Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Happiness Is…a Good Book. So, a New Feature! a Book Club!

    booksopeninvitingMy favorite thing to do is to read. In fact, reading and writing are practically the only activities I truly love. Which is a bit sad, but true. Because I love reading so much, nothing makes me happier than recommending terrific books-so I'm starting a book club.

    At the end of every month, I'll post a list of three suggested books.

    • One outstanding book about happiness.
    • One outstanding work of children's or young-adult literature. I have a crazy passion for kidlit.
    • One eccentric pick. This is a book that I love, but freely admit may not be for everyone.

    However, here's the thing: I've noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds when someone tries to describe it.

    So I won't describe these books, but I make you this promise: I love every book I recommend; I've read it at least twice if not many times; and it's widely loved and respected. So…I'm saying, just

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  • Try Not to Talk in a Mean Voice. Try Again. And Again

    Angry-Birds-CraftSo much of my Happiness Project is aimed at helping me curb my very strong tendency to "talk in a mean voice" or "make a mean face" (which is how my daughters refer to this behavior). In a flash of irritation or anger, I snarl at my sweet daughters or my good-natured husband.

    They don't like this, and I don't like this. These outbursts are short, but they really sour the atmosphere of our home. Paradoxically, too, I often behave worse afterwards, instead of better, because my guilt about losing my temper puts me in a bad mood, which makes it even harder to behave myself.

    I follow many resolutions meant to keep me from boiling over in this way. I get enough sleep. I get up earlier so I have time to get organized in the morning. I don't let myself get too hungry. I make more time to read. I manage mild pain and discomfort. I enforce a quitting time on myself. I try to make a joke when things that go wrong.

    I'm doing better (I think). But still, many times each week, I act

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  • 4 Important Ways to Show Love, Identified by Divorced People

    heartinlatteRecently, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece by Elizabeth Bernstein on The Divorce's Guide to Marriage. It discusses marriage research by Terri Orbuch (I draw on this research myself, in Happier at Home) in which divorced people were asked what they'd learned about relationships from that experience.

    No surprise, they emphasize the importance of "affective affirmation," which is psych speak for making loving gestures such as kissing, hand-holding, giving compliments, and saying "I love you." Fact is, people do feel closer to each other when they regularly demonstrate loving feelings.

    Orbuch reports that divorced people identified four important ways to show affection:

    1. How often a spouse showed love

    2. How often a spouse made a person feel good about the kind of person he or she was

    3. How often a spouse made a person feel good about having individual ideas and ways of doing things

    4. How often a spouse made life interesting or exciting.

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  • Be Wary of the Goal of “Moderation,” Plus a Cocktail-Party Trick

    moderationscalesAssay: I've been thinking a lot about moderation lately.

    I'm an abstainer, so moderation is often tough for me (are you an abstainer or a moderator?), but I certainly hear people talk about their striving for moderation, and I strive for moderation in many areas of my life.

    But while moderation is often a helpful goal, it can also be deceptive. It's easy to forget that "moderation" is a relative term, and if you're aiming for moderation, it's helpful to ask yourself, "Moderation, in comparison to what?"

    I thought of this when a friend told me he was going to cut back on his drinking. "I don't need to quit, but I want to keep it in moderation," he said. "So I'm going to limit myself to two drinks a night." Zoikes, I thought, I don't have two drinks in a month. I'm not saying that two drinks is too much, but rather, the idea that a particular amount is "moderate" depends on your point of view.

    Along the same lines, in his brilliant book Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes

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  • 7 Tips to Boost Your Energy. Fast

    Richard AvedonA feeling of energy is a key to feeling happy. Studies show that when you feel energetic, you feel much better about yourself. On the other hand, when you feel exhausted, tasks that would ordinarily make you happy-like putting up holiday decorations, getting ready to go to a party, or planning a trip-make you feel overwhelmed and blue.

    When my energy feels at a low ebb, I try one of these techniques (well, first I drink something with caffeine in it, but if I feel like I need to take further steps, I try these strategies):

    1. Exercise-even a quick ten-minute walk will increase your energy and boost your mood. This really works! Try it! People often say they're too tired to exercise, but in fact, unless you're exercising at a very intense level, exercise tends to boost energy rather than deplete it.

    2. Listen to lively music. This is one of the quickest, easiest ways to get a jolt of energy.

    3. Get enough sleep. If the alarm blasts you awake every morning, you're not

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  • A Surprising Happiness Booster? Cleaning My Office

    Class-RoomOne of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm. Clutter seems like a trivial matter, but I always find that I feel more serene and cheerful if my apartment and office aren't too messy.

    Along those lines, I've learned from my happiness project to be wary whenever I have the urge to "treat" myself, because often my treats don't make me happy in the long run. For instance, one of my "treats" is to let piles of papers, clothes, books, and dishes pile up-which ends up making me feel less happy.

    In fact, when I want to calm myself, or cheer myself up, I often take an hour and clean my office. For instance, this morning. My office had become a wreck, because I wasn't taking the time to put anything away. I kept putting off little tasks, thinking, "It's more important to answer my emails," "I need to get this little piece written first," "I need a break, I don't want to deal with this now," but finally, I got down to it.

    I set aside an hour and

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  • Want a Great Meal? Try One of These Three Combinations for “Perfection”

    caravaggio28Even though I don't like to cook, and I'm no foodie, I nevertheless enjoy the food writing of M.F.K. Fisher. Several of her classic books are collected in The Art of Eating, which includes the essay "From A to Z: The Perfect Dinner," from An Alphabet for Gourmets.

    In it, Fisher outlines three combinations of people that can reach "gastronomical perfection"-but note, for clarity (and humorous effect), I've put them in the form of a numbered list, which is not her style.

    Fisher writes that the perfect dinner can be attained with…

    1. "one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hill side;

    2. two persons, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant;

    3. six person of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good home…a good combination would be one married couple, for warm composure; one less firmly established, to add a note of interrogation to the talk; and two strangers of either sex, upon whom the better acquainted could sharpen their

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  • Is Your World Filled with People Who Are “Radiators” or “Drains”?

    200118107-001Over the holiday weekend, I managed to do a lot of reading-which made me very happy.

    Among other things, I read Past Imperfect, a novel by Julian Fellowes (a man of many accomplishments, such as winning an Academy Award for best original screenplay for the brilliant movie Gosford Park).

    The novel's narrator made an observation that has stuck with me.

    "Years later, a friend would describe her world as being peopled entirely by radiator and drains. If so, then Damian was King Radiator. He warmed the company he was in."

    More and more, it seems to me that energy is an enormously helpful clue as to whether a person, activity, or place is a happiness-booster, or not. I find it's useful to ask: "Does this person make me feel energized?" or "Does this activity, though intimidating and frustrating, make me feel more energetic in the long run?"

    Perhaps counter-intuitively, in my experience, some people who are quite low-energy nevertheless act as radiators-because

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  • For 25 Hours Each Week...No Email. No Phone. I Don't Make Anything

    foer

    Happiness interview: Joshua Foer.

    I became intrigued with Josh Foer's bestselling book, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, because it's a kind of "memory project." As a consequence of researching memory, Josh started doing memory training and ended up competing in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship.

    Memory is extraordinarily important to happiness, and I was very interested to read a book about the science and history of the "art of memory," and to ask Josh about his views on happiness.

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

    Josh: Riding my bike. It doesn't matter where I'm going. Just so long as I'm pedaling.

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

    I keep the Jewish Sabbath, which is not something I did when I was 18. For 25 hours each week, everything gets turned off. No email. No phone. I don't make anything. I don't

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  • Watch Out for the “I’m Right; You’re Wrong” Conversation

    frayed ropeA few days ago, I posted about a phenomenon I describe as "oppositional conversational style" (OCS for short), and I've been flabbergasted by the heated response.

    I thought I'd identified some obscure, rare pattern of human interaction, but it turns out that lots of people had already identified this kind of interaction.

    A person with "oppositional conversational style" is a person who, in conversation, disagrees with and corrects whatever you say. Maybe in a friendly way, maybe in a belligerent way, but their remarks are framed in opposition to whatever you say.

    I was fascinated to read people's comments. I learned several things.

    First, people recognize this pattern easily. OCS, it turns out, is a widespread phenomenon.

    Second, people find it tiresome to be on the receiving end of OCS. To be repeatedly told "I'm right; you're wrong," in every context, gets annoying.

    Third, at least some people who practice OCS recognize it in themselves, and they think

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