Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • I Am Constantly, Compulsively Worrying Over the Choices I Made

    cullenHappiness interview: Lisa Takeuchi Cullen (@lisacullen).

    I met Lisa through a writers' group; oh, how I love to belong to groups. She's a woman of many writing talents-journalism, fiction, TV-writing (in fact, did a pilot for CBS this season)-and I couldn't wait to read her new novel.

    And it doesn't disappoint. Pastors' Wives is utterly absorbing, and a fascinating look at a particular world, and several engaging characters. I couldn't put it down.

    Happiness is a major theme of the book, so I was very curious to hear what Lisa had to say.

    Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

    Lisa: I talk to my sister every day on the phone. We're twelve months and two weeks apart in age, and growing up we shared a bedroom, Jordache jeans, and AquaNet hairspray (but never boyfriends…that would be weird). After college we roomed together in New York City, and after we got married, we bought houses eight miles apart in New Jersey. But with kids and

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  • Have You Ever Thought, “This Time is Different?”

    lightmatchI have a friend who has started a new course of healthful eating. She told me, "This time is different. I've struggled with my weight my whole life, I've been on a thousand diets, but this time I'm changing my eating habits for good."

    I think many of us have had a similar experience, when we've thought: "This time is different," "Something just clicked," "I see the light," "I have to do this now." For me, this kind of realization often takes the form of, "At last, this is the approach I've been looking for."

    Here are my questions for you:

    Have you had this experience? If so, with what aspect of your life?

    Did it turn out to be true that "this time is different"?

    Did change come gradually or suddenly?

    Did the change stick with you, or did you drift back to your former behavior?

    If you did drift back to your former behavior, how long did the change stick? Did it leave any lasting marks?

    (If you want more questions for self-knowledge, read on here.)

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  • Are You More Drawn to Simplicity or to Abundance?

    geometric reflectionI love dividing the world into categories. Abstainers and moderators. Radiators and drains. Leopards and alchemists. Marathoners and sprinters (formerly known as "tortoises and hares"-I like this terminology better, how about you?)

    I've come up with a new distinction, but I'm still turning it over in my mind. I'm not sure it works out…I would love to hear your response.

    A conversation between two friends, at my children's literature reading group meeting, inspired me to notice this.

    One friend said, "I always want to feel empty," and a friend responded, "I always want to feel full." (They were speaking metaphorically.)

    I thought this was just about the most interesting pair of remarks that I'd ever heard. I wasn't able to pursue this conversation at the time, but I plan to.

    In the meantime, it got me thinking: is this a distinction?

    Does one group-I'll call them the simplicity lovers-prefer to have less, subtraction, emptiness, bare surfaces, few choices,

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  • The Happiness Lesson from the Finale of the TV Show “The Office”

    officefinalMy daughters and I are huge fans of the TV show, The Office (the American version). We have the DVDs, we've watched every episode several times, and they get funnier each time.

    Now, admittedly, you may question the wisdom of allowing an eight-year-old to watch the show. But I always watch with her, and I skip through the inappropriate parts.

    One thing that my happiness project has taught me is that my own frame of mind can significantly boost (or diminish) the amount of happiness I get from something.

    Therefore, one of my aims has been to boost my feelings of pleasant expectancy-to make little things into real events, so that I can look forward to them and revel in them, instead of letting them pass by only half-noticed. With a little mindfulness, I can often re-frame activities to help myself anticipate them more.

    So when I read that the finale of The Office would air on May 16, I first thought, "Oh, too bad, the show is over." Then I thought-wait! This is an

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  • How Well Do You Know Yourself? Take This Quiz

    mirrorpennyA key-perhaps the key-to a happy life is self-knowledge, because as the Fifth Splendid Truth holds, I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. In my own case, I've found that the more my life reflects my real interests, values, and temperament, the happier I become.

    But it's very hard to know ourselves; it's easy to be distracted by the way we wish we were, or think we ought to be, or what others think we should be, until we lose sight of what is actually true. There's a sadness to self-knowledge.

    As Christopher Alexander observed: "It is hard, so terribly hard, to please yourself. Far from being the easy thing that it sounds like, it is almost the hardest thing in the world, because we are not always comfortable with that true self that lies deep within us."

    Here is a list of questions meant to help you think about yourself, your daily habits, your nature, and your interests. There are no right or wrong answers; they're fodder for reflection.

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  • A Surprising but Effective Way to Figure Out What Someone Really Thinks

    Over the weekend, I was trying to remember something I'd read in Tyler Cowen's book, Discover Your Inner Economist: Using Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist.

    And I looked it up-so interesting!

    Sometimes when we ask a question, we know that people might be reluctant to give a true opinion. Maybe they're worried about angering someone else, or appearing unsophisticated, or admitting what they actually think or do.

    Tyler Cowen made an observation that I think is absolutely fascinating, and one that provides a possible solution to this non-disclosure problem. He writes:

    To get a person's real opinion, ask what she thinks everyone else believes…If people truly hold a particular belief, they are more likely to think that others agree or have had similar experiences. For instance, if a man has had more than thirty sexual partners, he will more likely think that such behavior is common. After all, his life is one 'data

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  • 7 Tips for Making Other People Feel Smart and Insightful

    smartWe all want to get along well with other people, and one way to do this is to help people feel good about themselves. If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company. The point is not to be manipulative, but to help other people feel good about their contributions to a conversation.

    Here are some suggestions…

    1. Take notes. I'm a compulsive note-taker, and I used to feel self-conscious about pulling out my little notebook and taking notes during a casual conversation. Then I noticed that people really seemed to enjoy it; the fact that I was taking notes made their remarks seem particularly insightful or valuable. Now I don't hold myself back.

    2. Refer to a comment that the person made earlier in the conversation. "This ties to your earlier point about…" This reference shows a person that you're tracking and remembering their comments very closely. And give people credit for their ideas! The terrific Ramit Sethi gave me the idea for

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  • Does Announcing a Resolution Make You More or Less Likely to Keep It?

    NewYearsResolutionsMy recent post, Beware of "decoy habits," spurred a lot of conversation, and it's clear to me that the subject is much more complex, and interesting, than I initially realized.

    Readers made many thought-provoking comments. One reader pointed to research that suggests that talking about a goal can lead to the false feeling of already having achieved that goal. I've seen that research-and I've also seen research suggesting that talking about a goal can help you stick to that goal, by making you feel more committed, and also more accountable to the people you've told. So it seems to go both ways.

    From my own experience-a statistically insignificant yet often helpful data point-this is a point on which people differ. Some do better if they don't talk it up too much; some do better if they tell others what they want to do.

    Exhibit A is my former roommate, who told people that she did yoga, and telling them seemed to convince her that she did, in fact, do yoga. Perhaps

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  • The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader

    booksopeninvitingA thoughtful reader pointed out a wonderful list written by French author Daniel Pennac, in The Rights of the Reader.

    As someone who loves to read-practically to the exclusion of everything else-I love this list.

    The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader
    1. The right not to read
    2. The right to skip
    3. The right not to finish a book
    4. The right to re-read
    5. The right to read anything
    6. The right to "Bovary-ism," a textually transmitted disease (the right to mistake a book for real life)
    7. The right to read anywhere
    8. The right to dip in
    9. The right to read out loud
    10. The right to be silent

    If you'd like to see the list as illustrated by Quentin Blake, look here.

    I recently posted about my new determination "not to finish a book," and I fully support #3. I love to re-read, so I was happy to see #4. My younger daughter is a big supporter of #9. My husband practices #8.

    What do you think of the list? Anything

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  • Now I Stop Reading a Book If I Don’t Enjoy It. Do You?

    booksingiantpileOne of the most important elements of my identity is my identity as a reader. I love to read-really, if I'm honest with myself, it's practically the only activity that I truly love to do.

    As part of that identity, I'd developed the habit of finishing every book I read. Once I started, I felt committed. A "real" reader like me finishes books and also gives authors the benefit of the doubt ("maybe this book will get better after the first 50 pages"). Right?

    But I realized that I was spending a fair amount of my precious reading time reading books that didn't really interest me. I'd finish these just because I felt as though I "should" and for the bragging rights of being able to say that I'd read them.

    I decided to set myself a new habit: Stop reading a book if I don't enjoy it. (I consider getting valuable information from a book as a form of "enjoyment," even if I don't particularly enjoy the experience of reading it.)

    I've put down several books over the last few

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