Image: Max Pixel

WHO couldn't use a little more happiness in their lives? Gretchen Rubin thinks that just about everyone can be happier, and she has made it her life's mission to teach others how to get there with her books, blog and podcast.


As a mother, Rubin knows how difficult life can get for families, from the struggles with a toddler who won't nap, to the stress that the clutter from living with a child brings, to the desire to know everything that is going on in a teen's life, even when things aren't going well.
Rubin also knows that families do not have a ton of time to spend on simplifying their lives; they need quick fixes that can be implemented easily, without adding more stress.


I recently spoke with Rubin by phone, and she offered these tips on happier living for families.

- Make contact. It's easy to rush out the door in the morning without giving your family more than a quick "See you later!" It's even easier to keep your nose buried in a book or computer screen when they return home in the evening. Take time to give everyone a warm hello and goodbye. This does not take more than a couple of minutes, and it can make a huge difference in how valued people feel. Giving a quick kiss on the cheek before your partner and children head out the door in the morning ensures everyone starts their day outside the house feeling happy and loved, no matter how stressful the morning was.

- Celebrate special occasions. Although not every day has to have a special touch, grabbing little opportunities to create family traditions and bring joy to children will make for a happier household. Even minor holidays such as Valentine's Day and April Fools' Day can be celebrated with only a few minutes of preparation. Make a special breakfast on these days to get the day started on a good note. Keep the breakfasts simple so that you can stick with your tradition year after year. For example, use red plates on Valentine's Day, or add green colouring to milk or eggs on St. Patrick's Day. Or give everyone a small piece of candy with breakfast on special days. These ideas take less than 10 minutes of preparation but can bring immense joy.

- Organise, organise, organise. Kids mean clutter and clutter means stress. Nearly every parent wants to reduce clutter, but many feel torn about getting rid of special drawings and other mementos. Develop a simple but manageable system that allows you to preserve memories without drowning in paper. For special mementos, consider using a file box for each child with a folder for each year. Only include what is necessary to capture a typical year, such as the child's birthday party invitation, school photo and a few art projects. This is easier to maintain than more elaborate systems such as scrapbooking.

To keep the plastic trinkets that kids insist they must hang on to from draining your happiness, Rubin suggests accepting them as part of life with kids. Fill apothecary jars with mini-erasers, bouncy balls and whistles. The jars look nice because they are bright and the objects are contained. They are also easily accessible and allow children to clean up quickly.

- Streamline your morning routine to reduce the stress of getting everyone out of the house each day. Have a designated place for keys, glasses and other things you always need. Getting yourself up and ready before the kids are awake is another simple way to cut down on stress. If you are not a morning person, adjust your schedule accordingly by packing lunches and putting cereal bowls on the table the night before. This is especially useful for couples where one is a morning person and the other is not. Instead of expecting both partners to be equally helpful in the morning, it shifts the focus to finding a way for everyone to contribute fairly.

- Stop the interrogations. Don't force kids to talk about the bad or painful parts of their day. While it is natural to want to know what is going on in your child's life when he appears upset or anxious, you could be making him more inclined to focus on the negative. If you ask him if Timmy was mean to him, or if he is nervous about a spelling test, you are sending the message that you are very interested in those topics. That could cause the child to dwell on them and possibly exaggerate their importance. 
Instead, ask open-ended questions and let the child tell his own story. It's great to be receptive to talking about painful topics if that is what he wants, but don't bring them up just because you are interested. Ask simple, open-ended questions such as "Is there anything you want to talk about?" to give him an opportunity to talk about anything that might be bothering him.

To learn more about Rubin's tips, check out her books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home" as well as her curated selection of podcasts at The Onward Project.

- Washington Post