How to Be Happier At Home: Tips from Gretchen Rubin

Ways to make the ordinary extraordinary.

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But what if you're less driven than Rubin? No problem, she says. Often, the solutions for a happier life are simple ones, resulting from a few moments of thought and follow-through, she explains. "They don't really take extra time," she says. "There's a mindfulness component," and "most of these things are very reinforcing."

[See Stressed Out? Try Mindfulness Meditation]

For example, each time her kids interrupted her while she was working in her home office, she would snap at them—a response that filled her with enormous regret. She considered the cycle and realized that if they simply knocked first, she'd feel less disturbed. Knocking instituted. Problem solved.

What else? Rubin created a family practice of giving "warm greetings and farewells" upon leaving and coming back home—a rule that everyone embraced, so to speak. She emulated a friend's ritual of making festive holiday breakfasts. A few minutes of adding green food coloring to the morning meal on St. Patrick's Day filled the girls with glee—and bragging rights at school. She faced her fear of driving to unload the sole burden from her husband and found that, although she doesn't much like it, she can drive if need be. And she decided to take control of "the cubicle in her pocket," the wireless devices that worsened her sense of responsibility to be working all the time. "I always feel pressed for time, as if someone were shoving a pistol in my back and muttering 'Move, move, move!'" she writes. So off these devices go, when it comes to family time or traveling (the latter tends to spark "Aha!" moments, as indicated by the city bus ride.)

The goal of mastery threads through the book and reflects its consummate goal: taking control over one's contentedness. Rubin's inspiration comes from philosophers like Samuel Johnson, one of her heroes, and her writing aims to emulate such literature, which muses on the human condition. But when it comes to happiness, Rubin counters the view of many of the great luminaries, who argue that happiness is a byproduct, not a goal. "We're more likely to hit a target by aiming at it than by ignoring it, and happiness is no different," she writes. "At least in my case, I found that thinking directly about how to be happier helped me to discover the changes likely to build happiness."

Rubin crafts mantras to optimize areas of home life like time ("cram my day with what I love") and parenthood ("pay attention"). But she insists that these ideas are not revelatory. "It's not like I'm holding out some magical set of answers," Rubin says. No. She provides something infinitely more valuable: practical application of universal aphorisms. And for many of her readers, borrowing a tip of hers here and there can help them attain some of that mastery and joy in daily life.

That quest, to take hold of life and hold it still, is what inspires people to take photographs or create works of art. In Rubin's case, it's to write a book on mastering life—in all of its mundane majesty.

[See 5 Ways to Reflect, Refocus, and Renew Your Life]