Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • A Very Big Question. What’s Your Answer?

    questionmarkbuttonHere's a question for you.

    2013 is almost here (how did that happen, by the way?). If, by the end of 2013, you could magically change one aspect of your life, what would you change? What single thing would add the most to your happiness?

    You know my next question.

    With that aim in mind, can you come up with concrete, manageable steps that would help you accomplish it?

    As I've worked on my happiness projects, I've been surprised to discover how easy it is to be unhappy with some aspect of my life, but somehow never try to do anything about it. And many times, once I tried to do something about it, it wasn't even very hard to improve it.

    Also ...

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  • 8 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Relatives During the Holiday Season

    thanksgiving_dinnerHolidays can be tough. Some people love them; some people dread them.

    I thought a lot about the holidays as I was writing Happier at Home, because the holiday season tends to be a time when we focus on home. Maybe you're going "home" the way I go home to Kansas City for Christmas-which may be fun for you, or not. Maybe you're deciding how to decorate your home. Maybe you're making an effort to arrange the holidays the way you experienced them as a child-or the opposite. Maybe you're feeling sad, or happy, about whom you will or won't be seeing.

    From talking to people, it seems that one of the biggest happiness challenges of the holidays is dealing with difficult relatives. You want to have a nice dinner, but Uncle Bobby makes you crazy. What to do?

    1. Ahead of time, spend a few minutes thinking about how you want to behave. If you've had unpleasant experiences in the past, think about why they were unpleasant and what you could do to change the dynamics of the situation.

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  • Why I Treat Myself like a Toddler. A Cranky Toddler

    teddybearphotoI remember reading somewhere that writer Anne Lamott thinks about herself in the third person, to take better care of herself: "I'm sorry, Anne Lamott can't accept that invitation to speak; she's finishing a book so needs to keep her schedule clear."

    Similarly, I imagine myself as a toddler. "Gretchen gets cranky when she's over-tired. We really need to stick to the usual bedtimes." "Gretchen gets frantic when she's really hungry, so she can't wait too long for dinner." "Gretchen needs some quiet time each day." "Gretchen really feels the cold, so we can't be outside for too long."

    The fact is, if you're dealing with a toddler, you have to plan. You have to think ahead about eating, sleeping, proper winter clothes, necessary equipment, a limit on sweets, etc. Because with a toddler, the consequences can be very unpleasant. In the same way, to be good-humored and well-behaved, I need to make sure I have my coffee, my cell-phone charger, my constant snacks, and my eight hours

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  • I Cut Out Every Unnecessary Thing and Every Person Who Did Not Add Value to My Life

    sanderlin_head1Happiness interview: Rebekah Sanderlin.

    I "met" (virtually) Rebekah through a mutual friend, and I was thrilled to read her post yesterday, on the New York Times blog At War, about how Happier at Home was helpful to her during reintegration: Finding home again after deployment.

    I don't have any personal experience with this kind of happiness challenge, and I was gratified to hear that the book was nevertheless helpful.

    Rebekah writes a lot about the special challenges (happiness-related and otherwise) faced by military families. She's a writer, married to a soldier, with three children, and her writing is both hilarious and thought-provoking.

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

    Rebekah: Making my bed makes me happy - but I want to be absolutely clear that I'm am not at all OCD. The rest of my house is usually a mess, in fact. It's not the act of making the bed that makes me happy - I actually hate doing it - but seeing the bed

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  • Feeling Resentful? 6 Hard Facts About Shared Work

    horses-pulling-cartOne obstacle to happiness is feeling resentful when another person won't do his or her share of the work. In Happier at Home, in my description of the three kinds of "happiness leeches," this kind of person is a "slacker."

    Resentment comes when you feel angry that you've been treated unfairly. But what is "fair" when deciding who should do what work? As I thought about my own (not infrequent) bouts of resentment, I identified these Six Facts About Shared Work.

    Fact 1: Work done by other people sounds easy. How hard can it be to take care of a newborn who sleeps twenty hours a day? How hard can it be to keep track of your billable hours? To travel for one night for business? To get a four-year-old ready for school? To return a few phone calls? To load the dishwasher? To fill out some forms?

    Of course, something like "performing open-heart surgery" sounds difficult, but to a very great degree, daily work by other people sounds easy-certainly easier that what we have to

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  • If I Meditate, I Have More Steady Energy, I’m Less Irritable and Reactive

    priscillagilmanHappiness interview: Priscilla Gilman.

    I've never met Priscilla Gilman in person, but I feel as if I know her, because I read her wonderful memoir, The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy. It's an account of her life as a mother during the early childhood of her son Benjamin, who exhibited remarkable precocity in certain ways-which turned out to be signs of a developmental disorder, hyperlexia.

    It's a unforgettable, fascinating book. I know that Priscilla has done a lot of thinking about happiness, so I was eager to hear what she had to say.

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

    Priscilla: Meditating. The summer between college and graduate school, I took a class in Transcendental Meditation at the TM center in downtown New York City. I wasn't convinced by the videos of "yogic flying," but I did find the mantra extremely useful. I'd tried various forms of meditation before and my mind tended to wander all over the place,

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  • 12 Tips for a Happier Home, Adapted from Nursery School

    nurseryschoolOne of my resolutions is to Treat myself like a toddler. I've found that much of the advice aimed at children is just as helpful for me.

    For instance, I'm reading Nicole Malenfant's Routines and Transitions: A Guide for Early Childhood Professionals (non sequitur: a surprising name for a childhood expert). She lays out several strategies for teachers to use in establishing routines and transitions for children. I'm going to try to apply them to myself.

    Here's a tips list, loosely adapted:

    1. Turn routines into games. My evening tidy-up, while not quite a "game," is kind of fun and quite relaxing.
    2. Control the level of noise. I'm much calmer when there's no TV or music playing in the background. (Except at night. Weirdly, my husband and I fall asleep to all-news radio.)
    3. Organize space so it's attractive, well organized, and well lit. One of my most important Secrets of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm.
    4. Plan times each day for
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  • Why Hurricane Sandy Made Me Think of Winston Churchill

    churchill-inspecting-blitzI live in New York City, and the destruction in this region wrought by Hurricane Sandy is devastating. So many people's homes and neighborhoods and entire towns were destroyed, and many more people can't get basic necessities. It's overwhelming to think about the amount of work that needs to be done to put things right-and to guard against this kind of disaster in the future.

    I'm awed by people's resiliency in the face of such circumstances. Watching the news last night reminded me of one of my favorite passages in all literature, from Winston Churchill's history of the Second World War, Their Finest Hour, about the events of 1940.

    Churchill recounts a visit he made to a very poor London neighborhood that had just been bombed during the Blitz:

    Already little pathetic Union Jacks had been stuck up amid the ruins. When my car was recognised the people came running from all quarters, and a crowd of more than a thousand was soon gathered. All these folk were in a high

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  • I Challenge You to Walk for 20 Minutes and Not Feel Better by the End of It

    Cheryl-StrayedHappiness interview: Cheryl Strayed.

    I wanted to do a happiness interview with Cheryl Strayed after I read her fascinating memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. In her twenties, at a time when she felt as though she had nothing more to lose, Cheryl hiked solo along the Pacific Crest Trail for 1100 miles. She was inexperienced and ill-prepared, but determined to set herself on this adventure.

    I love all accounts of happiness projects; Cheryl's undertaking had nothing in common with the kind of things I did for my happiness project, yet I gained a lot from reading about her experiences.

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

    Cheryl: Walking. Doesn't it make everyone happier? I challenge you to walk for twenty minutes and not feel better by the end of it. It's the cheapest, healthiest cure on earth.

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

    That we can

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  • When I’m Blue, a Depressing Book Reminds Just How Good I’ve Really Got It

    Will-SchwalbeHappiness interview: Will Schwalbe.

    I met Will Schwalbe a few years ago at a big conference called SXSW. We share an intense passion for reading and writing, and when I heard he'd written a book, The End of Your Life Book Club, I couldn't wait to read it. It's about the books that he and his mother read together during the last two years of her life.

    A book like Will's raises many questions about happiness, so I was eager to interview him about his thoughts on the subject.

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

    Will: Reading books makes me happier. Having coffee on Sunday morning with my partner and watching CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood makes me happier. Having a nap makes me happier.

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

    It's something I learned from Stumbling on Happiness, a wonderful book by Daniel Gilbert, and it's this: Experiences make me happier than

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