Blog Posts by Gretchen Rubin

  • Want a Simple Way to Calm Yourself? Describe Your Emotion in One or Two Words

    calm_waterOver the weekend, I read David Rock's very interesting book, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long.

    One strategy particularly struck me: if you're feeling a negative emotion, you can work to reduce it by labeling it in one or two words. Note, however, that thinking or talking at length about the emotional state tends to intensify it - while simply observing and labeling it helps to quell it.

    I do this myself, instinctively. I find myself thinking, "I'm overwhelmed" or "I'm frazzled" or "I'm feeling defensive" - and it's odd how calming it is. Just putting a label on a feeling helps me to master it.

    For those who enjoy reading about what's happening in their right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and elsewhere, Rock explains how brain function accounts for this phenomenon.

    How about you? Have you ever tried a strategy like this - and did it work?

    Also ...

    • Lots of great material on

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  • Don’t Wait. Start Stuff. Live Now. Be Present. Live with Meaning and Real Intent

    richie-norton1Happiness interview: Richie Norton.

    I heard about Richie Norton's new book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid when a friend told me about it - and what a great title, right? It reminds me of my resolution to Enjoy the fun of failure. As his book reveals, Richie has done a a lot of thinking about creativity, innovation, and risk-all of which can be important to a happy life-so I was interested to hear what he had to say.

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

    Richie: I have to list three, because each is equally as, um, happifying- surfing, laughing with my beautiful wife, and wrestling on the trampoline with my boys. (In no particular order.)

    What's something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?

    I've always had a fairly optimistic disposition, but something I've learned over the years is that while optimism is certainly important and praiseworthy, it is often superficial and lacking in

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  • 7 Tips to Fight the Deadly Feeling of Boredom

    WatchingPaintDryOne of the patron saints of my Happier at Home project, Samuel Johnson, wrote, "It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible."

    One "little thing" that can be a source of unhappiness is boredom. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for the subway. Doing the dishes. Waiting in a doctor's office. Listening to your thirteen-year-old talk through her different clothing options for the day.

    Here are seven tips to re-frame the moment; even if you can't escape a situation, by re-framing your emotions about it, you can transform it.

    - Put the word "meditation" after the activity that's boring you. (This is my invention.) If you're impatient while waiting for the bus, tell yourself you're doing "Bus waiting meditation." If you're standing in a slow line at the drugstore, you're doing "Waiting in line meditation." Just saying these words makes me feel very spiritual and high-minded and wise.

    -- Dig in. As they

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  • Do You Make Excuses for Yourself Based on the “One-Coin Argument”? I Do

    us-coinsI love paradoxes, parables, koans, aphorisms, fables, Secrets of Adulthood, and teaching stories of all kinds.

    Several months ago, I posted about the "one-coin problem." This is my phrase to describe what's also known as "the argument of the growing heap":

    "If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so."

    Once I started looking for it, I began to notice the one-coin problem popping up in all sorts of places-in my own head, and in what other people say to me.

    "It doesn't matter if I skip the gym today. What difference will it make to miss one work-out?"

    "Who cares if my daughter doesn't go to bed right on time. A little less sleep isn't going to make a huge difference."

    "I'm going to have dessert. One piece of cake isn't going to kill me."

    "Tonight, I'm going to watch TV instead of read a book. I would only be

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  • 72 Proverbs from Hell. (Not the Usual Hell.)

    marriageofheavenandhellI love paradoxes, koans, parables, proverbs, Secrets of Adulthood, and aphorisms. So how have I never come across poet William Blake's Proverbs of Hell before? When I found it the other day, I couldn't believe I'd never read it before. Several of the proverbs were familiar to me, from other reading, but I didn't know their origin in his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

    Blake's "Hell," by the way, is not the traditional Hell, but a place of "unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy" (at least that's what Wikipedia says).

    These proverbs are thought-provoking; I don't agree with all of them, or understand all of them, but I love reading them. I've put some of my favorites in bold:

    In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

    Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.

    The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

    Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

    He who desires but acts not,

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  • Do You Agree with These Four Levels of Mental Energy?

    lightbulbburningpngI love coming up with different schemes-and here's a new one. I was thinking about the mental energy required by the different tasks of my life, and it struck me that this energy could be divided into four categories, in descending order of mental demand:

    1. Contemplative energy-planning, deciding, creating, inhibiting (holding myself back from saying, doing, or thinking something), setting priorities, making transitions

    2. Engagement energy-talking to other people, reading or observing with my critical faculties

    3. Audience energy-watching or listening passively

    4. Habit energy-mindlessly executing a habitual behavior

    One conclusion: when I feel too tired to do anything except Level 3, I should probably be in bed.

    To be satisfying, watching TV or checking Facebook should feel like Level 2 activities, not Level 3. Watching Homeland is a different experience from flipping through the channels. True, occasionally Level 3 is just what I'm in the mood for, but I

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  • Embrace Good Smells. In a Museum

    scentexhibitMADOne of my very favorite resolutions is my resolution to Cultivate good smells. I'm obsessed with the delights of the sense of smell.

    Loving beautiful fragrances quickly leads to a greater appreciation of perfume, and I'm now a perfume fanatic.

    So you can imagine my delight at visiting the Museum of Arts and Design's exhibit, The Art of Scent 1889-2012. The exhibit present twelve pivotal fragrances in history of scent.

    I visited it for the second time last night, and had the chance to hear the brilliant Chandler Burr, organizer of the exhibit, explain why these particular perfumes were chosen. Jicky, Chanel No. 5, Drakkar Noir, Angel, Light Blue, L'Eau D'Issey, Osmanthe Yunnan, Untitled…such intriguing scents.

    You might think, "How do you exhibit a perfume?" The room is spare, with a wood floor and white walls. Along the walls are twelve depressions; you lean your head into a depression, and a puff of perfume rises up.

    It was such a pleasure to experience these

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  • What Are Your “Broken Windows”? Here’s a List of Mine

    broken-windowThe "broken windows theory" of policing holds that when a community tolerates minor examples of disorder and petty crime, such as broken windows, graffiti, turnstile-jumping, or drinking in public, people are more likely to commit more serious crimes.

    As a law-enforcement theory, it's controversial, but whether or not it's true on a city-wide level, I think it's true on a personal level.

    My "broken windows" are the particular signs of disorder that make me feel out of control and overwhelmed.

    • Unsorted mail
    • Messy stacks of newspapers
    • Shoes in odd places
    • Cluttered counters
    • Dirty dishes scattered around the apartment (for my husband, as he often emphatically reminds me, dirty dishes left overnight are broken windows; for me, as long as the dishes make it into the sink, life feels under control)

    From what I've observed, people's other "broken windows" often include:

    • Staying in pajamas or sweats all day
    • Eating food straight from the container
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  • Questions for You: Are You Oblivious to Clutter, or Know Someone Who Is?

    toothpastecapoffOne of the things that surprises me most about happiness is the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should.

    In the context of life of a happy life, something like a crowded coat closet or an overflowing in-box seems trivial-and it is trivial-and yet I find that I get a disproportionate charge of energy and good cheer from clearing clutter. An orderly environment makes me feel more in control of my life, and if this is an illusion, it's a helpful illusion.

    Even people who thrive on a little chaos tend to have a limit, and enjoy orderliness to some degree.

    However, there's a group of people who seem oblivious to clutter. They don't appear to see it at all.

    Now, I'm not talking about people who can stand to see dirty dishes scattered around, because they know if they wait, a spouse will collect the dishes (perhaps complaining all the while; see these facts about shared work). Very often, people in a couple or in

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  • mikevardyHappiness interview: Mike Vardy.

    I got to know Mike Vardy through his work on LifeHack and Productivityist, "the blog for productivity enthusiasts" (and aren't we all productivity enthusiasts?). He has a new book, The Front Nine: How To Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want, about how to create a path to success on your own terms. (The title and the book make use of the metaphor of golf.)

    This is a subject with a lot of relevance for happiness, so I was interested to hear what Mike had to say.

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

    Mike: It is the act of writing that fuels everything else that I do. It gives me the opportunity to spend quality time with my family, it gives me the opportunity to earn a living, and it gives me the opportunity to lead out all of the creativity I have stored within myself. The reason it makes me happier every time out is because I'm getting better and better at it every single time I put words to

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