I’ve been binging on Gretchen Rubin lately: I just finished Happier at Home, and Better than Before, and I’m also listening to her podcast, Happier.
Rubin describes her primary themes as “happiness, habits, and human nature.” Rubin’s “happiness” is all about satisfaction and joy with the life you have– related more to contentment, gratitude, and purpose than irresponsibility and cheap thrills. She strives for happiness by way of improved habits– intentionally cultivating practices that will help her live more consistently with her values and priorities, instead of self-sabatoging by taking the path of least resistance.
What makes Rubin’s approach unique and interesting is a commitment to both authenticity and self-improvement.
On one hand, she constantly encourages self-reflection and recognition of your natural tendencies, strengths, and limitations. Her fundamental rule is Be Gretchen; she speculates that one of the main obstacles to happiness and habit-forming is when we try to become something other than we are.
But this is not the self-awareness that leads to “Oh, well, that’s just how I am.” Rubin is tireless in her quest to Be [the best] Gretchen by way of a hundred small habits that will make her happier and more satisfied in her daily life.
I love her practical, can-do approach to a happier life. So often we see ourselves as victims of the life we’ve created, and think we’d surely be happy if only…my husband was more helpful…my kids were older…my boss was more flexible…my house was bigger…etc. In contrast, Rubin is purposeful about developing happiness-improving habits squarely in the context of her real life, now.
Her happy habits never depend on someone else’s participation. They don’t require drastic changes of lifestyle. Rubin frequently cites one of her Eight Splendid Truths, “The only person I can change is myself.” Then she sets about improving her habits as they pertain to her self, family, home, and work.
Happier at Home chronicles a nine-month experiment of improved habits centering around home and family. Each chapter presents three or four specific practices in the following areas: possessions, marriage, parenthood, inner life, time, body, family, and neighborhood.
Better than Before is not a personal experiment, but an interesting how-to on habit-forming. She presents nineteen strategies for forming or maintaining habits, and examines them all in light of four basic natural “tendencies.” I had heard Rubin describe her Four Tendencies on a podcast and found the idea so interesting that I bought this book for the full explanation.
Rubin is (by her own admission) a fanatic about habit-forming. I identify with her a lot, but I do not come close to her level of intensity and personal discipline. However, these were perfect reads for the start of a new season. I am walking away with some really helpful practical tips and great enthusiasm and optimism about my own personal routines.