Sunday September 16, 2012
By ABBY WONG
When the heart is mindful of what is important, the home becomes a happier place.
SPRING is here Down Under. After a long and cold winter that has rendered everything bleak and weak, a springy revival should be much to cheer for. Yet, there was an ambience of melancholy at home.
While loading the dishwasher one evening, I broke my husband’s favourite ramen bowl because the rollers of the top tray refused to move. One afternoon before sending my daughter for her swimming lesson, I tripped over her heaps of soft toys while frantically looking for my wallet. Then, having locked myself out, I had to remove the fly screen on a narrow window in my laundry room and climb through it to get back inside.
Worst yet, while washing the car last week, I injured my thumb, leaving the vehicle half-washed and a soapy puddle of water to dry itself out. I looked around me at the timber floor (no longer glossy), the bookshelves (crumbling), the windows (badly in need of a proper curtain), and the deck (invaded by dried leaves). I felt homesick.
Back to the study I went, hoping to steal an idle moment, as if by sitting there in my private nook where I spend most of my time, I could regain control and feel better. An email from the library popped up: I had to pay a A$10 (RM32.27) fine for the two books I’d not had the time to finish reading.
Finally, I began to ask myself. If I had not the time to clean the floor, rearrange the bookshelves, buy curtains, sweep the leaves, read the books I wanted to read, what had I been doing all this time? I must have been physically at home but mentally absent from it because, if not, I would have noticed the undersized winter shirt my son had been awkwardly wearing to school, or the piles of dusty files accumulating on my desk.
I would have shown more genuine concern for my son’s back pain that had once caused him to break into tears, and would have realised that my daughter had not been read to for quite some time and she’d been quietly wishing to be read to every night, as she had always been not too long ago.
“I wish I could read on my own soon,” she’d hinted. I failed to understand.
What had I been doing? The truth is I had been doing way too many things, and had forgotten that doing nothing once in a while will boost happiness. I thought happiness meant putting every hour into productive use. Little did I know I was pursing happiness at the expense of happiness that could be gained, for women my age, by taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life at home.
“Mindfulness and self-knowledge would be more important than errands and expense,” advises Gretchen Rubin, an author I stumbled upon while searching for ways to eradicate those petty annoyances and fleeting worries that had caused me sleeplessness.
This author has made me realise that to abandon a project, to sit with my daughter while she is taking her bubble bath, or to not over-react to (but not ignore) a problem will lead to simple pleasures.
Hence, I have abandoned my effort to find the right curtain and instead use a sofa throw, which can be easily taken off to allow sunlight into the hallway. The house instantly looks brighter and the timber floor inevitably looks as glorified as it was before. The crumbling bookshelves are signs of learnedness and the dried leaves vanished from my eyes as quickly as they disappeared from the deck.
Sometimes, home is an adventure. By indulging in possessions rather than being overly frugal, home is given character and memories, as each possession holds a memory from the past. By devoting my time and attention to my family, home becomes a place where love is, not a dwelling where children come and go.
By tackling clutter and managing time, we are no longer hurried and distracted at home. And by responding to our spouse’s bids for respect and tenderness, our marriage sustains for as long as a home remains.
By kissing in the morning and at night, and by acknowledging one’s entry and departure, a home as well as those who live in it becomes warm and attentive. By showing gratitude to and having genuine feelings for others, we are repaid manifold, and it comes back as happiness to the home.
The entire globe revolves around a single spot which we call home. If home is where happiness is, then it should not matter whether it is spring or winter.
Gretchen Rubin seems to have visited Down Under and eradicated the melancholy from my home with her book, Happier At Home. My home now is happily embracing spring and anticipating summer, and the crumbling bookshelves are merrily carrying the weight of another hardcover book that has made me a wife more loving and a mother more approachable.
Utterly inspired, Abby Wong was thumbing through Happier At Home with her bandaged fingers at home in her bed that’s no longer cluttered.