Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Feeling Lonely? Consider Trying These 7 Strategies

    istock_000007951394mediumOne major challenge within happiness is loneliness. The more I've learned about happiness, the more I've come to believe that loneliness is a terrible, common, and important obstacle to consider.

    According to Elizabeth Bernstein's recent Wall Street Journal piece, Alone or Lonely, the rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled over the past thirty years. About 40% of Americans report being lonely; in the 1980s, it was 20%. One reason: more people live alone (27% in 2012; 17% in 1970). But being alone and being lonely aren't the same.

    A while back, after reading John Cacioppo's fascinating book Loneliness, I posted Some counter-intuitive facts about loneliness, and several people responded by asking, "Okay, but what do I do about it? What steps can I take to feel less lonely?"

    I then read another fascinating book, Lonely - a memoir by Emily White, about her own experiences and research into loneliness. White doesn't attempt to give specific advice about how to combat

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  • Revealed! the Subject of My Next Book. The Most Fascinating Subject Ever

    HabitsRepeatFourWhenever I start a new book, I think, "This is the most interesting subject of all time. It's sad, I'll never enjoy writing another book as much as I enjoy this one." Every time, I'm convinced. And then I change my mind when I start the next book.

    But I really do believe this may be the most fascinating subject ever. It's the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits-really?

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

    My habits research started as part of my ongoing happiness research-I often spend a lot of time studying happiness-related

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  • One Way to Boost Happiness? Connect with My Past

    GretchenandSOCLast weekend, I went to Washington, D.C., to attend the reunion of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's clerks.

    This event made me happy for many reasons. I was thrilled to see Justice O'Connor. I loved catching up with many old friends and acquaintances. I enjoyed walking around the halls of the Supreme Court building.

    And the entire weekend reminded me of the usefulness of my resolution to Stay connected to my past.

    I have a terrible memory of my own past. I can barely remember my childhood. I have few memories from college and law school-though once I got married I got the advantage of being able to consult my husband's memory. Many of my resolutions-like Keep a one-sentence journal or Keep photos or Take tourist photos of my own life-are aimed at helping me remember my own past.

    Because I'm not a lawyer anymore, it's especially easy for me to lose touch with my lawyer past. My husband and I met in law school-you can see photo highlights here-but he's not a lawyer anymore,

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  • What Kind of Person Are You? the Four Rubin Tendencies

    hogwarts housesBack by popular demand-the four Rubin Tendencies (I keep changing the name of this framework. Any suggestions or comments welcome. Do you like the Rubin Character Index Better?)

    It's very important to know ourselves, but self-knowledge is challenging. I'm like a Muggle Sorting Hat! I sort everyone into four categories, which 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 (myhusband is a Questioner)
    • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
    • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet
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  • Feeling Blue? Consider the Beauty of Nature

    pendulumOne common happiness challenge is: How do you give yourself a boost when you're feeling blue? Or when you're past the point of feeling blue, and are feeling deeply unhappy?

    One refuge is to consider the beauty of nature.

    Nature is impersonal, awe-inspiring, elegant, eternal. It's geometrically perfect. It's tiny and gigantic. You can travel far to be in a beautiful natural setting, or you can observe it in your backyard-or, in my case, in the trees lining New York City sidewalks, or in the clouds above skyscrapers.

    A few nights ago, my eight-year-old daughter burst into my office. She was very excited to show me a video, Pendulum Waves, which shows extraordinary patterns created by the simple pendulum.

    Watching the video, I was struck, for the millionth time, by the beauty of nature. I often remind myself of one of my favorite quotations, from Boethius, "Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last cease to admire worthless things." Or I remind

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  • Take a Look at These Fascinating Happiness-Related Word Clouds

    A thoughtful reader sent me the link to Michael Kelley's piece, "Scientists Used Facebook for the Largest Ever Study of Language and Personality, about a fascinating study done by University of Pennsylvania researchers, "Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media."

    They used 700 million words, phrases, and topic instances taken from Facebook, from 75,000 volunteers, to analyze linguistic patterns. This might not sound fascinating, but looking at the word clouds generated by this study is riveting.

    They generated word clouds that track the traits of introversion and extroversion, neuroticism and emotional stability, gender, and age. It's quite funny to compare the word clouds generated by 13-18 year old, 19-22 year olds, 23-29 year olds, and 30-65 year olds (I didn't notice an explanation of why they picked these particular age groupings).

    From a happiness perspective, I was most interested in the word clouds for extraversion, introversion, neuroticism, and

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  • Do You Fall Prey to These 4 Types of Impulse Purchases?

    impulse-purchaseWhen we're trying to change our buying habits, one challenge is that marketers are so clever at enticing us into making impulse purchases.

    In David Lewis's book Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It, he provides a list of the four main types of impulse buys, developed by industrial economist Hawkins Stern in 1962.

    Do you recognize any of these categories in your own purchasing patterns?

    1. Pure impulse buying - you make a true novelty purchase, or escape purchase, that's very different from your typical purchasing pattern

    2. Reminder impulse buying - you see an item or remember something that reminds you that you need an item

    3. Suggestion impulse buying- you see a product for the first time and imagine a need for it

    4. Planned impulse buying - (isn't this label an oxymoron? oh well) you make a purchase based on price specials, coupons, etc.

    Now, I know that some folks out there are my fellow under-buyers, and we have to force ourselves to

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  • Do You Prefer to Aim Big or Aim Small?

    big_small_With any kind of happiness project or habits change, we need to figure out what kind of change at which to aim.

    For instance, I think it's important to be very concrete and specific about what you're asking of yourself: "Plan lunch with a friend once a week" instead of "Have more fun."

    Along the same lines, research suggests that some people have better success changing a habit when they start small. A series of small but real accomplishments gives people the energy and confidence to continue. For instance, a person who wants to write a novel might resolve to write one sentence each day. Or a person who wants to start running might resolve to run for one minute.

    These little steps also help to shape the patterns of our days, to make room for the new activity. The habit of the habit is even more valuable than the habit itself; that is, being in the habit of going to the gym is more valuable than any one particular work-out (this is related to the tricky one-coin argument).

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  • Can the Simple Act of Making a List Boost Your Happiness?

    seishonagonWhen I was in college, I took a class on the culture of Heian Japan, and the one and only thing I remember about that subject is The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. This strange, brilliant book has haunted me for years.

    Sei Shonagon was a court lady in tenth-century Japan, and in her "pillow book," she wrote down her impressions about things she liked, disliked, observed, and did.

    I love lists of all kind, and certainly Sei Shonagon did, as well. Her lists are beautifully evocative. One of my favorites is called Things That Make One's Heart Beat Faster:

    Sparrows feeding their young

    To pass a place where babies are playing.

    To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt.

    To notice that one's elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy.

    To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one's gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival.

    To wash one's hair, make one's toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one,

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  • A Happiness Lesson from Claire Danes

    danesThe September 30, 2013 issue of the New Yorker had an interesting piece, John Lahr's Varieties of Disturbance, about actor Claire Danes.

    Though I've never watched My So-Called Life (yes, I know this is unacceptable, and it's on my to-do list), I do love Homeland, so I was interested to read the profile.

    Danes was quoted saying something that really caught my attention.

    "One of the lessons of her adulthood, Danes has said, was 'that there is real honor in being a total goofball.'"

    This struck me, because I've really worked hard, myself, to embrace my inner goofball. Not to worry about seeming dignified, or sophisticated, or knowledgeable, but to Be Gretchen.

    In this respect, one of my patron saints is Julia Child, and of all the posts I've ever written, one of my favorites is my encomium to her. She was goofy yet masterly, light-hearted yet authoritative.

    Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.

    Realizing this was part of my embrace of my love for children's literature. And therefore

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Pagination

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