Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Tips for making phone calls that you don’t want to make

    We've all had the experience of having to make phone calls that we dread making.
    Here are some tips to get yourself through these calls as painlessly as possible:

    The night before, make a list of the calls to be made, along with names, phone numbers, and any other necessary information.

    If you're making some kind of pitch or argument, rehearse in your mind what you want to say. Have an outline to make sure you hit the important points once the call begins.

    If you want to set up appointments, have some convenient times in mind.

    As soon as you get to your desk in the morning, pick up the phone and start dialing. No procrastinating, or you may never begin.

    Stand up while you talk.

    Smile and use a friendly tone.

    If you have more than one call to make, don't hang up the phone when the first call is over. Keep the phone at your ear and use your finger to disconnect the call.

    Don't let yourself be hungry, hot, cold, or in need of a bathroom when you're

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  • Eight writing tips from Flannery O'Connor.

    As part of my current obsession with Flannery O'Connor, I recently finished the volume of her collected letters, The Habit of Being.

    Her letters were fascinating, and among other thing, included some interesting advice and observation about writing. O'Connor was a very idiosyncratic persion, and this advice is idiosyncratic, which makes it more interesting than a lot of writing tips that I see collected.

    1. "Try arranging [your novel] backwards and see what you see. I thought this stunt up from my art classes, where we always turn the picture upside down, on its two sides, to see what lines need to be added. A lot of excess stuff will drop off this way."

    2. "I can discover a good many possible sources myself for Wise Blood but I am often embarrassed to find that I read the sources after I had written the book."

    3. "I suppose I am not very severe criticizing other people's manuscripts for several reasons, but first being that I don't concern myself overly with

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  • 12 mental exercises -- zany but productive.

    Dorothea Brande was an American writer and editor, well known for her books Wake Up and Live and Becoming a Writer (a useful resource for writers, by the way).

    In Wake Up and Live, she suggests twelve mental exercises to make your mind keener and more flexible. These exercises are meant to pull you out of your usual habits and to put you in situations that will demand resourcefulness and creative problem-solving. Brande argues that only by testing and stretching yourself can you develop mental strength.

    Even apart from the goals of creativity and mental flexibility, Brande's exercises make sense from a happiness perspective. One thing is clear: novelty and challenge bring happiness. People who stray from their routines, try new things, explore, and experiment tend to be happier than those who don't. Of course, as Brande herself points out, novelty and challenge can also bring frustration, anxiety, confusion, and annoyance along the way; it's the process of facing those

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  • Eight tips for how to behave yourself -- from 1500-ish.

    Studying happiness has shown me that there are very few new truths out there.

    It's like dieting. New diet books hit the shelves every day, but we know that the real secret to staying slim is to eat better (mostly plants), eat less, and exercise more.

    Likewise, the keys to leading a happy life have been around for a long time. I get a big kick out of uncovering "tips lists" from the past -- Sydney Smith's tips for cheering yourself up from 1820, Francis Bacon's tips for how to be happy from 1625, Lord Chesterfield's tips for pleasing in society from 1774.

    In De Civilitate, Erasmus gave eight tips about how to behave yourself around other people. He wrote this list around 1500 A.D., and his advice has a long shelf life.

    According to Erasmus, you should not…
    1. gossip
    2. tell unkind stories
    3. boast
    4. indulge in self-display
    5. seek to defeat others in argument
    6. interrupt people when they tell a story
    7. be too inquisitive


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  • 18 Tips that Aren't, It Turns Out, From a Churchyard

    I was over at a friend's house - for a meeting of one of my two children's literature reading groups, in fact - where I saw her framed copy of "Desiderata." ("Desiderata" is a Latin word meaning "things to be desired.") I'd seen it before, but I'd never read more than the first few lines, and I was struck by the soundness of the suggestions.

    I always thought Desiderata was an inscription in an old churchyard, but it was actually written by Max Ehrmann in 1927. This bit of information detracts from its mystique somewhat, but it's still an interesting list.

    1. Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.
    2. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
    3. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
    4. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; for they are vexations to the spirit.
    5. If you compare yourself with others you may

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  • Quiz: Do you know yourself? It's surprisingly hard.

    My friend Michael Melcher, a career coach who used to practice law, wrote an excellent (and quite funny) book called The Creative Lawyer; he also has a terrific blog. It's aimed at helping lawyers find more job satisfaction - whether within law or outside of law - but it's also a valuable resource for anyone trying to understand himself or herself better.

    In doing the Happiness Project, I've been repeatedly struck by how hard it is to "Be Gretchen." It's oddly difficult even to appreciate my own interests. I have to remind myself of one of my most important Secrets of Adulthood: just because something is fun for someone else, doesn't mean it's fun for me - and vice versa. (See left column for all the Secrets of Adulthood.)

    I've noticed that people often assume that everyone enjoys the same activities that they enjoy, because they believe those activities are inherently enjoyable - e.g., they enjoy arranging flowers because arranging flowers is just a fun thing to do. No! Not

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  • Eight tips for sparking your creativity.

    I've read a lot of advice about how to spark creativity. Everyone's creativity takes a different form, however, so the advice that works varies a lot from person to person.

    For example, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be efficient and productive. One of my struggles is to allow myself to spend time on activities that don't pay off in some direct way. Creativity often involves play, digression, exploration, experimentation, and failed attempts; it doesn't always look productive.

    These are the strategies that work best for me:

    1. Taking notes. I have a compulsion to take notes as I read. I write down quotations and bits of information that catch my interest. In fact, all my book projects have really been ways to justify taking the notes that I most wanted to take. I used to fight the urge to take notes that weren't related to a specific project, but no longer. All this note-taking is time-consuming, but in the end, highly satisfying. Along the same lines, I…


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  • 6 contradictions that will help you to be happier

    My daughter is fascinated by anything that smacks of paradox. Just yesterday, she noticed that a bank statement that I'd left on the kitchen table had a page that said, "This page intentionally left blank." "Look, Mom!" she said gleefully. "It can't be labeled that it was 'left blank.' It's not blank, it has that notice printed on it!"

    As I've worked on my Happiness Project, I've been struck by the paradoxes I kept confronting. The opposite of a great truth is also true. I try to embrace these contradictions:

    1. Accept yourself, but expect more of yourself.
    2. Keep an empty shelf, and keep a junk drawer.
    3. Take yourself less seriously-and take yourself more seriously.
    4. Use your time efficiently, yet make time to play, to wander, to read at whim, to fail.
    5. Think about yourself so you can forget yourself.
    6. The days are long, but the years are short.

    Often, the search for happiness means understanding both sides of the contradiction.

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  • Want to Make Friends? Eight Tips for Making Yourself Likable

    Well, no. You can't actually make someone like you. But you can behave in ways that will make it slightly more likely.

    We all want to feel that other people enjoy being with us, and that they seek our company. Having close relationships is one of the most meaningful elements to happiness. It's not always easy to make friends, however. To form a friendship, you must like someone -- and you must also be likable.

    How can you boost the chances that someone will like you? Here are eight strategies to keep in mind - not ways to manipulate people or to be fake, but to make sure that your desire to be friendly effectively shines through:

    1. Smile. Now, this is no shock, but studies do show that the amount of time you smile during a conversation has a direct impact on how friendly you're perceived to be. Also, people mimic the expressions on the faces they see, so if you smile, you're more likely to be smiled at. (Scientists have identified 19 types of smiles, by the way.)

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  • 6 tips for using mementos to keep happy memories vivid

    There are four stages of reveling in a moment of happiness, as you:

    -- anticipate with pleasure,
    -- savor the moment as you experience it,
    -- express your happiness to yourself or others, and
    -- reflect on a happy memory.

    One important way to cultivate #4 is to keep mementos that help you recall happy memories. Here are some tips for using mementos to keep happy memories vivid:

    1. Be Selective. Remember, the more mementos you keep, the less meaningful each one will be. Also, the bigger the collection, the more trouble it is to store and to look through. Choose wisely, and get rid of practically all of your potential mementos. When selecting a memento, choose something small and sturdy over something fragile or bulky.

    If you frame a wonderful piece of artwork that your son did in kindergarten, you can enjoy it. If you keep every piece of artwork your son did from pre-school through second grade in a huge box in the basement, you'll never look through it.

    A few items =

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