5 Tips for Happiness Inspired by a Family Vacation.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: My family vacation reminded me of these 5 tips for happiness.

My college roommate was a dedicated journal-keeper. She once told me, “Every once in a while I have a big insight into myself, or have a major epiphany about life. The thing is, when I look back in my journals, I realize that I had exactly the same idea a few years ago — but I forgot it.”

I feel the same way; it’s hard to remember the lessons I’ve learned. For that reason, because I’m going away on my family vacation next week, I went back to see what I wrote last August’s vacation.

1. Fun is important to happiness. Is there such a thing as “fun for the whole family”? I think so, but I’ve learned that on vacation I need to make sure I make time for the things that I find fun – which in my case means reading. Sometimes I think, “Why am I just lying here, reading, on such a beautiful day? I should be going for a run/playing in the ocean/learning to play tennis.” But it’s a Secret of Adulthood – Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for me. I love to read, and now I let myself read as much as I can get away with, given the realities of a family vacation. After all, I still do plenty of other things. And speaking of that Secret of Adulthood, the converse is true:

2. Just because something isn’t fun for me doesn’t mean that someone else won’t find it fun. For instance, grocery shopping. It finally dawned on me that my husband loves to make a quick trip to the grocery store. I kept trying to make lists and be efficient and ask if he really had to make another trip to the store, until I realized: he loves to bike over to the grocery store for a few items. One day he went four times. That’s FUN for him.

3. Sleep is important to happiness – the more I learn about sleep, the more convinced I become of that fact. Sleep keeps people feeling cheerier, it strengthens the immune system, it may even play a role in keeping weight off. According to one study, a bad night’s sleep was one of the top two factors that upset people’s daily moods (along with tight work deadlines).

Accordingly, over the last few years, I’ve made a big effort to get more sleep – but during this vacation, there were several nights when I got TEN HOURS of sleep. Yes, I went to sleep at 9:30 p.m. and slept until 7:30 a.m., which I just wouldn’t have thought possible. This suggests to me that I may still not be getting enough sleep in my usual routine.

4. One irksome task can make vacation more fun. Some interesting studies suggest that interrupting a pleasant experience with something less pleasant can intensify a person’s overall pleasure. For example, commercials make TV-watching more fun.

For the last ten months, I’d been procrastinating about ordering a photo album from Shutterfly with our family pictures, and the task had really started to weigh on my mind. For this vacation, I decided to take a break from all work, except to do that photo album. This plan worked beautifully. Not doing my usual work make me relaxed, and having one irksome chore gave me the delicious feeling of goofing off – except when I actually did make myself do it. And I did get that task crossed off my list, which was enormously satisfying.

5. Everyone’s happiness project is different. (This is related to #1-2.) I met a very nice guy who described to me how he’d fulfilled his lifelong dream of buying a farm, where he’s raising some organic crops as well as pigs, cows, and I believe, goats. He was beaming with delight as he described how much he loved every aspect of it. I can think of few things that would make me feel more miserable than having a farm like his. Happiness projects just don’t look the same.

On a less elevated note, I would add that if you’re traveling with children, it never hurts to pack a few items of novelty candy for a long car ride. That, and a Harry Potter audiobook, will take you a long way.

* Have you ever agonized over a book’s subtitle? (I sure have!) Don’t miss this hilarious chart from Publishers Weekly, Subtitle-o-Matic, about how to generate a book subtitle. It’s HILARIOUS because it’s TRUE. Martin Kihn also has a website, Subtitle-o-Matic.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth 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 (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 47,000 people get it)
Buy the book
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

  • I just bought your book and am LOVING it! I just posted about giving myself a sleep make-over! It’s so true about sleep…and I was seriously skimping. The fact that this was your first task to tackle, gave me the final impetus to get my rear and gear. It’s been 3 nights so far of 7 hours and I see a huge differnce already:) Thanks
    As far as word of mouth, I tell everyone I know about your book and web site…I retweet, mentioned your book in my post and follow you on twitter. Thanks for these great tips:)

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much! I really appreciate that. And so happy to hear that you’re
      getting more SLEEP. It sounds like such a small change, but it makes a big

  • Karmaqueen2000

    Also on a less elevated note a friend who travels from Africa to the UK with small children gave me a great tip. Buy 2 or 3 cheap but fun presents for each child and wrap them up in lots of layers of gift paper. At points in a long flight when the little ones start to get cranky have a present opening session. I’m looking forward to trying this out the next time I fly to visit my husband’s family with my toddler (about a 12 hour flight that can really test your nerves and sense of humour!) Sx

  • LivewithFlair

    Number 4 is so curious! I love this idea that irksome things actually increase our happiness. I’d love to hear more about this. I totally agree with the sleep argument. Thanks so much!

  • cmclaire

    Great tips! Totally agree with #4!


  • Liz

    I’d like to introduce you to a veteran British journalist and broadcaster, Libby Purves. Five years ago, after the death by suicide of her son, she wrote this article urging people to have family holidays
    To me, it says it all. The happiest memories in our family, the times we are most completely a family are when we are on holiday together and not rushing off to work and school and all the other daily commitments.
    I hope you enjoy it as much as me.

    • magik7

      Thank you for drawing my attention to Libby Purves’ article. So true. Even the crappy stuff that happens within families – the gripes, disagreements, hurts, and tears – are all part of our memories and connections with each other. Her article makes me realize I should cherish all of those too. It’s all part of what life really is about. I can embrace it. Until the next episode. 😉

  • I agree with LivewithFlair about number #4. Extrapolating it out of the vacation context, it seems to me that irksome events in life can make you realize how good you have it. If every moment was happy and filled with pleasure, would we be able to appreciate them?

    It seems to me that we need the contrast to teach us what we want. Today I wrote about such a moment with my ex husband, making me feel grateful that we no longer live together.


    Thanks for your daily lessons for us.

  • I love this! Some of my best ever happiness lessons have come during family vacations. There’s just something about everyone having to share close quarters, follow (more or less) the same itinerary, be patient, compromise, but with a shared goal (having fun)…that helps you cut through the stuff that doesn’t matter and focus on happiness–your own and everyone else’s.

  • Kay Chase

    The subtitle-o-matic is hysterical — I know I’ve read some of those books, and I want to read some of the rest (especially if you jumble it up!)

  • Pgspicegirl

    Gretchen,I LOVE YOUR BLOG.You are so inspiring!!I love coming to read what you have to say..it always makes me think I can be better and happier in my own way.So thank you from a big fan!!!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks!!! That is so nice to hear!!!

  • Gretchen, I just received your book from my friend Doreen @stylemaniac, for my birthday. She said it changed her life! That’s a hell of a review… I can’t wait to read it!

    Now I’m going to take a nap.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s thrilling to hear that! I hope you enjoy it as much.

  • I LOVE grocery shopping, too! I could spend hours just wandering around the store…especially in the tea section 🙂
    No one else seems to understand this love, but that’s okay.

    These are great tips…one I never thought of was the one “irksome task.” I’ll have to try that!

  • I have been reading your posts and I am interested in knowing why you STOPPED keeping a gratitude journal. I might have missed your explanation, but it would seem to be consistent with your philosophy and thinking. Thanks in advance for responding. Jann

  • I love these points and the practice of re-reading journal entries from previous experiences.

    Your work was a huge help to me recently as I learned that in order to “Be Caroline” I had to accept that I hate hiking, even though nearly all my friends adore it. I am a yoga girl and hate to get up early on the weekends. So I feel so happy to go to Yosemite with them next month and not hike, but stay at camp and read, make them dinner for after the hike Bliss!

    Thanks much for your writing!

  • SDB

    Gretchen, I’m another person out there that loves to READ as much as you do! I wish I could get paid to read all day!

  • great tips. I’ll definately read them. tomorrow… 🙂