Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life is not only an excellent writer, she’s also an excellent speaker and storyteller. Recently, I heard her speak at Kepler’s Books about how to be happier at home.
After explaining that there are fifteen academic definitions of “happiness,” Rubin said it’s not really important to define happiness. It’s better to be happier than to find happiness.
She also explained that we can affect the level of our happiness despite arguments that we all have a “happiness set point.” It’s true that there’s a powerful genetic link to happiness – usually it’s estimated to be about forty to fifty percent. Some people are born more Tigger-ish, and others are born more Eeyore-ish.
It’s also true that people are amazingly adaptive, both to good and bad fortune. Human resilience is extraordinary. Twenty percent of our happiness is affected by life circumstances. But that leaves 30 percent of our actions and thoughts that can push us to the top of our range of happiness or down to the bottom.
So what can we do to be happier? Rubin offered the following suggestions.
How We Can be Happier at Home
1. Pay Attention to Your Body
- Get more sleep. The #1 way to feel happier is to get enough sleep—7 to 8 hours ideally. Sleep affects our mood and our immune systems. We actually adapt to sleep deprivation. So get ready for bed early.
- Get more exercise. Exercise boosts our energy and helps us sleep better. If you’re tired in the afternoon, Rubin suggests jumping up and down to wake yourself up.
- Cultivate good smells. Cultivating good smells is one of Rubin’s favorite quick fixes. Rubin passed around tiny vials of scents she’d purchased at Demeter Fragrance—naturalistic smells like burning leaves, pure soap, and bonfire. Rubin has discovered that our sense of smell is critical to our feelings of vitality and enjoyment.
2. Get Control of Your Possessions
- Cultivate a shrine. When you engage more with the possessions in your life, you’ll be happier. They’ll remind you of the people you love by displaying the possessions associated with them. For example, Rubin has a shrine to her family, one for fun and games, and another for children’s literature.
- Control clutter. Outer order contributes to inner calm. Getting control of clutter is very freeing. For Rubin, having an orderly, uncluttered environment greatly influences her sense of serenity.
- Make your bed every day. Making your bed is a step that’s quick and easy, yet makes a big difference. Everything looks neater. Your bedroom is a more peaceful environment. Because making her bed is one of the first things she does in the morning, she starts the day feeling efficient, productive, and disciplined. Especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, picking one little task to improve your situation, and doing it regularly, can help you regain a sense of self-mastery. Making your bed is a good place to start, and tackling one easy daily step is a good way to energize yourself for tougher situations.
3. Get to know yourself and what matters most
- Go deeper into what you already know. Self-knowledge builds happiness.What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. People often assume that what we do in our everyday lives is what everyone does and thinks is fun. But that’s not true. Instead of looking for some new hobby or activity, go deeper into what you already do.
- Establish some simple and fun family traditions. Rubin confessed she gets overwhelmed thinking about doing all the rituals and traditions during the holiday season. Instead, she began celebrating the holidays with special breakfasts. She uses holiday themed paper plates, some candy and food dye to color eggs and beverages.
Rubin ended her presentation with two final bits of advice. Although one of her bedrock rules is that you can’t change anyone but yourself, there are exceptions. Her family had fallen into a bad habit of not acknowledging when family members arrived home or left the house. She wanted family members to feel acknowledged and welcomed every time they walked through the door. She made a request to her family that they start a ritual of offering “warm greetings and farewells” to each other when they came and went. Her husband and two daughters agreed and now her younger daughter reminds her mom when she forgets to use “warm greetings and farewells.” The ritual provides moments of real connection among all members of her family.
Rubin’s final words of wisdom truly resonated with me. Try not to over react to those curves that life throws you. She doesn’t suggest you ignore or minimize problems – just under-react to them. Try to catch yourself when you’re having a big reaction and remind yourself it won’t help the problem. Take a deep breath and calm yourself. Then act the way you want to feel. She’s noticed that when she under-reacts, the problem suddenly seems less onerous.