Eight Excellent Tips for Living that My Parents Gave Me.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight excellent tips for living my parents gave me.

My mother:
–“Stay calm.” My mother probably reminds of this three or four times each time I see her. I really need this advice. Every day.
–“The things that go wrong often make the best memories.” My mother told me this when we were getting ready for my wedding. It’s a very good thing to keep in mind, because it’s absolutely true, and it can also help you laugh at a bad situation while it’s happening.
“You like to have a few things that you really like, instead of lots of choices.” Okay, this advice might not be widely applicable, but it was a huge revelation to me about my own nature. My mother made this comment in the context of clothes, but it’s true in many areas of my life.
–“That’s so wonderful! Be grateful, because you worked hard for what you got, and you deserved it, but others also worked hard, and people don’t always get what they deserve.” My mother made this observation when I called home to report that I’d been elected the editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. I repeated her remark to a friend, who thought it sounded like a little unenthusiastic, but in fact, it was reassuring, especially in the long run. Because it’s TRUE. You don’t always get what you deserve, even when you work hard, and my mother’s observation has been very comforting to me in other circumstances, when things didn’t go my way.

My father:
–“If you’re willing to take the blame, people will give you the responsibility.” This was perhaps the best advice for the workplace I ever got.
–“Energy.” Very true. The first chapter of The Happiness Project is devoted to energy. (Here are nine tips for giving yourself an energy boost in the next ten minutes.)
–“Enjoy the process.” If you can enjoy the process, you are less concerned about outcomes. That’s a big help in the world.
–“All you have to do is put on your running shoes and let the front door shut behind you.” Good advice for all couch potatoes trying to pick up an exercise habit. Just do that much! That counts!

My parents never gave me relationship advice or weighed in on my boyfriends (true, I only had two real boyfriends, one of whom I married, but I’m sure it was hard to resist nevertheless).

However, once when I was home for vacation, both of my parents remarked on the requirements of a happy relationship. Maybe they’d had a conversation between themselves, which was why it was on their minds. Anyway, it was so unusual for them to make this kind of remark that both statements made a big impression on me:
–My mother said: “In a relationship, it’s important that a person is kind, because eventually, if he’s not kind to other people, he won’t be kind to you.”
–My father said: “In a relationship, it’s important that a person be able to have fun, because you’re not going to have a happy life with someone who can’t have fun.”

Have you received any great advice from your parents?

* A thoughtful reader sent me the link to a great Boston Globe article she wrote: Will He Hold Your Purse? “As a breast cancer doctor, I’ve learned how to spot a devoted husband — a skill I try to share with my single and searching girlfriends.”

* It’s Word-of-mouth Wednesday, the day when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter
— Pre-order the book for a friend
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.
(Note that links in the comment box, just below, make some of these steps easier.)

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Those are EXCELLENT tips! Thanks for sharing them with us. 🙂

  • Summer

    My dad has always said “You are what you want most.” It’s a great, simple way of saying that you will go after what truly matters to you. In the context of this blog, if you really want to be happy, you will strive to be happy, not sit around grumbling about how unhappy you are.

    I remember this statement when I start to complain about a situation and know that the better approach is to DO something to improve the situation instead. It makes me accountable for who I am and how I feel, which is very empowering.

  • Liz

    My first job out of college was as a receptionist at publishing company. I was well-liked but told to be more bubbly on the phone (bubbly just isn’t in my nature). My dad (also yours) told me, “It’s okay. Never be too good a reptionist. They’ll want to keep you there.” My skills didn’t improve, and I was quickly moved up the ladder. I don’t know if sounding “down” on the phone had anything to do with my departure from the front desk, but it pleases me to think so!

  • TracyW

    My parents would agree with yours on marriage. They told me that your choice of marriage partner affects the rest of your life. My mum’s summing up of her marriage is that “The first time I met your Dad, I knew here was a man I wouldn’t get bored of. And I was right.”

    And I’ve seen it within my family, even with all the modern legal protections married women have nowadays, and the possibility of divorce, a spouse with a bad character can really cause havock in their partner’s lives.

  • Mom: “If you could just find a way to get paid for , you would be so happy!”

    As told to me as a shy 12 year old sitting in a pile of D&D books. Almost 30 years later, I’m a successful game producer and designer. At the time she probably thought of it as an impossibility. But I always remember my Mom telling me that, and it’s stuck with me over the years of struggle to get where I am now.

    You are really only limited by your own imagination and hard work.

  • My mom said, “If everyone in the world liked the same thing, we’d all be wearing white.” It was her way of telling me that it was okay to be a little different, march to the beat of my own drum. She’s no longer here, but I think of her advice all the time. And your post made me feel all warm and fuzzy!

  • Thank you for sharing your parents advice as well as the Boston Globe article. I just wrote an article about a man, John Anderson, who wrote a book geared toward men and how they can help (and cope) with their wives’/mothers’/sisters’ breast cancer diagnosis.

    One of my favorite pieces of advice is from Pastor Rudy Rasmus, “I belive expectations are premeditated resentment.” That has helped me handle countless disappointments.

  • I’ve been surprised at how often my father’s advice “Sometimes free is too expensive” can be applied to any given situation. It’s a more striking way to remind ourselves that you never really get something for nothing.

    I liked your parents’ advice. Great tips for anyone!

  • Hi.

    I read one post of yours a while ago and your articles had been piling up in my RSS feed. I’ve just now gone through about 20 of your posts and I am totally hooked. You are writing about really interesting, relevant, useful things and you have really great links.

    Thank you for providing this amazing public service. Keep up the good work!

  • Ellen Durand

    What wonderful parents you have! I’m sure you appreciate them. Make sure they know that you do.

  • hivesusan

    Great post! Here’s some advice my mom gave me that is SO TRUE!!! She said, “People always believe the nice things you say about them, even if they think you are insincere about other people.” Very useful in an office environment….

  • Ashlyn

    I don’t know if this just hit me at a good time or what, but it really had an impact on me. I think this might be one of your best, most important posts… The insight from these comments from your parents is so enlightening… Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Your post made me wonder what messages I’m giving my own children. I want them to be strong and beautiful. Maybe I’ll have to put together a little list of them to pass on.

  • The advice from your mom and dad on relationships might be the simplest, yet truest bits of wisdom out there for choosing the right partner. Of course, there’s more work after that, but “kind” and “fun” are really so vital.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    Miche 🙂

  • At a time in my life when I was thinking about marriage and wondering what makes a good long-lasting relationship, my grandmother told me, “50% is not enough.” You can’t just say that you’ll do half the work of the relationship, because some days you’ll be able to give more and your partner will be able to give less, and next week it will be the opposite.

    • Sara

      Years ago when our twins were infants, my husband commented, “We share the work equally. But that doesn’t mean we each do 50%. It means we each give 100%.” Meaning that we were both ready to do whatever it took.

      • kimagine64

        I use this one too!

  • Hi Gretchen. Nice tips. You have really cool parents. My parents never gave me direct life advice. They let me mostly learn advice by myself, which I guess can be a positive lesson too.

    I like the advice that your mom gave you on being grateful, and I liked the advice your dad on enjoying the process, rather than constantly worrying about the outcome. Thanks for sharing these.

  • Sara

    This summer in London I discovered WWII era posters with the slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I immediately adopted it as my motto, especially since I started a new position as head of my department when I got back.

    • kimagine64

      I love this one too, it’s the marquee on my computer!

  • Hey Gretchen,

    Enjoy the process, stay calm, things that go wrong make the best memories… all indispensable life-improving tips.

    I’d like to add to that: Life is experience, not plans or reflections. Take what life gives you, and live in the moment. I feel it goes well with the above tips.

    You can plan for a direction, and you should reflect (it acts as checkpoints in your life to make sure you’re on the right path), but the more time you spend thinking about the past and future, the less time you’re actually living. Only plan and reflect as much as needed to make the present the best possible, then go experience the now. Live.

    Thanks for the simple but effective tips,

  • microgaming

    These are really great tips for everybody. I enjoyed this article pretty much and remembered me when I was a kid and my father was preaching me for everything.
    My father always told me “A man must have all vices he wants to have, but must be able to control them and not the opposite”
    But sometimes they were wrong.. my mother told me “playing games will lead you to nowhere” and now I am a game tester…

  • kelseybb

    As my brother, sister, and I were embarking on college and future plans, my dad would say to us, “You can’t make a mistake.” By this he meant that whatever college or job we chose would end up giving us experiences and if something went wrong we could always make another choice. I guess this is only good advice if you have driven, competent children!

  • “‘Enjoy the process.’ If you can enjoy the process, you are less concerned about outcomes. That’s a big help in the world.”

    That’s the second time I’ve heard this great advice in two days. The first time was from Gary Vaynerchuk on his book tour.

    Thank you for reminding me, Gretchen.

    And thank you also for sharing that great Boston Globe article. Beautiful and true.

  • adora

    You have some wise parents, Ms. Rubin! The only good advice my parents gave was “always turn on the cold water first” so that you don’t get burnt. But my mom always turn off the hot water last and it takes 3 seconds to get the cold water in. So anyone using the tap immediately after her will always get burnt.

    My best friend’s mom is a very wise woman. She always says, “If you can fix it with money, it isn’t a real problem.” I used to be so stressed out by any car trouble. But I remind myself of what she says, and I’m just grateful that I have set aside money for rainy day. I reframe it as “Thank goodness I have money to get through this.”

  • My dad always said that things always work out for the best. There were times when I thought he was crazy (like when my big high school crush broke up with me), but I’ve come to learn that although we sometimes have to wait a long time to see it, he was exactly right.

  • Name

    My father is a very wise man. He once told me, “Think about what you want to remember when you’re 70, and then live accordingly.”

  • brooklynchick

    Best tips from my parents:
    -take statistics in college; if you go to graduate school you will be glad you did. 🙂
    -max your retirement savings from your first job – you’ll never miss the money
    -live beneath your means
    -know how to change a tire
    -there will always be someone smarter/more “successful” than you and always someone less smart/less “successful.” So don’t really worry about being the best OR the worst.

  • Donna

    I have two comments. My mom always said “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in the garage makes you a car.” She alwyas said that your character is reflected in how you live your life. If you’re rotten 6 days a week but go to your house of worship on the weekend, it doesn’t undo all you did all week.

    My grampa always said that “relationships are not all wine and roses. You won’t always feel giddy when you look at the person you are with. somedays, you’ll wake up, look over, and say “Oh my God, what did I do?” He said “The trick is to never both feel that way at exactly the same time!”

  • jodigoldman

    My mom always says to me “when in doubt, don’t. Unless its going to the toilet!” This has always worked for me, if I am ‘umming’ and ‘aahing’ about buying something, chances are I don’t really need it. You meet someone and you are ‘umming’ and aahing’, then chances are its probably not meant to be. If you umm and aahh about going to pee and don’t (I’ll hold it until i get home..) – chances are you will be stuck in a road block and be miserable! ha ha this is great advice, but should be used with caution if you have a lazy tendency, like I sometimes do… umming and ahhing about going to a party, well then i use my mothers other favorite bit of advice “go, you might meet someone”.

    • Tess

      “If in doubt, don’t” was my Mum’s favourite piece of advice too (though she didn’t mention the bit about the toilet!). However, I never really liked it. For one, she always used it when I was thinking about buying something like a new pair of shoes. Thing is, it’s usually easy to return things – something I didn’t learn until I was out on my own because I was always taught you buy things then and are stuck with them, or never and regret it. Also, if I didn’t do anything I doubted a little, then I would never be pushed out of my very restrictive comfort zone.

  • Alex, England.

    My personal favourite top tip:

    “Out of every bad things something good will come”.

    An example? I fell down my aging parents stairs earlier this year and broke my elbow. How can that be good? Well, they had no banister rail. It has always been a concern. They are getting older and less secure. My mother slipped and hurt her shoulder a couple of months before I fell too.

    Now, as a result if my fall, they have installed a safety rail. WIthout it one of them could have been injured much more badly, so it was worth a few months discomfort on my part.

  • lorienos

    The best advice my mother every game me was “to thine own self be true.” That’s sometimes hard to follow as I find myself buffeted by the demands of family, friends, and work, but I try to remind myself of it as often as possible.

  • M. Frantz

    I love your quote about if you want tobe happy make someone else happy…etc. but I also think, you need to feed the sparkle in the eye, that quick flash of brillance and recognition that your energy is my joy my joy is your energy and the circle is never ending…the uplift is part of the force that carries and spread the field of happiness. (if you’ve ever felt gloom than you know that light(even sparkels), matters in the equation of happiness. Can you or anyone recommend some peer research articles on positive engagement in alternative therapies for people aging or with chronic diseases. I am 62 and I keep seeing myself as 10, I love to swim, bike and explore. Working with AD seniors I try to emphasize the humor, joy and love in the moment. We blow kisses to eachother, pretend were fish, blowing bubbles and I try to tell each what they did during time that inspired me. I am enjoying them more and more and feel a distance from the AD

  • christinas123

    Really good tips. Here’s another one: Always pass along something nice that you heard about a person to that person. Never pass along negative or hurtful comments.

  • sunshinecook

    I am very late in writing this comment but I have to share one of my mother’s sayings that has always stuck with me: “It doesn’t matter what he/she/they did. YOU be nice.”

    The context was that I am the author of my own behavior. Another person’s actions can’t be an excuse for my own lapse of manners and/or character. Often when I don’t know how to respond to a challenge I just think “You be nice”and the right path is clear to me!

  • Nice tips Gretchen Rubin. Excellent sharing!!!

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  • Nadya

    Good post!
    Regarding the link of “nine tips for giving yourself an energy boost in the next ten minutes” – it leads to “9 tips to make TV-watching a source of happiness” – which I guess not the same…
    Regarding putting on sport shoes – here is a little improvement to that:
    try to pur your sport shoes when waking up and doing your morning arrangements. as simple as that. You’ll be surprised by the outcome 🙂

  • Peculiarblend

    This is an excellent article. Great insights. Thank you for your time.


    Who needs anger management classes?

  • Megan

    I am currently in graduate school and hold tight to two of my parents’ sayings. A University professor himself, my father told me that to succeed in academia I needed to have skin like a rhino. His motto for me is, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” He’s a big Winston Churchill fan and has the never-give-up quote posted on his office door. On the other side of the spectrum, my mom is a special needs preschool teacher. She often tells me, “You can only do what you can only do.” Just recognizing my own limitations, helps me relax and re-value my time and abilities.

  • Lesa

    My Father once asked me “do you want to merely exist or do you want to live?”… these words changed my world. I left a bad marriage and moved on.. Ultimately the best thing I have every done for ME.

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