Video: “What’s One Cupcake?” and the One-Coin Loophole.

In my latest (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

What is a “loophole?”

When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ve described them, one by one.

The final loophole: The one-coin loophole. This is a very dangerous loophole, because it always applies, and it’s always true! Beware!


I haven’t worked on that project for such a long time, there’s no point in working on it this morning.


One beer won’t make a difference.


What difference does it make if I spend this afternoon at the library or at a video arcade?


Why work on my report today, when the deadline is so far away?


Why should I bother to wear my bike helmet today?

If you want to know why it’s called the “one-coin loophole,” I explain in the video. Here’s the book I mention: a footnote in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly.

Do you find yourself invoking this all-too-applicable loophole? In what context?

It’s dangerous because it’s true.

The 7 Basic Plots of Stories — Do You Have a Favorite?

One of my favorite things in the world is Slightly Foxed: the Real Reader’s Quarterly. It’s a quarterly magazine, published in London, that features short essays written by people about books they love.

Often these books are out of print, and often they’re eccentric choices — but I’ve found so many great books from Slightly Foxed. (The name “Slightly Foxed” refers to a term used to describe the age-related spots and browning that appears on old paper.)

If you’re a serious reader, it’s great to have a reliable source of recommendations, especially for books that were published years ago. It’s easy to find about what’s being published now, but what about a great book that came out forty years ago?

That’s one of the reasons I started my own book club — there are so many books that I love, and I wanted a way to share those suggestions with other people looking for great reading ideas. (Want to join my book club? Each month I suggest one great book about happiness or habits; one great work of children’s literature; and one eccentric pick. Sign up here. We have about 60,000 members.)

In the Winter 2014 issue of Slightly Foxed, which I happened to pick up again yesterday, for some reason mysterious even to myself, there’s an essay by Richard Platt about Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.

According to Booker, the seven basic plots are:

  1. Overcoming the monster (Beowolf, Jaws)
  2. Rags to Riches (Aladdin, Oliver Twist)
  3. The Quest (Odyssey, Watership Down)
  4. Comedy (Aristophanes, The Marx Brothers)
  5. Tragedy (Oedipus, Macbeth)
  6. Rebirth (Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol)
  7. Voyage and Return (Peter Rabbit, Brideshead Revisited)

Booker says that a few works even combine all seven basic plots, and the one example he gives is…can you guess?

He says: The Lord of the Rings.

I would add: Harry Potter!

It’s fun to think about what plot or plots a particular story embodies.

Do you have a favorite plot? I love them all.

Podcast 33: Try a Boot Camp — and Have You Ever Experienced a “Lightning Bolt” Change in Habits?

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: Elizabeth gets a gold star for going to bed early, which is a struggle for her. But she’s having trouble working on her young-adult novel. She’s going to try to do it for two days a week.

Also, you’ll hear us talk about our new (and we hope improved, though Elizabeth is doubtful) way of referring to previous episodes, so that you can easily find them here on my site. That’s (or the number of whatever episode you’re looking for).

Plus, if you’d like to get an email alert every time we release a new episode, you can sign up here.

Try This at Home: Try a boot camp for yourself. I mention Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! where he describes how to write a novel in a month. You can also join National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever done a boot camp — if so, what kind?

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt. This Strategy is unique among the twenty-one strategies, because it’s not something you can do; it’s something that happens to you. How about you? Ever experienced this phenomenon? It’s puzzling, interesting, sudden.

The book that hit me like a lightning bolt was Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat.

Listener Questioner: Elizabeth in Tennessee: “Do you have any tips on finishing the little left-over things that need to be done after you’ve moved houses?”

Elizabeth and Gretchen’s Demerit:  We didn’t get a guest for the podcast. The timing didn’t work out. Shoot!


Call for comments, questions, observations! We’re going to spend four weeks talking about my Four Tendencies framework for human nature. We’ve already had many thought-provoking responses, but we want more.


Please, send in our questions and comments by voicemail, email, etc. What’s your experience with yourself, spouse, child, patient, colleague, boss, friend, etc? We’re dying to hear from you.

1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin #33

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out The Great Courses for a wide variety of fascinating courses taught by top professors and experts in their fields. Special offer for our listeners: go to to order from eight of their bestselling courses, including The Fundamentals of Photography, and get up to 80% off. Limited time.

Also, check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to for 20% off window treatments and a free in-home consultation. Limited time.

We love hearing from listeners

Tell us — have you ever tried a boot camp, and if so what kind? Did it work? And share any tricks you’ve used to get yourself to put away those last items.

There’s lots of ways to share your responses or questions:


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

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.)

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

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 toHappier 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!

HAPPIER listening!

Would You Commit a Random Act of Kindness If It Took 1 Minute & Could Save 8 Lives?

In the happiness world, there’s a lot of talk about “committing random acts of kindness.”

As I wrote about in Happier at Home, I’m a bigger fan of non-random acts of kindness — but there is one random act of kindness that I absolutely believe in.

If you support organ donation, please speak up about it.

Take a moment to sign the donor registry. That way, everyone can easily know your wishes, should the need arise.

Also, let your family and friends know that you’d want to be an organ donor.  Post a message on Facebook or Twitter, send out a blast email, talk about it over dinner. If and when they had to make a decision on your behalf,  in a time of grief and shock, it would be a tremendous comfort to them to know what you would want. To make it easy to find what you wrote, add the hashtag #organdonor.

This issue is particularly close to my heart. For decades, my husband had hepatitis C, which attacks the liver (he got hep C from a blood transfusion during a heart operation when he was eight years old). Well, it turns out the liver is a very, very important organ to have.  A liver transplant was definitely a possibility for him, so I became very interested in this issue of organ donation.

By a miracle of modern science, my husband is now cured. Yes, CURED. Tears well up in my eyes, even just typing those words.  (If you want to read more about one of the happiest days of my life, go here.)

He probably won’t need a new liver, but so many other people will, or they’ll need kidneys or hearts or whatever.

It’s a rare and transcendent privilege to die in a way that allows others to live. One person can save eight lives, and improve the lives of up to fifty people.

Signing the registry, telling the people you love — these are such small, easy things to do, yet could have such tremendous consequences for so many people.

It’s a random act of kindness because we don’t know whether the chance will arise, or if it does, who will benefit. But it’s an act of kindness just to raise your hand to be identified as a willing donor.

I live in New York City, and today is the very first annual Organ Donor Enrollment Day here. Sign up, speak up, today.

Many people sign up as organ donors at the Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s great, but it may be years before you’re back to renew your license. You can sign the registry or post a comment right now.

You may help many other people — and you’ll feel great, too.

Do good, feel good.  As Montaigne observed, “These testimonies of a good conscience are pleasant; and such a natural pleasure is very beneficial to us; it is the only payment that can never fail.”

Have you signed the registry, or had a conversation about this issue?

Share this post on Facebook to tell your family and friends that you support organ donation.


What Are Your Questions and Comments about Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels?

My sister and I are having a great time doing our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Coming up, we’ve decided to try something a little different.  We’re going to do a special series on the Four Tendencies framework that I discuss in Better Than Before, my book about habit formation.

With the Four Tendencies, I divide all of humanity into four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.

For four weeks on the podcast, we’re going to focus on the Tendencies. Strengths, weakness, striking patterns…and you’ll get to hear me talk about being an Upholder and Elizabeth talk about being an Obliger. And you’ll get to hear me talk about Elizabeth’s Obligerness and hear her talking about my Upholderness!

Plus we’ll have guests to speak for Questioner and Rebel.

In the meantime, you can read about (more…)