If You Would Be Happy

Cultivate Your Life Like a Garden

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by Ruth Stout. Foreword by Michaela Lonning

Norton Creek Press, January, 2016. 194 pages.
Suggested retail price: Paperback $19.95 (Kindle: $5.97).
ISBN 978-1-938099-00-7 .

Simple-living advocate Ruth Stout, author of Gardening Without Work and How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, believed that life just doesn’t have to be so hard!

In If You Would Be Happy, she once again helps you find the sense amid all the nonsense that life offers, and find simplicity amid the rough and tumble of life. She says:

“It is happiness, not perfection, we’re concerned with here, and they’re not necessarily even related. . . Our activities are successful insofar as they are giving us real satisfaction.”

“Interestingly enough, if you do work for your own happiness and achieve it, everyone who comes in contact with you will enjoy you more and therefore be better off because you are happy. If you are busy building your own pleasant life, you have no time to criticize others. You are more relaxed, more fun to be with; your sense of humor is in good working order, and you are a do-gooder in the best sense without even trying.”

“Being annoyed will keep a person awake more effectively than Benzedrine. If you need pepping up, just think of someone you’re furious with.”

“Any experience, trivial or important, is likely to give us more pleasure if we are interested, unhurried, and are looking for the best the situation has to offer. It also helps if we expect something good, for in that case we don’t overlook it if it’s there in front of us.”

“We must forever keep in mind that it is our inside feelings we are aiming to change; we are really going to become a serene and pleasant person, not merely give the appearance of one.”

Foreword by Michaela Lonning

As a counselor, I’ve read plenty of self-help, recovery, and psychology books over the years, and I’m familiar with  therapies and techniques that instruct people in how to be happier.

If You Would Be Happy is different from any of the happiness manuals I’ve read though, because it’s so refreshingly frank and conversational.

Ruth Stout is the eccentric relative that I wish I’d had, one with that refreshing mix of caring and candor.

Rather than challenging errors in my thinking or analyzing my issues, she might serve tea, and point outside to a lovely flower in bloom. She would have modeled for me that there’s happiness to be found, right here, right now. No fuss, no formula.

Ruth’s  ideas are far from new. They are continually being rediscovered and repackaged, often in forms far more elaborate than Ruth’s deceptively simple wisdom. For example, DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) teaches mindfulness, as well as giving step by step guidance in important skills, like to keep the little things from building up into catastrophes. And it shows, step by step, how to make interactions smoother, how to relate to difficulties without inadvertently making them worse, and how to keep small things from building up into catastrophes.

These are good skills. They  are outlined in DBT handbooks and worksheets, hundreds of DBT groups meet every week to discuss these skills, and many people are helped.

The best DBT therapy relies on the humor that the counselor brings to the process. If you’re looking for the kind of candor and wit that DBT therapists are encouraged to offer, this book is a great source.

If You Would Be Happy is meant to help anybody with a desire to have a bit more—or a lot more—contentment. Ruth offers plenty of “case examples,” too—funny and touching ones about that neighbor down the road, or that eccentric acquaintance that stayed with her years ago.

This book reminds us that we are in this happiness quest together. We could all use a little coaching now and then to take our troubles a bit less seriously and to tend to our own happiness, and the contentment of those around us.

These ideas apply to grown-ups and children alike. They’re fun, they work. And they just make sense!

Michaela Lonning,
Corvallis, Oregon


  1. Some Common Sense Will Come in Handy
  2. Humble Joys Are Better Than None
  3. Making Our Minds Toe the Mark
  4. Growing Up Emotionally
  5. “‘What Do You Want?’ Quoth God. ‘Pay the Price and Take It.'”
  6. Don’t Depend on Things That Can Desert You
  7. Making Mountains Out of Molehills
  8. Petty Values Belong on the Trash Pile
  9. Light Shimmering Through the Darkness
  10. And Now You Have Earned the Right to Dream

About Ruth Stout

Ruth Stout sepiaRuth Stout was a beloved advocate of organic gardening, and her book,Gardening Without Work, and her magazine articles popularized her style of simple living to millions. If You Would Be Happy was first published in 1962, and Norton Creek Press is proud to offer it to a new generation.

Ruth was born in Kansas. Her mother was a Quaker with a rate knack for coping with her nine children. One of Ruth’s brothers, Rex Stout, became the creator of the well-known Nero Wolfe mysteries, and Ruth herself began selling stories locally at an early age.

As a teenager, Ruth accompanied prohibitionist Carrie Nation on a saloon-smashing excursion (saloons were illegal in Kansas City at the time). In 1923 Ruth accompanied fellow Quakers to Russia to assist in famine relief.

Ruth moved to New York City, and before her marriage to Fred Rossiter she worked at a variety of jobs—nursemaid, telephone operator, bookkeeper, secretary, office manager, owner of a Greenwich Village tearoom. After her marriage, she and her husband moved to an old farm, Poverty Hollow, in West Redding, Connecticut.

Ruth’s career since moving to the country was that of cook, housekeeper, gardener, lecturer, and, of course, writer. Ruth wrote several books and innumerable newspaper and magazine columns. She died in 1980 at the age of 96.

Books By Ruth Stout

Norton Creek publishes these books by Ruth Stout:

Ruth also published: