Have You Ever Fixed a Small Problem That Gave You a Disproportionate Happiness Boost?

Last week, I was very discouraged, because I thought my laptop didn’t save my day’s work. But presto! the work has magically reappeared. (Which suspiciously suggests computer ineptitude on my part…but I’m just happy that I have my work back.)

So here’s the post that I meant to post last week:

One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Identify the problem.

Once you identify a problem, it’s much simpler to solve it. “But,” you might say, “if I have a problem, how it is possible that I haven’t identified it?” This rule seems so obvious that it’s hard to explain why it’s so tremendously helpful.

I’ve realized that often I’ll put up with a problem or an irritation for years, because I haven’t actually examined the nature of the problem and how it might be solved. Example:

I’m always cold. I’ll be in a room that other people find comfortable, and my hands will turn purple, my nose will be icy, my feet will be numb. I do my best to stay warm by wearing long underwear and heavy sweaters, constantly drinking hot drinks, sometimes wearing a wool hat indoors, and not sitting still for too long.

My hands always suffer the most. In fact, in high school I went to a doctor about my cold hands, because they were so stiff from cold that I was having trouble writing exams.

Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of strategies for dealing with my coldness. For whatever reason, though, for the past few months, my hands have been colder than usual, despite the long underwear, hot drinks, etc. Having such cold hands makes typing uncomfortable, which is a problem, because I type many hours every day.

Finally, I stopped and said to myself, “What’s the problem?”
“My hands hurt from the cold.”
“How could I make them warmer?”
“I wish I could wear mittens all day long.”
“Why don’t I wear mittens all day long?”
“Because I have to type.”
Then the big insight – “Why don’t I get those fingertip-less gloves to wear?”
“Nah, I’d look too affected!” I thought. “What am I, a starving Russian artist?”
Then I realized – it wasn’t affected to wear those gloves if I actually needed them. Which I absolutely do.

Identify the problem: Cold hands.

Solution: Buy those gloves.

The commandment to “Identify the problem” is really a reminder about mindfulness. Mindfulness! With happiness, so often, it comes back to mindfulness. Of course, I fully realize that in the scheme of life, having cold hands is a very minor complaint. But as Samuel Johnson observed, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

Update: I have ordered my fingerless gloves, but they haven’t arrived yet. (Actually making this purchase was a big step for an under-buyer like me.)

Have you ever fixed a small problem that gave you a disproportionate happiness boost? I will really be happy if these gloves help me keep my hands warmer.

* I was so thrilled to see this lovely note, My Happiness Project, on my friend Melanie Notkin’s site, as she gets ready for the publication of her book, Savvy Auntie. Awwwwww!

* Volunteer to become a Super Fan, and from time to time, I’ll ask for your help. Nothing too onerous, I promise. Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com. (Don’t forget the “1”.)

  • I loooove fingerless gloves. I’ve knitted myself several pairs, and I wear them all the time when I’m typing. Hope yours arrive soon!

  • Kristen Sheffield

    I had the same problem, but am typing all day. I took the cheap route- I cut the fingertips off a pair of $1 gloves from Wal-mart, so I am sure yours will look so much better then mine!!

    • gretchenrubin

      I thought about doing that! but worried that the fingers would just unravel.

      • Definitely go with the bargain gloves, and cut the tips off yourself. They unravel only a little — I even toss my el cheapos in the washing machine, then trim the frays. Been doing it for years.

      • Peninith1

        You can use something called ‘fraycheck’ to stop the unraveling. Just paint it on.

  • Bg

    Hello Gretchen,
    Perhaps you have Raynaud’s which affects
    blood flow or hypothyroid–I have had similiar
    problems. It’s no fun offering a cold handshake!

    • gretchenrubin

      The doctor told me that I might have Raynaud’s — but I’ve never had a
      definitive diagnosis. As I understand it, there’s really nothing to do about
      it, so finding out doesn’t matter much. I get my thyroid checked all the

      • I’m pretty sure I have Raynaud’s, and I had the same thought–there wasn’t much I could do about it if I did.

        I have a pair of fingerless gloves/convertible mittens that I LOVE. The thumbs are covered, which is fine because I just need them for the space bar, but I can wear the gloves outside as mittens (mittens are warmer than gloves because the fingers share the heat) and the Velcro back the mitten part when I’m in the office, where it’s freezing.

      • Raynauds guest

        Hi, there are in fact medications you can take for Raynauds that open up the blood vessels. Raynauds is an over sensitivity/ over activity of the nerve supply to the extremities meaning your nerves tell your hands/ feet that it is cold than it is and shut down the blood supply, leading to the change in colour and pain. The medication (one type is nifedipine) is meant to stop this happening. (I am not a medic but know this as a Raynauds sufferer and boy does it hurt at times!)

  • Treva

    Gretchen, I actually have the exact same problem — I am always FREEZING. I sleep with a down comforter all summer long. I’ve had my iron levels checked repeatedly throughout my life, because I’m naturally pale and always cold (they’re always fine, by the way). To keep my hands warm, I just buy those cheap, one-size-fits-all stretchy gloves from the drug or dollar store, or wherever I happen to be, and snip the very tips off the fingers. Since I always need fingerless gloves, and tend to lose one, I see no sense in spending more than necessary on a specialized product, especially if I had to wait for it to be shipped. Get warmer faster!

    • Treva

      I realize it would behoove me to read prior comments before posting my own. And I can attest that the cut off fingers really do not unravel very much at all.

  • I used to belong to the “cold hand” club until I went to a student acupuncture clinic for a totally unrelated problem. They kept fussing over my cold hands and worrying about that. Treatments were $5 each, and I went weekly for two months or so. It never fixed my other problem, but suddenly I realized my hands were usually comfortable if not warm. Years later I went to a physiotherapist who explained there’s something in your neck that can get pinched and cause cold hands.

  • Catherine Banks

    If your new gloves don’t arrive quickly enough, or if you find you want another pair, just take a pair of knit gloves ($1.50 at Target) and cut the finger tips off. For years I have run with a pair that has the thumb cut off so I can operate my iPod. It has never frayed or anything.

  • Peninith1

    Completely different problem / solution. My house has several lovely window seats. Alas, they have mostly wound up as places where ‘stuff’ collects. I have made this a deliberate policy in my bathroom by turning the area into shelves. My kitchen isn’t conquered yet, my guest room . . . sort of. Finally though, I found a perfectly fitting seat cushion and two matching pillows in a neighborhood yard sale exchange, in colors that work in my bedroom. I installed those where they belong and ever since have been able to keep the bedroom window seat for just that . . . an extra little sit-down space. Perfect little solution to my problem for only $10 and the price of keeping it tidy!

  • Fiona

    yes. this sounds ridiculous but i felt SO much happier when the problem was solved. the issue was that every time i made toast i burnt/hurt my fingers getting it out. despite being able to lift up the toast higher with the lever it still happened. one day i went into Williams Sonoma and found a set of wooden tongs for $10 which were made for the precise purpose of getting out toast. aah the satisfaction of a problem solved after many years of annoyance!

  • Rob

    Hot chocolate is also a good way to keep cold hands warm.

  • hdm

    I have perpetually cold digits too. I have fingerless gloves which I really like. Also, I created a standing workstation using a few paper boxes. Standing really helps keep me warmer. Also, my boss is cool and has given me permission to order a heated keyboard and heated mouse if I want…

  • The Red Angel

    When I’m able to solve a problem on my own, regardless if it’s a personal problem or a problem of someone else’s, not only does it make me happy but I get a super confidence booster too! 🙂

    My fingers get really cold too. Ehh, a mixture of melted Nutella and milk does the trick. 😀



  • Tom

    I used to always have a horrible stomach ache every morning around 11. I finally realized it was because I didn’t eat or drink anything until lunch time around 12. So now I drink water in the morning and grab a bite to eat. Problem solved. Very insightful post, Gretchen.

  • guest

    Quick note about gloves: In a bind, you can also purchase those super-inexpensive ($1.50) knit gloves that are available at places like Target and most drug stores, and just cut the tips off. I’ve done this, as I too suffer from the cold-purple hands and overall coldness problem. I feel your pain!

  • Sunshinecook

    So so so many. Rigging up good lighting for key tasks and arranging a highly functional kitchen cabinet have both been great.

    It’s funny how a little thing like this can put a real spring in your step. Assuming life’s basics are all in place and you have the privilege of living in the relative luxury of the first world, then fixing little problems like this buys you so much comfort and cuts out so much simmering background irritation.

  • Post

    Nice post! Great that your PC returned your article 🙂

    However the post puzzled me a bit and got me thinking. I also have the same problem of always beeing too cold, so I can relate to this porblem.

    I dont feel that you have really solved the problem though. You have more covered it up and disquised it. The underlaying problem still remains: You have cold hands. And untill you find out why that is so, you will not be able to find a real, permanent solution to the problem …

    Only my thoughts on this. Thanks for a great blog and lots of usefull tips 🙂

  • Lynnel

    I remember reading about a problem typists and pianists both can get with cold fingers…maybe all your typing is causing your increasingly cold fingers? I live in a drafty old Victorian so also recommend cashmere sweaters and down vests- don’t think wool and cotton work quite as well. If you ever need a quick finger fix, I used to run my hands under warm water for a while right before a piano performance, an immediate help if you need it!

  • Sometimes the smallest things really do make a huge daily difference. I recently moved the dishwasher tablets from the bag-in-a-box that they came in (and were fiddly to get out of), to a little plastic tray (leftover from some packaging) where you could just easily take one out of the pile. Every time I put the dishwasher on I appreciate that small improvement.

  • I had the same problem at work (I work in a very cold office) – did you know they make such a thing as a heated keyboard and mouse? Well, they do! I got them as a gift one year, and they have made things so much better!

    • gretchenrubin

      I did NOT know that! Never in a million years would I have imagined that
      such a thing exists. I will invstigate!

  • Hempelstudios

    It’s amazing how small things can make a big difference. My daughter (2 at the time) kept getting into my purse and hide my stuff. I finally got a coat/purse hook. Life got much better after that. A year later and I’m still thankful for my simple solution.

  • Ella

    If your hands also turn white, you might have yourself checked for Raynaud’s – it sounds as though you may have poor circulation.

  • I love the commandment “Identify the Problem” and I have it as one of my commandments also. Often times we think we know what the problem is–someone or something else, but in reality it is just ME that is the problem. Or maybe we are having a tough day at work and we blame it on all kinds of things but maybe we just did not get enough sleep. If you get good at identifying the problem you can identify the solution so much quicker! Thanks Gretchen.

  • Debra

    I was so happy to be given fingerless gloves for Christmas. My office is so cold and there is a draft around my keyboard/mouse. So happy!

  • Joan

    Several comments suggest buying inexpensive gloves while you wait for your fingerless gloves to arrive. Maybe you already have an old pair of gloves in the house that you would not mind sacrificing for this purpose?

    • gretchenrubin

      I just wish I’d done this weeks ago!

  • Mpahope

    I’m not a doctor but, if you have felt cold all your life, you need more than fingerless gloves to improve your discomfort. May I suggest that you warm up your feet as well by wearing silky socks and fashionable ankle-high boots in New York. The benefit of enclosing your minimal body heat should ease your chilly feeling. That goes for warm headgear, if you leave the house; cover your ears with a fur beret. Gretchen, take care of yourself and keep writing for all of us out here who count on you to start their day with optimism.

  • Diana Burgess

    I love quick fixes. I was stressed about my twin third graders lack of organization and recently bought a book Smart but Scattered that has 20 “interventions” to address kids’ organization problems. For 2 weeks we’ve been doing their “homework organization intervention” together–and I am so happy. We now have a checklist I help them follow every day that gets them to take work out of their backpack and folder, file it (in current and old work folders), do homework, place in school folder, and place school folder in backpack. After 6 weeks they get a reward. It seems crazy that I needed a book to tell me about this, but it was great to have it laid out. When this is under control, we will move onto another intervention.

  • jenny_o

    You said: “Of course, I fully realize that in the scheme of life, having cold hands is a very minor complaint.” Only if it happens occasionally! A minor complaint, suffered constantly and over the long term, becomes more than that.

    I love your solution and also the tip about heated keyboards.

    Glad your post reappeared for you!

  • Guest

    A friend uses a desk lamp placed pointing at his hands to keep them warm.

  • Nadia

    regrettably sometimes identifying the problem is not as simple as finding putting long johns on makes us warm. I have found that yes talking on the phone and wasting away my day really puts me in a bad mood ( I too am a writer and will find any excuse to blow off proof reading a chapter) but I also found through a very painful and difficult process that a person was a problem in my life. I identified that person as a problem and sadly they were very close to me but when I started my happiness project their resistance to all my resolutions was so exhausting I had no choice but to realize that they were a problem. I am much happier without them but it isn’t easy to let go of an old habit especially when it is a person.

  • Miss Heidi

    As a fixer, I love simple solutions to nagging problems and I really like your fingerless gloves post. I think in this case though, you have identified the symptom rather than the problem. If western medicine hasn’t been very helpful in determining the root of the problem, you might consider giving eastern medicine a try. Acupuncture is just one example that someone suggested earlier. Alternative and integrative medicine might help. Do you have a trusted woo woo friend that can recommend an alternative health care practitioner?

  • My quick fix saves me time & brings me much happiness! My work moved locations 2 months ago, and I realized I was missing fun after-work activities because I was staying later at work and also had a longer commute (due to longer distance). My public transit commute home was now 45 minutes, where I used to be able to walk 20. I take a train & then a bus to get to and from work.

    For 1 week I have piloted driving to work. It saves me time (drive is only 10 minutes, versus 30-45 min on public transit) and for some reason is more mentally freeing – I am leaving work at a more normal time as well as not getting bummed or drained by the commute. The cost is that I pay more. In the spring I’ll re-evaluate and try cycling or public transit again when it’s sunnier out longer.

    • It’s nice to see someone else who shares the same probem/solution I had. I took the job I have because they have a shuttle from the train station. But after 4 years of car to train to shuttle to job (1.5 hours each way!) I also have been driving. Drive is 45 minutes (still too long but half the transit amount) and along a nice scenic route where I can let the troubles of the day drift away as I appreciate the scenery. ON the way in to work, I get awesome sunrises.

      It’s odd to think that a public transit commute (not drig=ving) could be more mentally draining, but it is!

      Lauren – is there any way that you could work from home one day a week? I’ve found that a wfh day really helps bump up the happiness quotient!

  • Luna

    Question (Sorry don’t mean to sound like Dwight from the office) you’re always cold, identify the problem; have you had your thyroid checked? When I was always cold mine was slow.

    • Luna

      oops I’m replying to myself I just read lower down that you get your thyroid checked all the time! Sorry, Hmm oh well I’m sure you have it all under control!

  • actuary

    I always need sufficient hooks for towels, coats, etc.

    My new addition is a “sink mat.” This is a vinyl thing that prevents clinking in the sink. I am happy every time I put a spoon in the sink and it doesn’t clink.

    Having a solution to those tiny, niggling problems is SO worth it.

  • Yeah, I get a lot of happiness out of cleaning my apartment. Too bad it doesn’t happen more often! Small things like this add up and can be significant mood boosters.

  • Carrie

    Knitting myself some fingerless gloves for the same reason, to use typing and around the house, is my next project. It will indeed be one of those small things that give a big boost.

    In answer to your question, even though it’s not necessarily fixing a problem, making the bed every day gives me a huge happiness boost, and is one of my resolutions in my Toolbox. It gives me a small but real feeling of accomplishment, makes the bedrooms look tidier and inspires me to keep it cleaner, keeps the cat hair off the sheets, and it feels absolutely wonderful to slip into crisp sheets at night.

  • Every now and then Spouse or I will make some small change in the house – rearrange a piece of furniture, add an under-counter light… most recently we added a rack over the sink. And then we look at each other and exclaim “Wow! Why didn’t we do this Years ago?!”

    Yes, identifying the problem can often be the largest part pf the problem!

  • Cam

    I totally agree with you, Gretchen. As an underbuyer too, I resist buying simple things that could make my life much easier. In fact that’s why one of my “secrets of adulthood” is always over-prepare for the weather. Bring the coat. Bring the extra change of clothes. Pack the scarf, hat, and mittens. Don’t forget the umbrella and rain jacket. You will be glad later.

  • NettyM

    Fixing my toilet. It was a $3 flapper and about 5 minutes – saving me from multiple moments of frustration every day. No more reaching into the tank and putting the old flapper on right, and no more kids being unable to flush properly because they didn’t push the handle just right. It was so simple but I beamed for days.

    • gretchenrubin

      I get a vicarious thrill just reading about this!

  • philosophotarian

    Just a few weeks ago I was at the hardware store and noticed sturdy, plain keyrings for about ten cents. I’d been frustrated with my flimsy one for ages and it never occurred to me to check the hardware store. (yeah, yeah.) For ten cents I bought myself a giant smile, security for my keys, and a whole lot of enduring happiness. It was super!

  • Esther

    It does sound like you have at least a mild case of Raynaud’s, Gretchen. And though someone else already mentioned it, I’ll re-emphasize that there are medicines such as Nifedipine which can help with the problems of you and your hands being cold. Also, I’m not sure what the research shows, but I believe stress (being in a semi-“fight or flight” mode) can constrict vasculature, so I wonder if meditation or anything else that helps us relax would help dilate our vessels to keep us warmer.

  • It happens more often than not in my life. I especially tend to procrastinate on tasks that I’m able to estimate the amount of time they’ll take. I wrote about it in my blog today, and pointed back to your excellent article here. http://navelobservatory.blogspot.com/2011/02/sniggly-saturday.html

  • Little things can definitely make a big difference. I am always cold too, no matter how many extra layers I put on. Some more things I have found that make a difference– I got one of those neck pillows that you warm up in the microwave and I wear that, a hot shower will keep me warm for a while, and I have a small attic office which my computer keeps fairly warm (if you don’t want to warm up one room, you could look into one of those self-heating carpets to keep under your feet). Exercise (running up and down the stairs) can help too. Good luck with the gloves!

  • earthgirl

    I’m a little late on this post as I didn’t see that it was there right away.
    I love solutions to small problems, really makes my day, or week or life.

    Gretchen another helpful comment about being cold.I am the same way, although I don’t have the purple hands but have always been freezing, wear multiple layers etc.
    I think you have to have the right doctor read a thyroid test.I had my thyroid tested a few years back, it was normal. Maybe it was maybe it wasn’t.I just had it tested again, you can be in the so called normal range but really it’s in the low range. I was mildly low based on the test and other symptoms, cold being one of them. Then did another test and I have anti immune thyroidis. I take medication now, and I am feeling warmer. I don’t wear sweaters at work anymore, still wear a camisole but it has definitely improved. I don’t think my other doctor would have picked up on this.
    Dr Price has some good info on this stuff , he has a web site and foundation.
    Good luck and thanks for the great posts!

  • Ahhh “tolerations”. What are you tolerating that you don’t have to?

    A big one for me is paying my bills and merely looking at my bank statements. The second I do it, I always feel better immediately.

  • Loved your post on HuffPo and followed it here because I’ve been thinking about fingerless gloves for me. I’m always cold, too. In my case I have identified the cause of my extreme sensitivity to cold. It started when I was in fifth grade and got many vaccinations and silver dental fillings that year. I was so cold my parents broke down and bought me thigh high socks. (Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants back then – even during winter.) 

    The cause is mercury toxicity which affects the thyroid among other things. Eating extremely healthy, natural foods is gradually making it better – but I still need to order some of these gloves for now – so thank you so much!