Secret of Adulthood: Home Is a Physical Space; It’s Also a Frame of Mind.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


If I had to name one thing that I learned from my happiness project in Happier at Home…this is it.

If I want my home to be a serene, loving, and welcoming place, I’m the one who has to be serene,  loving, and welcoming.

I’ve long been haunted by a line from Samuel Johnson–in fact, I love it so much that it’s the epigraph to The Happiness Project. He said, “He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.” Or as Harlan Coben put it, in terms a little closer to home, “You bring your own weather to the picnic.”

What do you think? Do you find that you are the most important element to your experience of your home?

Slight tangent: the photo shows my Christmas ornament in the shape of a miniature Fisher-Price “Play Family” house–just like the one that my sister and I played with throughout our childhoods, and that my daughters play with when we visit Kansas City. I took the photo for Happier at Home; this ornament is one of my mementos from the project of writing the book. It opens up–it even has a doorbell that rings!

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  • eva

    One of my secrets of adulthood is: “Ich nehme mich selber mit”. In German we have two translations for “home”: “Zuhause” and “Heimat”. “Zuhause” means where I live and work and go to bed, “Heimat” means where I am rooted, where my family and my friends are, where I can live as I like. And that’s the key word: If I know myself enough to live as I like, I can be at home everywhere. But if I am not happy – with me, with my life, with my relationships – I will be at home nowhere. As you quoted from Harlan Coben: “You bring your own weather to the picnic.” I like this sentence, it’s quite the same as my German secret of adulthood!
    Dear Gretchen, it’s funny to read that also in the English speaking world men have the same life-themes or problems as in my customary German world. I’m not used to pose my thoughts in English, but I hope you’ll understand me.

  • Peninith1

    This is unusually provocative!

    I may almost have come to say that ‘home’ is a technological phenomenon now. Wherever I go–visiting friends or family–I take along my laptop computer and my Droid phone. When I settle down somewhere else, I get on line and check my email, facebook and other connections. I see and hear from my sons and get pictures of family members who live at a distance. I have a long distance connection with a significant other who travels a great deal. He does the same–we video chat daily, and may be talking to each other from many points in the U.S. or even overseas. In a powerful sense my communications devices are the heart of my idea of home.

    In another sense, ‘home’ is the PART of my own home where I have privacy, can shut the door and be alone with myself. That’s now my bedroom and bath. I have for many years been accustomed to living alone, and now share my home with an elderly parent. This has disrupted my notion of home. Although our tastes are compatible, it is an upheaval to have so many of her things (delightful though they are) in my limited space. For her, this is even more painfully true. Although family is important to me, I have lived ‘solo’ since the early 1990s, when my children fledged. The idea of ‘home’ had come to mean to me ‘my place alone.’ Home is no longer exactly the place where I can be unreservedly me. Of course that is true for every person who does not live alone. I had no idea what a selfish luxury this was. Golly, I have lived like a hermit in a well-appointed cell, answerable to no one. It is a long time since I have felt ‘lonely’ because I lived alone.

  • Sharon

    Gretchen, I played with that weeble house, too, as a kid and I still have it and another one – a turquoise A-frame – that my kids used to play with! So many fun memories! Yes, I love my home and love to return to it when I travel but home, to me, is where your loved ones are. We moved quite a bit early on and never really had any “roots” so my family scattered for a while but we all came back together because home, to all of us in our very large family, is where mom and dad live. So now my kids have the joy of growing up with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, 20 cousins and 12 second-cousins because we all moved back “home”. (Not in the same house but in the same city!)

  • peninith1

    Day four–Cope with a difficult person. “Acknowledge the other person’s feelings.” I can do that fairly well, when these are just feelings and are directly expressed. An honest ‘I feel depressed’ or ‘I don’t feel very well’ is pretty easy to affirm.

    However what I encounter many times a day is not so much expressions of feelings that arouse my desire to oppose and contradict as interpretations or opinions about ME and my actions and feelings that I find intrusive and sometimes really infuriating.

    I dislike intensely remarks that fall under the general heading of “I know you better than you know yourself,” as in “you’re tired out” or “I guess you wish…” or “if you would only . .. . ” Then every part of me wants to say “NO!” or ‘Not your concern!” and contradict, when the much wiser and more self-protective response is just to say ‘ummmm’ or something neutral that can be interpreted as a response, without agreeing. I have found that remaining invisibly myself is better than asserting myself in opposition.

    Also I often experience the other person ‘telegraphing’ without plainly stating feelings of anger, frustration, disapproval, or the like. I have to say that I wait for an open statement of feeling before I respond, because I don’t like attempts to control a situation by means of dramatic acting out, however ‘subtle.’ I find that if I do not invite elaboration or comment, these little thunderclouds tend to pass.

  • peninith1

    Day 5–I’m reminded of a 12-step program slogan that originally seemed pointless: “Keep the focus on yourself.” What? When someone else is causing problems? When I am miserable?

    The ‘change the things I CAN’ part of the Serenity Prayer is relevant here. I can make my home and myself better prepared to handle any situation that comes up if I mind my own part of the business of life. Right now changing the thing I can means quietly slipping a pedometer in my pocket, taking a walk each morning, and remembering that how many steps a day I take is nobody’s business but my own. Owning another part of my life that I need to own, and doing something that I know I need to do, makes me better able to be patient, cheerful and kind.

  • Laura Vanderkam

    I, too, spent many years playing with that Fisher Price doll house. Seeing a picture of it just brings me back to being little.

    • Rebecca

      We had one too! They were fantastic, robust little houses, in our family the newest generation (arounge 8 years old) still play with it when they visit my parents house.
      I think I might need to buy an ornament just like that one! (Thank you so much for the detail on it, it sounds so sweet with it’s little doorbell).