Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Nine tips for giving memorable praise--and why to bother

    I just finished a very engaging book, Richard Stengel's You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery. I wish I'd had this book as a resource when I was writing my first book, Power Money Fame Sex.

    It's a treasure trove of anecdotes and observations about flattery - a topic which comes up with some frequency when you're writing about money, power, fame, and sex.

    The book is history and social criticism, but at the end, Stengel includes a list called "How to flatter without getting caught."

    To put flattery in a happier context, I adapted his list to focus on giving good praise rather than flattery. Now, what's the difference between flattery and praise? Flattery is strategic; it's praise given for a self-serving reason. But many of the same rules apply:

    1. Be specific. Vague praise doesn't make much of an impression.

    2. Find a way to praise sincerely. It's a rare situation where you can't identify something that you honestly find praiseworthy.

    3. Never offer praise

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  • 23 phrases to help you fight right

    Almost all couples fight; the secret is to fight right. I've posted about what not to say during a fight. Here are some phrases that actually help.

    I review this list from time to time, so that when I'm arguing with my husband, I remember the phrases that help me fight right. Recently, for instance, I was angry at my husband for showing - I thought - a lack of respect for my priorities. So I waited until a good moment (this itself is tough for me), and said, "I need you to listen. This is important to me." From his startled expression, he clearly thought I was starting a fight; but by warning him that I needed him to respond carefully, we managed to avoid a fight altogether.

    When my husband and I do argue, I find that the single best technique to apply is humor. If one of us can laugh and joke around, the angry mood lifts instantly. But during an argument, my sense of humor is the first thing to go.

    Failing that strategy, here are twenty-three phrases that help turn down

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  • Seven tips for making good conversation with a stranger.

    I posted before about tips for knowing if you're boring someone and tips to avoid being a bore. But while it might be fairly easy to avoid topics that are likely to bore someone, it's much harder to figure out what to say if you want to be interesting. Making polite conversation can be tough.

    "So where do you live?"
    "Chelsea."
    "Really. I live on the upper east side."
    "Great…"
    Painful silence.

    Here are some strategies to try when your 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. "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 Justice Souter is

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  • Quiz: Are you an over-buyer or an under-buyer?

    I've posted this quiz before, but I can't resist putting it up again. This distinction encapsulates one of my very favorite (if not most weighty) personal insights into human nature: the difference between over-buyers and under-buyers. I also love the satisficer/maximizer distinction, but I didn't come up with that one myself.

    It's not particularly productive to be in too deep as an over- or under-buyer; both offer certain advantages but also some definite drawbacks.

    Does one of these descriptions fit you?

    You're an over-buyer if …
    --You buy several summer outfits for your as-yet-unborn baby, then it turns out he outgrows those clothes before the weather warms up.
    --You often lay in huge supplies of slow-moving items like shampoo or cough medicine.
    --You often make a purchase, such as a tool or tech gadget, with the thought, "This will probably come in handy."
    --You have a long list of stores to visit before you travel.
    --You find yourself

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  • Do something nice: 6 tips for good deeds that take less than five minutes.

    Today: Six tips for good deeds that take less than five minutes.

    "Do good, feel good" is one of the great truths of happiness -- but you may be thinking, "Sure, good deeds would make me happy, but I barely have time to get through the essentials of my day. I don't have time to do any good deeds!"

    Wrong. Here are some ways that you can help other people-and make yourself feel great, at the same time-in under five minutes.

    1. Be friendly. I've decided that there are five degrees of social interactions with strangers: hostile, rude, neutral, polite, and friendly. I find it very difficult to be downright friendly to strangers, but I always find myself energized and cheered by a friendly interaction. It only takes an extra minute to exchange a few pleasant words, but it makes a real difference.

    2. Say "yes." If you can, and if you should, say "yes."

    3. Say "no." My sister, who is a TV-writer in Hollywood, once told me, "'Yes' comes right away; 'no' never comes." Meaning,

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  • 6 tips for preparing yourself for a vigorous, healthy old age

    Today: Six tips to prepare yourself for a vigorous, healthy old age.

    "Old age ain't no place for sissies," H. L. Mencken proclaimed.

    We all want to be energetic and pain-free for our whole lives, but just watching how older people walk down the street (or are pushed in a wheelchair) is a reminder of how differently people age.

    Some people look great and move easily; other people who are about the same age are obviously frail.

    One of my happiness-project resolutions is to take steps now that will lay the groundwork for my life decades from now. Studies show that even modest changes can have a dramatic effect on health and longevity.

    Here are six tips I follow that will, I hope, set me up to be strong and healthy in my old age:

    1. Exercise regularly. There are different theories to explain why aerobic exercise promotes brain regeneration and wards off decline, but for whatever reason, it does have that effect.

    2. Yoga. Falls are a major danger to older adults,

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  • Twelve tips to create a happier (and more productive) workplace

    I just finished First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. I'd heard about it for years, but I didn't actually pick up a copy until a smart friend told me to read it.

    The authors did a study with the Gallup Organization to find a way, among other things, to measure strong workplaces, ones that would attract and retain the most productive employees.

    They came up with a list of twelve questions, where, if employees answered "yes" and were happier in their workplaces, they tended to work in business units with higher levels of productivity, profit, retention, and customer satisfaction - which shows that there is a link between how employees feel and how they perform.

    This is a good list to use if you're a manager who wants to create a happier and more productive work environment, or if you're a job seeker/holder who wants criteria by which to judge a workplace.

    Also, if you're not happy at work, and you're trying to Identify the problem, take a look

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  • How to be happier in 4 easy lessons.

    I realized that I've never done a post about my Four Splendid Truths, although I think about them all the time.

    I named these realizations the "Four Splendid Truths" because I was reading a lot about Buddhism when I started to come up with the list.

    I get a tremendous kick out of the numbered lists that pop up throughout Buddhism: the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the eight auspicious symbols: parasol, golden fish, treasure vase, lotus, conch shell, endless knot, victory banner, and dharma wheel. (After I formulated the First Splendid Truth, I just had to assume that I'd end up with more than one.)

    Each one of these truths sounds fairly obvious and straightforward, but each was the product of tremendous thought. Take the Second Splendid Truth - it's hard to exaggerate the clarity I gained when I managed to identify it. Here they are:

    First Splendid Truth
    To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right

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  • Seven tips if you're chronically late.

    Feeling as though you're always running twenty minutes behind schedule is an unhappy feeling. Having to rush, forgetting things in your haste, dealing with annoyed people when you arrive…it's no fun.

    If you find yourself chronically late, what steps can you take to be more prompt? That depends on why you're late. As my Eighth Commandment holds, the first step is to Identify the problem - then you can see more easily what you need to change.

    There are many reasons you might be late, but some are particularly common. Are you late because…

    1.You sleep too late? If you're so exhausted in the morning that you sleep until the last possible moment, it's time to think about going to sleep earlier. Many people don't get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is a real drag on your happiness and health. Try to turn off the light sooner each night.

    2.You try to get one last thing done? Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. If you always try to answer one more email or

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  • 8 excellent tips for living that my parents gave me

    Eight excellent tips for living my parents gave me.

    My mother:
    --"Stay calm." My mother probably reminds of this three or four times each time I see her. I really need this advice. Every day.
    --"The things that go wrong often make the best memories." My mother told me this when we were getting ready for my wedding. It's a very good thing to keep in mind, because it's absolutely true, and it can also help you laugh at a bad situation while it's happening.
    --"You like to have a few things that you really like, instead of lots of choices." Okay, this advice might not be widely applicable, but it was a huge revelation to me about my own nature. My mother made this comment in the context of clothes, but it's true in many areas of my life.
    --"That's so wonderful! Be grateful, because you worked hard for what you got, and you deserved it, but others also worked hard, and people don't always get what they deserve." My mother made this observation when I called home to

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