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  • gretchenrubin 14:00:47 on 2017/11/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , Scarlett Thomas   

    Which Do You Prefer? “Simple Beauty with No Explanation, or Knowing Exactly How and Why?” 

    'You know, I haven't been able to look at flowers the same way since I learnt about the Fibonacci sequence,' Violet says, stroking the pink daisies with her thin white hand as we walk along the wall. 'I don't know which is better: simple beauty with no explanation, or knowing exactly how and why seed pods are organized.'

    --Scarlett Thomas, PopCo

    This comment reminded me of the conversation Elizabeth and I had on episode 105 of the "Happier" podcast, about the question of "Do you prefer childlike wonder or adultlike wonder?"

    Which do you prefer? I prefer adultlike wonder, myself. The more I know about something, the more I enjoy and appreciate it.

    How I love the novels of Scarlett Thomas! I'm working my way through everything she's written. I can't recommend her work highly enough. It's thrilling to discover a new author.

     
  • gretchenrubin 14:00:32 on 2017/11/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    The Surprising Truth About Why Your To-Do List May Be Failing You. 

    The most important thing I've learned about happiness, habits, and human nature? There's no one magic, one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone.

    We've all heard the expert advice: Do it first thing in the morning! Do it for 30 days! Start small! Give yourself a cheat day!

    But here's the thing: those approaches work well for some people, some of the  time. They don't work all the time for everyone.

    The most important thing is to know ourselves, and what works for us.

    One place where I've seen this issue arise? With to-do lists.

    Over and over, I see the advice, "Write down your to-do list, set your priorities, work your way through the items, this is the way you'll get things done most successfully."

    But I've been talking to people about this advice, and I've discovered that to-do lists just don't work for many people. They make them, they try to use them, they fail.

    And they often think, "Something's wrong with me, I have no will-power, I can't stick to a list, why can't I use this simple tool that works so well for so many people, what's my problem?"

    To which I say: "There's nothing wrong with you. How could we tweak the tool, to see if there's a way to make it more effective for you?"

    Since I've started looking for new approaches to the to-do list, I've found several versions that work for people:

    To-do list:

    If the classic to-do list works for you, terrific. I make them all the time myself, and find them very helpful. That's no surprise: Upholders tend to do well with a to-do list. But if it doesn't work...

    Could-do list:

    A Rebel told me that the minute she made a to-do list, she wanted to resist it (the very term "to-do list" is not Rebel-friendly). So she changed the vocabulary. She explained,

    ‘To-do’ lists almost never get done by me, because as soon as I have to do something, it’s the last thing I want to do. A ‘could-do’ list, however, reminds me that I can choose whether or not I complete the task.”

    Brilliant.

    Variation: the Might-could list: I'd never heard this term until an audience member used it during my book tour. I love it! It's not a to-do list; it's a might-could list.

    Ta-da list:

    In episode 134 of the "Happier" podcast, for our weekly "Try This at Home" tip, Elizabeth and I suggested making a ta-da list. Make a list of everything you've already accomplished. You're often pleasantly surprised and energized to see how much you've done, and giving yourself credit for your efforts often make it easier to keep going.

    To-day list:

    It's easy to feel overwhelmed at the sight of all the errands, tasks, and aims that require our attention. If you can't bear to contemplate the complete list, try making a to-day list. Just list the things that you'd like to get done today.

    We're told that "everybody" should use to-do lists, and that "everybody" finds them useful. Nope, not in my observation.

    How about you? Are you a fan of to-do lists, or have you found another version that works for you?

     
  • gretchenrubin 17:51:14 on 2017/11/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    A Happiness Paradox for Thanksgiving: Happiness Doesn’t Always Make Us Feel Happy. 

    In my study of happiness and human nature, I'm always striving to identify fundamental principles.

    For instance, I identified the Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness.

    The First Splendid Truth is: To be happier, we have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

    The First Splendid Truth accounts for a paradox I noticed within happiness: sometimes, happiness doesn't make us feel happy. (This is the kind of statement that a scientist couldn't say, but I can.)

    I was reminded of this paradox this morning, during a conversation with a friend.

    "Are you going to your mother's house for Thanksgiving?" I asked. "Looking forward to it?"

    "Yes, I am," he said, "but I'm not looking forward to it. I'll be doing all the work, because no one else can be relied on to do anything, and I don't really like spending time with most of my family."

    "So why do you go?"

    "It's important to my mother, she wants us to have these times together," he said with a shrug. "So I do it, even though it means passing up invitations to spend the holiday with my friends, which would be much more fun."

    Right. Because sometimes happiness means living up to our values, even when it makes us "feel bad" to do so, or doing things to promote other people's happiness, even when it doesn't make us "feel good."

    My friend is willing to "feel bad" by being bored, annoyed, overworked, and unappreciated with his family, and to give up the opportunity to "feel good" by having fun with his friends, in order to "feel right" about his relationship to his mother and family.

    We're happy when we know when we're living up to our values for ourselves. Even if that happiness doesn't make us feel happy.

    Can you think of examples from your own life when happiness didn't make you feel happy?

     
  • gretchenrubin 14:00:13 on 2017/11/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , William Wordsworth   

    Fill in the Blank: “The Best Portion of a Good Man’s Life” Is His _______. 

    Wordsworth describes his response to remembering beautiful country landscapes when he's in towns and cities:
    ...[O]ft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
    Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
    In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
    Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
    And passing even into my purer mind
    With tranquil restoration:--feelings too
    Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
    As have no slight or trivial influence
    On that best portion of a good man's life,
    His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
    Of kindness and love."
    --William Wordsworth, "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798"
    Funny, it's only now that I'm realizing the aptness of "Wordworth's" name. His words are truly worthy! How have I never noticed that before?
    Wordsworth's reflections on this landscape remind me of my resolution to "Find an area of refuge" -- that is, to find a few phrases or memories or scenes that fill me with peace, or exaltation, or good humor. That way, when I find myself spiraling down into boredom, anger, or sorrow, I have an area of refuge. And by doing so, I may make it easier to perform little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.
    Do you have a memory like this?
     
  • gretchenrubin 14:00:53 on 2017/11/04 Permalink
    Tags: , Chuck Palahniuk, , , ,   

    Agree? “Not Everybody Is Looking for an Easy, Fun Job.” 

    Chuck Palahniuk wrote a piece about life on a Navy submarine. As he was leaving the sub, an officer asked him to write a good piece; fewer and fewer people saw the value in the kind of service he valued most. Palahniuk writes:

    I saw the value. I admire those people and the job they do.

    But by hiding the hardships they endure, it seems the Navy cheats these men out of the greater part of their glory. By trying to make the job seem fun and no-big-deal, the Navy may be repelling the people who want this kind of challenge.

    Not everybody is looking for an easy, fun job.

    Chuck Palahniuk, “The People Can,” Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories

    I'm haunted by this last line. I agree: I suspect that sometimes, when we try to convince people to undertake a certain job, activity, or aim as pleasant and fun (or even manageable), we might dissuade people who might otherwise be interested.

    Not everybody is looking for a fun, easy job.

    Agree, disagree? Can you think of examples about yourself or someone else, when a person was attracted to a difficult, arduous task?

     
  • gretchenrubin 22:17:07 on 2017/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    Revealed! 7 Brilliant Books About the Nature of Creativity. 

    For sparking my own creativity, I find people’s descriptions of their own creative processes more useful (and certainly more interesting) than books that analyze creativity or suggest creativity exercises.

    I love many books on this subject, and here are just a few of my favorites.

    Each one of these books is fascinating and can be read with pleasure by anyone, whether or not you're interested specifically in creativity.

    Bob Dylan, Chronicles

    This a haunting, brilliant book, and I don't even listen to Bob Dylan's music (fact: I don't really listen to any music very much). For instance, I've read and re-read his description of his reaction to folk songs.

    Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters

    In the last few years, I've developed a new interest in reading books of letters, and this is my very favorite. O'Connor brilliantly describes her work and writing process -- in her own inimitable language.

    Edward Weston, The Flame of Recognition

    These journal entries are brief and marvelous. His description of his reaction to green peppers! Mind-blowing.

    Twyla Tharp: The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

    This book is a bit more prescriptive than the others. Crammed with insights, ideas, and illustrations from her own life about how to spark creativity.

    W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

    This is a perceptive, fascinating book about writing and observing.

    Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

    I've read this book countless times. Countless. I've practically memorized several passages.

    Mason Currey, Daily Rituals:How Artist Work

    This book is different from the others -- it summarizes the daily habits of writers, painters, scientists, choreographers, and other kinds of creative people. It demonstrates an important truth: there is no single "best way" to spark creativity. Different approaches work for different people. The most creative and productive people figure out what they need to do their best work, and make sure that they have the environment they need.

    What are some of your favorite books about creativity? I love this subject, so would love to add some suggestions to my To Be Read list.

     
  • gretchenrubin 17:01:32 on 2017/10/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    Setting the Table for a Halloween Holiday Breakfast–For One. 

    In my book The Happiness Project, I write about my resolution to "Celebrate holiday breakfasts." And this morning, I set the table for a Halloween holiday breakfast.

    I do these holiday breakfasts for all minor holidays -- it's festive, and also fun and easy.  I always use food dye to color some food or beverage in a holiday-themed color (this morning: black peanut butter). I re-use the same decorations every year, so I don’t have to spend money or do errands. I have a very precise place in the kitchen where I store my holiday-breakfast decorations, so I don't have to scramble to find anything.

    Studies show that traditions are important to family happiness. Family rituals encourage children's social development and boost feelings of family cohesiveness by 17%. They help provide connection and predictability, which people--especially children--crave. Without traditions, holidays don't feel much different from ordinary life. Holiday breakfasts give a big happiness boost, without much effort.

    But this year was a little different. Instead of setting the holiday breakfast for two daughters, I was setting it for one daughter. Now that Eliza's in college, it's just Eleanor at the breakfast table.

    And that was bittersweet.

    One thing I decided, when Eliza left, was that I wanted to make sure to maintain fun family traditions for Eleanor -- that I didn't want to skip the effort, or decide that Eleanor was too old to enjoy it (unless she truly has outgrown something), or forget to create these little moments.

    Time is passing so quickly; I worry that I won’t remember this time of life, what it’s like to have children this age, or that because I'm busy, I won't take time for celebration.  The days are long, but the years are short.

    In fact, of everything I’ve ever written, my one-minute video, The Years Are Short, is the thing that resonates most with people.

    One challenge of Eliza leaving for college is figuring out how to adapt traditions for the new situation. I want to maintain, but also evolve.

    Do you have any little traditions that help you celebrate the holidays in a manageable way? Have you had to figure out how to adapt traditions, as your family changed?

    If you want some tips for creating new family traditions (oxymoron alert!), here are some ideas.

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:16 on 2017/10/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Agree? “That is Happiness; to Be Dissolved into Something Complete and Great.” 

    I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass. . . . I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.

    -- Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

    I love the work of Willa Cather, and I love O Pioneers! (Though I've never quite made up my mind about how I feel about the exclamation point. Interesting choice.)

    Almost a year ago, I read a different excerpt from O Pioneers! for that week's episode of "A Little Happier" -- another one of my favorite passages from the novel, about a wild duck. Actually, it may be one of my favorite passages ever. You can listen here.

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:19 on 2017/10/28 Permalink
    Tags: , dreams, Kermit, , , , , song   

    Ever Actually Listened to the Words of Kermit’s Song “Rainbow Connection?” I Never Had. 

    Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
    I've heard them calling my name.
    Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
    The voice might be one and the same.
    I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
    It's something that I'm supposed to be.
    Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.

    --The song "Rainbow Connection" by Paul Williams, made famous by Kermit the Frog of the Muppets

    I've heard this song dozens of time, but I never really thought about the words.

    If you want to watch Kermit singing "Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie, it's here. In 1979, the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.

    Do you pay attention to the meaning of lyrics? I realize that I almost never do.

     
  • gretchenrubin 21:13:37 on 2017/10/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Weight Watchers   

    Why, and When, People Succeed Using Weight Watchers. (Especially Obligers) 

    As someone who studies issues related to human nature, happiness, health, and good habits, I've long been intrigued by Weight Watchers -- when and why it works.

    And one thing has struck me with particular force.

    In my book Better Than Before, I identify the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits. The Weight Watchers program harnesses many strategies that can help people eat more healthfully: for instance, the Strategies of Monitoring, Scheduling, First Steps, Clarity, Scheduling, Loophole-Spotting, and Safeguards.

    All these strategies are very powerful.

    But there's one aspect of Weight Watchers that explains why, for some people, it works so well -- and also explains why people might find themselves frustrated, by re-gaining the weight after they leave the program. And that's an aspect related to a person's Tendency, and the Strategy of Accountability.

    As a reminder, my Four Tendencies framework divides people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, based on how we respond to outer expectations (like a work deadline) and inner expectations (like a New Year's resolution). Want to take the free, quick quiz to identify your Tendency? It's here. More than one million people have taken the quiz.

    The Obliger Tendency -- the Tendency that includes the largest number of people -- describes people who readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. Obligers would say, "Commitments to other people must be met, but commitments to myself? Meh."

    Therefore, to meet an inner expectation, Obligers must have structures of outer accountability. Like...Weight Watchers. While many people find accountability helpful (note, however, that for some Rebels, accountability may be unhelpful), for Obligers, it's crucial. When Obligers get that crucial outer accountability, they can succeed. But if that outer accountability disappears, the expectation will no longer be met.

    Lesson? Obligers must maintain outer accountability. Indefinitely.

    And this explains a lot about the success of Weight Watchers.

    One Obliger wrote:

    I have no doubt that I am an “Obliger.”And since you have made me aware of this fact, it has changed my life in subtle yet meaningful ways. I battle with my weight, and I’ve joined and unjoined Weight Watchers more times than I care to recount. Oftimes, I wonder why I’m there, when I understand the program and could save myself time and money by just applying the knowledge I already have at home. And then I stop going to meetings: I fail miserably on my own and am beyond disappointed.

    Defining myself as an Obliger has changed my approach and expectations. I signed up, yet again, but this time with a different mindset.  I now go to meetings not as much for the information imparted as the sense of community and accountability.  Because that is what I really need.  And instead of hating to admit that I need a community, I am embracing the idea and running with it.

    I joined a livelier, more fun-loving group that I feel a greater commitment to. I laugh a lot and feel empowered to tackle the rest of the week when I leave.  I committed to tracking my progress online daily with other members. The Weight Watchers program hasn’t changed. The way I employ it and make it work for the type of person I am has changed immeasurably. Now, instead of going against my grain, I’m letting the grain be my guide.

    Another Obliger wrote:

    I’ve been trying to shed some weight for years and feel like I’ve tried just about every old (and new) thing. I’d tried Weight Watchers several times, but since learning that I’m an Obliger, I decided to sign up for their coaching option, where you can have personal calls with a coach. I signed up two weeks ago, and it’s been a huge difference from previous attempts. I’m 1000% sure that’s because of the exterior obligation to my coach.

    Of course, Weight Watchers is just one of many kinds of accountability groups that people use. Law school study groups, exercise classes, weekly work status meetings, attendance records, library fines...there are countless ways to create outer accountability.

    I've even created an app, the Better app, where people can discuss issues related to the Four Tendencies, and -- this is key -- can join or launch accountability groups, for accountability to meet whatever aim they want.

    The key thing for Obligers to recognize is that they require these systems of outer accountability, even to meet an inner expectation. It's not that hard to create outer accountability -- once you know that's what you need. And Obligers continue to need that outer accountability. Obligers sometimes tell me that they don't like this aspect of being an Obliger, that they don't like needing outer accountability, or they don't like the fact that they can't "graduate" out of needing it. But in my observation, this is just how it works for Obligers. It's more useful to figure out how to deal with your Tendency, rather than to wish it were different.

    Note that Obligers vary greatly in what kind of accountability works best for them. Some might feel more accountable to a group; some, to an individual coach; some, to knowing that they're going to step on the scale before a meeting. Some Obligers become teachers, leaders, or coaches themselves, because they know that if they're guiding others, they have to set a good example.

    The Four Tendencies framework has other implications for programs like Weight Watchers, for the way other Tendencies would use them.

    For instance, while Obligers need accountability, Questioners and Upholders also often benefit from accountability -- and sometimes, even Rebels benefit. Knowing that someone is watching, monitoring, and noticing what we're doing often reinforces our determination to stick to a good habit. As an Upholder myself, I don't depend on accountability to meet expectations -- but nevertheless when I'm being held accountable, it does make me feel all that much more...accountable.

    However, sometimes accountability can be counter-productive. If accountability isn't working for you, don't use it! There's no right way or wrong way; only the way that works for you.

    For instance, Rebels don't like being told what to do, or being told when and where to show up. For Rebels, it's helpful for a program to emphasize that "This is what you want," "This is what you choose," "This is the kind of person you are," "This will give you more freedom," "This is fun for you, you enjoy it," "These people are helping you to get what you want."

    Examples? "I want to eat more healthfully," "I'm a healthy, active person who respects my body and doesn't load it with lots of processed foods," "I love fresh, delicious, natural foods," "Big food companies can't tell me how eat," "I'm not addicted to sugar," "I choose to be free from cravings," "I enjoy this kind of program," "When I lose weight, I'll feel more comfortable on airplanes and walking around, and that will make me feel freer, and more able to travel."

    As for Questioners, they demand justifications for everything they're expected to do. So to work for Questioners, a program must provide information about why certain things are being encouraged, forbidden, emphasized; why systems are set up the way they're set up; why an authority is worthy of respect, etc. For instance, if someone tells a Questioner, "Take a fifteen-minute walk every morning," this may strike that Questioner as arbitrary. Why fifteen minutes? Why every morning? Why a walk? Questioners need justifications.

    To work for a Questioner, any system -- such as a point system for food -- must be justified. Why does X food have this many points, but Y food has this many points? Questioners would succeed much better when they understand the research, reasoning, and structure of a regimen.

    Questioners also tend to love to monitor and customize. So for them, activities like tracking, keeping food logs, or using a step-counter may be useful, because they enjoy getting that information on themselves. And they also like to customize, so it's useful to tell them, "You might try doing something in this other way, if that works for you." Or, if it's important to do something exactly as suggested, it's important to explain the reason. "Take this medication with food, or else you might get severe nausea."

    Upholders tend to do well in this kind of program. In fact, just about any program, curriculum, device, and so on will work fairly well for Upholders, because meeting outer and inner expectations comes more easily for them.

    The Four Tendencies vary in the number of members. The largest Tendency, for both men and women, is Obliger. It's the one that the greatest number of people belong to, so any program or group should take that fact into account. Next largest is Questioner. Most people are Obligers or Questioners. The smallest Tendency is Rebel, and just slightly larger is Upholder.

    Programs like Weight Watchers can take these differences among the Four Tendencies into account. For example, read here about how Dr. Judson Brewer is tailoring his eating program to take into account the Four Tendencies.

    Have you tried Weight Watchers, or similar programs? I'd be especially interested to hear from Obligers.

    In my book The Four Tendencies, I explore this issue at much greater length, along with related subjects like Obliger-rebellion, why Obliger-rebellion often shows up in health-related matters, why Obligers often pair up with Rebels, why sweethearts don't make good accountability partners, and more. Obligers + accountability is a big subject!

     
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