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  • Crystal Ellefsen 10:00:20 on 2018/12/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , commitments, , , , , , , Relationships, , , ,   

    2018 Is Almost Over! Time for an “18 for 2018” Update. 

    In episodes 149 and 152 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I talked about how we created a list of our "18 for 2018"—eighteen things we wanted to get done in 2018.

    I've been surprised by how enthusiastically people have embraced this approach to making changes and meeting aims for the new year. It's a really fun exercise.

    Well, we’re nearing the end of 2018, and I thought I’d review my progress so far.

    I have to say, I'm pleased with my list! I've crossed off every item.

    1. Start having weekly adventures with Eleanor.

    Eleanor and I have gone on many adventures in 2018, to the Cooper Hewitt (Eleanor's favorite museum), the Metropolitan Museum, the Frick, Color Factory exhibit, the Asia Society, and elsewhere. We also did a big adventure to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, though that doesn't really count as a "weekly" adventure.

    eleanor at museum 1 

    2. Fix my headset, runs out of battery really fast.

    3. Set up a home studio in this closet for my "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live" Facebook show.

    After talking to a lighting expert, I decided not to convert my closet, which he thought might seem claustrophobic to me and viewers, so instead, I bought a big standing light. He showed me how to adjust the light in the room for better video quality. Click here to view the schedule and join me on my next live show.

    4. Work with Barnaby so he’s better at coming when I call him.

    When I announced on the Happier podcast that I'd given up on this item, many listeners got in touch to encourage me to keep working on it—so I did! Now Barnaby does reliably come from anywhere in the apartment when I say "Barnaby, TOUCH."

    5. Clean out my massive tote bag collection. Each one is special.

    6. Take Eleanor to get her contacts checked.

    Although she (and I) resisted dealing with it, Eleanor is now very happy to be wearing contacts.

    7. Start making consistent progress on "Report to the Committee on Exploration." [should be crossed out//]

    We're in the very final stages of this project! My friend and I are creating this together, and our part is finished. All that's left is to receive the actual books. I'm so excited to see the final masterpiece. (If you want to read about a similar project called "Four to Llewelyn's Edge," I describe it here). We even have a gorgeous logo that was created by the brilliant Gabe Greenberg// for this imaginary inter-steller organization.

    8. Create a work calendar for the year.

    9. Finish My Color Pilgrimage and figure out what the heck to do with it; similarly, Outer Order, Inner Calm.

    Outer Order, Inner Calm is well on its way to publication on March 5, 2018. (If you feel inclined to pre-order, I really appreciate it! Pre-orders give such a boost to a book among booksellers, the public, and the press). Because of that book's publication, and also because The Happiness Project, Tenth Anniversary Edition came out November 2018, I decided to postpone worrying about My Color Pilgrimage until February 2019. I want things to calm down a bit.

    10. Tap more into my love of smell.

    I've been trying new perfumes more consistently and wearing my favorites more consistently. (One of my favorite times to wear perfume? When I'm going to bed.) I also signed up for two terrific perfume courses at the Pratt Institute. This weekend is my final class. Most important, I've been more aware of scent as I go through my ordinary day. It's easy to ignore smells, I find, if I don't make an effort to notice and appreciate them.

    11. Plan perfume field trip with a friend. [should be crossed out//]

    I did this twice and want to continue to do it. I've been to Perfumerie and Fueguia—I highly recommend both shops. I tried to go to Twisted Lily, which is near the Panoply studio where I recorded the Happier podcast, but it was closed. Eleanor and I went to an exhibit called "Design Beyond Vision" at the Cooper Hewitt—that was a great scent field trip. We visited a perfume museum when we were in Paris this summer. I'm always looking for a way to have a scent field trip.

    12. Get new phone for camera to improve the video quality of my weekly Facebook show, "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live".

    13. Figure out Instagram features and use it regularly.

    I still want to make better use of the many fun features of Instagram, but I am using it consistently. Eleanor has really enjoyed showing me how to use some of its quirkier aspects.

    14. Decide on a cause to give to as a family.

    We decided to give to Bottom Line, which helps low-income and first-generation-to-college students get to and through college; students get individual support to ensure they have the information and guidance they need to get into and graduate from college, from being a high-school senior all the way through to college graduation and career plan. I have a friend who works in philanthropy and is especially knowledgeable about educational organizations, and she recommended Bottom Line as an organization that does a really great job achieving its aims.

    15. Create the Four Tendencies workshop.

    As I expected, this item was one of the most demanding of all the items on the list. It took many months, lots of hard work, and the contributions of several terrific people. It's so exciting to have it finished! Ever since Better Than Before was published, people have asked for a Four Tendencies workshop. It's thrilling to be able to answer "yes" at last.

    16. Deal with the items we want to donate to Housing Works.

    In an extraordinary piece of luck, a Housing Works store has opened less than a block from my apartment. I've given so much to Housing Works (which, unlike many places, also accepts books). Working on Outer Order, Inner Calm has really helped me to stay focus on the satisfaction of donating items.

    17. Creating a list for listeners of the Try This at Homes and Happiness Hacks so far.

    At last! And just in time. You can download these two PDF resources here. I'll update these lists at the end of each year, and periodically after that.

    18. Get current with making physical photo albums with Shutterfly.


    What conclusions do I draw from my list?

    The biggest conclusion is that making an "18 for 2018" list is a great idea. I'm sure that I accomplished much more in 2018 than I would have otherwise. Putting items on the list, reviewing the list, talking it over with Elizabeth, seeing the list on the cork-board next to my desk, the desire to score a perfect 18 by December 31—all these mean that I'm much more likely to get these things done.

    Plus it's fun! I got a tremendous kick out of this challenge.

    I've also concluded that it's good to have a mix of items, with different levels of difficulty.

    Some span a long period of time and take collaboration with other people, like #9 and #15.

    Some are fairly easy, but need to be done regularly for me to see the benefit, like #1 or #16.

    Some were fairly easy to cross off the list, like #14.

    Some are time-consuming, but just once, or every once in a while, like #6.

    Some are fun, like #10 and #11.

    Some aren't fun, like #18.

    But they've all made my life happier in some way.

    One question: Given that I completed all items, should I have aimed higher? Was I too modest in my list-making? Robert Browning wrote, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what's a heaven for?" I can see an argument for both approaches.

    Are you finding it fun or burdensome to try to meet your New Year’s resolutions, observe your one-word theme for the year, or tackle your "18 for 2018?" 

    Want to share your list on Instagram? Use #18for2018 and #HappierPodcast and tag me: @gretchenrubin

  • feedwordpress 10:00:18 on 2018/12/06 Permalink
    Tags: aging, , , How to Live Forever book, , Marc Freedman, mentorship, Relationships   

    “Society Grows Great When Older People Plant Trees Under Whose Shade They Shall Never Sit.” 

    Interview: Marc Freedman

    Marc Freedman is the President and CEO of Encore.org, and is a renowned social entrepreneur, thinker, and writer.  I've been interested in his work for a long time. Among other things, he highlights the significance of harnessing the experience and talent of people past midlife as a way to make the world better.

    This is important, because in 2019, for the first time ever, the United States will have more people older than age 60 than younger than age 18.

    In his terrific new book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, Marc Freedman examines how we can make a more-old-than-young society work for all ages. But not only that–he also emphasizes how we can find fulfillment and happiness in our longer lives by connecting with the next generation.

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

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

    Marc: Walking. I walk about five miles a day, up and down the hills of Berkeley, California. It clears my mind—and it’s good for my dogs, too!

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

    Marc: I learned in my research for this book that those in middle age or older who invest in nurturing the next generation are three times as likely to be happy as those who don’t. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to that at 18, but it’s hugely important to me now.

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

    Marc: Experience Corps, which I helped create more than 20 years ago, taps the time and talents of older adults to help 30,000 children in urban elementary schools learn to read every year. It’s a tutoring program, right? Well, not exactly. The conventional wisdom is that the relationships provide a foundation for the tutoring help. Today I think that formulation has it backward. The reading lessons are the scaffolding around which a rich array of bonds can take hold. And these connections aren’t just a means to an end; they’re an important end in and of themselves. In other words, I’ve realized that Experience Corps is actually a relationship program. You could say it’s helping to clear the market for love!

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

    Marc: I make no claim on healthy habits! I’m 60, travel all the time, and have three sons—ages 8, 10 and 12. I have tried to develop healthy sleeping and eating habits for decades and failed over and over again. I can say, in all seriousness, that my love of music and movies has served me well, leading to many relaxing moments, quality time with others, even creative insights.

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

    Marc: I used to eat any and all doughnuts. Now I only eat high quality doughnuts.

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

    Marc: I’d say I’m a Rebel/Obliger hybrid. I want to get the job done in a way that makes me proud, but I seem determined to do it on my terms and my timetable. So, as you might guess, I have a lot of trouble with deadlines. In college, I set what I think is still an intercollegiate record for incomplete classes. In my first three semesters, I racked up nine incompletes—impressive, considering that I’d only taken 12 courses and four of them were pass-fail. Things haven’t improved much since then, I’m afraid.

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

    Marc: Travel, stress, deadlines, kids, dogs, parties, doughnuts. I’d say everything interferes at one time or another.

    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.?

    Marc: I have had my share of health scares, and after each one, I expand my capacity for gratitude and renew my commitment to take better care of myself. I’m really quite religious about walking every day now. Knee troubles that threatened to make that impossible but have now thankfully vanished.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Marc: I often quote a Greek proverb that reads, “Society grows great when older people plant trees under whose shade they shall never sit.” I see now that How to Live Forever has been all about planting seeds, irrigating them, letting life bloom. It’s ironic that my own great mentor in much of this was a man named (John) Gardner. It is our role as older people to plant those trees under whose shade we shall never sit. Our task is not to try to be young, but to be there for those who actually are.

  • gretchenrubin 12:00:28 on 2018/11/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , Relationships   

    Want to Give the Gift of a Book This Holiday Season? A Gift Guide for All Kinds of Readers. 

    It's holiday time! And that means it's time to choose gifts for the people in our lives. Which can be fun, but can also be frustrating and difficult.

    One of the best gifts to give is a book. How I love books. Plus they're easy to wrap, easy to transport, and easy to re-gift if necessary.

    But that leads to the question...what book?

    Here are some suggestions for different categories of gift-recipients, with suggestions of books that I love.

    If I'd made this list last week, or if I did it next week, I'm sure I'd come up with an entirely different list. I love so many books, it's hard to pick out a few. But this is a start.

    For a new parent: Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott

    For the parent of small children: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

    For a person interested in spirituality: Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

    For a person who loves celebrity memoirs: Born Standing Up, Steve Martin

    For someone who loves to cook: Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin

    For a fisherman: A River Runs Through It, Norman McLean

    For a history lover: Their Finest Hour, Winston Churchill

    For someone who loves a great study of character: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

    For a nature-lover: Into the Wild, John Krakauer

    For a person who's interested in sports and leadership: The Captain Class, Sam Walker

    For someone who loves fantasy: American Gods, Neil Gaiman

    For someone who loves to write: A Writer's Diary, Virginia Woolf

    For someone who loves science fiction: Lord of Light, Robert Zelazny

    Book that changed my life: Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes (Want to read my interview with Gary Taubes? Request it here.)

    Book that was made into a movie, and both are brilliant: Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

    Book that I played hooky from work to stay home to read: The Stand, Stephen King (I recommend the standard, not the unabridged, version)

    Book that people keep telling me to read: Bad Blood, John Carreyrou

    For someone who's starting to date or looking for a job: First Impressions, Ann Demarais and Valerie White

    For someone with a short attention span or who loves very short stories: Revenge of the Lawn, Richard Brautigan

    For someone who loves essays: Selected EssaysGeorge Orwell

    For a person interested in human nature: The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James

    For a person interested in film: In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch

    For a person interested in friendship: Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett

    For a person interested in journalism: The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm

    For a person who loves a twist at the end: The End of the Affair, Graham Greene


    If you're buying a book for a child or young-adult, check out my list of 81 Favorite Works of Children's and Young-Adult Literature. So many good books!

    Of course, I can't resist recommending my own books.

    If you're giving one of my books as a gift, and want to put in a free, personalized bookplate to make it more special, sign up here to request one. Feel free to request as many as you want (within reason). Alas, because of mailing costs, I can offer this to people in the U.S. and Canada only. Sorry about that!

    If you'd like to see what I've read, follow me on Goodreads. Or look on Facebook, where every Sunday night, on #GretchenRubinReads, I post a photo of the books I've read that week.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, I've changed my reading habits so that now, if I don't like a book, I stop reading it. So if you see a book listed in Goodreads or on Facebook, you know that I liked a book well enough to finish it.

    I love to choose, give, and receive books!

  • gretchenrubin 12:00:29 on 2018/11/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , guide, , , , Relationships   

    Gift Guide for Kids in College and Middle School, Suggested by My Daughters 

    One of the great joys of life is giving people gifts that they want and need—and a big happiness stumbling block is not having any good ideas for what such a gift might be.

    I decided to ask my daughters what they'd suggest, for people wanting to buy gifts for children their age.

    My older daughter Eliza is a sophomore in college. She suggests:

    • temporary tattoos (such as these)
    • fun flip-flops for the shower
    • Command hooks of various kinds
    • twinkle lights
    • nice pens
    • a smart speaker
    • soft blanket
    • fun keychain
    • bean bag or inflatable chair (I have to admit, I had no idea what an "inflatable chair" was, but Eliza explained that it's something like this.)
    • a fun collapsible umbrella
    • gift card to Starbucks or food places

    My younger daughter Eleanor is in middle school. She made the point that this is a tough age for gift-giving, because kids are too old for toys but too young for many items that adults would enjoy.

    She suggests:

    If you're looking for unexpected, delightful gifts for recipients of any age, check out the MoMa Gift Store.

    What are your suggestions for good gifts for these ages?

  • gretchenrubin 10:00:48 on 2018/09/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Relationships, , workshop   

    You Asked for It: You Got It: Announcing the Four Tendencies Workshop! 

    Ever since I first introduced the idea of the Four Tendencies, people have asked me for more and more information.

    After I created the free Quiz to tell people whether they're Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels, people wanted more information.

    When I wrote Better Than Before, my book about how to make and break habits, I devoted the very first chapter to the Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I decided to write a whole book about the Four Tendencies, called (spoiler alert) The Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I created a free app, the Better app, where people can post questions, create accountability, swap strategies, and generally commiserate about the Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I created a video course for people who wanted to go deeper into the nuances of the Four Tendencies. But people still wanted more!

    I keep hearing from readers and listeners who want to hold workshops about the Four Tendencies.

    Some people are excited about the framework and want to spread the information to their team, clients, or employees.  They know that by taking the Four Tendencies into account, they can communicate more effectively, end procrastination, understand resistance, and generally get things done more easily.

    So...here it is! The Four Tendencies Workshop.

    This workshop is for you if you’d like to present an in-person workshop with a group of adults to teach them about my Four Tendencies personality framework.

    This workshop is designed for small-to-large groups of adults who want to learn how the Four Tendencies can help them improve their relationships with clients, co-workers, patients, students, trainees, friends, or family—as well as prevent conflict, improve procrastination, address burnout, promote understanding, and persuade effectively.

    Rather than just presenting the information from The Four Tendencies book, this workshop offers scenarios and opportunities to practice applying knowledge in pairs or small groups. It's a fun, high-energy, and very engaging experience.

    To facilitate this workshop, you don’t need expertise—only a knowledge of the participants and their goals, and a willingness to explore with them the applications of the Four Tendencies.

    Whether you’re a health-care professional, an in-house educator at a large corporation, an independent consultant helping small organizations with team building, a coach, pastor, teacher, or manager, this workshop provides all the materials you need to lead your group through a 1-, 2-, or 3-hour workshop about the Four Tendencies framework.

    Click here to learn more or register now.

    Note: If you're looking for a way to dive deeper into the Four Tendencies framework as an individual, then you'll want to consider my Four Tendencies video course (now open for enrollment!); this workshop was created for in-person group facilitators.

    I'm so happy to be able to offer this resource for people. And, I will give myself a gold star: this launch means I can cross another item off my "18 for 2018" list. #15 is accomplished!

    I hope you and your group find the workshop useful.


  • feedwordpress 10:00:02 on 2018/06/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Pam Lobley, , , Relationships   

    “Let’s Take the Pressure Off, and Enjoy the Passage of Time.” 

    Interview: Pam Lobley.

    Pam Lobley has been a columnist and writer for many publications, including the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, BlogHer, and others.

    She's also the author of the book Why Can't We Just Play?: What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy.

    Pam Lobley's work reminds me of my one-minute video about "The days are long, but the years are short." You can watch it here.  It also reminds me of my resolution in my book Happier at Home, to "guard my children's free time."

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

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

    Pam: When I was 18, I figured happiness would be found in grand adventures, success, and accomplishments. But I have found that my deepest happiness has come not from the extraordinary days, but from the ordinary ones. Big accomplishments and milestones do bring happiness, but they can also bring stress, change and pressure. A new job or a book publishing deal are wonderful, but they also can mean taking on new and difficult tasks and pressures. A fancy vacation is delightful, but the expense, scheduling and unexpected disappointments can diminish the joyful feeling - like the time we took the kids to Disney and they weren’t that interested in the rides. They just kept asking when could we go back to the hotel and swim in the pool!

    Running into a good friend while I’m walking the dog or driving to the orthodontist with my son and talking about his day ... these regular moments bring me so much happiness, notably because they are built in to my life and occur naturally. Realizing that they make me happy leads me to another realization - my life is a happy one! This kind of appreciation of the present moment would not have been possible for me to understand at age 18.

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

    Pam: I hate to admit this, but I am not that organized. I think I am, and I always have a to-do list, but in reality everything takes longer than I think it will, I let stuff slide left and right, and then I end up late and rushing. Rushing kills my joy every time. That feeling of being behind and trying to finish a few things before time runs out is so distracting and defeating. The rushing itself makes me unhappy, then it compounds itself because I tend to make bad decisions or feel irritation when I am rushed - and that leads to further unhappiness.

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

    Pam: I need 7+ hours of sleep a night, I exercise several times a week, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I get outside for some time every day. Without these things I am super cranky and definitely not creative.

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

    Pam: Questioner! Questioning the conventional wisdom of raising children today is what led me to write my book Why Can't We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy. I asked myself, "Why is our family life so overscheduled, and when did parenting get to overwrought and frantic?" I answered it by removing all our activities for an entire summer, and letting my sons, ages 8 and 10 at that time, "just" play. Because we had NO scheduled activities, no camps, no classes - nothing but play and free time - I wryly referred to that summer as "a summer from the 1950s" and read and researched that era as the weeks went by. Adopting the 1950s mindset offered sharp perspective of current family values. Was that decade a better time to raise children? Well, it certainly was a simpler time. People did not check emails at midnight or enroll their 12 year olds in travel baseball leagues with 4 games a week.

    We think of the 1950s as a time when conformity reigned supreme, but there is plenty of conformity in this era as well. The pressure to control and improve your children, and to micromanage their days is true for the vast majority of middle class families. Once I got off that merry-go-round, I saw my kids more clearly. They needed tremendous amounts of down time, and they were growing up in a world which provided almost none. In addition, I became aware that the more we rushed around, the faster I felt they grew up, and the less time I had to enjoy simply being with them. Being a Questioner is the reason I had the idea, and then the stamina, to carry out that experiment.

    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?

    Pam: I love that line from the James Taylor song, "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time..." I’m somewhat obsessed with the passage of time. I am constantly aware of how precious our time on earth is, how quickly kids grow up, how life can change in an instant, of how memories we create are kept alive. Resisting the urge to do more, building free time our family’s schedule is something I strive for daily, though not always successfully. Savoring days when the kids are growing up is especially important to me, but every stage of life has its treasures and opportunities, and I don’t want to blur past them. A phone call with my sister, planning a party with my husband, shopping with my teen for his prom tux ... rather than pressing through those tasks, I remind myself to take my time. Let those moments be ones of happiness. Let things take longer. Let’s take the pressure off, and enjoy the passage of time.

    Why Can't We Just Play? by Pa m Lobley

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

    “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.

  • feedwordpress 10:30:47 on 2018/02/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , melissa Dahl, Relationships   

    “I Love Running More for the Mental Clarity It Provides Than Anything Else.” 

    Interview: Melissa Dahl.

    Melissa is a senior editor at New York Magazine, and I got to know her work because I've been a long-time fan of Science of Us, a site that has now joined The Cut. The sites cover mental health, human behavior, personality, relationships, work, health, wellness -- all subjects that I love to read about.

    Melissa is also the author of new book about a fairly unconventional topic: Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. She looks at the situations that make us feel awkward, and argues that such moments -- although, well, awkward -- have great value. Fascinating!

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

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

It’s funny — when I would tell my friends and colleagues what I was writing about, a lot of them had the same reaction: “You don’t strike me as particularly awkward!” Which, first of all, thank you, I will take the compliment.

    But that response kind of encapsulates what ended up interesting me (and surprising me) about this subject. I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of understanding awkwardness as an emotion, not a personality trait. I mean, it can be both of those things — there are certainly “awkward people” out there. But to me, it’s also a feeling. I may not seem “awkward” from the outside, but I feel it almost constantly! I’m always sure I’m saying or doing the wrong thing; I’m always convinced that people are staring or talking about me after I’ve said or done the wrong thing.

    Another thing that surprised me as I was studying this odd little emotion: I have a few first drafts of chapters floating around in my Google docs somewhere, which are all about how to totally ward yourself off from this feeling — with science! This book was initially going to be about how to “overcome awkwardness”; I actually just the other day looked at my book contract with Penguin, and that’s the description of the book that’s in there! But I didn’t end up writing about that at all. In the end, it became more about accepting awkwardness, and even appreciating it. It became a way of finding joy in the absolute absurdity of the human experience.

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

    Melissa: TWITTER! Oh my god!

    I mean, on the one hand, it’s great. I’ve connected with so many cool people through Twitter — it has brought genuinely good things to my life. I’ve made offline, IRL friends through idle chitchat on the site, and I’ve met editors and writers in my field who I’ve ended up working with. Sometimes it helps spark story ideas, or alerts me to some new psychology research that I’m able to cover before anyone else does. Actually, now that I think about it, I practically owe this book to Twitter: Years ago, I started chatting about running with another writer, who eventually connected me with her literary agent, who eventually sold Cringeworthy to Penguin!

    But on the other hand! Oh, the other, terrible hand. I waste so much time on the site, first of all. I know I need to download one of those apps that limits the time you spend on time-waster websites, but I think part of me doesn’t want to give it up. (Also, I tried doing this years ago, and just found ways to get around the blocks I set up for myself — I downloaded the app to Chrome, so after a while, I just started to go to Firefox to get on Twitter. Gah!) It’s also starting to feel almost unethical to stay on the site — I read something somewhere once (maybe on The Awl? RIP!) that compared it to eating meat: It’s something most of us ethically, logically, know we mayyyyybe should give up, or at least limit, but we just … don’t … want to.

    Can you quit a habit that part of you doesn’t really want to quit? I don’t know. But I do know this is getting ridiculous; I checked Twitter twice while writing this answer.

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

    Melissa: When I was in the final stages of writing Cringeworthy, a lot of my healthy habits disappeared as I desperately tried to finish this, the biggest project I’ve ever attempted. The last few days were particularly ridiculous: me shunning my perfectly functional desk for an Ikea Poang chair, surrounded by half-drunk cans of energy drinks and various open bags of chips and cookies. (All the greats are said to have had their idiosyncratic writing rituals; I was sad to discover that this, apparently, is mine.)

    It really wasn’t that hard to clean my diet back up, but during this time, I’d also totally fallen out of the habit of running, something I’ve done most days of the week for the past 10 years or so. There are obvious physical benefits to running, or cardio in general, but I’ve always loved the activity more for the mental clarity it provides than anything else. I always have some new race on the horizon, which usually helps keep me motivated. But for some reason, I just couldn’t get back into it! I would sign up for races and then fail to train adequately, so I would end up skipping them. I was even supposed to run the NYC Marathon this fall, but had to skip that, too, because — again — I hadn’t kept up with the training.

    So I tried something new: a run streak. The rules are simple. You run every single day, for at least one mile. And … it worked! I’ve run every day for the last seventy days, even in the rain, even in the snow. (Okay, sometimes I take it indoors, but still. It counts!) I know you’ve written, Gretchen, on how the small things we do every day sometimes matter more than the big things we do once in a while, and that feels so true to me in this experience.

    I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up. One hundred days seems like a nice goal. Only 30 days away at this point! But at the same time, I’ve sort of decided I’m free to abandon it whenever I feel like it. The point of this whole thing was to get back into the habit of running, and that’s certainly happened.

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

    Melissa: Honestly, I sometimes struggle with feeling like a total pain, or a killjoy! I want to eat healthy, but if everyone else is ordering fries, I feel like I’m letting them down, somehow, if I order a salad. People comment on it, you know? Or if I’m on vacation, and I get up to go running, people comment on that too. It’s those little comments that bug me more than they should. Sometimes I brush them off, but sometimes even anticipating them is enough to make me drop my habit for the duration of the dinner out, or the group vacation, or whatever.

    I’m getting better at sticking to my healthy habits, anyway, though. Maybe it’s just a matter of growing up a bit, and feeling more comfortable in my own dorky Upholder skin.

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

    Melissa: As I mentioned earlier, I lean Upholder, for sure. It’s usually not difficult for me to keep outer and inner expectations — well, with the exception of Twitter, I guess? Ha. But, yeah — I run marathons for fun, I wrote this book on top of having a full-time job. I floss.

    What I’ve really appreciated from your writing about the Four Tendencies is something that you’ve said yourself, Gretchen — correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember you saying that people have asked you things about the changes you made while writing books like The Happiness Project like, “How did you get yourself to do that?” And your response was something like, “I just … did it?” That’s mostly how I operate, too. I decide to make a change, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of inner or outer cajoling to make it happen. (I guess with the run streak and the Twitter debacle I’ve described my exceptions to this rule! But generally, when I decide to do something, I do just … do it.) I grew up going to church, and my favorite verse even when I was a little kid encapsulates this tendency of mine. I like the old-timey King James Version: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

    Anyway! What I’ve really appreciated about this notion of “tendencies” is the grace it’s reminded me to give other people. Not everyone functions the way I do — and that’s fine! It’s helped me so much at work and in my personal life, as a gentle little reminder that different people are different, and not everyone sees and responds to the world in the same way I do.

    Gretchen: I would also, of course, shine a spotlight on anything that you’d particularly like to bring to readers’ attention.

    Melissa: This sort of builds on that last question, of reminding yourself that your way of seeing the world is not the only way of seeing the world. It gets at what I’ve started to call Cringe Theory.

    I think that the moments that make you cringe are the moments when you realize that there is a difference between the way you perceive yourself and the way that others perceive you. Something that really helped me understand the feeling, actually, was a piece I wrote a couple years ago for Science of Us, about why so many of us cringe at the sound of our own voices. Briefly, here’s an explanation for why our voices sound so different to us when we hear them played back: When you speak, you hear your own voice through your ears, but you’re also sort of hearing it through the bones of your skull. Bone conduction transmits lower frequencies than air conduction; if you’ve ever heard a recording of your own voice and been surprised at how much higher-pitched you sound, this is why.

    So, okay, that helps explain why your recorded voice sounds so different. But why does that make you cringe?

    This turns out to be a pretty perfect metaphor for my understanding of cringe theory. I think we cringe — so, we feel awkward, in other words — when the version of ourselves we think we’re presenting to the world meets the version of ourselves the world is actually seeing. We like to pretend those two are one and the same, and that the way you perceive yourself is the way others are perceiving you, too. Sometimes that’s true. But when it isn’t — when you see the way your self-concept isn’t measuring up to others’ concept of you — I think that’s when we cringe at ourselves.

    It’s when we cringe at others, too — when we can see the self that someone else is trying to present to the world, and we can also see that they’re not quite succeeding.

    So, looked at in this way, awkward or embarrassing moments are moments that force you out of your own perspective and into someone else’s. They remind you that your way of looking at the world is not the only way. I’ve come to genuinely love them for that. It’s nice to get a break every once in a while from your own point of view.

  • feedwordpress 15:05:14 on 2018/02/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , Relationships, spouse, sweetheart, valentines   

    Self-knowledge Can Help You Strengthen Your Romantic Relationships 

    Valentine’s Day is almost here – and if you’ve been thinking about the relationships in your life, you may be thinking about some questions that I often get: "How do people’s Tendencies play out in romantic relationships? Are any pairings particularly strong – or particularly troubled? Can The Four Tendencies help me improve my relationship?"

    If you don’t know anything about the Four Tendencies – whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel – you can take the free quiz here (more than 1.3 million people have taken it).

    When we first meet someone, we’re often attracted to the very qualities that, over time, will drive us nuts. An Upholder might initially be intrigued by a Rebel’s refusal to play by the rules, and the Rebel may be drawn to the Upholder’s ability to get things done—but five years into the marriage, those qualities look much less attractive.

    For instance, I’m an Upholder, and realizing that my husband Jamie is a Questioner dramatically improved our dealings. One common (ironic, annoying) aspect of the Questioner Tendency is that Questioners often hate to answer questions. Now that I know that fact, I don’t take it personally when Jamie refuses to answer a question. Also, I know I’m more likely to get an answer from him if I explain why I’m asking. "What time are we leaving? Because I’m wondering if I have time to go to the gym."

    So if you know your Tendency and the Tendency of your sweetheart, that knowledge can help you strengthen your relationship, by alleviating resentment, boosting understanding, figuring out how to get things done more efficiently, and minimizing anger.

    So what are some things to keep in mind about the Four Tendencies, in relationships?


    • They’re self-directed; they get things done on their own and keep to their promises
    • They embrace routine and may struggle to adjust to sudden scheduling changes
    • They can be very committed to meeting inner expectations, even when it’s inconvenient for you—"I know we have guests this weekend, but I need to go for my twelve-mile run." This can make them seem cold
    • They may be judgmental of those who won’t or don’t meet expectations easily
    • They can seem uptight or rigid


    • They put a high value on reason, research, information, and efficiency
    • They follow an "authority" only if they trust his or her expertise and may reject "expert" opinion in favor of their own conclusions
    • Spouses may become frustrated by Questioners’ persistent questioning
    • Questioners often dislike being questioned themselves
    • They resist anything arbitrary—like "We have to clean the basement this weekend"
    • They can suffer "analysis-paralysis" when they can’t make a decision or move forward because they want more, more, more information
    • When making a request of a Questioner, spouses should include plenty of explanation—"We have to get the car inspected or risk a big fine," not "Because I say so" or "That’s the rule"


    • They put a high value on meeting commitments to others, however...
    • Obligers readily meet outer expectations but they struggle to meet inner expectations, and while sweethearts sometimes count as "outer," they often count as "inner"—in which case Obligers don’t meet a spouse’s expectation
    • They require supervision, deadlines, monitoring, and other forms of accountability
    • They may have trouble saying "no" or setting limits on others’ demands
    • They may have trouble delegating, because they feel that an expectations attaches to them personally—"I can’t hire someone to mow the lawn; I have to do it myself"
    • Spouses should ensure that the desires and needs of their Obliger spouses get articulated and met, or face the risk of Obliger-rebellion if Obligers feel that they’ve been exploited, neglected, or unheard for too long


    • They put a high value on freedom, choice, and self-expression; they can do anything they want to do
    • If someone asks or tells them to do something, they’re likely to resist – something like "doctor’s orders" annoy them
    • Rebels can often be manipulated to act out of resistance: "I’ll show you," "Watch me"
    • They may choose to act out of love for you
    • They resist routines, schedules, and repetitive tasks; they like to act spontaneously—"It’s midnight, and now I feel like fixing that door"
    • They resist supervision, advice, nagging, or reminders; when you remind Rebels to do a task, you’re very likely making it less likely that they will do it
    • They’re may resist settling down in a particular house, city, or job
    • To inspire a Rebel to act, it’s most effective to appeal to their identity, or to use information-consequence-choice

    Another common question is "How do the Tendencies pair up? Any particularly good combos or bad combos?"

    Your Tendency is just one narrow slice of your nature. So many elements go into people’s attraction for each other, and the success of a relationship, it’s hard to make too many generalizations. But here are a few:

    • Obligers are "type O" – they pair up the most easily with the other Tendencies.
    • If your sweetheart is a Rebel, you’re probably an Obliger. Rebels almost always pair up with Obligers, whether in romance or at work.
    • The most difficult pairing is Upholder + Rebel. It’s not unheard of, but it’s unusual, and often includes special circumstances. The two types are just very opposite from each other.

    Has understanding the Four Tendencies framework helped make your relationship stronger or more loving? I’d be very interested to hear how it played out in your situation if you feel like adding your comment. If you want to learn more about how to understand yourself and your sweetheart, order a copy of The Four Tendencies.

  • feedwordpress 10:00:12 on 2018/02/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Relationships,   

    My 5 Favorite Novels About Relationships 

    Given that Valentine’s Day is approaching, if you’d like to read a novel about relationships, here are some of my favorites.

    Never fear, each one stands on its own, and is well worth reading even if you’re not particularly interested in the subject. If you’re looking for a compelling, page-turning novel, choose any one of these:

    1. Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner – A beautiful account of love as it unfolds over the years. Fun fact: Justice O’Connor told me this is her favorite book.
    2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen – of course! One of the most purely enjoyable novels of all time, with a great hero and heroine.
    3. Happy All the Time, Laurie Colwin – a happy story of new love, with all its delights and anxieties.
    4. The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim – four very different women, strangers to each other, rent a castle in Italy for a month, which has unexpected consequences in their lives.
    5. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson – love comes to a minister, very late in his life. One of my favorite novels, ever.

    What’s your favorite book about relationships?

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