Podcast 13O: Seven Myths of Happiness.

Note to Readers and Listeners: I wanted to let you know that Elizabeth and I recorded this episode before the shocking and despicable events in Charlottesville, Virginia, of August 12, 2017, and following. That’s why we don’t mention it. If you’d like to hear some discussion, check out this Facebook Live video from August 15.

Such events are a reminder that all of us, in our own lives, must strive in our own actions and words to live up to the highest ideals of our country. What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States?

In recent days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the wartime speeches of Winston Churchill, and also about the “America feeling” I get, for instance, from this scene from the Rodgers and Hammerstein 1943 musical Oklahoma! If you’d like to hear me describe it, listen here.

And now — the show notes.

Update: I’m excited because my new book, The Four Tendencies, hits the shelves in just 27 days.

To thank readers who pre-order, I worked with a terrific production team to create a series of videos about the Four Tendencies. After the book goes on sale, I’ll charge for these videos, but until then, you can get access to them for free if you pre-order. Find all the info here. There’s an overview video, then subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.

We loved everyone’s suggestions for clever phrases to capture the distinction between people who like to tackle the hardest task first, and those who work up to the hardest task. My favorite: “up-hillers” and “down-hillers.”

Seven Myths of Happiness

1: Happy people are annoying and stupid.

2: Nothing changes a person’s happiness level much.

3: A “treat” will cheer you up.

4: Money can’t buy happiness. Here’s the article we mention, about using money to save time to boost happiness.

5: You’ll be happy as soon as you…

6: Spending some time alone will make you feel better.

7: The biggest myth: It’s selfish to try to be happier.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth didn’t plan play dates for Jack with new families.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I love the world of Game of Thrones! I love George R.R. Martins’ books, I love the HBO TV show, and I love “Binge Mode,” the GoT re-cap show with co-hosts Jason Concepcion and Mallory Rubin.

Free Resources:

  1. To get the pre-order bonus, you can find info here, or at happiercast.com/4tbonus. You’ll get the overview video as well as subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.  Free now; after the book comes out, there will be a charge for the video series.
  2.  If you’d like a free, signed bookplate or signature card, sign up here. U.S. and Canada only — sorry about that, mailing costs. Ask for as many as you’d like (within reason).

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

As I mentioned above, I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and free in-home or on-phone design consultations and free professional measuring.

Also check out Honest Tea, who is celebrating the lighthearted ways that we’re less than perfect through the #RefreshinglyHonest Project. Learn more by visiting HonestTea.com/podcast.

Check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial,  including postage and a digital scale — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

We love hearing from listeners:


To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” Check out these great shows: Side Hustle School and Happier in Hollywood.

HAPPIER listening!

A Four Tendencies Dilemma: What Would You Do with the Office Coffee Mug?

Have  I mentioned that my book The Four Tendencies is coming out in September? Oh right, I think I have.

Well, I’m gearing up for my book tour, and thinking about my book talk.

I’m considering opening my talk by describing a familiar situation that illustrates how differently the Four Tendencies see the world. What do you think of that idea? Consider this scenario:

“What Would You Do with the Office Coffee Mug?”

Imagine that you’ve been hired to work in sales in a small-to-medium sized office.

There’s an office kitchen with a sink, fridge, dishwasher, and a cabinet stocked with office mugs.

Although you haven’t met the night cleaning staff, you know that a crew comes in every night to vacuum, dust, empty the trash cans, handle the recycling, clean the kitchen, and wash and put the office mugs back in the cupboard.

There’s no sign in the office telling you what to do with your dirty mugs, and no one has mentioned the office etiquette to you.

The first time you used a mug and were deciding what to do with it, what idea most likely ran through your mind?

  1. My job is to do sales, and the cleaning staff’s job is to clean.
  2. It’s more efficient for the cleaning staff to spend the time cleaning, and for me to spend my time making sales.
  3. The cleaning staff shouldn’t have to clean up after me.
  4. No one can tell me what to do with my mug.

To be sure, your Tendency is just one narrow aspect of your character; two people of the same Tendency might behave differently depending on how considerate they are, how ambitious they are, how busy, how extroverted, and a million other things.

And of course your life experience influences your behavior. You might automatically deal with your mug  the way you dealt with mugs at your last job.

Nevertheless, I think there are some very general patterns, if you identified with those reactions:

1-likely to be an Upholder

2-likely to be a Questioner

3-likely to be an Obliger

4-likely to be a Rebel

However, it’s crucial to note that you can’t judge people’s Tendencies from their actions; you have to know what they’re thinking.

And you often can’t predict people’s actions from knowing their Tendency, because so many factors come into play.

For instance, in contrast to the predictions listed above, a Rebel might choose to clean a mug, with the thought, “It’s important to me to be a thoughtful member of this office.” An Obliger might not clean a mug, with the thought, “This office is dangerously close to failure. I need to spend every minute I possibly can making sales, or everyone will lose their jobs.” A Questioner might clean a mug, with the thought, “If clients come in and see a sink full of dirty dishes, they may assume we run a sloppy operation. The risk of losing sales is a very good reason for me to clean my dishes.”

Given the many different perspectives that can arise, even within the same Tendency, it’s easy how often people disagree. An Obliger might think, “I can’t believe that other people show so little common courtesy for others.”  A Questioner might think, “If you want to clean the mugs, fine, but don’t expect me to help. I’m here to make sales!” An Upholder might think, “I wouldn’t empty the trash cans, and I wouldn’t vacuum, and I don’t feel like I have to wash the dishes, those aren’t my jobs.” A Rebel thinks, “Why does everyone keep talking about the mugs? Sheesh, do whatever you want, that’s what I do.”

Studying the Four Tendencies has shown me that very often, there’s no single correct way to view a situation.

Want to learn your Tendency? Take the quiz here. (Hundreds of thousands of people have taken it.)

Want to join a lively discussion about the Four Tendencies? Join the Better app to ask questions, offer strategies and insights, and join Accountability Groups.

Want to get free access to my five videos about how to apply the Four Tendencies? To get the pre-order bonus, you can find details here. You’ll get the overview video as well as subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.  Free now; note after the book comes out, there will be a (fairly hefty) charge for the video series.

A Little Happier: Don’t Sleep Through the Beautiful Moments.

This moment happened many, many years ago, when I was first married to my husband Jamie. It was over in five minutes, and I was back asleep in bed, but I learned a crucial lesson (which, sadly, I often forget to apply).

Have you ever slept through a beautiful moment?

This mini-episode is brought to you by the Platinum Card from American Express. There’s a world of experiences waiting to open up with the Platinum Card–backed by the services and security of American Express.

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:


 Happier listening!

Agree? “Sometimes, If You Want to Be Happy, You’ve Got to Run Away to Bath and Marry a Punk Rocker.”

“Sometimes, if you want to be happy, you’ve got to run away to Bath and marry a punk rocker. Sometimes you’ve got to dye your hair cobalt blue or wander remote islands in Sicily, or cook your way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, for no very good reason.”

–Julie Powell, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

I love all books about year-long projects in self-improvement, and I loved this book. (Side note: it’s surprising just how big this category is.)

Reading this passage reminded me of a post that I myself wrote several years ago — A Happiness Lesson from Julia Child? — which remains one of my favorite pieces of everything I’ve ever written. I wrote it as a response to reading Child’s wonderful memoir, My Life in France.

Here’s the final paragraph of that post:

“Julia Child’s love for French cooking was so contagious that even today, almost fifty years after she wrote her first cookbook, we still feel her influence. I’m not sure whether I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” – but enthusiasm certainly helps. What a passionate life Julia Child led! And what a marvelous flavor she left behind.”

Agree, Disagree? “Habits of the Mind Far Outweigh Habits of the Body.”

Interview: Heather Harpham.

A friend recently gave me a copy of Heather Harpham’s new memoir Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, and I whipped through it.

First of all — the title. Of course. Plus, I love memoirs generally, and among other things, this memoir covers the time during which Heather Harpham’s young daughter went through a bone-marrow transplant.

I’m hugely interested in the subject of transplants and organ donation generally (read here if you want to know why, and about the happiest day of my life).

It’s also about romantic love, marriage, parenthood, crisis. And all told from the perspective of a Rebel! I do love spotting the Four Tendencies in action.

Heather Harpham also writes fiction, essays and reviews for many publications, has written and performed multiple solo plays, and teaches at various colleges and universities.

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

Heather: Walking in nature. Specifically, the aqueduct that runs parallel to the Hudson River, and cuts through my small town. In summer, it’s a leafy green lacy canopy. In winter, it’s bare and you can see the water. I love it there. Typically, I walk with my friend Barbara Feinberg, who is also a writer and a teacher and that means we get to talk shop, and gossip, as we walk. Secondly, eating (very consistently, almost every morning!) a croissant from Antoinette’s French bakery. I’m a giant believer in butter and flour as a habit that brings happiness. And in pausing to pet the cat, if you’re lucky enough to be allowed. Petting the cat might be the key to happiness.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That habits of the mind far outweigh habits of the body. How you think is everything. Everything.  It’s the one and only thing we have control over, our perceptions and reactions, the loop our mind runs. I think of political prisoners—Geronimo Pratt in this country, or the South African writer Breyten Breytenbach are just two examples of so many who endured decades in prison without losing hope, without becoming like their jailers. Resisting bitterness or despair, simply by tending their thoughts. That amazes me.

I had no idea of this possibility before, say, 30. I would willingly junk up my mind with any kind of self-destructive or judgmental nonsense that occurred to me. The world was much more comfortingly black and white, good guys and bad guys; I was often furious with unseen forces. Or with myself. Not in a productive, how can I change this behavior kind of way, just idly furious. After college, I made a choice not to become an attorney because, as much as a life fighting for causes appealed to me, I feared I’d lean too far into the angry, intolerant side of myself. And that turned out to be a good decision because being a writer has gradually nudged my mind into better habits. Storytelling forces a slower pace, a wider lens. If you want to describe someone, or someplace well, you have to widen your field of vision. You have to divine, or try to, motive and subtleties. Writing invites the act of empathy, even when empathy is out of reach. Somewhere, a staggeringly compassionate soul is maybe—through the acting of writing—figuring out how the small boy who was Donald Trump grew into a guy capable of demoralizing, alienating and insulting millions with a single Tweet. Hats off to them! I’m not there yet. That’s the big leagues. But I do believe kindness or empathy, as a habit of mind, can be cultivated.

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

Thinking I’m right. It astonishes me how reflexive that impulse is; I almost always, in any conflict, assume my own moral ascendancy. And that’s really too bad because when you think you’re right, you generally stop listening. Why would you listen when you already know the answer? My kids, as you can imagine, are not great fans of this quality. Ditto my husband. Luckily, happily, I’ve had almost two decades of partnership and of parenting to help remind me that there is another way to look at what I think I see clearly. Having a sense of humor helps in this cause. Kids don’t let you get away with arrogance; with other things maybe, but not that. They are great at pointing out your inconsistencies, your hypocrisies. I’m so thankful to them for that, but only a week or so after the fact.

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

When we were living in Durham for my daughter’s medical care and I had to watch her and many other children around us suffer on a pediatric bone marrow transplant unit, I began, not quite consciously but not totally unconsciously either, to restrict my eating. Obsessing over body image or food had been a habit since puberty, and this was just another iteration on that stale refrain. I’d drift through the day on coffee or a chocolate bar and then drink half a glass of red wine for dinner. I liked it, honestly. I liked fulfilling an ideal of “thin” as competent or in control. I was so out of control over what happened to my daughter that even an illusion of control was comforting.

One day it hit me that this was actually a very selfish thing I was up to. It’s a fantasy to think you can limit your self-destructive practices to yourself—they spill over. Any drug addict will tell you that, any alcoholic. When I realized that restricting my eating meant I had diminished energy, physically and emotionally, to give to Gracie and Brian and Gabe, I was very disappointed. I thought, I like this, I don’t want to give it up. On the other hand, I suddenly saw it as a kind of stealing. Hungry, I was often short tempered or fuzzy headed; I was taking away a good enough mom and replacing her with mediocre one. So, reluctantly, I began to eat normally again. I didn’t want to, and I was still in a loop of mental mishegoss over body image (what a waste of so many women’s TIME!). But I recognized that this was a behavior that could be stopped. And, once I was well fed, I did in fact have more conversation, more caring, more jokes, more flexibility, more of whatever the heck the self is made of—to share.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

I have three people whose habits I try to adopt daily: a humanist-atheist (the novelist Brian Morton), a Buddhist (the improviser Ruth Zaporah) and Jesus, the original Christian, who appears in my imagination as a kind of Casual Friday Jesus, but Jesus.

Brian is my husband so I get to watch and learn from his habits at close range. He’s phenomenally disciplined as a writer and always has been. He writes daily, or tries to. Every single day, in his view, is a work day creatively speaking, and that’s a beautiful thing. He’s taught me that if you want to be taken seriously in the world, if you want the privilege of sharing your work with others, then step one is to take yourself seriously by showing up for work. I love that.

Ruth Zaporah is a master teacher who I’ve studied with for almost 30 years. Her art form is improvised physical theater, predicated on the belief that attending to the present moment is the only way to be vibrantly alive, imaginative and inventive on stage. She views the body’s sensations as potential narrative gifts, little benedictions that appear at the exact moment we need them. To enter this state, we have to pay keen attention, beat by beat, in a way that’s antithetical to the receptive, passive state that many of us default into with technology (i.e. the iPhone stupor). It requires a kind of galvanized attention, which can also help transcend our unconscious ruts, to refresh the brain. Training with her has re-aligned my thought patterns in the best way possible, it’s helped me be more awake, not just on stage but out in the world.

And finally, Jesus, who’s habits are hard to argue with: wash the feet of those who need it, stop to help, look out for each other. I’m a big fan of those core Christian ideals, even while failing at them every day. I grew up Greek Orthodox; the presence of a religious instinct has been, if not a habit, a touchstone that’s sustained me since I was a kid. The beauty of the physical building (our cathedral had a copper domed ceiling painted with a very beautiful, sexy, dark-eyed Jesus, surrounded by his twelve apostles) together with the beauty of the rituals—the music; the communal standing and sitting and walking together towards the alter—acts moved me in a way I found hard to articulate. Later, when I could absorb the actual teachings of Christ (minus, if such a thing is possible, the horrific crimes committed in his name) I was deeply moved in a whole new way by the simplicity of the message—practice kindness. Act out of empathy and caring, especially towards “the least of these.” What a beautiful basic plan: make compassion your first move, your habit. Even if we only get to that ideal some tiny percentage of the time, what a great thing to reach for.