I raced out to buy this book. RACED. I wanted it so bad because when I read The Happiness Project it was a game changer for me. It changed how I felt about my life, and the direction I wanted my life to go in. I felt that Gretchen's secrets of adulthood and splendid truths were reflective of the world I was living in, and many of her resolutions were easy to apply. Almost immediately, I noticed changes in my life.
Some of my favourites are:
- The days are long but the years are short.
- You can choose what you do, but you can't choose what you like to do.
- Happiness doesn't always make you feel happy
- Identify the problem (I think about this one often!)
So, when I finally had the book in hand, and was chewing through the pages in every spare moment I had, I closed the cover feeling a little dissapointed. Happier at Home wasn't about the home as much as I thought it would be. The chapters about posessions, now and time felt reflective of home as I interpret it but, I couldn't relate to the parallels she drew between parenthood, marriage, and strangely - interior design.
I felt Gretchen was brave to write about her marriage and her flaws, but the chapters about her relationship with her husband and her children had me thinking that she could be a cold, snappy, short-tempered maniac at times. And I just can't relate to that. I don't have kids, and can't vouch for what my behaviour would be around them, but my relationship with my husband is not about getting rewarded with gold stars, shouting constant reminders or calculating who did more chores. I question if Gretchen is missing where happiness lives in this space.
I also felt for the first time that Gretchen's resolutions for her home were strangely...American. In her chapter on "neighbourhood" she talks at great lengths about her home in New York, and being a tourist in her own home. She doesn't necessarily downplay foreign travel, but I believe travelling abroad can give you a new outlook on home and why it can be a special place. I got the impression that Gretchen feels like New York is bottomless, but when I travel to the U.S. I frequently observe that Americans are hesitant to experience new cultures, and they tend to immerse themselves too deeply in their own.
Still, there were some great take-aways in the book, but not as many as I was hoping for. The chapter on possessions revealed that to some degree, possessions do make us happy because we memorialize relationships and experiences with them. And this rings true for me. I especially enjoyed the William Morris quote of "having nothing in the house you do not know to be useful or beautiful."
I also enjoyed her observation of pursing goals that come naturally because progress often comes quickly. A great self-reflective cue if you find yourself pursuing a goal where you feel blocked or quickly unmotivated.
By far, the most enjoyable chapters for me were about Time and Now. One of my biggest struggles is time. I love the quote that "one lives in the naive notion that later there will be more room in the future than in the entire past." And that is very true for me. Why does "later" feel so roomy, when "now" feels so tight?
I also felt that her resolutions to control the cubicle in her pocket and guard her children's free time were quite profound. I can imagine it is so tempting to cultivate your child's inner genius with hundreds of activities but, when I reflect on my own childhood, I feel like I had an abundance of time to ride my bike, eat candy and roll around in the grass. These simple pleasures felt more rewarding than the dance classes I felt forced to attend.
So, while there were some high-points for Happier at Home, there were also some low ones. I was thoroughly surprised that she didn't write a chapter on Food, which for me, is an essential component about home. And even though Gretchen admits she is not one for cooking, to me, the kitchen is the heartbeat of the home. And it's a chapter I would happily write for her.
[Thanks for reading]