Gretchen Rubin, author of the wildly successful “The Happiness Project,” is all about finding joy in everyday life. While researching the best-seller, she discovered that “so many elements of a happy life come together in the idea of home. If you’re not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy,” she says. This idea drove her to write her next book, “Happier at Home,” where the 48-year-old set out to find “the realistic things I could do to make it a nicer experience to walk in my front door.” She fills us in on how to get the good life.
Make your bed “One of the most important things that I keep finding is the connection for most people between outer order and inner calm. Most people feel calmer and more energetic when they don’t feel like they’re surrounded by clutter. And weirdly, one of the things that people most often mention is the resolution to make your bed. So I say if you don’t make your bed now, try it. Because it’s the gateway. Your whole room will look neater and calmer,” says Rubin. “I also think your bed is a symbol of your soul. So when you’ve taken care of your bed, it’s showing that you’ve taken care of yourself.”
Cultivate good smells “There’s so many wonderful smells at home, whether it’s a bottle of vanilla, freshly laundered towels or a grapefruit,” she says. “We often ignore the pleasure of the sense of smell, but if you focus your attention on it, it’s a quick hit of happiness. No calories, no carbs, no time, no money. You just get that pleasure and move on. So if you like scented candles, light your scented candle. It’s a little thing, but it just lifts your spirits.”
Create a shrine “A lot of people say you’ll be happy with less, possessions don’t matter, get rid of everything — but the fact is, for most people, possessions do have a role to play in a happy life,” Rubin says. “They allow you to project your identity into your environment. They serve as important reminders of the people, places and activities you love. Maybe you’re sharing an apartment and you want some part of it to reflect you. There’s all kinds of shrines.” Rubin’s own shrine is dedicated to her passion for children’s literature. “I have all my classics in one area. I mindfully arranged it, and it’s one of my favorite parts of my apartment, just because I took the time to pull those things together.”
Be grateful “One of the things about home is that it’s so easy to take it for granted,” she says. “First of all, we take for granted things like electricity and running water. When we don’t have them, we realize how precious they are. With [Hurricane] Sandy, everybody really noticed how precious home is. It’s hard to keep that attitude of gratitude, as people say. So what I do is, we have two doors you have to go through to walk in and out of my building. So every time I walk out of my apartment, I use what I call a threshold ritual. Every time I cross that threshold and go out into the street, I think about how happy I am to be leaving my happy apartment and going out in New York City, which I love. And every time I come in, I think how happy I am to be returning home. People who have feelings of gratefulness are happier. When you feel grateful, it drives out things like anger and resentment or boredom. You don’t feel as annoyed by the fact that you have to unload the dishwasher if you have this reflection on how great it is to have a dishwasher.”
Abandon a project “A lot of times we’ll start some kind of project, like you’re going learn how to cook French or you’re going to learn how to knit — I had a friend who was going to make beer in his bathtub. But then you sort of abandon it. Maybe it’s not as fun as you thought, or for whatever reason you’re just not keeping up with it. But then that stuff just hangs around and it clutters up your shelves, but it also clutters up your conscience because every time you look at it you’re like, ‘Oh gosh, I got to get back into knitting,’ even though you know you’re not going to get back into knitting. So abandon a project, get rid of the stuff associated with it. If you’re not going to use those cookbooks, if you’re not going to use those beer-making tools, let it go and live a long and happy life with someone who’s going to use it. When it’s not used, it’s more than useless. It’s a negative. Not only is it taking up space, but it’s creating an anxiety or a guilt in your mind.”
How to tackle clutter Do you find that even when you get everything organized, a week later it’s all a mess again? “You have to manage [clutter] constantly,” says Rubin, who swears by the one-minute rule. “Anything that I can do in under a minute, I do without delay,” she says. “If I can hang up a coat, if I can rip open a letter, if I can put newspapers in the recycling, if I can file a receipt in a folder. By getting rid of these little tasks, you feel much more able to tackle big tasks. When you walk in your room and see a million little things you have to do, you feel weighed down by it. You’re like, ‘Where should I even start?’ So just doing things one minute at a time, it’s manageable and realistic. Also, you feel that sense of confidence. You see yourself going ‘check, check, check’ and you feel more on top of things.”