Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • What Habit Would Add the Most to Your Happiness? Does it Fall in These Five Categories?

    hand_printMy current writing project is a book that will be called Before and After, about the most fascinating subject ever, the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits-really? (To be notified when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

    It was my interest in happiness that led me to the subject of habits, and of course, the study of habits is really the study of happiness. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we're much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. Or not.

    When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.

    When I think about the habits that I wanted to cultivate, or talk to people about their happiness challenges, it seems as though just about every habit that people seek to make or break falls into the "Big Five":

    1. Eat and drink more healthfully

    2. Exercise

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  • Did You See the Movie “Enough Said”? and Some Thoughts on Shared Work

    enough_said_640Of all the posts I've written in the last few years, one of my favorites is Resentful? Overworked? Face these painful facts about shared work.

    The fact is, shared work is a very common source of argument and resentment among people - in couples, in group houses, at work, in families. Anyplace where people have to divide work.

    I thought of the challenge of shared work when I was watching the movie Enough Said. (You know, the one with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini.)

    There are seven rules of shared work, and the movie highlights three of them:

    1. Work done by other people seems easy.

    2. When you're doing a job that benefits other people, it's easy to assume that they feel conscious of the fact that you're doing this work-that they should feel grateful, and that they should and do feel guilty about not helping you.

    3. If you want someone else to do a task, DON'T DO IT YOURSELF.

    Eva is a massage therapist who goes to people's homes. When she visits the home

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  • Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #1: The False Choice Loophole

    falsechoiceI have a split life right now. Part of the time I'm focused on my new paperback Happier at Home (about how to be happier at home), and part of the time I'm focused on writing the forthcoming Before and After (about habit-formation).

    Now I'm on book tour for Happier at Home, and I'm also starting a special series here on my site related to Before and After.

    In the book, I identify the twenty-two strategies that we can use to change our habits, such as the Strategy of Accountability, the Strategy of Convenience, the Strategy of Treats, etc.

    Of all of them, perhaps my favorite strategy to study is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting - because the loopholes are so funny.

    When we're trying to form and keep habits, we often search - even unconsciously - for loopholes. We look for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we recognize this behavior, if we can catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we

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  • Are You an “Energizer” or a “De-Energizer” at Work?

    energyatworkI'm re-posting this quiz, because I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately.

    I read Cross and Perker's The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations, and I was riveted by their discussion of energy. This caught my eye, because my father is always emphasizing the importance of energy, whether at work or at play - especially at work. (For other excellent advice my father and mother gave me, look here.)

    Cross and Parker argue that energy is a key factor in understanding who is effective at work, and why. When they analyzed networks of co-workers, knowing whether someone was considered an "energizer" and a "de-energizer" shed a great deal of light on how networks worked, and how productive various people managed to be. Their discussion is complex, but here are some highlights.

    About energizers:
    - those who energized others are much higher performers
    - energizers are more likely to be heard and to see their ideas acted

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  • Do You Have These Friends? Must Friends, Trust Friends, Rust Friends, and Just Friends

    crayons in a circleAncient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key - perhaps the key - to happiness is strong relationships with other people. We need to have intimate, enduring bonds; we need to be able to confide; we need to feel that we belong; we need to be able to get support, and just as important for happiness, to give support.

    We need many kinds of relationships; for one thing, we need friends.

    Now, the term "friend" is a little loose. People mock the "friending" on social media, and say, "Gosh, no one could have 300 friends!" Well, there are all kinds of friends. Those kinds of "friends," and work friends, and childhood friends, and dear friends, and neighborhood friends, and we-walk-our-dogs-at-the-same-time friends, etc.

    Obviously, such relationships are very different, although they're all "friends."

    In Geoffrey Greif's book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, he identifies four categories of friendships:

    Must friend: a best friend, a member of

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  • Before and After: Wake Up 15 Minutes Earlier, and Put the Alarm Clock Out of Reach

    HabitsRepeatFourI'm writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits-an issue very relevant to happiness. Each week, I post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you'd like to share your story, contact me here.

    This week's story comes from Patrik Edblad.

    I used to set my alarm clock as late as possible each day, and then hit the snooze button at least one or two times before getting out of bed each morning. As I'm sure a lot of people can relate to, this sort of morning routine is far from ideal, as your day gets a very stressful start and often leads to being late.

    After a couple of attempts at becoming an early riser and having a taste of the benefits it has, I decided to really commit to it and devoted myself to understanding the mechanics of habit creation and how I could re-programme my brain to love 6 am. I learned that a habit consists of a cue, a routine,

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  • How to Spot a Psychopath

    door openI love finding-or inventing-ways to categorize people. I agree with philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who observed, "Every classification throws light on something."

    I've devised several of these, and of the ones I've come up with myself, my favorites are the Abstainer/Moderator distinction and the four Rubin Tendencies.

    Because of this interest, I was intrigued to come across the Psychopathic Personality Inventory, a personality test for traits associated with psychopathy.

    I think that we can all agree that one thing that does not contribute to a happy life is a relationship with a psychopath. But what traits are associated with psychopaths?

    The test seeks to measure:

    Social influence - a tendency to seem charming, persuasive

    Fearlessness - a tendency to embrace risk without fear or anxiety

    Stress immunity - stays cool in difficult circumstances

    Machiavellian egocentricity - a tendency to consider only personal needs

    Rebellious nonconformity - a tendency

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  • A Few Questions for You Questioners and Obligers, About Treats

    questionmarkbuttonI'm deep into Before and After, my book about habit-formation. One of the sixteen strategies that I've identified is the Strategy of Treats (which will probably be the favorite strategy of many people). By "treat," I mean something that you give yourself as a…well, treat.

    I've been thinking a lot about treats, and of course, I continued to be obsessed by the four Rubin Tendencies. In a nutshell:

    The Rubin Tendencies describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a "request" from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year's resolution).

    Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

    In a nutshell:

    • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I'm an Upholder, 100%)
    • Questioners question all expectations; they'll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)
    • Rebels resist all
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  • Avoid the Dangerous Allure of “Potato-Chip News.”

    tv1970sAssay: I've identified sixteen strategies to use for fostering habits, and one strategy is the Strategy of Distraction.

    It's a highly effective strategy, particularly for people who are attracted to potato-chip news. I'm not attracted to potato-chip news, myself, so it took me a while to understand this challenge.

    "Potato-chip news" is news that's repetitive, requires little effort to absorb, and is consumable in massive quantities: true crime, natural disasters, political punditry, celebrity gossip, sports gossip, or endless photographs of beautiful houses, food, or clothes. We all have a duty to be educated citizens, but potato-chip news provides endless commentary, speculation, and images, rather than fresh facts or sophisticated analysis, and information is usually sensationalized.

    Most people enjoy potato-chips news from time to time-to track a presidential election or the Oscars. However, some are particularly drawn to material that makes them feel shocked, frightened,

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  • Once Again: 6 Tips for Writing from George Orwell


    Last week, I posted six rules for writing from George Orwell, but that post was swallowed up by the internet. I was quite pleased by the number of people who wrote to ask where the list had gone, so I've decided to re-post it.

    I loved rules for writing: for instance, here are rules from Mindy Kaling, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller, and Flannery O'Connor.

    In one of his most famous essays, "Politics and the English Language," Orwell writes that "the following rules will cover most cases":

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which are used to seeing in print.

    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (I'm charmed by his example: use "snapdragon," not "antirrhinum." Snapdragon is so much nicer.)

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