Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Seven tips for defusing a child's tantrum.

    We all know we're supposed to set reasonable boundaries, have clear expectations, follow predictable routines, blah, blah, blah-but what can you do right this minute if your child is starting to howl with frustration after learning that no, actually, we're out of Cheerios?

    These are strategies that have worked for me.

    The secret is to acknowledge the reality of children's wishes. This sounds obvious, but think about how easy it is to deny their feelings: "You can't possibly want another Lego set, you never play with the ones you have." "That toy is just junk." "You can't be hungry, you just had dinner." "Of course you want to go, you love going to Grandpa's house." "You're not scared of clowns."

    When you don't fight children's feelings, they're better able to handle frustration.

    1. Write it down. This is weirdly effective, even with kids too young to read. Seeing you put words on paper reassures them that you've registered their desires. At first, with the Big Girl,

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  • Tips...to get good sleep

    There's a lot of advice out there about getting good sleep; here are tips that work for me:

    Good habits for good sleep:
    1. Exercise most days, even if it's just to take a walk.
    2. No caffeine after 7:00 p.m.
    3. An hour before bedtime, avoid doing any kind of work that takes alert thinking. Addressing envelopes-okay. Analyzing an article-nope.
    4. Adjust your bedroom temperature to be slightly chilly.
    5. Keep your bedroom dark. Studies show that even the tiny light from a digital alarm clock can disrupt a sleep cycle. We have about six devices in our room that glow bright green; it's like sleeping in a mad scientist's lab. The Big Man's new pet, a Roomba (yes, he loves his robot vacuum), gives out so much light that I have to cover it with a pillow before bed.
    6. Keep the bedroom as tidy as possible. It's not restful to fight through chaos into bed.

    If sleep won't come:
    1. Breathe deeply and slowly until you can't stand it anymore.
    2. If

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  • Eleven Myths of De-Cluttering.

    One of my great realizations about happiness (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is that outer order contributes to inner calm.

    But as much as most of us want to keep our home, office, car, etc. in reasonable order, it's tough. Here's a list of some myths of de-cluttering that make it harder to get rid of stuff.

    Myths of Cluttering:
    1. "I need to get organized." No! Don't get organized is your first step.

    2. "I need to be hyper-organized." I fully appreciate the pleasure of having a place for everything, and perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe it's easier to put things away in an exact place, rather than a general place ("the third shelf of the coat closet," not "a closet.") However, this impulse can become destructive: if you're spending a lot of time alphabetizing your spices, organizing your shoes according to heel height, creating eighty categories for your home files, etc., consider whether you need to be quite so precisely

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  • 8 psychological terms to help strengthen your friendships

    Ancient philosophers and modern scientists agree: the most essential key to happiness is strong relationships with other people.

    We all have many kind of relationships that contribute to our happiness, and one of the most important is our friendships. My happiness-project resolutions aimed at friendship include "Cut people slack," "Show up," "Make three friends," "Bring people together," "Remember birthdays," "No gossip," and "Say hello."

    Here are eight psychological terms and principles that I've found helpful as I've been trying to build and strengthen my friendships.

    1. Triadic closure. In a phenomenon called "triadic closure," people tend to befriend the friends of their friends - and this is very satisfying. Friendships thrive on inter-connection, and it's both energizing and comforting to feel that you're building not just friendships, but a social network. I now make much more of an effort to help my friends become friends with each other, and to befriend friends'

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  • Six tips for tackling a dreaded task.

    Going to the gym. Practicing a new skill when you have no skill. Giving bad news. Dealing with tech support.

    We all have to make ourselves do things that we just don't want to do. Here are some tricks I've learned that help me power through the procrastination.

    1. Do it first thing in the morning. If you're dreading doing something, you're going to be able to think of more creative excuses as the day goes along. One of my Twelve Commandments is "Do it now." No delay is the best way.

    2. If you find yourself putting off a task that you try to do several times a week, try doing it EVERY day, instead. When I was planning my blog, I envisioned posting two or three times a week. Then Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy convinced me that no, I needed to post every day. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I think it's easier to do it every day (well, except Sundays) than fewer times each week. There's no dithering, there's no juggling. I know I have to post, so I do. If you're

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  • Tips for phrases you should NOT allow yourself to say to your sweetheart.

    Research shows that the quality of a couple's friendship plays a huge role in their happiness with their marriage's romance and passion.

    Kindness and helpfulness may not sound like particularly sexy qualities, but turns out - they are. A recent New Yorker cartoon summed this up perfectly. A guy in an SUV is talking into his cell phone: "Hey, baby, I just dropped the kids off at school, and now I'm going to the grocery store, and then I'm going home and unloading the car - am I making you hot?"

    I'm working hard to nag less, to say "Thanks" more often, to be more light-hearted, and to stop slinking away when I see the Big Man doing a chore.

    I'm also trying to "fight right" - to use gentle words, keep a sense of humor, and let the sun go down on my anger.

    Here are some phrases I've eliminated (I hope) from my conversation. I've learned that you just can't say such things if you're trying to fight right:

    Don't start.
    What's that supposed to mean?
    Haven't we

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  • Do you WANT to annoy someone? Do you want to pretend to be generous, while in fact, you're behaving in a way that's irritating or perhaps even hurtful?

    Never fear, you can be inconsiderate, and even controlling and sabotaging-under the cloak of thoughtfulness!

    Here are some suggestions, just to spark your thinking:

    1. Bring over a rich dessert to a person who is perpetually trying to lose weight.
    2. Ignore a wedding-gift registry and give a couple a gift they haven't registered for.
    3. Buy a toy that makes a loud noise-or maybe even a pet!-as a surprise for someone else's child.
    4. Even in the face of polite protest, insist that everyone must come to your house for Thanksgiving dinner.
    5. Tell your child, "I'm happy to pay for college-but only if you major in XX or XX. Otherwise, you're on your own."

    If you don't think about it much, you might manage to fool even yourself into thinking that you're behaving with someone else's benefit in mind.

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  • Tips for using Ziploc bags

    For years, I hesitated to use Ziploc bags. I've always loved them, but it seemed very wasteful to buy a bunch of plastic bags, especially because so often they'd just be thrown away. (I knew I would never be one of those people who will wash and re-use Ziploc bags.)

    Then, when we moved, we made a big run to a discount store to stock up on all sorts of supplies: cleaners, trash bags, light-bulbs, and Ziploc bags. We bought all sizes: the prototypical "sandwich" size, the cunning, small "snack" size, the gallon, and my favorite, the two-gallon.

    With all those Ziploc bags in the house, I caved. I couldn't resist all that handiness. Now I use Ziploc bags all the time. Some suggestions:

    1. Whenever I get a new electronic gizmo, I start a special Ziploc bag for it. I label the bag with the name of the device ("Vaio laptop," "digital camera") and the date. Inside the bag, I put all wires, disks, manuals-all the paraphernalia that come with a new piece of equipment. I keep all

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  • 10 hilarious tips for writing from Mark Twain

    Novelist James Fenimore Cooper is out of fashion now (unless he's sprung back into fashion without my noticing, entirely possible), but his novels, like the The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans, were highly praised in their time. Mark Twain disagreed with that praise.

    You can't get the full hilarious effect of Twain's essay Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences unless you read the whole thing, but we can all learn from his rules for writing. Here are some of my favorites from his list.

    Mark Twain divides his rules into large rules and little rules-all violated by James Fenimore Cooper:

    Large rules:
    1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

    2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

    3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

    4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive,

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  • Eleven internet tools to help make yourself happier.

    The internet is a treasure trove. I'm constantly amazed by the astounding information and tools that are out there.

    I've found several sites that provide great services that help boost happiness, in one way or another. I've used all of these myself and have found them extremely useful.

    1. Happybirthday.com - one of the keys to happiness is keeping close relationships with other people. I plugged in dozens of birthdays to get reminders, and now I never forget a birthday. A friend of mine also uses Happybirthday.com to remind himself of happy anniversaries, like the day his daughter said her first word.

    2. An RSS reader -- looking for ways to use your time more efficiently? If you find yourself visiting a lot of different sites, use an RSS reader instead of your "favorites" list or typing in the URL. I use FeedDemon, but there are many readers from which to choose. It's a far more efficient way to cruise through the internet.

    For example, consider subscribing to my RSS

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