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  • feedwordpress 12:00:14 on 2018/04/24 Permalink
    Tags: , book list, book recomendations, , , , favorite books,   

    My Favorite Books About Parenting. 

    Mother’s Day is coming up, so in honor of the holiday I decided to make a list of my favorite parenting books. I’ve read many parenting books, but there are a few that really stand out to me – in many cases, I’ve read these books several times.

    One thing I've discovered is that when a parenting book is truly excellent, its advice is just as helpful for dealing with adults as with children. Children and adults are more alike than we sometimes assume. For instance, when I was researching habits for Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I did a fair amount of research on the design of pre-school and kindergarten routines.

    So after reading these books about parenthood, I’ve applied most of what I learned to my adult relationships, with equal success:

    1. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

    How I love this book! It has helped me tremendously as a parent – and in every other aspect of my life. In fact, I probably think more about its lessons in the context of adult interactions that I do of child interactions. I've read it at least five times. It’s very wise, and it’s also a very fun read.

    One of the most important lessons I learned from this book? Make people feel happier by acknowledging that they’re not feeling happy. When we acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings, they know they’re being heard. Instead of denying feelings like anger, irritation, fear, or reluctance, we do better to articulate the other person’s point of view. It turns out that when people’s bad feelings are acknowledged, those feelings dissipate more easily.

    This was a giant revelation to me. It really, really works. If you’d like to read a post I wrote on this subject, it’s here.

    2. I also love Faber & Mazlish’s book Siblings Without Rivalry.

    3. Practical Wisdom for Parents: Raising Self-Confident Children in the Preschool Years by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum.

    I love this book, in part because it’s a terrific book and in part because it was written by two people whom I really like and respect. In fact, as I describe in my book The Happiness Project, I played a small role in the book’s inception. (You can also read that story here.)

    If you want to listen to a two-minute episode of "A Little Happier" where I describe one of the many wise things that Nancy Schulman said to me, it’s here.

    4. Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson.

    I’m a giant raving fan of Michael Thompson’s work. It’s practical, realistic, and insightful, plus it’s written in a very engaging way.

    Here’s a post I wrote about a passage from the book about why it’s a bad idea to "interview for pain." Again, this principle is just as true for adults as for kids.

    5. I also love Thompson’s book Mom, They're Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems. If you want to hear "A Little Happier" episode where I talk about one of the most important lessons I gleaned from that book, it’s here.

    6. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.

    This is a very useful book that emphasizes why it’s important to let children make mistakes, suffer consequences, handle disappointment, and deal with boredom as part of their growing up.

    What are your favorite books about parenthood? I’d be especially interested in any recommendations aimed at parents of twenty-something children. My older daughter isn’t twenty yet, but she will be, before I know it. The days are long, but the years are short.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 20:20:52 on 2018/04/22 Permalink
    Tags: , reader stories, testimonials,   

    Do You Want to Share the Story of Your Happiness Project? I’d Love to Hear About It. 

    I love any before-and-after story. Whether it’s in a book, magazine, TV show, movie, play, or wherever I might come across it, once I hear the “before,” I’m hooked; I have to see the “after.”

    In fact, the working title of my book Better Than Before was Before and After.

    Because of my love for these stories of transformation, it has been thrilling for me to hear reports about how my book The Happiness Project has helped people go from before to after. Ever since The Happiness Project hit the shelves, people have told me stories of how they’ve done their own happiness projects, in their own ways, and how these projects have changed their lives.

    If this has been your experience, I’d love to hear about it – whether you’ve been in touch with me before, or whether this is your first time telling me about your before-and-after.

    The tenth anniversary of The Happiness Project is coming up (how is it possible ten years have passed?), and I’m working on material for the Tenth Anniversary edition. I’d love to include some stories from readers or listeners about their own happiness projects. These stories might be included in the book, discussed on the Happier podcast, or featured on my site.

    It’s fascinating to hear what people tried, what worked for them, and with what result. We can all learn from each other.

    So if you have a story to share, please let me know! Email me and tell me about your happiness project.

    If you have already written your story on your blog or somewhere else, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

    (Featured image photo credit: Kennedy from

  • feedwordpress 13:30:27 on 2018/04/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , Joanna Coles, ,   

    “Love Is the Food of Life. And We All Deserve to Eat and Love Well.” 

    Interview: Joanna Coles.

    Joanna Coles has had a very interesting career. Before her current position as the first Chief Content Office for Hearst Magazines, she was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. Plus, in addition to her significant positions in the magazine world, she's also very involved in the world of TV, in shows like So Cosmo, The Bold Type (a scripted series based on her life), Running in Heels, and Project Runway.

    As if that's not enough, she's just published a book: Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World. (I love the double meaning of this title.) It's all about how to find meaningful love in a world full of meaningless encounters. She gives fifteen rules or "love hacks" -- I always love a hack or a true rule! She uses the metaphor of the diet, of eating more healthfully, as a way to look at finding the right sweetheart.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Joanna about happiness, habits, and relationships.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Joanna: Whenever I take the subway or a cab in New York City, I try not to go on my phone and instead look around. I find it helps me notice things which leads to ideas. And sometimes when you are thinking about nothing in particular and you let your mind wander it's exciting where it will end up. And if I see someone standing alone at a party or looking awkward on their own, I will try and go up and say "Hi" because walking into a room on your own can feel terrifying, and it makes you feel good to make someone else feel welcome.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Joanna: That friends and partners should always be treated with respect, even when you least feel like it! And that its always better to have a conversation about whatever is going wrong with them, than to ignore it or pretend you don’t care. Good communication is the key to everything. It’s hard but it’s almost always worth it. At work, at home, at play.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers -- most?

    Joanna: Harvard began a longitudinal study in 1938, during the Great Depression, that tracked 268 sophomores to study what made people happy. Now 80 years later, what they found is that good relationships were essential. Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, said in a recent press release, "The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too." This is why finding finding someone to love who loves you back is so vitally important—your health and happiness depend on it.

    The other research I found fascinating, and grim, is the negative impact of binge drinking on women, and how closely it is tied to sexual assault in this country. Getting drunk is an accepted part of our culture today, for women and men, but the ramifications of getting black out drunk are so costly for women. It is the one area where women should not want equality—our bodies have more fat which means we process alcohol more quickly then men. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking for women as four drinks in two hours, where for men it is five. And yet, binge drinking has risen 17% for women between 2005 and 2012 versus 4.9% for men. The other stat that ties in to this, also by the NIAA is that half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol. This is why Rule #8 is, Know Your Limits.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.") Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Joanna: I end Love Rules with a snippet from a story Ian McEwan wrote for The Guardian following 9-11. It still brings me to tears. In the piece, McEwan writes about about a husband who misses the last panicked call from his wife who is in the Twin Towers that day. She was calling to say goodbye. He wrote, "There was really only one thing for her to say. Those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. I love you. She said it over and over again before the line went dead."

    Love is the food of life. And we all deserve to eat and love well. That is why I wrote Love Rules--I felt there was no guide book out there as to how to find it. It nourishes and feeds us, it is the key to happiness. It makes us feel we are alive and without it, little else matters.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Joanna: I have a scalding hot bath every night. I still have the apartment’s original porcelain bath from 1908, it’s very deep and very long and I sink up to my neck and exhale. I love Epsom salts, oils, bubbles, and I lie there in silence and inhale the steam and think through the day. Heaven.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

    Joanna: Of course! Late nights with friends mean I cancel too many early morning yoga lessons, always set up with the best intentions and promise that this time I won’t cancel. But as much as I love yoga, nothing is better for your long-term health -- not even a restorative headstand -- than a good evening with family and friends.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 21:30:58 on 2018/04/13 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    Announcing: The Four Tendencies Course. 

    Big news! I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m launching an online learning class called "The Four Tendencies Course," and the enrollment window opens Monday, April 30th for a limited timeClick here to join the waitlist.

    Last year, my book The Four Tendencies hit the shelves. In it, I describe the “Four Tendencies”—Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel—and how this personality distinction shapes every area of our lives.

    Since introducing this framework, I’ve been deluged with responses from readers and podcast listeners. It’s thrilling to hear how people are using the Four Tendencies to transform their health, work life, and relationships. Because the interest has been so intense, I decided to create an online course and community for people who want to dive deeper.

    I’m very excited about this course—and I had so much fun creating it. I hope you’ll join me when registration opens in a few weeks.

    In this course, you’ll identify your Tendency, and then learn how to use that knowledge to gain the self-insight that will clarify the practical changes you can make to create the life you want. And you’ll also learn how to appreciate other people’s Tendencies, and how to support them effectively, to cut down on stress, burn-out, conflict, frustration, and procrastination.

    If you’ve ever asked any of the following questions, this course is for you:

    • Why do others seem to be able to do things for themselves, but I can’t?
    • Why do I resist doing things that I actually want to do?
    • Why can’t people accept that I find comfort and freedom in my routine?
    • Why doesn’t everyone do the things they say they are going to do?
    • Why do I struggle with or become overwhelmed by making decisions?

    The Four Tendencies Course will include 5 weeks of instruction, 12 video lessons, reflection questions and exercises, exclusive live "Ask Gretchen Anything" calls, an online community built around the course, plus bonus materials including 10+ bonus videos and interviews, all for less than $100.

    If you’re interested in joining me to explore ways to create a happier, more fulfilled life, click here to join the waitlist. Once you join the waitlist, you'll get the opportunity to get an early-bird discount. Remember, registration opens April 30th for a limited time.

  • feedwordpress 10:00:35 on 2018/04/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , Dolly Parton, , interests, , Oprah   

    Assay: Dolly Parton and Oprah Winfrey Discuss…Hubris. 

    Assay: One of my favorite things about myself is that I often get hit by epiphanies or obsessions. Discovering a new obsessive interest is one of my great joys in life.

    I just got struck by a new obsession, and what a joy it is to explore this subject. Dolly Parton. All of a sudden, I just can’t learn enough about Dolly Parton. And I’m not even a huge fan of music – her music or anyone’s music. I’m fascinated by her life and character.

    For that reason, I spent quite a bit of time the other day watching her old TV interviews on YouTube.

    In my writing (and thinking and reading), my subject is human nature. Why do we do what we do? How can we change? How are people alike, and different, from each other?

    One question I often ponder is: Why do some people who achieve stardom bend under that pressure, and succumb to its pressures and temptations in destructive ways? And why do other people seem to be able to withstand that pressure?

    One answer is "character."

    But that just raises the question – what aspect of character? Inborn qualities, beliefs, habits, relationships, experiences, what combination protects certain people?

    Because I’ve thought a lot about this question, I was particularly interested in this exchange between Dolly Parton and Oprah Winfrey, on The Oprah Winfrey Show in April 1992. (Wow, that’s 26 years ago.)

    Dolly Parton: I feel so lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to make a good living at what I love to do. I always wanted to sing, I always wanted to be a star, I always wanted to be out with the people, and I’m getting to do that. And I’m getting to enjoy doing that. I think we’re all born, we wonder who we are, what we’re doing here, it’s the same old thing, all through history, who are we, who am I...

    Oprah Winfrey: Same old thing! You’re wondering who you are.


    Oprah Winfrey: [Don’t you think] that one of the reasons that you are where you are, and I am where I am, those of you [pointing to audience] are where you are, is because you believed you could be here?

    Dolly Parton: It’s faith. I think you have to work very hard...There’s a certain amount of luck, too...I used to not realize how lucky I had been. I was always grateful and humble, but I always have worked very hard, too. But I see so many people that have twice the talent that I have, that maybe came to Nashville at the same time I did, they write better songs, they sing better, but there’s just something—where the timing’s not right—so I think there’s a certain element of luck in that. But I think that people can do a lot with what they’ve got, if they just had the faith. I mean, so much of it is faith and belief. I think one has to be careful not to get arrogant with that faith, because I think, you know, if you don’t humble yourself, God will do it for you.

    Oprah Winfrey: Absolutely. And when God does it, it will bring you to your knees.

    I found this fascinating. Hubris! I wish that these two mega-starts had spent much more time exploring their thoughts and their experiences on this subject. I wish that Oprah Winfrey had asked, "Dolly, what do you mean by ‘humble?’"

    A few minutes later in the interview Dolly Parton talks about being "a servant to the people." Is that what she means? She certainly has done many things to be a servant to the people, generally in her performances, and particularly to improve the lives of the people in the Great Smoky Mountains where she grew up. Or does she mean something else?

    Well, maybe I’ll learn more as my obsession continues.

    If you’d like to watch this interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show yourself, here’s the interview. This discussion happens around 16:50.

  • feedwordpress 09:30:26 on 2018/04/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Tara Westover   

    “I Feel Like I’m Never Alone…I Am with My Phone, and Because of That, I Am with Everyone.” 

    Interview: Tara Westover.

    You've probably either read this book, or read about it, because it has sparked a giant amount of buzz and favorable attention. Tara Westover's memoir Educated is a#1 New York Times bestseller that has received rave reviews -- for instance, it was called the "best-in-years memoir about striding beyond limitations of birth and environment" by USA Today.

    Tara Westover was born in Idaho, and because her father opposed public education, she never attended school, but spent her days working in her father's junkyard or helping her mother, a self-taught herbalist. It wasn't until she was 17 years old that she first got to a classroom -- and from there, she excelled brilliantly at BYU, Cambridge, and Harvard.

    Her story reminds me of a passage that I love from one of my favorite writers, Samuel Johnson. He remarked:

    “A desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge.” Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

    I couldn't wait to talk to Tara about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Tara: Being alone. Increasingly, I feel like I'm never alone, not really. I am with my phone, and because of that, I am with everyone. Left to wait for a few minutes in a waiting room, I used to observe more, think about a strange accent I'd heard, or analyze the interactions between the couple opposite me. Now I type messages. And receive messages. None of which add up to much. I'm trying to break that habit and go back to a time when the person I spent the most time with was myself. That's when thinking happens. I know I sound very old-fashioned and analog, but it's what I need to live!

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Tara: Working intensely for shorter bursts is more effective in the-long run than pushing yourself to the limit. Cognitive capacity is like sobriety. It declines, but because of it's decline, you lose the ability to perceive it. You think you're still working at 100%. My advice: don't work drunk, and don't work tired.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Tara: My relationship with my phone. Sometimes I feel like Doc Octopus: I look down and there is this mechanical thing seemingly built into my arm. I've no idea how it got there. I put it down and walk away, then a minute later, there it is again.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Tara: Sleep, food, journaling, walks, and friends.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Tara: I'm a believer in thinking through what your behavior is, and trying to understand what's causing it. I've talked a lot about wanting to break the unconscious link between me and my phone, and inasmuch as I've succeeded in doing that, I think it was by asking myself what was causing me to reach for it so often, then taking steps to counter that. Here are a few things I did.

    1)I realized that I often look at my phone to check the time, but then I get distracted by emails or other notifications. The solution to this was easy. Wear a watch, and buy clocks for all my rooms.

    2) I often check my phone to see if I have notifications of any sort, rather than checking anything in particular. Then I toggle back and forth between them seeing if anything new came in while I was checking the other. The solution for me was to centralize all my communication in my email (tell people I would not be responding to messages on Facebook). I also disabled all my notifications. Now, barring texts (which I rarely send or receive), my phone only shows me whether I've missed any calls. As a phone should.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

    Tara: Seemingly everything is always trying to. Whether any particular thing succeeds is a question of whether I let it.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Tara: I don't think so. My ideas tend to start as germs, then grow into tiny slugs, then get the idea. It's always gradual.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.") Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Tara: I don't normally like slogans, but I do find myself sometimes muttering the phrase "Live boldly." Maybe because I am always trying to get myself to do things I feel slightly unable to do, and I need to convince myself to do them anyway.

  • gretchenrubin 10:30:32 on 2018/03/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , , identity, , southerner,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: Why Did I List “Southerner” as a Possibly Negative Identity? 

    Since Better Than Before, my book about habit change, hit the shelves, I’ve received several emails from loyal Southerners asking me about my inclusion of the identity of "Southerner" in the following passage discussing identity.

    Better Than Before identifies the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits, and in my chapter on the importance of the "Strategy of Identity," I write:

    We can get locked into identities that aren’t good for us: "a workaholic," "a perfectionist," "a Southerner," "the responsible one." As part of the Strategies of the Four Tendencies and Distinctions, I’d worked to identify different personality categories to which I belonged, but these kinds of labels should help me understand myself more deeply, not limit my sense of identity. Someone wrote on my site, "Food and eating used to play a big part in my identity until I realized that my baking and being a ‘baker’ was resulting in being overweight. So I had to let that identity go."

    In this passage, I’m not suggesting that "Southerner" is necessarily a negative identity, but one that might be negative for a particular person – it might also be a positive identity; this just depends on a particular person. For some people, identifying as "the responsible one" might give them a sense of pride and purpose, and for others, identifying as "the responsible one" might feel constraining and burdensome.

    Now, why did I include "Southerner" in this list of examples? Well, because while I was writing this book – and, I must admit, unmercifully quizzing my friends about their habits – a good friend mentioned it.

    As I discuss at length in Better Than Before, I had many discussions with one friend whose identity as "Italian" had been in conflict with her desire to eat and drink more healthfully.

    Along the same lines, another friend told me that the identity of being "Southern" was tied up, for him, with the idea of sweet tea, fried foods, pie, and the idea that a polite person would never turn down food that was offered. He wanted to change his eating habits, and he realized he had to figure out, "How can I live up to my Southern identity in a way that allows me to eat more healthfully?" Once he was able to see how this aspect of his identity was making it hard to stick to the good habits he wanted to cultivate, he was able to find many ways to be a true Southerner, and honor his Southern traditions, with less sweet tea.

    Most identities have both positive and negative sides. In my observation, the problem arises when we don’t see how an identity is influencing our habits; if we don’t see this factor, we can’t think through it and possibly alter the habits that flow from it. We can embrace an identity, yet shape that identity.

    As with me. My identity as a "real book-lover" made me assume that I had to finish every book I started, even if I found it boring. Which is what I did, for decades. But after studying the Strategy of Identity, I realized that I could alter my definition of what it meant to be a "real book-lover," with the thought, "If I stop reading a book I don’t like, I’ll have more time to read the books I do enjoy. That habit allows me to be a ‘real book-lover’ in a different way." My identity is the same; I just found a different habit to honor it.

    Usually, when we address the Strategy of Identity for ourselves, we don’t wholly let go of an identity – it was unusual for the "baker" let go of that identity totally – usually, we re-shape the expression of the identity, or decide to let one narrow aspect of that identity go, while holding on to the aspects that we want to keep. I can absolutely remain a real book-lover without finishing every book I start.

    Speaking of the Strategy of Identity, I can’t help but mention one of my favorite examples, which I write about in Better Than Before,. In their fascinating book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath describe how an anti-littering campaign successfully changed the littering habits of Texans, after messages such as "Please Don’t Litter" and "Pitch In" failed. For the campaign, famous Texans such as George Foreman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, and various sports figures made TV spots with the message "Don’t mess with Texas." The campaign convinced people that true Texans—proud, loyal, tough Texans—protect Texas. During the campaign’s first five years, visible roadside litter dropped 72 percent.

    Our habits reflect our identities. We all have many identities. And we can shape how we honor those identities, so we can create the lives we want.

    Have you experienced this? Is there an area in your life where an important identity made it hard to follow a habit that you wanted to keep?

  • feedwordpress 09:00:20 on 2018/03/29 Permalink
    Tags: , Danielle Town, , , wealth   

    “Money Certainly Cannot Buy Happiness, But It Can Buy Comfort, Choices, and Freedom.” 

    Interview: Danielle Town.

    The relationship between money and happiness is one of the most complex and emotionally charged topics within the larger subject of happiness.

    Danielle Town has written a memoir that takes the reader through her efforts to gain greater control over money and investing -- and with it, a sense of greater control of her life. Over the course of a year (I do love any one-year project!) she teaches herself how to invest wisely.

    This memoir is just hitting the shelves: Invested: How Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger Taught Me to Master My Mind, My Emotions, and My Money (with a Little Help from My Dad).

    Many of us don't even like to think about money, but Danielle Town explains why we're happier if we confront our fears, anxieties, desires, and habits related to saving, spending, and investing.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Danielle about the relationships among happiness, habits, money, and relationships.

    Gretchen: You’ve written a wonderful memoir about learning investing that is, in many ways, really about happiness. For many people, money problems are huge obstacle to their happiness. Do you connect money and happiness? Do you think money can buy happiness?

    Danielle: Money certainly cannot buy happiness, but it can buy comfort, choices and freedom. Which, for a lot of us, would feel like a lot like happiness. It's funny how wealth is like health - when you don't have it, it's all you think about; when you do have it, life is just easier. Feeling free financially removes stress and creates the space to focus on the important things that actually do create real and lasting happiness: the choice to work part-time, the ability to support wonderful charities, the peace of knowing your student loans are paid off or your kids have college covered – whatever financial freedom looks like for each of us. And I was forced into learning about financial stuff, so I know it’s not a happy topic for many of us, but it turned into a source of happiness for me.

    Gretchen: You’ve gone through a fascinating journey and education. What has surprised or intrigued you – or other people -- most?

    Danielle: It surprised me how much old childhood emotions around money shaped how I think about my finances to this day. Every single person has a framework of money and wealth from their childhood; every one of us, regardless of how much or little we and our family had, had an experience with money growing up. However, we probably didn’t realize or notice it until we got older, because it’s only once we’re older and see how other people handle money that we have any perspective on our own experience. Once I was several months into learning investing, I just couldn’t quite fully imagine myself as a successful investor, and I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, I realized it was because I didn’t completely trust my dad. Which is, on its face, ridiculous: my dad is a well-respected investor who has been investing for thirty years. So I looked deeper, and it went back to when I was a kid. My parents divorced when I was eleven, and my experience was that my dad left and took the money with him, and it was awful. But he came back, and we repaired our relationship, and until I started learning investing from him I would have told you that the childhood trauma was all in the past. It wasn’t. It forced us to talk about it, and for the first time in my life, I heard his perspective on the situation and, as an adult, I could see his point of view and his choices in a way I couldn’t have when I was a kid. Working through it released me from some of its effects, while at the same time, that was my experience and I will always need to be aware of how it’s affecting me as an investor.

    Usually as soon as I start talking about childhood experiences with money with people, they flash back immediately and they know exactly what shaped them. It’s extraordinary how it’s right there, present, but we avoid it for years because it’s uncomfortable or painful – which is completely logical, actually, to avoid something that brings pain. However, by avoiding it, we’re compounding the pain by bringing money stress on ourselves, and I believe we have to think about it, transform it, and go forward with that information about ourselves to take our power back.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Danielle: When I initially read Better than Before, I thought I was a Rebel because I absolutely love the feeling of not doing something I’m expected to do. It used to give me huge amounts of pleasure to, for example, cut class in school – but only when it was a class I knew was unnecessary and skipping it wouldn’t hurt. However, at the same time, I really care about the expectations of others and don’t want to let anyone down, right up until it gets to be too much and then I tend to shut down. So I wasn’t quite sure how I fit into the framework. But then, when I read The Four Tendencies, and discovered that you had identified a subset of Obliger that is also a Rebel, I felt seen. I distinctly remember reading your book on an airplane and, when I read that section, I flashed back to when I started looking into my Investing Practice – I think I was deep in Obliger-rebellion, overwhelmed at work, and trying to find a way out while still being able to pay my bills.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now that pushed you towards building healthy habits or happiness, which you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Danielle: I didn’t know inflation was destroying my savings without me doing anything wrong! Finding that out changed everything, and pushed me towards building the habit of my Investing Practice, which has created so much happiness in my life. It probably sounds ridiculous to those who are aware of it, but did you know that inflation reduces the buying power of your savings? I didn’t know that, because I had never connected inflation to my own personal money like that. I thought savings were incredibly safe, but they’re not safe from inflation.

    Inflation on average is 3% per year. Which means that just to stay even, just to keep my money and not lose it, I have to get 3% per year on my money. No one had EVER told me that. It still blows me away. Why don’t they teach this stuff in school? And I have a father who is a long-term value investor, and I didn’t know. So when I found that out, I knew had to do something with my money simply to not lose it, and I still hemmed and hawed and tried to avoid learning how to invest. I’m such a reluctant investor. Investing is often scary, volatile, and emotional. Of course it is - we get virtually no financial education but live in an incredibly complex financial world. But now my practice of investing - which I treat as a practice, just like yoga or meditation – has, surprisingly, become such a wonderful part of my life because it’s not really about making money. Money is a nice byproduct. But the real reward is in the learning, studying, and appreciating knowing so much more about my world around me, and then getting to make a difference by voting for my values with my investing dollars.

    Gretchen: How does bringing your values into your Investing Practice make you happier?

    Danielle: It makes me feel like a joyful warrior – who knew investing could do that? My money is a vote, and if it’s in the market, it’s being voted – even if I didn’t choose the companies my money supports. That vote still counts. Which means that if I’m not choosing the companies my money supports because it’s in a fund or index, it probably is literally helping companies do things I hate – polluting, hurting animals, treating employees poorly, just to name a few things that are important to me to avoid. Once I took my power back and started voting my money myself in wonderful companies for the long-term, it made the process of learning about investing in the markets so much more interesting, because now it’s personal. We little investors control so much of the market that, if we all voted consciously with our money, we literally could change the entire market. If we took our money out of companies doing terrible things, those companies would change or die, quickly. They really would. Within a year, probably. We have so much power, and we have the skills, we just need a bit of knowledge about how to use it. It makes me happy to use it for good.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

    Danielle: Meditating. I’ve practiced Transcendental Meditation since I was ten years old, and it consistently reduces my stress and gives me an experience of stillness that I draw on in many situations outside of meditation. Knowing that I have that experience inside me, no matter what, gives me the groundedness to be brave and take leaps like quitting my law firm job and moving to another country.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Danielle: Staying up late is a terrible habit of mine. Lack of sleep really negatively affects me. After a string of days of little sleep, I get pessimistic and down and start feeling depressed. Someone called out that connection between sleep and getting pessimistic for me a few years ago, and it was really helpful to be made aware of it. Now, I try to notice those negative thoughts instead of being consumed by them, and review whether I’ve been sleeping enough, and I almost always haven’t been. It’s pretty amazing how much rosier the world looks in the morning after a night of great sleep.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Danielle: I am extremely introverted, which means that people pull energy from me instead of giving energy to me. Not a bad thing, just how it is. I had always felt uncomfortable about being introverted, but reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet was a life-changing lightning bolt that made me realize it was ok to be me – or, as you would put it, to Be Danielle. Her research proves it’s not only ok to be introverted, it’s beneficial in many ways. Our world is not particularly conducive to introversion, though. I remember being called ‘shy’ in a derogatory way when I was a kid and being constantly pushed to be around people. My respite after a long day at school was to come home and get to read alone in my room, and I remember one afternoon my mom asked me, “Why don’t you make plans to play with your friends after school?” All at once it occurred to me for the first time that that was something the other kids did, so I was different, and also, I didn’t want to do that at all. After all, I had just spent all day with those friends. But I tried to be “normal” and more social and carried that effort with me my whole life. So reading Quiet, as a 35-year-old attorney, taught me more about myself than I could have imagined. I understood why I went into law – because I loved getting to spend long hours thinking out an agreement or problem – and why I was miserable in my legal practice – because we didn’t have long hours to think; work had to be done quickly and while being constantly pulled away to answer emails within a few minutes of them arriving and juggle clients. I realized that’s probably why many lawyers are unhappy. We go into it for the intellectual challenge and deep thought, and come out of it into a peripatetic job managing the constant needs of others. The two don’t match up. I started thinking seriously about my future and how to structure my life so that it fit me, instead of me trying to fit it.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Danielle: I remind myself to be thankful for my problems. I struggle with gratefulness practice because it feels a bit forced to me, and I don’t like that feeling. But noticing my problems and being thankful for them – that they’re not bigger, that there might be a silver lining to them, that they show me what’s important to me – is simply noticing reality and shifting perspective a little bit. There was an investor in Japan, Wahei Takeda, who was often called the Warren Buffett of Japan, and he actually required that the companies he invested in have thankfulness as an institutional practice. If they refused, he pulled his money out. I think it showed him whether the people running those companies shared his values or not, and he didn’t want to be supporting a company of people who didn’t share his values. And neither do I.

  • Crystal Ellefsen 12:00:11 on 2018/03/27 Permalink

    Today is The 12th Anniversary of This Blog 

    The days are long but the years are short – and I’m in shock to realize that today is the twelfth anniversary of this blog. Which I usually don’t even call my "blog" anymore, because that seems so dated; now I just refer to this destination as my "site."

    Here's a link to my very first entry: The blog begins. I wish I could see it the way it was formatted back then. It has gone through many renovations since that time. And I’ve written more than 3000 posts since I began.

    When I started this blog, I had no expectations for it; I started it as a way to test the happiness finding that novelty and challenge bring happiness. What could I do that was novel and challenging? I decided to try starting a blog.

    It’s funny to look back and realize that I started my blog before I started using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, podcast, my newsletter, my "Moment of Happiness" daily email, the Better app...any of that. I’m sure that my happy experience with my blog made me more open to the possibilities of using other social media.

    I remember that all those twelve years ago, I was very nervous about putting my words out into the world directly -- and I comforted myself with the thought that it didn't matter what it looked like because no one would ever read it. I fully expected to give my blog a good honest try, and then to abandon it, just as I did my gratitude journal. But my blog changed my life.

    It's unnerving to reflect on how flippantly I undertook this project. I might well have tried something else novel and challenging, like learning the ukulele. It's unnerving because now this blog is a major engine of happiness in my life.

    Bonus: it’s been so fun to hear from many people about how they’ve started their own blogs, after reading about my experience of doing so in my book The Happiness Project.

    If you’d like to read highlights from this site, check out the ebook, The Best of The Happiness Project Blog: Ten Years of Happiness, Good Habits, and More, which features my favorite posts from the first ten years of this site.

    Having this site gives me creative freedom—I can put my words out into the world directly and immediately, with no editor or publisher to accommodate. It gives me the ability to think more deeply—only through writing do I learn new subjects or have original ideas, and I often test a new idea by writing about it here. It gives me an identity—just as the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast has given me new friends, new knowledge, new affiliations, new conferences to attend, so has this site. And it gives me a way to shine a spotlight on the work of other people—something that gives me great joy.

    Best of all, having this site gives me a way to engage with others on fascinating issues. Readers, your comments here have done so much to deepen my understanding of my subject—which, at the core, is human nature. Thank you. I so appreciate your enthusiasm, your support, and your brilliant, thought-provoking insights, examples, and questions. It makes me so happy.

  • feedwordpress 09:00:26 on 2018/03/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    Do You Undertake “Spring Cleaning?” 

    March 20 is the first day of spring. We’ve all heard the phrase "spring cleaning," but I wonder how many people actually do it. I sure don’t — but I think it’s an intriguing idea.

    I’m a big fan for using dates as milestones, as prompts for self-reflection or for action. People say Mother’s Day is a Hallmark-driven, consumerist holiday – but still, it’s nice to remember to call your mother. Ditto with Valentine’s Day – it may be annoying to feel like you’re being pushed to buy, decorate, and celebrate – but still, it’s nice to take a moment to celebrate the people you love. Making New Year’s resolutions on January 1st may be arbitrary, but the discussion around that date helps us remember to think, "How might I make the new year better than last year?"

    And the first day of spring and the idea of "spring cleaning" can act as a catalyst for cleaning and clearing.

    The challenge of clearing clutter is one of my favorite sub-topics within the larger subject of happiness. For some reason, I find it utterly absorbing. It’s interesting – researchers aren’t very interested in exploring the connection between happiness and clutter, but in popular culture, it’s a huge subject of discussion.

    I’ve found that for most people – and certainly for me – outer order contributes to inner calm. We’d all agree that in the context of a happy life, something like a crowded closet or an overflowing in-basket is a trivial issue, yet most people find that when they clear clutter, they feel happier, more energetic, and more creative.

    Do you find that getting control of the stuff in your life -- making your bed, hanging up your coat, clearing off your desk, cleaning out the fridge -- makes you feel more in control of your life, generally? It may be an illusion, but it’s a helpful illusion.

    In Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I write about the "Strategy of First Steps." At least in my part of the world, spring feels like the right time to begin to tackle clutter-clearing, because as nature becomes renewed, fresh, and energized, we want our homes, offices, and cars to feel recharged as well. The outer world is bursting with growth, and it’s a good time to create more space for our own growth in our surroundings.

    "Oh! Old rubbish! Old letters, old clothes, old objects that one does not want to throw away. How well nature has understood that, every year, she must change her leaves, her flowers, her fruit and her vegetables, and make manure out of the mementoes of her year!" –The Journal of Jules Renard (a wonderful book by the way)

    For a while now, just for fun, I’ve been working on a short book called Outer Order, Inner Calm – and I’m excited to announce that it’s coming out March 2019. Just in time for spring-cleaning. If you want to hear more about the book, its publication date, get bonus tips, and so on, sign up for my monthly newsletter.

    If you’d like to read more about creating outer order, these posts provide tips, ideas, and strategies for clutter-busting.

    Of course, there’s no bad time to clear clutter. Once you’re ready to begin, now is always the best time. But when we need a reminder, the first day of spring is as good as any.

    Do you plan to do any spring cleaning? Of what?

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