7 Tips for Minding My Own Business.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 7 tips for minding my own business.

Lately, I’ve really been focusing on trying to be less judgmental. It’s a tricky resolution, because it’s hard to turn it into specific, manageable resolutions to keep me on track. What, exactly, do I do differently in my life to be less judgmental? I need to change the way I think.

One of my helpful mantras, though, is to “Mind my own business.” I remind myself:

1. No one asked for my advice. Except in the rare instance when people specifically ask me for help clearing their clutter, raising their children, or deciding their careers, I should keep my advice to myself.

2. I don’t know the whole story. It’s very easy to assume that I understand a situation and to form a judgment when in fact, I understand almost nothing about what’s happening.

3. It doesn’t affect me. A friend was all worked up about some stupid thing a celebrity did – she was really, truly annoyed. I wanted to say, “You don’t know this person, you’ve never even seen her in person. Why let yourself get so upset about something that has no possible affect on you?” And I remind myself of the same thing.

4. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Just because something makes me happy doesn’t mean that it will make someone else happy, and vice versa. I often fight the impulse to be a happiness bully, but what works for me might not work for someone else. I remind myself of the negative example of Thoreau: I almost can’t bear to read Thoreau’s Walden, because he’s so disdainful of other people’s tastes and values. When he writes about his own experience and views, I find his work very compelling, but he’s very judgmental and dismissive of any different vision of a happy life.

5. Don’t gossip.

6. I’m on someone else’s turf. I’m puzzled by my mother-in-law’s habit of keeping her toaster unplugged. Why — why keep the toaster unplugged? Whenever I want to challenge her to defend her unplugged-toaster position, I remind myself, “This is her apartment and her rule. Unplug the toaster.” (I have to confess, I usually forget to unplug it. But I mean to unplug it.)

7. Find explanations in charity. One of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, wrote in a letter to a friend: “From 15 to 18 is an age at which one is very sensitive to the sins of others, as I know from recollections of myself. At that age you don’t look for what is hidden. It is a sign of maturity not to be scandalized and to try to find explanations in charity.”

As photographer Edward Weston observed in his Daybooks, “A lifetime can well be spent correcting and improving one’s own faults without bothering about others.”

How about you? Do you struggle to mind your own business — or what are some other ways of trying to be less judgmental?

* My obsession with the sense of smell continues to grow! I loved discovering this site, Now Smell This — all about perfume.

* If you’re also looking for a good book, please consider The Happiness Project (can’t resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.

  • I love your observations here.  Only recently have I discovered my own judgemental tendancies especially as connected to minding my own business.  I see it because my children do it.  They even repeat things I’ve said.  When it comes out their mouths, I realize how truly judgemental it sounds, and how much of a busy-body I can be.  Praise God I’m a work in progress, if only people offered as much grace as He does. 

    Thanks for the tip.

  • Courtney Sperlazza

    I saw your title and my knee-jerk reaction was, so-and-so needs to read this. Yikes! That shows me I need to work on #1, #3, #4…perhaps I needed to read this more than anyone. Wake-up calls are a good thing.

    • Ehsa

      Yes! My reaction was exactly like yours re so-and-so’s need to read this. So I was very happy to read your insightful, wake-up call comment. So often, it’s not about them, it’s about me and my attitude. Thanks for the heads-up!

  • I get your point about turf, except I have read that toasters and other cheap devices that heat can malfunction and cause fires when left plugged in, so I have always unplugged mine. Not a big deal, and if it saves my pets from being burned up while I’m not home, priceless!

    • I always unplug my toaster.  My M-I-L kept hers plugged in.  It’s not really about the toaster, is it. 

      • MyDailyComment

        Toasters are VERY important! Many of life’s issues are about the toaster, including this one!

  • NK

    Great tips! I can be very judgmental so this post is helpful.

    Last weekend, we had friends over. While I was not paying attention, their toddler fiddled with a knob on my toaster, turning it on (at a very high temp). My sister’s camera was on the toaster- we only realized 15 minutes later when a burning smell wafted through. I think keeping the toaster unplugged is not a bad idea 🙂

  • The one I find hardest is, “It doesn’t affect me.” We live in a crowded, parking-impacted zone in L.A. where people with glitzy cars often take up two spaces. Hated that! I used to put politely passive-aggressive notes on their cars. (Did I mention I had assigned parking in our building’s garage?)

    I finally realized how silly that was when I got rid of my car and started taking public transport. Saved my sanity.

  • The Napkin Dad

    Years ago I took my college drawing class on two field trips to galleries in San Francisco.  

    The first time we went I heard them saying things like, ‘I don’t like that, I wouldn’t ever put that in my house.’ or ‘That subject matter is bad, it would NOT go over well with kids in the house’ (nudes being the most typical subject).  Finally I said to them, ‘You don’t want that in your house? Guess what? IT WILL NEVER BE IN YOUR HOUSE. It’s worth half a million dollars!  You don’t go to a ballet and say ‘I don’t like that ballerina, I would never put her in my house’, do you?

    You don’t HAVE to judge it as if it’s yours. See it as part of the passing parade of life.  No need to judge it as if it’s in circumstances it’s not.

    The second time I took the class I changed the whole tune. I gave them $75,000 fantasy bucks and told them I wanted them to buy art for their house with that money. They had to explain why they wanted each piece.  THEN they had a reason to judge the work as if it were theirs.  They got the difference.

    Designing those lessons for the class helped clarify for me when I should judge and when I shouldn’t.

    A note because of your current love for smells. No greater example for not needing to judge. I like to just experience a transient smell instead of layering it with approval or disapproval.

    • Ncarolinagurl

      Your comment was right on point for Tip #4 the Secret of Adulthood! Also I’m a college art prof so I loved your “bring home the ballerina” analogy.

  • Blabla

    I was thinking about trying to make it a habit. Starting by not judging other people clothings and body. 
    It’s personal and a good training since everyone does it all the time ! 

  • Clux64

    I had to comment on the toaster thing too….we don’t keep anything except the lamps plugged.   Supposedly,  up to 30% of your electric bill can be from power that’s drained by stuff plugged in just waiting to be used.   Seems wasteful, so we just unplug.

    • gretchenrubin

      Does power drain from things like toasters or lamps? I thought that applied
      to devices like laptops, that sort of always stay on. But I could be wrong.
      Anyone actually know?

      And on the other comments about toasters catching fire…really? Just
      sitting on a counter, cold, they burst into flames? LOOK AT THAT! I’m being

      Sheesh. It’s hard to mind my own business.

      • Clux64

        It’s called vampiring, and the toaster is a poor example, but it’s more stuff than you think http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/09/020926065912.htm

        • actuary

          I started turning off the TV when not in use, and the Con Ed bill dropped by a staggering $15/month.

          I would guess that modern toasters do the vampire-energy thing but old toasters do not. Still, not knowing is a reason to unplug. There is zero downside to unplugging and a possible costly downside to remaining plugged in.The cat could also accidentally turn on an appliance, so I make sure all plugs are unplugged when possible. One time, the cat jumped on the counter and her back claws caught the stove knob, turning a burner on. 

          I had an old roommate who always forgot to both unplug and turn off the iron. I was convinced the place would burn down. So unplugging is also a double safety measure.

      • Heedolsi

        Not actual flames, but… I had a toaster that, every once in a while, just decided not to turn off. I walked into the kitchen one day about 4 hours after using it and the element was still on. Scary. It wasn’t even an old one, I’d just bought it a month or so before this happened. Needless to say, I’m an unplugger too!

      • James Thurber has a funny story about a relative who used to go around putting lightbulbs into empty sockets, and if they came on, shuddering in fear, thinking of all the electricity that had been leaking out and filling the air around her…

      • Beth

        I know someone whose toaster did actually just burst into flames.  Luckily, they were home when it happened, so it didn’t cause much damage, but it can happen!  I always unplug my toaster 🙂

      • Colleen

        we had a toaster fired when I was a child — a number of crumbs had collected in the bottom of the toaster that hadn’t been cleaned out — the heat from making toast over & over, dried out the remaining crumbs — and one morning – fire erupted from the toaster as the dried crumbs incinerated … the flame caught the kitchen curtains on fire and the roll of paper towels and did quite a bit of damage before it could be put out… everything was ok but the fire traveled amazingly fast and caused a couple of thousands in damage to the kitchen … ever since, in every house I’ve live it, I have changed the toaster outlet to a switched outlet (one plugin/ one light switch) and I turn the toaster off whenever it’s not in use. Most of all, I’m RELIGIOUS about cleaning the crumb tray!

  • Patricia Tryon

    The older I get, the less I struggle with this, maybe because each day I’m becoming more honest with myself about my shortcomings and failures. Recognizing those in myself seems to elicit in me an unwillingness to meddle, even mentally, in the affairs of others.

    Put more humorously, offering advice is usually like trying to teach a pig to sing, in the immortal words of E.B. White. It doesn’t work and it annoys the pig!

  • I find that getting worked up about other people’s lives only serves to get me upset. Now I focus on being happy and calm, and I notice other people suddenly aren’t doing half the annoying things they were previously. 🙂

    I call it stirring your own pot.

    I also unplug toasters, blenders, etc. Other things are on surge suppressors that I can turn off when the items are not in use. Saves electricity, I’m told.

  • gwen

    Thank you for finally cementing in my mind the reason I hated reading Thoreau in school.  Something about him just really rubbed me the wrong way, and now that you point it out, it was definitely his judgmental tone that did it.

  • Irving

    You’re right about everything except for one: there are good reasons to keep the toaster unplugged!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m convinced!

      The toaster debate is a perfect illustration of my point. I’m wise to mind
      my own business, because in fact, I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING! There are good
      reasons for a person to leave the toaster unplugged!

      • We leave the toaster unplugged in our rental property (weekly rentals) and store it in a cabinet next to the blender. That’s more for counter space than safety though. 🙂

      • Lmurphy

        I think it’s hilarious that so many comments are about your toaster example. I was going to say the same thing!

        But your overall point on minding your own business is right on. Will try to remember these things myself, as my husband is always commenting on my judging.

      • This makes me even more nervous about using a crockpot. If a toaster that is OFF can burst into flames, then why can’t something that is sitting at home ON all day? Eek.

  • Harriedhen

    My apologies, but I have a question that pertains to The Happiness Project book, but it does not pertain to this exact discussion. Our book club read The Happiness Project book for our June discussion, which is coming up next week. Food and beverages are served during our meetings.

    My question: what types of food and beverages should I serve at the book discussion meeting that would synch with this book????? Any creative thoughts??!!

    • You should serve food you love to eat and that won’t make you crazy to prepare!  So if you love pizza, go ahead and order some.  If you love ice cream, have make-your-own-sundaes.  Or pick something you know they all love… chocolate?… and go for it.  What makes you happy and others happy is perfect.  That’s the only “rule.”

      • Lisa

        I agree– serve what makes you happy and don’t try to impress anybody. Some members of my book club LOVE to spend all day cooking a gourmet meal, but that stresses me out and makes me crazy. I’ve been a happier host when I served pizza & brownies (people seemed pretty happy to eat that, too!) or pre-made spanikopita and hummus. 

        • TracyW

          For a moment I read that as “pre-made spanikopita and humans”, and thought you had a tough book club. 🙂 

    • gretchenrubin

      In one of my children’s literature reading groups, we have the tradition
      that the host serves a food that somehow relates to the book, which is so
      fun. When we read Pullman’s THE GOLDEN COMPASS, we drank Tokay, etc.

      In this case — anything that makes people happy! Or as for what I mention
      in the book…oatmeal? coffee? Not very festive food!

      • Boudica08

        grown up here, and i loved that book

    • Lmurphy

      Or you could do a happy-face theme with those frozen french fries that are shaped like a smiley face and other similar things (pizza, cupcakes, etc. would lend themselves nicely to it).

  • KCCC

    On the toaster issue – they’re a fire hazard, not an energy vampire. See http://ezinearticles.com/?Pulling-the-Plug-on-Your-Toaster&id=1952489

    In general, I agree with the “not your turf” bit. I’d take it a bit further… once you delegate a job, you don’t get to micro-manage how it’s done.  I still remember the expression on a friend’s face when I asked her to help me make a salad, then exclaimed because she was peeling the cucumber (I like some peel left on). I realized then that once the job was hers to do, she had the right to do it her way.

    • gretchenrubin

      The “don’t micro-manage” point is very good to remember in the no-nagging
      context, as well. If someone is doing a job, that person should be able to
      do it in his or her own way, without a lot of nagging, corrections, etc.

      • If157

        My husband and I have a rule in our house (we got it from somewhere else but I can’t remember the source now):

        “You can decide who does it, or you can decide how it gets done.” 

        We break it often (well, I do) but then he reminds me! So, I can agree that bathroom-cleaning is my husband’s job – but then I DON’T get to decide exactly how often the shower tile grout needs scrubbing.   (I LOVE the cucumber peeling bit. I have been guilty of that myself with pepper-chopping size.)   It has made a huge difference in how we handle differences of opinion and me letting go.

  • I really need to keep “It doesn’t affect me” in mind when I watch movies.  Sometimes I need to chill and remind myself it is not real 🙂

  • Shawndra Russell

    #7 is especially relevant for me. I have to remind myself to give people the benefit of the doubt and try to cut people slack by viewing their actions and behavior in the best possible light and not jump to negative conclusions.

  • I’m working on that judgemental thing too. I think its a bad habit that can be unlearned with effort. I heard a saying on Oprah that has helped me with this immensely…”Be responsible for the energy you bring.” So I’m making myself be responsible to bring positive words and thoughts to a situation instead of negative.

  •  #2 is a big one for me, and the one that manages to keep me sane and drive me crazy.  Whenever someone annoys me in some petty way, I try to remember that I don’t know the whole story.  Sometimes my over active imagination takes over and I create a story for them. 

    But then I find myself getting frustrated when other people don’t follow that.  When my coworkers complain about the guests in the restaurant, I want to remind them that they don’t know why the person is in a bad mood.  So often I have to hold my tongue in those situations. 

    One thing that I have to remember is sometimes people are happier if they can complain.  It’s not my place to tell them not to. 

  • Michelle

    “You don’t know this person, you’ve never even seen her in person. Why let yourself get so upset about something that has no possible affect on you?”
    I think this really depends on the context of what said ‘celebrity’ was doing. I will never stop being upset when I see/hear any celebrity make comments that are sexist, racists, misogynistic, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, ableist, etc. 

    The only way these things change is if people fight back against them–and to fight back, one usually has to feel it holds some personal relevance, thus they will get upset. 

    • gretchenrubin

      Good point.

      (In this case, it was about how much the celebrity spent on a handbag.)

      • Nadine

        How much people spend on things seems to elicit a lot of judgement and I am quite curious about that.  I recognize the starving people all over the world argument but I have heard the counter argument that this item is taxed (sigh being Canadian HEAVILY!) and we send bags of money to third world countries in addition the  I pay huge taxes argument so I am doing my part.  I don’t have an opinion either way though I do own some big ticket items that I can afford that I still suffer pangs of conscience about.

        • The Napkin Dad

          My first wife used to dislike seeing people spend a lot of money on what she thought of as ostentatious or frivolous things.  I agreed in some ways but she seemed to be oblivious to the fact that HER spending was frivolous and extravagant according to someone else.  

          Her parents were upper middle class and bought pretty nice cars and had a big home. THAT was extravagant to many who thought they could have had a smaller home and used the extra money for helping others.  The point is we ALL are extravagant in someone’s eyes. We ALL are frivolous in someone’s eyes.  Who do we listen to? Who SHOULD we listen to?  

          I don’t think a celebrity is any different than anyone else, they either have the money to spend or they don’t. If they do, it’s NONE OF ANYONE ELSE’S BUSINESS, no matter what the cost. If they don’t, then they have a problem, just like anyone else and deserve our help and support (if we know them) and our compassion if we don’t.

          • Rachel

            “The point is we ALL are extravagant in someone’s eyes. We ALL are
            frivolous in someone’s eyes.  Who do we listen to? Who SHOULD we listen

            Frivolous, yes. Extravagant, not necessarily. Everyone is frivolous with their money from time to time (for example, spending money on a hobby that someone else thinks is a waste because it doesn’t interest them); however, there are some people who are rarely–if ever–extravagant–they are frugal to the bone.

  • I have to agree, Gretchen, especially with the first trait you mentioned. It’s a bias on my part
    –and liked “I’m on someone else’s turf” was a really a good one. Great post and really enjoyed reading it.

  • Nadine

    An interesting discussion I had with a psychologist friend of mine the difference between assessing and judging.  My family is supremely judgemental and I have fought my whole life to stop being so however it is essential in life to make some kind of  a call re: people, situations etc. so you don’t end up with friends who are not healthy for you or in situations that are unsafe.  So person x does not like to spend money, is a working Mom and leaves her kids with a baby sitter when she is not working a lot.  You are a stay at home Mom who is easy with money and rarely leaves your kids with anyone.  Let me see for person x you see that as really not something you would do and that is where you stop.  That is assessing if you head into the waters of she is an uncaring Mom and a cheapskate to boot then you are being judgemental.  Lets take it further say she leaves her kids with a babysitter who is careless even endangers them and you are aware of it then I think you have to assess the situation as one you need to get involved in.  I don’t think not being judgemental is always really clean cut.

    • I agree that it’s not clear cut. Nearly everyone has an opinion on the behaviors of others  (it’s clearly human nature), even if they make a choice not to state that opinion for fear of being considered unkind or judgmental.

      It’s very difficult to be an observer of human behavior and not form an opinion (i.e., judgment). Isn’t that part of critical thinking?

  • oops

  • Great advice. My biggest problem is telling people to mind THEIR own business. Which actually none of my business. 🙂

  • keishua

    Great tips. I think that gossiping is something that I walk a fine line with. I hate it but is so easy to fall into.

  • Susan Parsons

    Three things:
    1)I try to get my family to turn off TV/DVD/surround sound surge protectors, and shut computers ALL the way down overnight.  I get non-compliance from husband and sons. So I have now sent them the Science Daily link in hopes that the WHY will click in.  Question: in your views (note: I am asking for opinion) am I breaking or bending and of the 7 rules above?
    2)I love that I read this book a year ago and the online blog/discussion still go on. You ARE  my second book group! The cyber-group. Longest meeting ever.
    3)We unplug toaster at my husband’s request. Who knew he was right?!

  • Lisa

    LOL to the toaster thing. I’ve had this happen several times, it is SO HARD to not judge when you don’t know the explanation or the explanation is weak or stupid. My sister keeps her bread in the refrigerator, I keep mine in the freezer. I think the fridge dries it out and it keeps much longer in the freezer. I have to fight the urge EVERY TIME I make a sandwich at her house to tell her that she’s doing it wrong. Such a stupid thing, but I just 100% don’t understand her position, which makes it hard not to judge.

    • And I keep my bread on top of the fridge…

      My husband and I have different ways of doing things, and we’ve both tried to get in the habit of simply asking, “Why?” Rather than assuming the other has made a mistake or is ignorant of some knowledge we have, we ask the other, “Why do/did you choose to do it that way?” Sometimes his explanation makes more sense than my arguments.

  • Zazzy

    The funny thing is that I learned long ago that even when people ask for your advice – they don’t really want it.

  • Charlotte

     I like this post, good tips! In reading this blog entry I re-visited the “Don’t Gossip” entry linked in number 5. And I had a few thoughts on it that I felt were relevant to the topics you discuss in this blog entry.

    In the entry you define gossiping as  ‘making unkind remarks behind the back of someone you know’, and gave the example of saying that “Paris Hilton is trashy” wouldn’t count.

    I disagree with your “exception” of making unkind marks about someone you don’t know being just fine. Although it may not ever get back to that person or hurt them, it is promoting the continuation of gossip, and the act of being judgemental with little information.

    I feel it could be most beneficial if instead we promote taking a mentality of “we’re all doing the best we can.” How judgemental we are of other people is a real reflection of how judgemental we are of ourselves. And, the more we can apply a “we’re all doing the best we can” mentality to other people, the more we can begin to apply this to ourselves (and vice versa).

    Celebrity gossip is one way our culture teaches our youth/adults how to gossip about people that are closer in our social circles/communities and what we gossip about them. In a world in which celebrity gossip is o.k. all gossip will continue.

    • gretchenrubin

      A very thoughtful point. Finding explanations in charity is a good practice,
      even for people you don’t know.

      • Elizabeth

        Can you explain explanations in charity further?

        • gretchenrubin

          That’s a phrase used by Flannery O’Connor in a letter:

          “From 15 to 18 is an age at which one is very sensitive to the sins of
          others, as I know from recollections of myself. At that age you don’t look
          for what is hidden. It is a sign of maturity not to be scandalized and to
          try to find explanations in charity.”

          So–don’t look for reasons to be scandalized, don’t assume the worst or jump
          to conclusions, cut people slack.

          • karley

            I soo agree with u all on that gretchenrubin. Exspecially the part u said cut people slack be uzz sum people r really sensitive & take it really affensive just like I do.

  • Alice F.

    Ooh, I really like this one, Gretchen. I work on being less judgmental in my better moments … some of these tips have already been pretty well ingrained in my brain, but others provided a new way of looking at it. Thank you!

  • karen

    Our good friends had a fire in their kitchen caused by their toaster shorting out–luckily they were home and caught it  before there was too much damage.  That is why we keep OUR toaster unplugged…just saying…

  • Melanie

    I too come from a judgmental family and now that I am much more aware of it, I have a harder time listening to all of the judgmental comments of family members. Any suggestions on how not to let this bother me so much?!

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, that’s a BIG QUESTION. Ideas, anyone?

      • The Napkin Dad

        Here are my ideas:

        First, ask yourself WHY it bothers you so much.  

        Second, be consistent but non-argumentative with your own words being non-judgmental when you are in front of them, don’t join in when you can help it.  

        Third, be patient and pick your moments to push back against the judgments.  

        Fourth, find those family members who are perhaps a bit less judgmental, perhaps open to some persuasion to be less so, and see if you can’t form a secret non-judgmental branch of the family.

        Hope this helps.

    • Vickiv16134

      to keep from fanning the fires:  when the judgement is on me I smile sweetly, say I will think on that, walk away, and leave the whole conversation laying in front of them, ie I do not think of it again. (unless it is of help to me.

  • Kerrwriter

    I recognize advice giving as one of my worst habits. I have also recently learned that I turn away from and am utterly uncomfortable with hearing about people’s problems if I feel I can’t help them solve them. Very compelled to bring solutions even though that is totally arrogant. I’m working on listening more and creating spaces for people to find their own solutions. Hardest thing I’ve ever tried…

  • AML

    My personal mantra is “Just because I am aware of it, doesn’t mean I need to fix it”.

  • Roxanne

    Ha, we always keep our toaster (and other kitchen appliances) unplugged! 🙂 It’s for safety–we have curious cats who like to chew cords. Better those cords not be plugged in, if they somehow find them tucked behind the toaster, food processor, and blender!

    Anyway, great tips! I’m actually working on the same thing right now, so this was a helpful reminder.

  • Heidi

    My son is 13.  He read somewhere that your toaster should be unplugged for safety reasons.  I never remember to unplug it and he always scolds me.  He can’t remember to feed the cats but he remembers the toaster.  Baffles me!

  • Heidi

    My husband hates it when we go to a restaurant and I eavesdrop on other tables and comment on their activities.  I really try not to.  I love to people watch – what can I say.  
    I will work on minding my own business!!!!  

  • Cyndiwood

    #3 It doesn’t affect me – I saw a funny cartoon in the New Yorker … man on computer telling his wife “Demi Moore had a sad tweet” … it stuck me that two people were in the same room and could have had their own exchange, but it was more important to the man that a someone unknown to him had an emotion.  Hmmmm…. Let’s not be so concerned about someone else out there when someone more important is right in front of us.

  • Gretchen, I also hate it when people get so worked up about what some celebrity did.  Here’s how my cousin handled it when a mutual friend kept going on about how overrated this uber-famous author was and that he was just full of himself. She said in the many times she has personally met him, he’s never been anything but self-effacing and gracious. Then she politely asked our friend when he had seen him act otherwise.  That quieted him down.
    So, even though I don’t know celebs,  when my friends talk too much about one, I do the same thing which is to politely ask when was the last time they were hanging out with the celeb.

  • Anonymous

    I struggle with being judgmental because I’m not convinced it’s a good thing for me to be less judgmental.

    Put differently, I have trouble always discerning the difference between not being judgmental and being amoral.

    First, I want to make clear that I’m very tactful and very, very rarely offer unsolicited advice. That said, I can still be quietly judging.

    The “none of your business” stance just doesn’t work everywhere… or maybe even most places. Unplugging a toaster is one thing, but what if you saw your friend neglecting her cat? What if, instead of neglecting her cat, she was supporting businesses that neglect their cats? (Silly example, but I hope you can see the logic.) If you believe that our sphere of influence is very limited, then yes, it’s easy to see personal decisions as arbitrary personal preferences to be respected. If, however, you see much more interconnectedness and how individual choices can add up to social/moral dysfunction, it’s much harder to be okay with other people’s business. Obviously, we can try to avoid judging individuals for things that are (1) truly arbitrary (e.g., wallpaper choices), and (2) complex decisions where we can’t possibly have enough information (e.g., we don’t know that this person is recovering from a substance abuse problem). 

    There are a lot of social norms I’m not okay with because I think they do more harm than good. I didn’t realize until several therapists pointed it out that most people don’t think to the same extent about the consequences of their actions beyond their effects on friends and family. This is regrettable, but I realize our levels of empathy are not completely under our control. When I view other people as animals lacking free will (I’m a biologist–this is not meant as an insult), it’s not as disturbing to see how people’s decisions play out. When I’m viewing other people more as “people,” their priorities can upset me. 

    For many years, I assumed I had some enormous problem because I hadn’t worked out how to make the world a better place for sentient creatures while living happily in society. It took me a while to realize that most people don’t place the same burden on themselves. I see and accept how this preferences arises, but I still judge it as regrettable and sad.

    • Anonymous 2

      I feel your pain about this. I have sometimes thought to myself that if I disowned everyone in my life whom I feel has made less than morally sound decisions, I would have no one left. So what does one do?

      And that’s not to say I’m perfect. But I have struggled knowing about a friend who downloads copyrighted information, a family member who uses dog training methods I find reprehensible, etc. But I realize that if I called them out on these things, the relationships would be irreperably damaged or end. So I try to reserve it for those things that pass a certain moral threshold in my mind. For example, I let a friendship go when this person carried on an affair with someone who was married for a long time and showed no remorse, although I still struggle mentally with that one, too.

      • Daisy

        Unfortunately, we live in a society where “relativism” thrives. People want to dismiss or excuse the negative consequences of their actions under the banner of “judge not.” It becomes increasingly difficult to find middle ground, especially when their actions affect the tax payer or your personal peace and sensabilities. When cultural norms break down or become erroded, everyone pays, whether they realize it or not.
        Boundaries helps one realize when they should take action or speak out. If it isn’t about you, doesn’t affect you, then keep quiet, unless you have witnessed a crime or a grave injustice. People who benefit from the “bad action” are usually guilty of it and they typically don’t like being called out. Expect push back if you do, but know that you are defending your line of respect (and probably others as well) if you do.
        “Be True to yourself and your convictions”, even if you have to stand alone! Life would be so much sweeter if we all practiced the golden rule, each and every day!

  • Kate

    I always struggle with this issue and have only recently realized how much criticism, gossip, judgment, and plain old meanness form the largest part of ANY converation with anyone in my family.  Which makes it a hard habit to break.

    I try to remind myself when I’m focusing on trying to be less critical/judgmental of an interesting exchange I heard many years ago, just a few weeks after moving to a busy street in a busy city.

    It was about 3:30 in the morning on a worknight and some guy is walking up the street hollering and swearing really loudly, waking up the ENTIRE block (which included a senior citizen’s housing complex AND a hospital).  I assumed the guy was drunk, high, or mentally ill, but was still laying in bed, fuming with anger at being woken up.

    So, apparently, was another man who threw open his window and began screaming back at the guy, something along the lines of “Shut up!  It’s the middle of the night!  What’s wrong with YOU?”

    A pause.

    The hollerer replies, loudly enough for all of us to hear: “I just walked in on my best friend and wife in bed together.”

    Another pause.

    2nd guy: “Oh, man.  I’m so sorry.  I am so, so sorry.”

    Window shuts, and I guess eventually some of us fell back asleep. 

    So yes: we don’t always know the full story….

  • Great advice. The “Don’t Gossip” can even be broadened to “dont read gossip”. Everything so much simpler that way. I think its ok to be a happiness bully depending on how you define bully. Like, when you put it on a blog like this, its great. I chose to read the blog. Looks like some fun Wednesday tips on the side so I’m going to start reading. 

  • goreedgo

    My favorite new trick to reign in my judgement is to remind myself that I ought to take my own advice! Somebody parks in a thoughtless manner, I think “How rude!” but then I ask myself, “Have I ever parked in a thoughtless manner?” Of course I have. If not, I have no problem coming up with something else equally rude that I’ve done. If you can do this in a lighthearted way, you can crack yourself up with
    how much you would hate it if anyone talked to you the way you are talking (inside your head) to the person who has offended you.

    This is not to say that we should let people off the hook, just that we should give them the leeway and respect we hope to get from the world when we’re in the wrong. If someone felt the need to call me out for something thoughtless I did, I would hope they would be polite, assume that I had positive intentions and be ready to listen to my response.

  • Sharon Hardwick

    I finally admitted to myself that I am extremely judgmental. A huge step for me. 🙂 Now I don’t fight my judgement. Instead I go talk to people, get to know them, take an interest in their lives and the intimacy makes it just too hard to judge. I often remind myself of a quote by John Churton Collins: “If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we would find.” this helps me stay mindful when I’m raring to point the finger.

  • I am content

    I believe it is necessary for us to observe other’s behavior, learn from it, and decide whether we want to copy them or modify our behavior based on their experience.  I even call that ‘judging others’. 

    But taking the step of treating them badly because we disagree with them is neither good for them nor us.  Even when they affect us adversely, using our intelligence to treat them well usually results in mutual benefit.

  • Ceili999

    Curiously, what comes to mind is an explanation from a personal development class… “what other people think of me (how they judge me) is none of my business!”

    Just a flippyflop of the concept of minding my own business (and not obsessing over judgments that may or may not have any basis in reality (shared or not!)

    Happy day.

  • Deb

    on the toaster thing . . .it’s because electrical fires start from plugged in toasters more often than you would think. i have no idea why, but i have read that this is the case.

  • Excellent points!

    One of the best ways to not get overwhelmed is to keep your mouth shut instead of volunteering yourself to fix every imperfect situation that comes across your path.

    Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Saunders

  • je

    I actually had a toaster turn on and melt the plastic dish that I had sitting on top of it.  I was standing there and saw it for myself…surprised and horrified!  I get it!

  • Max

    Interesting — I look to your book for advice, so I find myself wanting to push back against your first rule. But perhaps it’s because I also give lots of advice….from some who seek it, and others who don’t. I sometimes find happiness in giving advice, but it turns out the happiness is in finding whether someone found the advice useful, not in the actual delivery of it. A good way of increasing the odds that someone finds it useful are to only give it when solicited!

    So, onto my unsolicited advice  😉
    When someone says something or behaves in a way I find completely odd, or which makes me angry, uncomfortable, etc. I challenge myself to answer the question: “What about this person’s situation or perspective causes their actions/opinions to make sense to them?”

    This isn’t an attempt to rationalize everything someone does — I certainly don’t have to agree with the perspective or action at hand! But it helps me with #s 2 and 7 — to remember that I don’t know all the variables, and that there may indeed be an explanation.

  • LynnD

    I think I’ll use unplugging the toaster as a trigger/reminder to not be so judgemental.  I like to use routine actions as reminders for things I’m working on, and this one will make me smile every morning. 🙂

  • Shoalcove22

    To paraphrase Byron Katie – If I’m taking care of someone else’s business, who is taking care of my business?
      This  thought always pulls me up short when I’ve been worrying about what my children, co-workers, husband, etc. “should”  or “should not” be doing.

  • Carolbeth

    About the toaster…I have a friend whose house was burned down due to a plugged-in toaster that malfunctioned…but now I’m not minding my own business, am I?  😉

  • Jbooth7

    I always unplug my toaster. 

  • Jerriu

     The reason she keeps the toaster unplugged is that a lot of fires start from plugged-in toasters – esp. when the homeowner has left the house.   You can research this – I don’t think it’s an urban legend.

  • Tam Tam

    I find it interesting that we judge other people so quickly as humans when we have so much of ourselves to fix.  Who are we with all our imperfections to throw stones? Rather than critising the way someone does something differently why not enjoy that their ‘eccentricities’ and learn from them?

  • mariane

    loved the post. have to say something abt toaster dilemma;) probably connected to a not entirely silly idea but of another age abt “certain items might catch fire if left unattended” whic not only used to be but still is true.

    i switch off / plug out expensie electronic apps when there is a thunderstorm coming our way having experienced short circuit knocking everything out. an easy way to deal with this is to have an extension which has in itself a fuse and leveller for incoming current to keep it stable and then you just have to put one switch from “on” to “off” .  a lot of modern equipment is very sensitive and in this way you can prolong its working hours and also feel safe.

  • Eternaldreams

    Fabulously and simplistically written.Thanx,really helpful

  • MarkDowner

    Doing your own business can be good but sometimes there are a lot of people that can’t mind their business. They tend to get in your life and business. But be careful with who you share your life with.

  • Grant Edgeman

    Throughout my life I have come to find that minding my own business is one of the best ways to maintain my happiness while keeping all of my friends and not offending anyone unnecessarily. I have never liked people in my business that had nothing to do with them and any advice give, whether good advice or not, fell on deaf ears because the advice was unwanted. Given if I had heeded the advice, especially that of my father, I could have saved myself from a lot of pain and suffering. While I see that now I was blind to the fact at the time. But it was the pain, suffering, trials and tribulations of my past that have made me the father and person that I am today. Through all of this I have learned that it is experience that shapes a person and if someone is not ready for help nothing that I can say will help so I mind my own business and do not let it affect me. When and if they want my help they will come to me. Until then all I can do is show them that I care and I will always be there for them.

  • Rkrusling

    I have trouble minding my own business. But find that epwhen I do, life goes a lot easier.

  • On1200wisdom

    Good stuff.. I know alot of people who need to read this

  • connie

    I find that my passion and the kind of happiness that allows you to enjoy the moment contradict each other. My passion is trying to stay true to myself and that includes voicing my opinion and being curious about people; people fascinate me. I try to be myself even if people find me obnoxious. at the same time I want to be liked. in the end, i may always be slightly unhappy. but i guess im just trying to accept this as maybe that’s the only way i can be slightly happy too. Am i making sense? If so, what would your advice be on this?

  • I like #3 and thats a good reason to mind your business. Say someone complains about sexism, I just turn a blind ear. Like it doesn’t affect me. I don’t like to make other peoples problems my own.

  • MyDailyComment

    I love it when people write about toasters. I am very glad you included mention of one in your post. Thanks!

  • jake

    I could definitely improve myself by following some of these tips.

    Also I find that funny my mom obsesses over unplugging the toaster. She occasionally would wake up in the middle of the night and come down stairs solely to check if she remember to unplug the toaster.

  • Deborah Da Valle Ryman

    there is actually a valid reason for unplugging the toaster. my neighbor’s house burned down because the toaster/electrical whatever shorted out . . . looking it up, even when an appliance is off, it is still connected to “on” electricity . . . something like that.