsense. I feel Whippman has unfairly lumped Gretchen Rubin* in with those people and I feel a need to offer a Gretchen Rubin-related rebuttal. In the end, Rubin argues for many, many of the same things that Whippman does: happiness comes from a more connected, attached, and engaged life; happiness intrinsically tied to having uplifting experiences with family, friends, acquaintances; that life experiences (like parenting) can make us happy and unhappy all at once.  Rubin offers ideas for a happier life that are often free; that involve strengthening bonds with friends and strangers; that ask us to celebrate the small moments of happiness that come our way; and none of her ideas require that we toss all our belongings or go on pricey silent meditation retreats. (Side note: readers do not even need to buy her books, since her blog and podcast offer all of the same advice completely for free.)

*Who, I feel I have to add, Whippman singles out, by name, six times in the book.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin (2015)

Spurred on by my enjoyment of re-reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home (here: http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1zq ), I picked up my copy of Better Than Before and re-read it as well. Better Than Before is Rubin’s outstanding book about changing habits — how to form good ones and break bad ones — in which she lays out a plan to help readers accomplish our goals by encouraging us to deeply examine ourselves for clues on how to make our changes stick. Self-knowledge, Rubin argues, allows us to harness the power of who we are to help us become who we want to be.

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Originally posted October 1, 2015

In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin offers us concrete ways to stop doing the things we we found out we want to stop (nagging, shouting when I’m in a hurry) and start cultivating the habits we want in our life (start a blog!)

Where her earlier two books focused on strategies Rubin tested in her own life, Better Than Before seeks to help readers find exact methods that will lead them to personal success in creating better, healthier habits. Identifying what we want to change is the easy part! What next? The book asks us to study our “Tendencies,” those idiosyncrasies and personal traits that guide our daily decisions (are you a morning person or night owl? do you like large groups or private activities? do you need to be accountable to others or are you good at self-monitoring?) to help us pick pathways to habit formation that suit us best. Know thyself! As the author wisely points out, a night owl who signs up for a 6am Spin class might find it hard to cultivate the habit of attending the class.

You can take Rubin’s quiz right now to find out your Tendency! http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2014/03/quiz-are-you-an-upholder-a-questioner-a-rebel-or-an-obliger/

Once we have sorted ourselves into our Hogwarts houses (or Four Tendencies, as it they are called in the book), Rubin peppers us with dozens of strategies we might employ to develop those good habits. We can find ways to schedule our good habits; monitor our progress; hold ourselves accountable; and identify the “loopholes,” or excuses, we are likely to use to block our path. The ideas outlined are practical and simple to start (regularly forget to take your vitamins? do it with the never-missed morning cup of coffee every day.) And the volume of ideas she presents means that we can discard any practice we feel certain will not work for us, and try the next!

As an unabashed Upholder who easily sticks to new habits and who is obsessed with keeping track of all of those habits on various calendars and apps, I love that the book confirms my instincts for staying on track. More importantly, I see the great wisdom of the book for people who are not Upholders and for whom how to create new routines can seem a mystery. A simple formula can be found! Set a goal + adjust for your tendency (the “variables” in your personality) + plan for ways around your weaknesses and excuses  = and a successful routine of good habits can be created.

We can know ourselves, identify our excuses, track our progress, and end up with habits that make us happier, right now, today, by following Rubin’s examples and advice. And who doesn’t want that?

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin (2012)

Although I read several books each week, spend most of my free time reading, and even maintain this blog as a tribute to those books, I have to admit I hardly ever read while traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I always carry at least two or three books on every trip, not to mention the magazines I download onto my IPad, but I never seem to get around to reading them. Generally there is just so much to do while traveling: museums to visit; delicious restaurants to try out; friends or relatives to catch up with; and free HBO in the hotel room. Not to mention that when I travel with my three children, it takes all my mental reserves to keep up with their needs and wants. (One notable exception: when I fly alone I always dive into a book — the juicier, the better — since there is no one to make conversation with or be interrupted by!)

During the past five days while traveling with my husband in Philadelphia, I decided to bring along one of my favorite non-fiction books, Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, for another re-read. It has become something of a New Year’s tradition for me to re-read at least one of Rubin’s books every January, and this year was no exception. My tattered, underlined copy came along in my carry-on and I found that while I could not find time to start a new book, there were plenty of pockets of time to re-read from a beloved old book.

Here is the original post from September 30, 2015, enjoy!

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Happier at Home focuses on the physical spaces we inhabit and the people with whom we inhabit them. Here Rubin looks at her belongings, her relationships, her neighborhood, and her work for ways to enhance happiness for all. (Being kinder and less rushed, holding doors, stopping to say hello: all small ways to strengthen happiness of family and strangers.) Reading along with Rubin, I began to see my small home and its treasures — both living and inanimate — in a whole new light.

How can our home be more “ours”…a better reflection of our past and better equipped for our future? The book inspired me to examine the possessions filling the shelves in our rooms. Which items really bring us joy and which ones are taking up physical and mental space in our lives? Out went the boxes of “freebies” (free plastic novelty cups, birthday party gift bag toys) filling two corners of our basement. Also in the donation bag went the dusty knick-knacks and junky souvenirs, freeing up room for collections — such as the rock and shell collection from our month-long honeymoon —  and photos that remind me of loved ones and favorite adventures. As for bringing us joy, the original art we have carefully collected since our wedding tops the list, in particular a gorgeous, wall-sized painting by our one-time neighbor and good friend Rachel Zur.

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Our favorite art work: a wall-sized painting by Rachael Zur.

On a roll, I turned to Happier at Home again! Next up, more carefully creating spaces and sanctuaries in our home to nurture our pastimes and make our time spent at home more pleasurable. We upgraded the broken, minuscule TV in our bedroom to a large one we can actually hear and invested in several scented candles. Suddenly we feel like we are in a hotel room while we watch movies on Friday nights! We also rescued a large hammock from the neighbor’s donation pile, repaired and painted it, and now we all have a shady, relaxing place to read books outside on cool afternoons (perhaps with a glass a wine for the grown ups nearby.)

Determined to focus more attention on the relationships that fill my home with love (or tension), I resolved be more loving toward my husband, so it is easier for him to be more loving towards me. I resolved to offer my kids my full attention, so they can feel that their interests (Pokemon, Ironman, NFL football) are ones I also share and value, even if I have to occasionally fake my enthusiasm. This time of year also brings to mind how much our celebration of holidays — especially Halloween and Christmas — brings us all so much joy and gives us wonderful reasons to spend extra time together. I plan to redouble my efforts and cheerfulness about hanging decorations and watching holiday movies together, something we all agree makes the holidays more meaningful.

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My son, enjoying three of our family’s favorite things: reading, our hammock, and Halloween-themed books!

Two of my favorite pieces of advice from Happier at Home, however, are the ideas Rubin presents for finding our personal “holy places and private landmarks” and “practicing non-random acts of kindness.” Reading this passage, I literally felt a light-bulb go off! One of my favorite places in the region is a local nature preserve. Several times every week, all year long, we go there: to jog, hike, sled, watch turtles, make iMovies, or just enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet. I am amazed how much more I love the park now that I think of it as one of my personal holy places! Another is the small waterfront restaurant where my husband and I got married by the local clerk of court fifteen years ago. We love to drive past it and remind the kids where it all started!

As for the non-random acts of kindness, I was very moved at Rubin’s call to help people with what they actually need rather than jumping in with “random” acts that might be meaningless or even unhelpful. It means much more, I realized while reading, to offer people specific help with immediate needs — giving my seat on the bus to a pregnant woman or helping an older shopper load bags into her car at Trader Joe’s — in contrast to more random or anonymous acts (paying for the car behind us to cross the bridge). Non-random acts bring me closer my neighbors and allow me to know my help was appreciated. After all, Rubin points out, the man in the car behind us on the bridge could be a millionaire…won’t it be even better to help a neighbor who comes up short on her cup of coffee?

You can read reviews of Rubin’s two other books here: Better Than Before http://wp.me/p6N6mT-l and The Happiness Project http://wp.me/p6N6mT-6