Q&A with Gretchen Rubin, Author of Happier at Home

Gretchen Rubin shares thoughts on happiness, life experiences, and a go-to list for the happiness basics.

Read It Forward: Why did you decide to focus on home for this book about happiness?

Gretchen Rubin: Samuel Johnson wrote, “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends.” Now, it’s debatable whether that’s true for everyone, but it’s certainly true for me. For me, my home is the foundation of my happiness.

What did I expect from my home? I wanted it to be a place of love, comfort, calm, and exploration—but my home didn’t always feel as homey as I wished.

I decided to do another happiness project, and this time focus on the aspects of my life that shape my experience of home, such as possessions, time, body, neighborhood, marriage, and parenthood.

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The book’s title, Happier at Home, is a reference to that line of Johnson’s. I’m a hardcore devotee of Dr. Johnson.

RIF: You experimented with many resolutions. Which one was your favorite?

GR: Oh, I loved so many of them. “Give warm greetings and farewells,” “Celebrate holiday breakfasts,” “Create a secret place,” “Be a tourist without leaving home.” And certainly one of my favorites was to “Cultivate good smells.” I’ve become obsessed with the sense of smell.

A beautiful fragrance is quick, easy, and delightful – an instant fix of happiness. Unlike many pleasures, it can be enjoyed in an instant, with no cost, no energy, no calories, and no planning. In a flash, I can enjoy the fresh smell of a grapefruit, or the fragrance of clean towels, or the exciting smell of a hardware store (for some reason, no matter where you go, all hardware stores have that same smell).

RIF: So many people strive to bring more simplicity to their lives. Is this something you address in Happier at Home?

GR: I discovered that simplicity is very complex! Many of my resolutions do address simplicity, but I realized that for me, it was also important to resist the simplifying impulse, because if anything, I cultivate too much simplicity—not a disciplined, thoughtful simplicity, but one created by indifference and neglect.

I always have to fight my urge to do nothing. If I didn’t have to consider my husband and daughters, if I didn’t have my mother to coach me along, I’d be living in a studio with bare walls, crooked blinds, and a futon on the floor, forever.

RIF: If you had to give a list of ten super-basic, very manageable things that people could do to start boosting their happiness at home, what would you suggest?

GR: Some super-super-basics? Here goes:

1. Get rid of anything you don’t use or don’t love.
2. Jump! You’ll get a quick jolt of energy and cheer.
3. Give warm greetings and farewells whenever people come and go from home.
4. Under-react to problems.
5. Cultivate “shrines” – places in your home that celebrate the people, places, and activities you love.
6. Go for a walk each day.
7. If there’s a task you dread, do it for just fifteen minutes. You can stand anything for fifteen minutes.
8. Control the cubicle in your pocket.
9. Always put your keys in the same place.
10. Accept yourself, and expect more from yourself.

RIF: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?

GR: My First Personal Commandment is to “Be Gretchen Rubin.” The more my life reflects my true nature, interests, and values, the happier I become.

Of course, to “know yourself” is one of the most ancient precepts of happiness – “Know Thyself” is inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi – but it’s not easy. Why is it so hard to know myself, to be myself? A mystery. But it’s a key to happiness.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of many books, including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before and The Happiness Project. A member of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100, Rubin has an enormous following, in print and online; her books have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, in more than 35 languages. She also has a highly ranked, award-winning podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Rubin started her career in law, and was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.