Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Ever Been Stuck Talking to Someone Who Keeps Telling You How Wrong You Are?

    ConflictBack by popular demand is the assay I wrote about the "oppositional conversational style." This post really seems to strike a chord with people.

    Which surprised, me at first, because when I identified OCS, I thought I was the only person who had ever noticed it. Turns out that many people have noticed it! From both sides of the OCS-dominated conversation.

    A person with oppositional conversational style is a person who, in conversation, disagrees with and corrects whatever you say. He or she may do this in a friendly way, or a belligerent way, but this person frames remarks in opposition to whatever you venture.

    I noticed this for the first time in a conversation with a guy a few months ago. We were talking about social media, and before long, I realized that whatever I'd say, he'd disagree with me. If I said, "X is important," he'd say, "No, actually, Y is important." For two hours. And I could tell that if I'd said, "Y is important," he would've argued for X.

    I saw this

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  • Who Knew? Lucky Charms Actually Work

    horseshoeAssay: I've been thinking a lot lately about superstition.

    Superstition is the irrational belief that an object or behavior has the power to influence an outcome, when there's no logical connection between them.

    Most of us aren't superstitious-but most of us are a littlestitious.

    Relying on lucky charms is superstitious, but in fact, it actually works. Researchers have found that people who believe they have luck on their side feel greater "self-efficacy"-the belief that we're capable of doing what we set out to do-and this belief actually boosts mental and physical performance. Many elite athletes, for instance, are deeply superstitious, and in one study, people who were told that a golf ball "has turned out to be a lucky ball" did better putting than people who weren't told that.

    Any discussion of superstition reminds me of a perhaps-apocryphal story that I love, about physicist Niels Bohr. Bohr noticed that a friend had a horseshoe mailed above the door, and he asked

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  • A Menu of Options for Making Small Talk


    Small talk can be a big problem. I want to be friendly and polite, but I just can't think of a thing to say.

    Here are some strategies I try when my mind is a blank:

    1. Comment on a topic common to both of you at the moment: the food, the room, the occasion, the weather (yes, talking about the weather is a cliche, but it works). "How do you know our host?" "What brings you to this event?" But keep it on the positive side! Unless you can be hilariously funny, the first time you come in contact with a person isn't a good time to complain.

    2. Comment on a topic of general interest. A friend scans Google News right before he goes anywhere where he needs to make small talk, so he can say, "Did you hear that Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post?" or whatever.

    3. Ask a question that people can answer as they please. My favorite question is: "What's keeping you busy these days?" It's useful because it allows people to choose their focus (work, volunteer, family, hobby) -

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  • More Questions for the Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers Out There

    fourinawordMore questions about the Four Rubin Tendencies.

    I'm still obsessed with the four categories I've developed-which, for lack of a better name, I'm currently calling the Four Rubin Tendencies. Or maybe I'm calling it the Rubin Character Index. Which name do you like better?

    These categories 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, train for a marathon).

    To learn more about the Four Rubin Tendencies, read here and here. In a nutshell:

    Upholders respond readily to both inner and outer expectations

    Questioners question all expectations, but will follow expectations if they think the expectations are sensible (effectively making all expectations into inner expectations)

    Rebels resist all expectations

    Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

    Note: When I write about this

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  • Mindy Kaling’s Rules for Writing in a “Voice Checklist.”

    mindy-kaling-mindy-projectI'm a huge fan of Mindy Kaling. She is one of the geniuses behind one of my very favorite TV shows, The Office-and also played the great character, Kelly Kapoor. I love her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). And I'm looking forward to binge-watching her newish TV show, The Mindy Project. (Added bonus: I love anything that's an "___ Project.")

    Mindy Kaling also gave one of my favorite happiness interviews here. One great passage: "When I was 18 years old, I took a semester off from college and was an intern at Late Night With Conan O'Brien. It was the most glamorous job I ever had, and I idolized the writers there. I remember lying in bed every night telling myself that if I ever got a job as a comedy writer, I would be so happy and all my dreams would have come true. Six years later I got that job, working on The Office. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for a about a week, and then a whole new set of complaints set in. This would've shocked and

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  • Why I Consult My “Manager,” and Why She Always Takes My Calls

    Two dice displaying on a wooden surfaceDo you sometimes feel as if you're two people? For a long time, I struggled to identify the metaphor to describe the tension between my two selves-between now-Gretchen and future-Gretchen, between the want-self and should-self. Is it Jeckyll and Hyde? The angel and devil on my shoulders? The elephant and the rider? The ego, the id, and the super-ego?

    Then in a flash, I saw how to think about the two Gretchens, and how to think of myself in the third person, as a way better to understand myself and direct my actions. There's me, Gretchen (now-Gretchen, want-Gretchen), and there's my manager.

    I think I was inspired by my sister's Hollywood workplace lingo.

    Who is my "manager?" Well, I'm like a fabulous celebrity. I have a manager. I'm lucky, because I have the best manager imaginable. My manager understands my unique situation, interests, quirks, and values, and she's always thinking about my long-term well-being.

    I'm the boss, and I don't have to take my manager's

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  • puzzlesandwichI love taxonomies, categories, ways of dividing people into groups. If you're the same way, take these quizzes to find out what categories describe you:

    1. Are you an under-buyer or an over-buyer? I'm an under-buyer.

    2. Are you an abstainer or a moderator? I'm an abstainer, 100%.

    3. Are you an alchemist or a leopard? I'm an alchemist.

    4. Are you a radiator or a drain? I try to be a radiator.

    5. Are you a finisher or an opener? I'm a finisher.

    6. Are you a satisficer or a maximizer (yes, these are real words). I'm a satisficer.

    7. Are you more drawn to simplicity or to abundance? I'm more drawn to simplicity.

    8. Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? I'm a bit of both, but writing about happiness has definitely brought out my Tigger qualities. (I write a lot about the conflict between these two categories in Happier at Home.)

    9. Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? (categories formerly known as "tortoises and hares," but I changed the terms). I'm a marathoner.

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  • Creative Writing 101, Or, Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction

    vonnegut_kurt0412I've recently become a fan of reading collections of letters (a form which is disappearing, now that we don't write letters much anymore), and I read a recommendation somewhere to read Kurt Vonnegut's letters.

    From there, I was drawn to a collection of his short fiction, named-paradoxically-Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.

    In the Introduction, Vonnegut provides his rules for "Creative Writing 101":

    1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
    2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
    3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
    4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
    5. Start as close to the end as possible.
    6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
    7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make
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  • The Disappearance of This New York Icon Made Me a Little Sad

    metmuseumI was so sad-quite disproportionately sad-when I read that after forty-two years, the Metropolitan Museum has decided to discontinue the use of its medal admissions tags. The price of the tin got too high.

    I've always loved those metal admission buttons; I loved their changing colors, the nice feeling of bending the tin in my fingers, the feeling of satisfaction I got when I put the button in the special receptacle on the way out of the museum.

    And now they're gone! An icon of New York City-finished.

    My mother is visiting from Kansas City, and she visited the museum, so I just saw her wearing the newfangled admissions sticker. "It's just not the same," I told her.

    The end of the buttons is a good reminder: appreciate the little things while they last, because even things that seem as though they'd never change, will change. Feel grateful for those tiny pleasures that are so easy to take for granted.

    I'm reminded of Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay":

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  • Quiz: Are You a Finisher or an Opener?

    toothpaste-gelI love dividing people into categories. Under-buyers and over-buyers. Eeyores and Tiggers. Abstainers and Moderators. Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers.

    A thoughtful reader and fellow lover of taxonomies, Dianne Volek, suggested a new system of categories. Let's call the two types of people "Finishers and Openers."

    Do you get more satisfaction from…

    • Throwing away a container or bottle after using the very last drop, or
    • Opening a fresh new container

    I'm a Finisher; my husband is an Opener. I love to extract the last tiny bit out of a tube of toothpaste, and he loves opening the new tube. True, I do love that first squeeze, and the first dip into a new jar of peanut butter, but I also enjoy using the very last bit of the old stuff. I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I use the last egg in a carton (as I did this morning).

    Perhaps this explains the weird satisfaction I feel when something breaks or is worn out. Why do I like to see the worn spots

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