Gretchen Rubin, Happier at Home (2012)

Uh-oh, the problem of the second book after a major bestseller.

On one hand, I had fun with the first one, so I’d be happy to read some more about it. On the other hand, my expectations being high, it’s easier to be disappointed, because if there’s too much repeat from the first book, or on the contrary, if it strays too much away from the first topic, I’ll think: “why haven’t just re-read the first book”?

Why indeed. “Happier at home” is nice enough if you haven’t read the first book first, in my opinion. Otherwise, the Happiness Project will make you… happier (ok, that was one easy joke).

Gretchen Rubin comes out as a very type-A person: very organized with a lot of self-control, very energetic, very extreme in her quirkiness (and she acknowledges as much). I don’t mind it, but it was sometimes exhausting reading it as a young mother with short nights (that would be me). I don’t think we would “click” in real life (and I confess being sometimes competitive too).

I have the feeling (but it might be wrong) that she speaks more of the details of her privileged life in this second volume, while the first one remained vague about them, making it easier to relate to. After a few chapters of reading about her large flat in NYC, I wasn’t sure if I was reading to get ideas for my own life or out of sheer envy. You know, the kind of aspirational reading that is fun while it lasts, but that won’t really make an impact. But then, envy is not really so fun as a reading motivation.

Of course, she writes about her own projects for her own life, so I can’t blame her for not talking about people who might have a little less money than she has, who have to face challenges of any serious sort. But the more she gives away about herself, the less likeable she comes across (to me, just me). I think this second project would have been better as a blog format, because the information would have been shared bit by bit over a longer period of time. Read as a book from cover to cover, it’s more than I can take.

Still, the book has good tips, good reminders and some information I’d like to follow up on (Csikszentmihaly among them). I applied her method to make a photo book out of holidays pictures “even if it’s not perfect”. The one idea that stuck with me was about overcoming one’s fear and doing something not fun, in order to be happier in the long-term.

The strangest thing about this book is the bittersweet feeling you get at the end. Her last chapter or so feels so much like FOMO (fear of missing out) that I briefly had a picture of a completely different Gretchen Rubin from the one she aggressively markets: someone a lot more anxious and unsecure, and overall, a lot more human and relatable.

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6 thoughts on “Gretchen Rubin, Happier at Home (2012)

  1. I began wondering about her life when I started reading The Happiness Project, googled her and found out that she was, indeed, from a more privileged social status than most people. Although that wasn’t obvious from the book, there were little clues about her flat and neighborhood that made me wonder. The picture on the dustcover was certainly not from the Upper East Side! It’s not that I didn’t find some of the book interesting or useful, but it did seem to be something that wasn’t necessarily applicable to all. I found the last portion of The Happiness Project read like a blog and got bored with it. I wonder if I would have felt that way if I hadn’t researched a bit about her. Anyway, it was enough that I never considered reading her 2nd book. From your review, it sounds like that was a good decision. I did like her idea of an empty shelf in the closet, but I don’t know anybody who lives in NYC who has enough storage space to allow that. Likely that’s true for Parisians as well. I’ve yet to keep an empty shelf in any closet (and I have way too many of them), but since reading the Happiness Project a few year ago, I’ve been better about cleaning out drawers and cleaning off shelves. It gets easier and easier each time I go through one to get rid of most, so maybe it isn’t an impossibility, but I’m happy with just knowing that I can declutter. :-)

    • yeah for decluttering! I feel there were more applicable tips in the first book than in her second, but I’m happy to say that the second one will not add to our own clutter as I bought it on kindle. I’m all for purging our small flat from unnecessary stuff, but I’m very far from the ideal dream of an empty shelf.

  2. I had the same kind of reaction to ‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg. I felt that was not just addressing a small section of the female population (privileged, with good jobs and enough money to be able to buy in some help so that they can focus on their careers), but also ignoring wider social policies and attitudes which make it harder for women to succeed (or men to admit they do not want to succeed that way), even if they lean in so much that they topple over. As you so perceptively point out, this quest for happiness of Gretchen Rubin (and not just her) does have a bit of a desperate quality to it. It’s not our God-given right to be happy all the time, it’s an illusory thing to chase, and it does lead to competitiveness and fear of missing out…

    • Yes, I thought Sheryl Sandberg might not be my cup of tea. As for Rubin, on her first book I thought her energy as contagious, but the second one feel too forced to me like she needed to prove to herself (and us readers as witness) that she was being happy.

  3. hmm, the idea of doing something “not fun” in order for happiness down the line is a compelling one. I think this means it might be time to tackle organizing the mud room space in our house this weekend…I’m not sure, however, if I now feel compelled to tackle this book!

  4. I didn’t read the first book and after your review I certainly won’t be reading the second one either. It’s not that Rubin is so privileged that is the problem from the sound it, it’s that she doesn’t consider that most people aren’t like her. And that’s fine if her intended audience is well-off white women but it’s not. That’s not to say she might not have something useful for everyone, only that I wouldn’t want to read a whole book for one or two things that might be relevant to me.

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