Nonfiction, Reviews

Better Than Before: A Book Review

Here’s a non-fiction review for my non-frivolous book readers! Yesterday I finished Gretchen Rubin’s latest book Better Than Before:  Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives. The popular author of The Happiness Project and Happier At Home once again brings readers an insightful book on her favorite topic, how to live this present life well.

Rubin starts off the book by claiming we can’t be successful in our habits without knowing our habit tendencies. I found this section of the book fascinating. She breaks these tendencies down into four groups:

  1. The Upholders – Sensitive to inner expectations for oneself and outer expectations of other people
  2. The Obliger – Very sensitive to others’ expectations, not as sensitive to one’s own expectations for one’s self
  3. The Questioner – Always questioning expectations, and has to make all expectations his or her own by evaluating and deciding whether they are reasonable and useful or not.
  4. The Rebel – Basically, this person hates expectations and has a hard time with habits.

Rubin, herself, is a strong Upholder, and finds it very easy to begin and maintain habits. I almost question why a person who finds habits so natural would write a book about harnessing the power of habits – can we learn anything from her struggle if there actually is no struggle for her? Then again, I suppose we can learn from the best, and she does an insane amount of research and includes anecdotes from other types of tendencies. (Side note: if you read the beginning part of this book and you classify yourself as a Rebel, good luck. You don’t want habits in your life, you enjoy making each decision you make, and having the freedom to decide yes or no to most everything you do each day. Habits are not your thing. And probably neither is this book).

After doing a little self exploration, Rubin decides to tackle the seven areas in which people most commonly want to improve their habits: Healthy eating, Exercise, Finances, Rest and Relaxation, Accomplishments, Clutter, and Relationships. As is her wont, Rubin sets up a specific goal for herself in each of these areas and writes about the results. This is the part where the book gets a little less interesting to me, because I already know she is going to do a great job of creating new habits. She is going to nail this. But would I?

I read this book at a great time to improve my habits, when my youngest recently turned a year old and I had the mental fortitude to improve some areas of my life that were just scraping by one sleep deprived day after another. I didn’t want to grab the whole project by the horns like Rubin did; I thought I would pick just a few areas to work on: getting up earlier and eating healthier.

So far, I have failed miserably. For about a week, I did great, but then it all fell apart. I still get woken up often at night by one of the three kids, if not all, and I still can’t seem to get a meal plan together that is consistently healthy. Snacks are a whole ‘nother battle. The upside of this experiment is that I did feel exceedingly better when I did a good job of getting up early and putting healthy food on the table. I’m excited to continue my attempts at improving my habits in these areas.

Overall, I liked this book. I find that Rubin’s books can bring me some ideas and get me thinking, but when I finish them, there’s a sense of emptiness for me.  They lack the overall purpose of life in their theories. I don’t want to be so inwardly focused on living my life well. I want to love God and love others.  Also, as a middle class American in the suburbs, her upper-middle class New York City lifestyle is very hard for me to relate to. However, if you’re interested in using the practice of habits for to empower your daily routines, I think this is a great book for you.

Now, if only Gretchen Rubin would write a book about helping kids form good habits…

Everyday Life, Parenting

Happier In Winter Project

Hello, fellow winter haters. What, you don’t hate winter? I wish I were more like you! I’m getting a tiny bit better at seeing the beauty in it. The stark lines of tall trees against a pale blue sky, the dramatic sunsets, the frosty white grass…I’m not immune to these gifts of the season. But I still could do without winter for many, many years.

Three years ago, my winter hatred was running at an all time high. We had just downsized into our current house, I had a baby and a two-year-old, and I felt like I just couldn’t handle the cold weather season. For better or worse, the weather always affects my outlook on life. At the time, the book on my nightstand was Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. Inspired by her attitude and her title, I invented a Happier in Winter Project. I wrote out a list of things I could do to make winter bearable, and maybe, maybe even enjoyable, and I pinned it to my wall calendar in the kitchen. That winter of 2012-2013 turned out to be blessedly mild, but this winter doesn’t seem to be following suit. So I’m pulling out my Happier in Winter list and sharing it today. Add your ideas and help us all endure!

~Happier in Winter ~

  1. Plant lots of pansies, or indoor houseplants.  I always, always kill houseplants. But pansies are pretty hardy outdoor flowers where I live.
  2. Remember: exercise is the best way to stay warm. And exercise always comes with nice perks, like a little less winter weight gain. One can dream, right?
  3. Hold lots of household dance parties. Also counts for #2.
  4. Take your vitamins! 
  5. Play some instruments . I will hand out the recorder and harmonica and have a marching band around the house with the kids, or have them play their instruments while I play the piano. I’m not going to lie–I don’t do this often. There’s a good chance the “fun” ends in a headache for mom. =)
  6. Make paper snowflakes. Two years ago we glued them on one of our windows. Looking back, it was like we warded off snow with them. Not a flake fell on our house that season! I’m planning on making these with Ella soon.
  7. Pick a room to paint a nice, light color. This year, I’ll probably do our bathroom. It’s currently a garish yellow, and it’s the last room that needs painting in the house.
  8. If you’re a parent with small children, designate a child-free time to make busy bags for your children. 
  9. Graham crackers and frosting
    Photo: mommytools.blogspot.com

    Have indoor picnics and tea parties. Get out some cheerful dishes and turn graham crackers into fine, teatime delicacies with some leftover frosting or cinnamon and sugar.

  10. Plan library days and museum days.
  11. Pin a whole bunch of soup recipes and then actually make one or two of them.
  12. Rearrange a room. Sometimes a different perspective is all it takes to lift a mood.
  13. Drink more smoothies.
  14. Drink more water. 
  15. Drink more wine. Just kidding. 
  16. Bake some healthy (and not so healthy) snacks and don’t worry about the mess.
  17. Splurge on a lunchtime restaurant with an indoor playground once in a while.
  18. Load shelves and e-readers with cheerful books. The definition of “cheerful” books varies from reader to reader. Winter is the best time for whatever type of book you consider a comfort read for you.
  19. My jolly winter guy (2012)

    Put hats, scarves, and gloves in an easily accessible place so it’s easy to bundle up and enjoy what sunshine there is.

  20. Read wintry poetry and find some favorite winter quotes. Here’s one that puts things into perspective for me: “The wind was blowing, but not too hard, and everyone was so happy and gay for it was only twenty degrees below zero and the sun shone.” -Laura Ingalls Wilder. Only!?! Robert Frost is also a good winter poet (for real, no pun on the name intended).
  21. Be crafty. Sew something, paint something, knit something…whatever kind of creativity floats your boat.
  22. And finally….sometimes you just have to make it a movie day. 

We’re looking at a cold week here in the southeast, so I’ll be hitting the “Happier in Winter” list pretty heavily in the next few days. Share your ideas to help us all out!

Nonfiction, Reading

Happiness For Dummies (or Geniuses): A Review of Two Books on Being More Joyful

Disclaimer: I’m pretty slow when it comes to reading nonfiction. I have a pile of books on my nightstand at any given time, and the one that stays the longest in that pile is always the nonfiction book. On a side note, it would be more accurate to call my nightstand and the floor space beside it “The Stacks”. Please tell me I’m not alone in this. Well, I know I’m not, because you should see my dad’s bedside table. I don’t even know why we have tables next to our beds. Bookshelves would be so much tidier. Anyway, I am always in the middle of a nonfiction book. This is not  because I’m particularly scholarly, but because I read nonfiction at a snail’s pace (can snails read?). There’s no “scope for the imagination” in it. I like to think it’s because I’m really mulling over all the facts and advice that I’m taking in when I read nonfiction, but usually it’s just because I get bored with it quickly. It’s kind of painful to admit that. But there it is. However, there are some non-fiction books that I find enthralling. I’ll write about two of them today.

In my last post, If I Were A Facebook God, I wrote about how discouraging some Facebook statuses are on Monday morning. I, maybe rather frustratingly, spoke of finding some “joy sugar” to sweeten the hard days. I realize I may have left some of you wondering how in the world one finds that stuff. Well, there’s no way for me to explain all that on a book blog. Already, some of you are probably wondering, “When is she going to talk about actual books?” Enter, some self help books.

I don’t pick up many “how to” books. And any book that has “dummies” in the title is a book I don’t really want to read. Publishers would do better to appeal to my pride with titles like “Knitting for The Moderately Bright.” However, I’ve read a couple of books that have changed my perspective or helped me realize what perspective I need to take on being joyful in life. One of these is based on the Christian perception of joy (that happiness is based on circumstances but abiding in God and His love brings joy in any circumstance) and one is a non-religious book that equates joy and happiness as pretty much the same thing.

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