Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • CARLINHappiness interview: Carlin Flora.

    I got to know Carlin Flora through Psychology Today (a magazine and a site that I love) when she was a writer and editor there. Now, she has a terrific book coming out in a few days, on a subject of tremendous importance to happiness: friendship. Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: a key to happiness, and probably the key to happiness, is strong bonds with other people.

    Her book is Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, and it's a fascinating look at the influence of friendship in our lives. When people are very busy, friendship seems to be an area that's often neglected, and reading about the importance of friendship will make you realize how important it is to find ways to keep your friendships strong.

    Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

    Carlin: Talking to a friend on the phone, or better yet, in person. (Though funny enough, I often dread calling

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  • A Mysterious Division of Animals: What’s Your Favorite Category?

    LabyrinthTime for something completely different. This is a list that appears in an essay by Jorge Luis Borges, "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins," in Borges: Selected Non-Fictions.

    I have no idea why I love this passage so much, but I do.

    These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into:

    (a) those belonging to the emperor;

    (b) embalmed ones;

    (c) those that are trained;

    (d) suckling pigs;

    (e) mermaids;

    (f) fabulous ones;

    (g) stray dogs;

    (h) those that are included in this classification;

    (i) those that tremble as if they were mad;

    (j) innumerable ones;

    (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush;

    (l) etcetera;

    (m) those that have just

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  • Four Personality Types: Which One Are You?

    rulesyoucanyoucan'ttwiceAssay: Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how different people respond to rules-and I use "rules" broadly (see below for examples) to mean any kind of instruction to do or not do something.

    I love to identify categories. Abstainers/moderators. Leopards/alchemists. Radiators/drains. And I now I can't stop thinking about these four categories.

    To see if you spot yourself in these categories, ask yourself:

    How do I respond to an outer rule? A law, a traffic sign, a "request" from a spouse; a work deadline, an admonition from your doctor, an appointment with a trainer, social protocol?

    How do I respond to an inner rule? A New Year's resolution; a decision to exercise more; putting in work on a self-generated project (writing a novel, planting a garden).

    With that in mind, consider whether any of these types rings a bell:

    Upholder-accepts rules, whether from outside or inside. An upholder meets deadlines, follows doctor's order, keeps a New

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  • 6 Simple Strategies to Pitch Your Ideas. And to Make Them Irresistible

    elevatorsOne thing that causes a lot of consternation, at least in my life, is the need to present ideas in a short, catchy way-in what's called an "elevator pitch," because you're supposed to be able to explain your entire big idea to someone while the two of you are in an elevator.

    How hard can it be, right? Well, it turns out to be very, very challenging.

    In my friend Dan Pink's terrific new book, To Sell Is Human: the Surprising Truth about Moving Others, he has a great list of tips for making a pitch. As he points out, the ability quickly to intrigue others with ideas is a task that more and more people face. "Selling" is something that many of us do.

    Here are Dan's six strategies for making a great pitch:

    1. The one-word pitch. That's right. Distill your ideas down to just one short word. Think "Priceless" or "Search." (I'm a big fan of the one-word approach; I use it to choose a theme for the year.)

    2. The question pitch. By asking a question, you invite others to

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  • 5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your New Year’s Resolutions

    New-Year-2013It's fun to think about New Year's resolutions, and I always make them (in fact, I make resolutions throughout the year). If my happiness project has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions-made right-can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.

    So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds.

    Samuel Johnson, a patron saint of my happiness projects, was a chronic resolution-maker and resolution-breaker. He alluded to the importance of making the right resolutions in a prayer he wrote in 1764, when he was fifty-five years old.

    "I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake."

    Sound familiar? How often have you thought something along these

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  • Fun and Easy Holiday Tradition? for Us, Graham-Cracker Houses

    grahamcrackerhouseGretchenThis weekend, my daughters and I made our graham-cracker houses. As I write about in Happier at Home, every year, instead of traditional gingerbread houses, we make graham cracker houses, which are easier to build and decorate.

    Every year-this also seems to be part of the tradition-I almost forget to organize the house-building, until it's almost too late. But we've always managed to do it.

    I learned how to make graham-cracker houses when my older daughter was in kindergarten; I was a parent helper when the children made them as part of a unit on "home." (Coincidence? Or not?)

    For me, one of the most important aspects of home is the celebration of traditions-like the building of these houses. Family traditions mark time in a happy way and give a sense both of anticipation and continuity. Research shows that traditions, routines, and rituals boost physical and emotional health. And they're fun.

    I love graham-cracker houses because they're very festive, they're very

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  • Announcement! Join the 21 Day Relationship Challenge

    RelationshipChallenge-BlogPhoto (2)For many people, I've noticed, the element of Happier at Home that resonates most is the discussion of relationships.

    Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key to happiness-probably the key to happiness-is strong relationships with other people, so while I didn't set out to write a "relationship" book, I'm happy to hear that the book is helping people so much in that area.

    We all want a loving, attentive, and engaged atmosphere in our home. And warm relationships will do more than anything to make our home a happy place.

    For that reason, in honor of the New Year, I've organized a 21 Day Relationship Challenge.

    Here's how it will work. Every morning, for three weeks, you'll get an email with a resolution for you to try at home, as a way to strengthen your bonds with others. They're some of my favorites from Happier at Home, plus a few longtime stalwarts.

    In just twenty-one days, you really can take many small steps-without spending much

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  • If I’m Feeling Mired in My Own Problems, the Best Way to Get a Lift is to Help Someone

    marciHappiness interview: Marci Alboher.

    I'm so excited for my friend Marci Alboher. She has a terrific new book coming out on December 18, The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life. It's an excellent guide for people hitting midlife who are wondering what to do next.

    In honor of the new book, I'm re-posting her happiness interview from a few years ago. In the time since it ran, Marci has been immersed in the world of "encore careers"-second acts for the greater good. She just wrote a great piece for the New York Times: Switching Careers at Midlife To Make a Difference.

    She has so many interesting things to say, especially about the relationship between happiness and work.

    Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
    Marci: Talking a long walk in the early morning hours.

    What's something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?
    That people

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  • Why I’m Adding Holiday Smells to My Holiday Decorations

    Pine tree, the symbol of Christmas. Closeup of branchesThis morning, on my way home from the gym, I walked by a stand selling Christmas trees and holiday greenery (in New York City, these pop up on street corners every December). I loved getting the chance to smell that wonderful fragrance of Christmas tree.

    It struck me: I've done a lot of holiday decorating, but we don't have any holiday smells.

    Because it's so hard to deal with a real tree in a New York City apartment, and because we always spend a week at my parents' house at Christmas-where my mother puts up the largest and most gorgeous display of holiday decorations you've ever seen-we don't put up a live tree. We use a small grove of tabletop, goose-feather trees to show off our ornaments. I've been collecting one ornament a year since I was a baby, and my girls have, too, so we have quite a few.

    But an artificial tree doesn't have a smell.

    For Happier at Home, I adopted a resolution that has become one of my very favorite resolutions: Cultivate good smells. I've

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  • Trying to Resist Holiday Temptations? 7 Tips for Abstainers and Moderators

    holidaytreats2Ah, the holidays. Everywhere you go, you face cookies, candy, booze, and snacks and treats of every kind. While this creates a festive atmosphere, it can also lead to a lot of anxiety and/or guilt in those of us trying to resist temptation.

    As you think about how to handle holiday temptations, your strategy may depend on whether you're a moderator or an abstainer when trying to resist temptation.

    You're a moderator if you…
    - find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure - and strengthens your resolve
    - get panicky at the thought of "never" getting or doing something

    You're an abstainer if you…
    - have trouble stopping something once you've started
    - aren't tempted by things that you've decided are off-limits
    (Of course, in the case of things like nicotine and alcohol, abstention is necessary.)

    I'm an abstainer, without a doubt. Like Samuel Johnson, who declined an offer of wine by saying,"Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance

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