Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • 8 tips for dealing with criticism

    I have a very hard time being criticized, corrected, or accused - even of the smallest mistakes - and I react very angrily. I've wrestled this instinct under control in a professional context, more or less, but I have more trouble with it at home. All it takes is for the Big Girl to say something like, "You forgot to remind me to bring my library book," to send me into a tirade. "What do you mean…it's not my responsibility…I didn't know Wednesday was Library Day…" etc., etc.

    More and more, I see the connection between perfectionism, control, and anger. Zoikes, how I try to be more mild-mannered and easy-going! Here are some of the strategies that I try to use to accept criticism. If I manage to use them, they never fail me, but it can be hard to have the mindfulness needed to apply them.

    1. Listen to what a critic is saying. Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don't just nod while you formulate your retorts.

    2. Don't be defensive. This is the toughest

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  • Feeling Happier: 9 Tips for Making Yourself Feel Better in a Crisis

    When something bad happens, how do you make yourself feel better? Maybe you've lost your job. Maybe you've been crushed in a relationship. What can you do to lift your spirits?

    1. Remind yourself, "It could be worse." Making a downward comparison by comparing your situation to people with worse troubles puts your problems into perspective. Because I live in New York City, I know a lot of people who have lost their jobs. When talking about it, they often say things like, "We have two healthy children, and that's what's important" or "We almost moved to London a few months ago, we're so glad we didn't, and so we're here near our family and friends now." They're reminding themselves that, in many ways, they're fortunate.

    2. Remember your body. Take a twenty-minute walk outside to boost your energy and dissolve stress. Don't let yourself get too hungry. Get enough sleep. When you're anxious, it's easy to stay up late cruising the internet and eating ice cream -- and that's going

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  • 6 Tips for Boosting Your Sense of Self-Respect.

    Maybe you've lost your job. Maybe you didn't get the promotion you were hoping for. Maybe your sweetheart broke up with you. People say "Don't take it personally" and "Don't let it get to you," but that's very hard to do.

    If you're feeling disheartened, what are some strategies for making yourself feel better about yourself? It's pretty clear that repeating "I'm the greatest!" or winning a trophy along with every other second-grade soccer player isn't a good way to build healthy self-esteem.

    At the same time, it's a rare person who isn't sometimes - or often - plagued with painful self-doubt. When you're feeling lousy about yourself, what can you do to feel better?

    Here's the secret. To build your self-respect…do something worthy of your respect. To like yourself better…do something that makes you likable. It's tempting to think that support and encouragement from other people will reassure you, but A) often that doesn't work and B) often you can't winkle other people

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  • Quiz: Are You a Moderator or an Abstainer?

    Often, we know we'd have more long-term happiness if we gave up something that gives us a rush of satisfaction in the short-term. That morning doughnut, that impulse purchase, staying up too late watching TV.

    A piece of advice I often see is, "Be moderate. Don't have ice cream every night, but if you try to deny yourself altogether, you'll fall off the wagon. Allow yourself to have the occasional treat, it will help you stick to your plan."

    I've come to believe that this is good advice for some people: the "moderators." They do better when they try to make moderate changes, when they avoid absolutes and bright lines.

    For a long time, I kept trying this strategy of moderation - and failing. Then I read a line from Samuel Johnson: "Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult." Like Dr. Johnson, I'm an "abstainer."

    I find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately. When I admitted to myself that I was eating my favorite

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  • A Halloween tradition that makes me and the grandparents happy.

    I've started a satisfying tradition that meets my resolution to "be a storehouse of happy memories." (And why is that a happiness-project goal? because reflecting on happy times in the past helps boost happiness in the present.)

    Every Halloween, I take a picture of the Big Girl-and now the Little Girl, as well-in their Halloween costumes, put the photos in a Halloween-themed picture frame, and make a Halloween photo gallery.

    I also give a copy to each pair of grandparents, so they have their own set as well.

    Now, like any tradition, it's a fair amount of trouble and a potential source of guilt. For example, this year, for the first time, I didn't have the photos ready by October 31. I've taken the photo, but haven't managed to order copies or buy the frames yet. So our gallery wasn't up-to-date.

    And I feel bad about that.

    But I'll get it done, and in the end, a tradition like this is worth the effort and the guilt. It's a lot of bang for the buck. It's so much fun to

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  • Your Happiness Project: Do something festive.

    I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now.

    One February, I happened to stop by a friend's house around Valentine's Day, and I saw how she'd set the table for a holiday breakfast. Nothing too elaborate, but very decorated and fun - heart-shaped placemats, some candy, sticky-pads in the shape of hearts, etc. She explained that because of her family's schedules, they have a tough time eating dinner together, so she uses breakfast as a time to celebrate.

    I thought that this was a FANTASTIC idea. Festive, easy to set the table the night before, easy to schedule, lots of happiness bang for the buck. I vowed that I would copy her - but for a variety of reasons, this morning was the first time I had a real opportunity to set up a holiday breakfast.

    I had a lot of fun creating it. My kids often eat peanut butter on toast

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  • Money: 9 Tips to Avoid Overspending.

    One source of unhappiness for people is feeling out of control of their spending - and this is a problem that's far more widespread now than it was a year ago. Feeling regret about having bought something is a very unpleasant sort of unhappiness.

    Being an under-buyer, as opposed to an over-buyer, I don't generally have much trouble avoiding overspending. I have more trouble prodding myself to make the effort to buy things I actually need.

    Nevertheless, even with my under-buying ways, I sometimes come home with something I didn't really need to buy. Stores use extremely clever strategies to winkle customers into making purchases. Here are some strategies to make sure you don't make purchases you regret:

    1. Be wary of the check-out areas. There are lots of enticing little items here; ask yourself if you really need something before you add it to your pile. How many times have I picked up a jar of Balmex?

    2. Get in and get out. The more time you spend in a store, the

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  • Five Tips for Getting a Little Kid to Take “No” for an Answer.

    My three-year-old hates being told "No" and "Don't," and she's also one of those kids who immediately does exactly what you ask her not to do, so I've had to develop some strategies to get the "No" message across without unleashing the very behavior I want to stop.

    I realized that although she doesn't want to hear "no," my daughter responds very well to certain kinds of explanations. While "It's not healthy," "We don't have time," and "I don't want to buy that" don't work very well, other justifications for saying "no" are more effective:

    1. "It's for safety." For some reason, my daughter wisely accepts safety as an absolute directive, so I invoke it whenever possible. For example, I characterized the "no slamming doors" rule as a safety rule, not a noise/behavior rule. "When people slam doors, eventually, people get their fingers smashed. So for safety, no slamming doors."

    2. "That's just for decoration." We can walk into a store crammed with treats or gimcracks, and

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  • How to Be Happier: Ten Tips for Being a More Light-Hearted Parent.

    One of my Twelve Commandments is "Lighten up," and I have a lot of resolutions aimed at trying to be a more light-hearted parent: less nagging, more laughing. We all want a peaceful, cheerful, even joyous, atmosphere at home - but we can't nag and yell our way to get there. Here are some strategies that help me:

    1. At least once a day, make each child helpless with laughter.

    2. Sing in the morning. It's hard both to sing and to maintain a grouchy mood, and it sets a happy tone for everyone-particularly in my case, because I'm tone deaf and my audience finds my singing a source of great hilarity.

    3. Get enough sleep yourself. It's so tempting to stay up late, to enjoy the peace and quiet. But morning comes fast. Along the same lines…

    4. Wake up before your kids. We were so rushed in the morning that I started getting up half an hour earlier than my children. That means I can get myself organized, check my email, post to Slate, and get my bag packed before they get up.

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  • Eight Tips for Conquering Anger and Irritability

    Hah. It's really quite preposterous for me to offer up a tips list on this subject. A tendency to fly off the handle is one of my most disagreeable and persistent traits, and something I battle with - largely unsuccessfully - every day. For me, anger is the most tempting of the seven deadly sins. At best, you could describe me as "edgy."

    This list shows the strategies I try to use to keep myself patient and mild-mannered, but I certainly can't claim that they've been wholly successful. I still lose my temper far too often; however, I do think I'm doing a better job than I would be if I weren't following these tips:

    1. Pay attention to my body. Being too cold, too hot, and especially being too hungry, makes me far more irritable.

    2. Don't drink. I basically gave up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent.

    3. Acknowledge the reality of other people's feelings (usually this arises with my husband or daughters). Instead of snapping back answers like "I don't

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