I RECENTLY made the long, boring drive across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to visit my family and friends in Pittsburgh. My husband was out of town for the week for business school so I drove myself and my 22 month old son in my big ol’ mom SUV. I don’t particularly like the 5+ hour drive, which is mostly Turnpike, especially now that I have a ticking time-bomb strapped in the back seat in a five-point safety harness. My newly discovered love for podcasts, however, has really turned the trip into something relatively enjoyable.
On the way out to the Burgh I listened to season 2 of StartUp, a podcast that follows entrepreneurs through the grueling beginning stages of starting their business. Season 2 was about two young women with big dreams in the world on online matchmaking. If you’ve used online dating services, are interested in startup tech companies or love listening to twentysomething girls drop the F*bomb, this one’s for you!
I blew through the entire season and found myself without something to listen to on my way back. After a bit of crowdsourcing in one of my Facebook groups, someone suggested a podcast that piqued my interest. It’s called Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and it’s all about good habits and happiness. I was instantly hooked.
Gretchen is a fellow recovering lawyer and the NYT Bestselling Author of The Happiness Project. Several friends had recommended this book to me, but I was working at the Firm at the time and too busy billing hours, developing cellulite on my ass and drifting through my life, as Gretchen would call it, to worry about something as trivial as my happiness. Fast forward about six years and here I am having listened to ALL 22 episodes of Happier over the course of a long drive and the week that followed.
In this weekly, 30-minute podcast, Gretchen and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, a television writer, chat about simple things you can do to cultivate more happiness in your life. Their show includes try this at home tips, thought-provoking questions that help you know yourself better, and happiness roadblocks that could be bringing you down.
The sisters also discuss Gretchen’s many books on habits and happiness, and the extensive field research Gretchen has conducted in this realm. One of the most interesting (and helpful) to me is Gretchen’s development of what she calls the Four Tendencies, a process by which she categorizes personality types according to the way people respond to inner and outer expectations. Knowing which of the Four Tendencies you fit into can help you figure out how best to develop and, more importantly, stick to good habits.
After taking Gretchen’s Four Tendencies quiz (which you can find here), I discovered that I’m an Obliger. This means I have no problem meeting outer expectations, but I often struggle to meet inner expectations. So if I want to actually follow through with a personal goal, I need to create some type of external accountability so that I will actually do it (e.g., I got a Fitbit so now I have a little electronic reminder that I’m being sedentary on a given day!).
Just one week with Happier and I’m happy to say that I’m a more organized, active, and patient human being. I’ve also learned more about myself and which good habits are the most directly related to my happiness. I’m sure I will slip up as I work on making and keeping these good habits, which is why I’m calling my endeavor a Happiness Practice. It’s hard to be happy all the time, but, like exercise, healthy eating or just being nice to people, the more you practice the easier it becomes to change your life for the better.
Since Embrace My Space is a blog dedicated to all things home, I wanted to share with you four things I learned from Happier that have helped me find happiness around the house.
1. MAKE YOUR BED. I cannot tell you how much making the bed first thing in the morning has changed my outlook on the day. I know it seems simple and, therefore, easy enough to ignore, but there is something about those few quiet moments spent pulling the sheets tight and fluffing the pillows that really put my mind at ease.
Gretchen has found that, for an overwhelming number of people, outer order promotes inner peace. She even admits that outer order probably works to promote inner peace more than it should. That it shouldn’t matter as much as it actually does. But the research shows that having a made bed or an organized desk or a tidy home or a clean sink at the end of the day, for most people, really helps with an overall sense of calm.
In the time it takes me to make my bed each morning, I get my blood flowing (about 50 steps on my Fitbit just walking around the bed a few times!) and set my intentions for the day. It’s also lovely to walk out of my bedroom having accomplished something so simple so early in the day.
I also think making the bed is even more gratifying at the end of the day. There’s something nice about climbing into a made bed rather than trying to straighten out the sheets and blankets before collapsing for the day. Give it a try, and, if you’re not super-inspired to do this, pick up a new pillow or two at Target. When you have something pretty on your bed you’re more likely to want to show it off!
2. POWER HOUR. Another tip Gretchen discusses on her podcast is the idea of a Power Hour. It’s a way to tackle tasks that are nagging you but don’t really need to be done so you simply push them back over and over again. Gretchen suggests taking one hour, and one hour only, each week to tackle those tasks “that can be done at any time so they never get done at any time”.
These unfinished, unnecessary projects can weigh on your mind and sap your energy. For me, one big drag on my day was the ridiculous state of the closet in my master bathroom. I’d see the ugly thing every morning and night when I retrieved my toothpaste from the shelf. This week I devoted my Power Hour to decluttering and reorganizing this tiny, soul-sucking closet. I threw out an entire garbage bag full of empty lotion bottles and old contact cases. I organized medicine, hair products and soaps/lotions/dental items into separate baskets, put all of my travel makeup and jewelry cases on the top shelf and neatly folded my towels for easy access.
Easy peasy. Next I’m tackling the rest of my closets. Then I’m moving on to the garage, which is going to take several weeks!
3. THE ONE MINUTE RULE. I love this one. Love, love, love. It is so easy. If there is something you can do in one minute or less (hang up your coat, put your bag away, open the mail, put away the peanut butter), then you should do it right away! This helps to eliminate the accumulation of clutter and makes you feel more in control of your environment. Also, if you have a Fitbit or other step counter, taking care of these simple little tasks right away often results in a few more steps toward that daily 10,000 step goal! Check out this short video of Gretchen explaining the One Minute Rule.
I’ve been using this one a ton. Most notably and beautifully on the tray in my living room ottoman. It was piled with old magazines, junk mail and greeting cards. After a 60-second sweep it looks beautiful and it no longer nags me when I’m watching Orange is the New Black and eating ice cream at the end of a long day.
Try it. It’s a game changer.
4. EVERYTHING IN ITS (EXACT) PLACE. Finally, something that’s near and dear to my heart is having an EXACT place for everything. We all accumulate a lot of stuff and sometimes it’s really hard to find what we’re looking for. Having an exact place to put your things and ACTUALLY PUTTING THEM THERE is very liberating and satisfying.
My husband likes to misplace his things and then accuse me of moving them. This is an ongoing saga in our relationship that has led to many huffs and stomps. The solution? We are working to come up with an exact place for everything so (1) on the rare occasion that I actually do move his things, I will move them to the correct, exact place and (2) he will put his things in the exact place on his own! Voila. Love this tip.
I’ve also been trying to use this tip when it comes to putting away the laundry. If you’re like me, you might have several (dozen) laundry baskets around the house filled with clean, folded clothing. You want to wear something and often end up pulling it right from the laundry basket because the item never made it into your dresser or closet. Lately I’ve been folding my laundry on my fabulous folding-table that I haven’t really used all that much and taking it DIRECTLY to its exact place in my dresser or closet. This way my laundry skips the dreaded black hole laundry basket from which it may take weeks to return! I also like this one because it helps me get in more steps on my Fitbit. Gotta love that external accountability!
These are the things I’ve been working on in my home as part of my Happiness Practice. And I have to say that it’s working. I feel lighter and have more energy. I’ve quickly discovered that, for me, organization begets organization. The more decluttered and organized I am in one space, the more I’m wanting to spread the love around. I even bought a storage bin to organize all of my son’s stuff that was floating around in the back seat of my car. It’s been really life-changing for me.
I must say that I am SAD about one thing. Now that I’ve binged on every episode of Happier, I now have to wait a week for new podcasts like the rest of the world! In the mean time, I’m going out (or to Amazon!) to buy ALL of Gretchen’s books so I can work on cultivating my happiness practice between episodes.
Have you read any of Gretchen’s work on happiness and habits? What do you do at home to make yourself happier? Will you try any of these tips? Leave a comment below to tell me your tips for happiness at home!