Author Gretchen Rubin on Her Latest Book, Happier at Home
Gretchen Rubin's follow-up to her bestselling book The Happiness Project was 2012's Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life, which chronicled her attempt to delve further into the realm of happiness, specifically in areas at home.
The paperback version of Happier at Home was released in December 2013, and Rubin will visit Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe Friday, January 17, to talk about the book and sign copies. Earlier this week Rubin talked with Jackalope Ranch about what inspired her to write about happiness, exploring other storytelling media, and how her books are all related -- even the ones on Winston Churchill and JFK.
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What inspired you to write about the topic of happiness in regard to home? It was a very inconspicuous event in my life, I was unloading the dishwasher -- a task that I do not particularly like -- and my husband's watching sports in the next room, and my daughters were playing, and all the sudden I had this intense wave of homesickness, which is such a weird thing to feel. Why did I feel like I was going away to summer camp for the first time, when I was standing right the middle of my own kitchen? And it was as if I'd been flash-forwarded 25 years, and was looking back on what I had right now. And that got me to focus on the idea of home for the first time, because I'd been reading and writing about happiness at that point for years, but I'd never looked at it through the lens of home. So many different things related to happiness are really central to home, and just about everybody wants to have a feeling of home. So that got me thinking. I was just immediately enthralled with doing another happiness project, but this time really focusing in on this experience of home.
How long did you spend writing this book? Between two and three years, but I've been thinking so much about happiness so I had kind of a running start because a lot of the groundwork I'd already done. So I was just doing what I needed to do to take it deeper and go further into the subject.
What do you hope your readers will gain from reading your books? Well, I always felt that by writing about my own experience it would help people figure out what they would want to do differently in their own lives. You would think that people would get the most help from big scientific studies, or philosophical treatises that talk about all of human nature, but what I found for myself -- and I think is true for most people -- is that it's actually really helpful to read about one person's idiosyncratic attempts to come to grips with these big ideas and put them into action. 'Cause when you see how one person does it, you can kind of compare and contrast your own experience. And somehow one person's story feels like it relates more to you than a story of everyone, which is perhaps counterintuitive. But I think people read my particular own situation, which is idiosyncratic to me, [and they] seem to be able to adjust it for themselves and be able to get ideas for the kinds of the things that they would want to try, fleshing the kinds of things that I tried.
You had a successful law career. What made you realize you wanted to give that up and become a writer? When I look back on my life, I did everything that a person would do to prepare to be a writer, so I think it had been there somewhere forever. But I was clerking at the Supreme Court under Sandra Day O'Connor, and a bunch of things in my life came together. I had an idea for a book, I was doing this gigantic amount of research just because I was fascinated, and I began to realize, "Wow, I'm doing a ton of work, I'm doing this for fun, but some people will do this kind of research and writing as their job." And my husband and I were getting ready to move to New York City, and I was thinking, "If I'm ever going to try writing, this is the time to do it. If I take another job, I may never feel like I can step away from that track." And I really just got to the point where I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer, and I really had to make a test of it. And it took a while for me to make the shift, from having the idea, from really figuring out professionally: how would a person do it? How do you turn somebody who writes on the weekends into being a professional writer?
Were your friends and family supportive of your potentially risky move? I was incredibly lucky because they were. My parents -- now as a parent I see how hard it is to see your children take a big risk, and really open themselves up to disappointment and criticism and failure -- were very, very supportive. I feel so lucky because so often I hear from people who out of the deepest love want others to make the safe choice, because they want to protect the person that they love from hurt. But a lot of times you just have to take that risk. So I was very fortunate that the people in my life were like, "That's great, let's see how it goes."
You made a YouTube video about an experience with your daughter. Why did you decide to use that medium as opposed to writing about it? Well I've written about it many times, but one of the things that I love about being a writer right now is that there's all these new ways that we can connect with readers, and there's all these different ways we can tell a story or convey information. And one of the things I realized, once I started my blog -- because I never watch videos. I would always read information rather than watch it. It just takes too long, and I'm so impatient, and I can only really learn when I'm reading. I don't learn from my ears, so I'm not very attuned to video, but I could see that many people were, so I thought: well here's this little story, let me try to tell it in a video form, and it also had to be very, very short. So as a writer it was almost like writing a haiku, where you had to really cut it back to just the bare minimum. And that was an interesting, intellectual challenge. So it was fun to have images and music and tell this story in a very short way, and see if I could use those tools to convey a really big idea.
You seem to write books about very diverse topics, where do you pull your inspiration from? They do seem very different from the outside, but to me they seem very much alike, or tied together, because my big interest is human nature. What are people like? And so, Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide was looking at these elements in human nature, and Winston Churchill and JFK, they're like these exaggerated figures. They're so gigantic that you can kind of see human nature in a more obvious way 'cause they're just so big. And then happiness is another way or lens of looking at human nature.
How is your next book you're writing, Before and After, related? The one I'm writing right now is very related to happiness, because the happiest challenges are related to habits that we can't make or break, or struggle with. But it's also a huge part, like 40 percent of our day is run by habits, researchers estimate, so when you're looking at human behavior and everyday life, habits have a huge role to play. So everything to me feels like it leads to and supports everything that I've done -- Power Money Fame Sex has a lot to do with The Happiness Project and Happy at Home, but I know from the outside, it doesn't really look that way.
Gretchen Rubin will be at Changing Hands Bookstore at 7 p.m. Friday, January 17. A ticket for two is free when purchasing Happier at Home from Changing Hands. For more information on Gretchen visit her website, and for more information on her signing visit www.changinghands.com.
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