Wednesday, 3 October 2012

How to Be Happy

Now that austerity has deflated national economies, governments are switching their attentions to that elusive asset: happiness. David Cameron plans an official assessment of the nation's spirits, China has launched a happiness index for local government officials and deep in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan a Gross National Happiness Centre is under development to teach its disproportionately suicidal citizens how to count their blessings.

The secret to happiness has, however, already been cracked by a housewife in a Manhattan penthouse. The Happiness Project, in which Gretchen Rubin set herself a 12-month deadline to achieve bliss, planted her at the top of the New York Times' bestseller list and now, after all that questing, she's found the darn thing - it was lurking in her own flat all the time.

Yours could be festering in your home too, unnoticed under the sofa cushions. To find it, according to Rubin in her latest DIY manual Happiness at Home: Kiss more, Jump more, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life, you have to start with 'redecoration of the self' (sorting out your cupboards). Then you are ready to create 'areas of super engagement' (a mantel of family photos/heirloom silver/grandad's collection of significant champagne corks). After that it's simply a case of drafting a kissing schedule to prove your love to your spouse and offspring, raining down gold stars and compliments, particularly on men, jumping about and going to bed early.

It's a relief to know that I'm on the right track. Dinner guests are always dislodged from our vicarage by 10pm. I jump on the children's trampoline whenever it rains violently and family and cats get a kiss each bedtime. The 30 volumes of my daily diaries occupy two shelves of 'super-engagement' in the dining room and I am ruthless in my binning of other people's possessions to make way for my own. I'm more into Samuel Pepys than Samuel Johnson but I'm expert at abandoning projects and my kids receive gold coins, one up on gold stickers, when they've accomplished their weekly chores.

It's not enough, though. Contentment, yes, and pleasurable smugness are induced by the above, but I've been experimenting for far longer than Rubin and I can exclusively reveal that complete happiness is impossible without these essential ingredients:

Achieving your desired slipway just as traffic grinds to a halt on a motorway.

Unblocking the sink. If your sink isn't blocked you can easily rectify the fact with a bowl of old porridge and some coffee grounds. Then treat yourself to the visceral thrill of pumping the rubber plunger over the plug hole and watching as, with a fulfilling belch, last week's washing up water suddenly swirls away. For some reason, the more regular task of picking dead slugs out of the kitchen drain, while prompting the same result, lacks that nameless joy. 

Nicking gum. You may not even like chewing gum. I don't. But stealing a piece from your children's illicit stash while you're dusting their bedroom mayhem gives it an unexpectedly enjoyable flavour. 

Creating a leaf pile. Don't worry if you don't have your own leaves - you can import them in bin liners from a neighbour's front garden. This is one of the few thefts they'll thank you for. Rake them into a large mound (this is in itself a peculiar pleasure) then take a running leap and bury yourself inside. It can be squidgy and you can often find the back of your neck becomes intimate with molluscs but it gets you under the skin of that most thrilling of all seasons, Autumn.




Removing the lid of the lavatory cistern. This is a joy I discovered early on in life and, nearly four decades later, it hasn't lost its potency. There's something wondrously soothing about watching the ball-cock sink as the cistern empties then rise with quiet majesty with the water level. Efficient sewage disposal suggests that all can be well in a disordered world.

A CD of John Rutter. Step 1: wait till dusk gathers and put on the lamps. Step 2: pour yourself a lager. Step 3: pile beside your armchair a decent detective story, a frivolous magazine, a woolly rug and the Boden catalogue. Step 4. Unleash Rutter.


A stationery drawer. This needs to contain a sheaf of Basildon Bond for the letters you mean one day to write and a couple of handsomely bound notebooks for the Great Thoughts you may one day have. It doesn't matter if Great Thoughts elude you. The fact that you have a worthy repository ready should one ever take you by surprise is enough to make you feel good about yourself. 

A utility room. I owned one of these for eleven months and it's fair to say I tasted bliss. Mr Sheen sat decorously beside Mr Muscle on the cleaning shelf, instead of rolling louchely together under last year's ironing, and I could reach for a lightbulb without summoning a child to haul me by my ankles from beneath the tower of homeless possessions flung into the under-stairs cupboard.




I too would like to top the New York Times bestseller list so spread the word and I'll share the royalties. And tell me - what tips can you add for DIY happiness in the home?

29 comments:

  1. Hmmm... what makes me happy? A well crafted blog post, stats over 300/day, a clean and tidy house has the same effect as a fortune spent in therapy, the scales showing a weight loss, my 3yo asleep by 8pm, lessons prepared a week in advance (never happens), kindergarten from 7.30am till 4pm.

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  2. Love that pile of leaves... Lets see - a forgotten pot of chocolate mousse in the fridge, some (any) time to myself, and a long, long soak in a bath of bubbles. I like crumpets with lashings of butter too! X.

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    1. Darn, you've reminded me - I forgot to get crumpets at the shop this morning....!

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  3. Ps that last photo really made me laugh!

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  4. I agree about lavatory cisterns. Though must confess (Mum you do not know this!) that a moment of curiosity in 1975 caused the crack in the primrose yellow cistern lid in my parents' downstairs cloakroom. But i can't be punished now as I too am a middle-aged matron!

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    1. I wonder how many other people know about this potent joy?

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  5. A really good froth round the loo with Domestos Extra Power.
    Early to bed with Rose Tremain.
    An orderly cutlery drawer after years of stacking knives and forks in mugs on the worktop.
    Best of all, lighting the fire on an icy night in a newly cleaned room with a whisky and ginger waiting by the sofa.

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  6. That picture of you buried under the leaves is enough to make me smile just looking at it :) I discovered recently, that there is untold pleasure in ridding the fridge of all rotten vegetables, condiments which reached their use-by dates almost a decade ago and given it a thoroughly good scrub.....can't believe it myself!

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    1. I suppose Rubin would class that as 'redecoration of self'.

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  7. I (sadly) find cleaning and organising very therapeutic... other than that I'm a general shoes, handbags and shopping girl. So long as I am spending money I am happy!!!! lol xx

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    1. Nothing to be ashamed of. I was almost unhinged with joy when my new e-cloth de-smeared my windows!

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  8. A place to escape to would be on my list. Somewhere I can be completely alone and uninterrupted for as long as I want. No demands, no chatter, just me.

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  9. An empty house - with silence as company! Just occasionally mind you as I love the mayhem! X

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    1. I'm lucky. Working from home I get that every day during school hours.

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  10. Oh how I long for a utility room. A home with utility room and a garden with a shed AND greenhouse... if I ever achieve this state of ownership I'll know I've made it. Can I add a full bowl of Kettle Chips on a Friday evening to the list?

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    1. Anything you like, sweetheart. When you have that utility room you can bulk buy the crisps.

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  11. Does ready grated cheese count as DIY happiness? As I very rarely eat cheese in it's non grated form, it reduces stress and washing up, and means that I can in some ways live up to the lazy student stereotype! (the rest of the time I have far more stuff to do than time to do it in, so it's nice to be slovenly in one aspect of life)

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  12. Yes, short cuts like grated cheese and lazy garlic (have you discovered that?) are perfect additions. Royalty cheque will be coming your way!

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  13. Achieving a perfect one-manouevre parallel park. This happens so rarely, but when it does... aaaaaaaah!

    Being able to spell manoeuvre... manouever... manouever...

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    1. I'd forgotten that pulsing thrill. In fact I'm feeling it vicarioulsy for I'm not sure I've ever achieved such minimalist manooovering!!

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  14. hiding chocolate in the fridge.
    the boden catalogue arriving just as i've made a cup of tea (this actually happened to me today)
    sole control of the remote
    someone else going to the supermarket
    but my issue is this.... a friend recommended this book (I don't think I am unhappy but hey!) I have almost purchased it on Amazon and then I read this and it suggests to me - it's a bit *whispers* rubbish?

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    1. Don't let on to anyone, but what would I know. I haven't read it. There's no doubt some good common sense in it but I don't think I could cope with the pseudo pschyological terminology. Spend the money on Bodenwear instead.

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  15. Having also read Rubins Happiness Project I decided to start my own project and am trying to blog about it. I must admit I may already be slightly bored of it (please don't tell anyone) and in a rare moment that I have to myself and instead of blogging I thought I'd pop over to your blog as it always makes me laugh!

    I have read this post before but it is wonderful to be reminded that even the smallest things in life can be such a pleasure!

    Mine would have to be getting into bed after a bath, having a cuppa in bed and watching a film on the laptop while sitting in bed are also up there

    Driving in the car on my own, my music!!! Not nursery rhymes or heavy rock (for the kids and hub respectively)

    Baking a cake then hub washing up for me...he's a good man (mostly)

    Scoring more than 10 on our weekly viewing of University Challenge

    Pruning; budlia, rose and forsythia are my favourites but anything really - I've been know to attack friends gardens with the secateurs!

    Finding forgotten chocolate - this is a rare occurence as it is me who usually hides it so I know where it is - actually I'd say eating the kids chocolate that you'd hidden from them is a better one!

    I'm off to think of more! :)

    PS. Not sure if you do them but would you like to do a guest post for my blog?

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    1. What a lovely list. I'm with you all all of them, although I prefer mulching to pruning. I'm sure I could manage a guest post if you tell me more. Thanks for asking.

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