A Secret to Happiness: Don’t Try to Keep That Resolution.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood (cribbed from Niels Bohr) is “The opposite of a great truth is also true.” So whenever I’m very convinced that something is true, I ask myself, “Is the opposite also true?”

The main strategy for my happiness project is to make and keep resolutions. I’ve made dozens, maybe hundreds of resolutions, and I have Resolutions Chart where I score myself on the most important resolutions. I constantly remind myself, “It’s important to keep that resolution! It will make me happier!” and usually it does.

But I have at least one resolution that I just can’t seem to keep, and I’ve decided to resolve to do just the opposite, to “Give up that resolution.”

I’m giving up my long-standing, often-repeated resolution to “Entertain more.” Fact is, I’ve never really committed to that resolution: I never broke the goal down into steps that I could follow and pushed myself to keep them. Well, why not? Why was I able to keep resolutions like Stop gossiping and Read more and Don’t expect praise or appreciation, but not this one?

I want to entertain more, but clearly, I also do NOT want to entertain more. Finally I realized – I need to give up this resolution for a while.

If I’m honest with myself, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. The Happiness Project book is finally about to hit the shelves, and that means a lot of work – not just writing work, which I’m used to, but other kinds of work. My children need a lot of attention. My husband has been traveling a fair amount. When I have some spare time, I want to just hang around the apartment and read; I don’t want another to-do list, even for something fun. Some people like party errands (flowers, food, fixing up the house, figuring out whom to invite), but I don’t.

So I’ve decided to abandon that resolution for a while.

Starting an exercise routine. Learning Italian. Cleaning the basement. We all have longstanding resolutions hanging over our heads – resolutions that we want to keep, but we don’t really make much progress towards, and which can therefore give us a feeling of powerlessness or failure. As important as it is to try to keep resolutions, sometimes you need to give up a resolution.

Sometimes, too, I think a resolution can block you. You don’t have any nice clothes because you want to lose weight. You don’t read any novels because you’ve promised yourself to read War and Peace. Letting go of one resolution might make it easier to keep other resolutions.

The thing is, I know if I’d keep the resolution to “Entertain more,” it would make me happier. But I’m going to admit to myself how happy it will make me not to keep that resolution.

How about you? Have you ever boosted your happiness when you gave up a resolution?

* I loved watching this video of starlings’ flight patterns.

* Zoikes! More than a week has gone by since I mentioned the fact that The Happiness Project is available for pre-order! Act now! If you need any convincing, look here and here.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Great post! I think it’s totally okay to give up resolutions sometimes — especially when you have so many other awesome things going on in your life. So excited about the book! 🙂

  • elizmck

    Entertaining does not make me happy. When I finally realized this and gave up resolving to entertain more and like it, I felt completely liberated. I found I was so anxious and overwrought when entertaining that I couldn’t enjoyment or be present for the people I professed to want to entertain. Thank you for this post.

    • gretchenrubin

      Glad to hear that the post resonated with you!

    • Bonnie Knight

      Thank you for posting this! I am also one who gave up entertaining altogether because of the anxiety it created in me. Although some people think that’s awful and berate me for never inviting them over for anything, it is entirely liberating. No one needs to feel overwrougt and stressed out while doing something they don’t enjoy doing. Thank you!

  • “You have to give up something to be really great at anything. And then you have to do the hell out of whatever’s left standing.”


  • I agree with Positively Present. We really do not need that many resolutions so it’s actually a good idea to give up some or most and just keep the really great one(s).



  • I’ve been working through exactly the same thing in my life. There are too many possibilities, too many things I want to try. And it leads me smack into the middle of overwhelm. So often we think of letting go as being about negative things, obstacles, or stuff in the material world we don’t need. But I’m realizing that letting go of some desires, even if just for the time being, is tremendously important. In fact, I woke up this morning thinking about this, so your post is serendipitous. And this afternoon I’ve been fascinated by another thought: since letting go anything often requires some period of grieving or coming to terms, however brief, does it then follow that if I let go of my desire to collage or you let go of your desire to have dinner parties, will we then need some brief little experience of mourning? Or will we simply be plain relieved?

    • gretchenrubin

      I know exactly what you mean. Letting go of my resolution means giving up on
      my fantasy of being a certain kind of person (at least for now). And that
      can be painful.

      Reminding myself that I can choose to take up the resolution again, later,
      makes me feel better about giving it up right now.

      • Catica

        In which case…. giving up on entertaining might be honouring your resolution to just Be Gretchen! I hate entertaining, unless I can bypass the stress of the organization of it and just have close friends over for takeout. I don’t get to be the Great Host, but I do get to have a fabulous time with my friends, who, let’s face it, enjoy time with me more than formal dinner parties… 🙂

  • One of the most liberating things in my life has been finding out I’m an introvert (via a personality inventory for my psych degree). I’d always struggled to be more social and chastised myself for finding parties and large groups utterly exhausting and cranky-making. I could overcome resistance to exercise, difficult work and many other things, why not socializing?

    Giving up the idea that I had to be perennially social has made my life much, much happier. I not only feel better in my own head, but I enjoy people so much more when I’m with them.

    Gretchen, I realize your reasons for downsizing the entertaining are more temporary than mine, but I relate so well to your post.

    Michele 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      According to studies, almost everyone is made happier by interactions with
      other people, but people vary widely in HOW they want to interact. Big
      parties, big meetings aren’t for everyone.

      And some people seem to need much more time alone to recharge. I’ve started
      to realize how important that is for me.

  • thehealthylibrarian

    I definitely understand your ambivalence with entertaining–once you’re in the middle of it, you’re having fun & glad you did it–but truly–it’s a lot of work.

    With young daughters, the extra responsibilities when your husband travels, not to mention your amazing book, and all your other projects, I can’t imagine how you could muster the time or energy right now.

    If you really want to entertain–just lower your must dos. Don’t worry about everything being special, gourmet, original, ala Martha Stewart/Bon Appetit, or expecting your house to be in perfect order. If you set your expectations too high–it will be a chore. And that’s not fun for you, or your guests.

    It’s taken me years to learn to just aim for easy and relaxed–it takes the pressure off & is way more fun for everyone.

    Just had 12 good friends for dinner–and even though everyone brought a dish–for some reason it still took me 7 hours to shop, cook, straighten up, and set everything up–but I had the whole day off–and my kids are all grown.

    Was it worth all the time & effort? Absolutely! But if I didn’t have the day off–or if I had lots of other competing pressures today I wouldn’t have wanted to do it.

    Wait until you have the luxury of more free time! I’m all for serial resolutions.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love the idea of “serial resolutions”! That’s a good way to think about
      it. I’m not giving up on a resolution that I know would make me happy, but
      that’s too challenging right now — just waiting for the right time to pick
      it up again.

      • thehealthylibrarian

        I think it’s very wise that you recognize right now you have limited downtime–and you’ve decided to preserve it for something that brings you happiness & recharges you–like hanging out at home & reading. Wise lady!

        Just had Dr. Ned Hallowell speaking at my workplace last week.

        His mantra: Cut the excess out of our lives–the stuff we hold on to out of guilt & the time-wasters–we only have so much time–and all of us need to carve out alone time to just think. Crazy busy is not a good thing.

        Cultivate & preserve the C-state where we do our best work: Cool, calm, collected, controlled, concentrated (no distractions)

        I plan to write it up this weekend–maybe.

        Here’s how one economist, Justin Wolfer, looks at how we spend our free time.

        “But the foundation of all economics is something called opportunity cost. It says that the true cost of something is the alternative you have to give up. So each hour that I spend running (or blogging or gardening or Facebooking or watching TV) is an hour that I don’t spend hanging out, working, or sleeping. How do I choose?”

        It certainly made an impression on me. Here’s the rest:

        “Time Is Money – Economist Justin Wolfers Offers Advice on How to Spend Your Free Time Wisely. What’s the Opportunity Cost?”


        Time for me to stop wasting time online & get on with the day!
        Happy Weekend!

  • Hey Gretchen,

    The less things you do the more you do with them.

    You only have a limited amount of time and energy throughout the day. By giving up resolutions, tasks, and other things that aren’t of great importance to you, you free up resources to pour into what is important. Things that make you happy, that help you accomplish your desired goals (even if that goal is to sit around the house and read a book).

    Nice reminder on how we sometimes need to GIVE UP things to be able to do more,

    • gretchenrubin

      I think you’re exactly right. Letting go of what’s not essential lets the
      time and energy go to what is essential.

  • Hey Gretchen,
    Resolutions always seem like a great idea but I find that anything that involves the word *should*, continually gets tossed to the way side in favor of a long list of *want to*’s…
    I should do bettter with the resolution thing…
    Take Care,

  • pamwalter

    If I give up a resolution, does that mean I can lay down the weight of guilt that I have been carrying around for not accomplishing it?

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s one of the reasons I’m giving up my resolution!

  • Yes, absolutely! I used to play piano for 10 years growing up, and I was always in competitions. I hated it. I never became comfortable with performances no matter how many times I did them.

    When I watched my husband pick up the piano and start playing again (he too used to play when he was a kid), I felt as if I should to. So I resolved to start playing piano again. But I never did, and eventually I felt guilty about it.

    Then I realized it’s because I don’t actually enjoy it. I find it stressful instead of a stress-release. Once I accepted that and let go of that resolution, I was much happier.

  • leanrainmakingmachine

    It seems you have a perfectionist view of “entertain more.” You could just do a small dinner party for 2-3 couples and, in New York, get the whole thing “catered.” That is, jsu get great takeout and heat it up. Florists and even the corner Korean store will deliver your flowers, etc. Liquor stores will deliver and will choose your wine(s). Tell them what you’re eating and your price point.
    Invite who you have fun with. Once the first party goes over, repeat.. Worst part is the clean up..

  • AD

    I think this is a great reminder that we can’t do everything all at once, which some of us (i.e. me) feel compelled to do, lest we miss out on something! I think the point is to be conscious about why you’re letting something go, otherwise it hangs over your head on some to-do list backburner. We’ve got to save something for later, right? Thanks for the post Gretchen!

  • princessofcute

    Gretchen perhaps simple entertaining would suffice,if there is such a thing! Getting together for pizza and a video for example.

  • Bonnie Knight

    The secret to happiness is taking an entire day off from everything except spending time and playing with your grandchildren, doing whatever they want to do. Fun!