Podcast 13: Stop Reading a Book, a Know-Yourself-Better Quiz, and the Trap of Free Stuff.

Time for the next episode of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Always game to talk about her clutter issues, Elizabeth reports on the status of her closet, in the aftermath of our special clutter-clearing in episode 10. For better and after closet photos, look here. (Boy, I love before-and-afters.)

Also, many listeners responded to tell us how they “treat themselves,” which was the Try This at Home for episode 9. Excellent treats!

This week:

Try This at Home: Stop reading a book if you don’t enjoy it.  (If you want more ideas for reading better than before, check out this one-pager.)

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: This is the “Four Tendencies” Framework, which tells you whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. Take this Quiz 170,000 people have taken it. I’m an Upholder; Elizabeth is an Obliger. As I mention, if you want to start an accountability group, here’s the starter kit.

Listener Question: “Do you have any tips about staying happy while slogging through dating?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth fell prey to the allure of free stuff. Of course, it’s true, that some people would have been thrilled to get those items–and that free stuff is a problem that’s also a luxury. Absolutely. But for Elizabeth, taking the free stuff was a happiness mistake. Here are two photos: what she intended to buy, and what she brought home.


Gretchen’s Gold Star: Having “weekly adventures” with my teenage daughter. I talk about this at some length in my book Happier at Home.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors! Check out The Great Courses for a wide variety of fascinating courses. Special offer for our listeners: go to thegreatcourses.com/happier to order from eight of their bestselling courses, including Practicing Mindfulness: an Introduction to Meditation, and get up to 80% off. Limited time.

Also, thanks to Framebridge.com — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 20% off your first Framebridge order. This ad includes a fun bonus flashback to the Closet-Clearing episode!

Want to get in touch? Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 774-277-9336 (774 HAPPY 336).  Facebook Page. Or comment right here.

And we would love to hear from you — whether you stopped reading a book that didn’t interest you, whether it was helpful to know your “Tendency,” your questions, and any other comments.

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

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HAPPIER listening!

  • Natalie

    I’ve been resisting your diagnosis (via the quiz) of my rebel nature – me, a rebel? Nonsense. You’ll never find a more law-abiding anti-confrontational person. But I just realised last night that I have a couple of very rebellious habits concerning my diet. Those times I had to “carb load” for a glucose tolerance test, eating lots of carbs for three days, boy did I whine and complain! Yet any other time, if I didn’t “have to”, I would have enjoyed it. And more recently I did a diet plan that required me to eat five times a day. No problem, right, I ALWAYS eat morning and afternoon snacks. Suddenly didn’t want to. Can’t possibly fit in a morning snack, too full from breakfast.
    I guess I do have a rebel streak somewhere. So please tell me to go and eat junk eight times a day and maybe I won’t want to any more.

  • Maria Manemann

    I’m an Obliger. I need outside structure, deadlines, to really get motivated. Now for a question – if an Obliger doesn’t have this structure how does one get it?

    • gretchenrubin

      In Better Than Before, I list a lot of ideas for how Obligers can create external accountability to meet inner expectations.
      And since the book came out, I’ve been dazzled by the brilliant, ingenious methods that Obligers have told me about!

  • Sarah

    Thank you so much for the link to the Great Courses. I borrowed the meditation DVD’s from the library last week
    and liked them so much I wanted to get my own set! And now thanks to you I did, and very affordably!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Msconduct

    I’ve been on the email list DOROTHYL that discusses mysteries since (phew!) 1995. One of the most useful things I’ve learned from it is the 50-page rule: if a book hasn’t grabbed you by page 50, dump it and move on. Before that I used to feel that if I’d made a commitment to start a book I should finish it, but being introduced to the 50-page rule made me realise that that was silly. There are way too many books out there I want to read to waste time on ones I’m not enjoying. (But I definitely finished all of Gretchen’s books!)

    • emd04

      My sixth grade teacher had a variation on this–100 pages. I do the same thing with movies: if I’m not hooked by minute 20, it’s turned off!

    • JerseyGator

      My variant is based on your age (which I heard on an interview on NPR years ago from someone). If you’re 40 and 40 pages in and not loving it…book over. I’ve been using this as a guideline for years and it has freed me from the guilt of not finishing a book. My Goodreads pages even has a shelf called “not finished.”

  • emd04

    I felt the same way about The Goldfinch–but I finished it. And when I did I kept asking myself, “What is all the hype about?!” I felt just like you, Gretchen, that “real readers” finish their books. But I’ve stopped reading War and Peace twice–and I don’t think I’ll ever read it all–and I might not be able to keep reading Three Musketeers.

    • gretchenrubin

      I did love The Goldfinch – I read it in two days – but love the freedom of putting down books!

  • cindy

    This hit at just the right moment as I am clearing my bookshelves. I made a pile of half read books. Some I have now finished, and they got better, some are glaring at me from the shelf every time I pass. After listening to your podcast they are going straight to the charity shop.

    On a side note – it would take the control of Gandhi to turn down those wretched goody bags the cosmetic mavens entice one with – I had the bizarre feeling of envy as Elizabeth was described her unwanted haul – even though I have loads of the things. Aren’t we bizarre creatures?

  • Mimi Gregor

    I had started Moby Dick because it was a “classic” and I was led to believe that I would like it, based on what I had read about it. I only made it as far as getting Ishmael onto the damned boat. The author described everything in such minute detail — I mean pages and pages of it! — that I found myself shouting at him: “Just cut to the chase, Mellville! I know what a boat looks like!” I couldn’t go on. It was maddening.

    Since then, I have started and discarded a few “classics” for the same reason. There are others I have enjoyed — it’s not like I’m anti-classic. But I’ve always thought that one measure of good writing is to tell the story as succinctly as possible — never use twenty words if ten will suffice.

  • Cyndi Mellen

    Gretchen, I tried the habit of pairing and used this week’s podcast as a test- I could only listen if I exercised while I listened. Lo and behold, I went for a walk this morning because I wanted to catch up so bad! I’m an Obliger but I find that if I make a “rule” for myself (I can only listen if I exercise) I can skirt the external accountability, sort of like how you mention yourself as your “manager” in the newest book.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! great to hear that it’s working for you – and that the podcast is part of the pairing!

  • Sarah May

    I’m amazed at how many people continue reading a book that they’ve decided they aren’t interested in! I can’t understand it. I find that there are so many books I’d like to read, or listen to and so little time (given work, volunteering, refinishing my basement apartment, etc) that if I’m not enjoying my read (listen to) I go on to the next.

  • Phyllis Porter Rauch

    Years ago I also decided to treat myself by not finishing books I didn’t really like. Especially if they were library books. If it’s one I’ve purchased, well it’s harder, because I keep trying to get my money’s worth. (Dear Genius was one of those) Currently I”m reading World History for Idiots because at a fairly late stage I want to know and understand how events in history fit together. I’m disappointed, because I know history could be fascinating but sadly the author has succeeded in making this overview as ho-hum as possible. Nonetheless I’m going to finish it because once in a while I do learn something new. By the way, I tried to take advantage/ or at least investigate the great courses.com/happiness link and it isn’t showing up for me. I went all over their site, used the search and nothing. I was really interested in the chance of getting Mindfulness plus six other courses at a good deal. Please make sure you are giving the right address.

    • gretchenrubin


      I see the problem with The Great Courses – here’s the correct link: http://www.thegreatcourses.com/happier.
      Note: Include the “the” and it’s “happier” not “happiness.”

      Happy listening!

  • Emilia DiCarlo

    Did I miss a comment regarding before and afters, or did you mean the caption under the photo of you and your sister to be a joke? If it was intended to be a joke, it can be interpreted as a slight against your sister (whom I know you love). After all, who wants to be the “before.” This is out of character for you. I have long admired your work and your courage to present yourself and your ideas so openly to the world. This comment (most likely a little playful sisterly ribbing; I get it) would have saddened me were I your sister–if one of your daughters said this to the other, wouldn’t you worry about how the other would feel about being the “before?”

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a great point. You’re right; teasing is often meant well but actually hurtful. In this case, Elizabeth and I talked about what we were going to do at length, and she was there with me, so I feel confident that she thought this was funny and not hurtful and encouraged me to do it– but good to be thinking about that, just in case.

  • Kim S

    Too funny–several weeks after listening to your “clean your closet” podcast, I tackled my bedroom closet. I decided at that time to dump “Don Quixote”. It really saddened me to do it, but I had slogged through 1/3 of the book…never seeming to “get” it. I had put it on the shelf of my closet–I guess not wanting to admit defeat. During the closet cleaning/organization foray, I sent it to the Goodwill. It still kind of pains me. I guess I’m wondering–am I not smart enough to understand/like a classic like Don Quixote? Or is it something more on the lines of Pink Panther comedy–it’s just not funny to me…..?

  • ebrasse

    I’m loving all of your podcasts and am pairing them with washing dishes, folding clothes and exercising – so need many more! Meanwhile, though not directly related to this exact podcast, I’m very appreciative as well to learn of the 4 characteristic traits and what they mean for how to deal with the varying types… but would be VERY appreciative if you could give more tips on dealing with rebels. My son (8) insisted on taking the quiz and then declared himself very happily to be a rebel. (And my husband and I realised, with sinking hearts, that he fits the description 100%.)

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, I discuss this at length in Better Than Before!

      • ebrasse

        Hmmm – I devoured Better than Before (and love it greatly). But came to rebel realization late. Will do a reread!

  • Maxine S

    I’m an Upholder (I feel like this should come with a cape and boots!) …with a little Questioner on the side. Reading about these four basic types has definitely changed my perspective on how to approach and react to people. I just look at some people and think “must be a Rebel”. I get less upset now that I realize my firm Upholder ways aren’t cherished by everyone! 🙂

    In response to your podcast dilemma about getting unnecessary free stuff, I’ve got more beauty samples (thank you Sephora!) than I could possibly use. I’ve learned to sort them out, bag them and put them in a special bin. When it all gets to be too much, I grab a bunch and donate them to my local women’s shelter. The ladies seem to love them and they don’t go to waste.

    I also follow your advice about not torturing myself with bad/meh books. If I don’t like a book, I stop reading it. Sometimes there’s a pang or two of guilt, but I quickly get over it. Life’s too short…but I did finish The Goldfinch.

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    yep, life is too short to drink bad wine or read a book that isn’t working for you!

  • jesclair

    I used to think that I didn’t buy book because I am a cheapskate, but I’ve figured out that as an Obliger I’m significantly more likely to finish a book when it has a Due Date. Of course, I always renew books the maximum number of times, but I hurry to finish them when I feel the time crunch.

  • Kim Mauck

    Hi Gretchen,
    I enjoy your podcast very much, and recently began treating myself by getting in my pajamas and robe while my kids (I have four, ages 1-8) are in the bathtub and shower in my husband’s and my bathroom. I also wash my face and brush my teeth, so I’m all ready for bed before they are! As I’m sure you know or remember, bedtimes can be draining with little ones, but being comfy and ready for bed makes me feel ready to tackle it, and it gives my kids a few minutes more water play, while I’m still in the room to supervise (my closet/hamper is attached to our bathroom).

    I have a question, too. I’m interested in forming the habit of reading more deeply. I feel like I consume books too rapidly, and don’t retain the information enough to make significant changes or improvement to myself, or to be able to share with others, which I love to do when I’m excited about what I’m reading. I know you’re a note-taker–how do you do it? I’d rather not add to my “screen time” with this habit, if at all possible.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! thanks for listening! And for the question.

  • Jamie L

    if you had asked me before taking the Tendency quiz, I would have told you I was an Obliger – but that’s a big fat lie. I am a rebel. My failed attempts at getting along with personal trainers, some bosses, and sometimes my parents when I was younger really tell the story. And the idea that I can’t even make myself do something I don’t want to do rings so true with me I was floored. Now I have to pick up the book to learn some tips for managing myself.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s interesting that you would have thought you were an Obliger – why?
      I’m so fascinated by the Four Tendencies!

      • Jamie L

        I thought I was an obliger mostly because that’s what other
        people said about me. People noted they could always depend on me to be there to help, I “gave things up” to do things for others, etc. But really (and I can’t believe I am admitting this in public) it’s easy to be obliging when I want to do what’s being asked of me anyway. I could always feel myself bristling when people would expect things of me that went counter to what I wanted to be doing. I used to feel guilty about that underlying feeling, but maybe age and a bit better understanding of myself has allowed me to let that go a bit.

  • Shari Broder

    I just started listening to your podcasts, which I love, so I’m catching up. I wanted Elizabeth to know that I enjoyed about the first ⅓ of The Goldfinch, then found it increasingly boring, and stopped reading it about 2/3 of the way through.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for listening!

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  • OceanPark2

    Elizabeth, when you said “The Goldfinch” I literally put my hand up at my computer in the universal “Girl, no” gesture. I also have a 5-year-old son and could not bring myself to read the book, although I do love The Secret History. Thanks so much for this podcast, I find it so helpful and fun.

  • Melissa Skinnell

    At your advice, i gave myself the gift of putting down a disappointing book today. Time is short and it is our greatest gift. Thanks for the timely reminder!

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  • jen

    I was a bit discouraged about the part in the podcast of the remark about the woman who stated that she was no longer upset that she couldn’t get her husband to do anything because that was just his nature and he was like that with everybody. I love my husband, and he has many wonderful qualities. However, I am learning my new husband is a Rebel tendency, and while knowing this helps me take his inaction less personally, I am not sure I can live with “okay, I won’t take it personally, that’s just how he is,” when the sink is full of his dishes, the floor is covered with his clothes, and he doesn’t fill the car up with gas, etc. Similarly, my Dad has a rebel tendency. After 45 years of a successful career, he retired. He doesn’t seem to want to do anything – exercise, volunteer, get outside, take a class and he turns down all of my ideas/suggestions. Instead, he sits around all day. I am worried if he doesn’t “use it” (mind/body) he might “lose it” (as he has a family history of Alzheimers). As such, I am still hoping there must be some way to convince a rebel (my Dad or my husband) to occasionally do a chore/errand/activity that he might not be thrilled or inclined to do. We as adults have to do lots of things (personally and professionally) we don’t want to do, right? (Or we do those things for other people we care about). I want my marriage to be strong and I want my Dad to be with us for a long time. Any suggestions? and thanks!

  • Jamie Oden

    I have to say, this one hits home and is very interesting to me. I was in a book club a few years ago where frequently many of the members disliked the chosen book. In one particular instance there was a hot debate because certain members got all in a tizzy because the rest of us declared, “I am a grown-ass woman and I don’t have to finish this if I don’t want to. This is not for a grade, I finished school years ago.” I found this interesting because I was well into my 30s before I broke the school-induced habit of reading stuff I didn’t want to. Now I relentlessly return partially-read books to the library. I have even walked out of bad movies. And even though I am a grown-up and can do what I want, and I have no desire to waste my already taxed time reserve and brain power on an undesirable book, there can still be a nagging guilt of leaving a book unfinished.

    I just finished the Happiness Project and started listening to the podcast (which, of course, I am listening to in chronological order- what is THAT type?). I am loving the podcast, ESPECIALLY when I am already doing one of the “try this at home” habits.

    I am also unsure about my TYPE. I scored obliger on the quiz, but some of the questions I had no answer to so I just chose one. Is it possible to be an Obliger with Rebel tendencies? I am excited to learn more when I read Better Than Before over the holidays!

    • Chantal de Medeiros

      I’m with you on this! I just started reading her first book and just finished listening to this episode. I’ve always felt like I had to finish a book before starting another one. I’m definitely going to try and stop reading what I’m not enjoying and just pick a different book. I have a ton of books at home that I want to read, so I might as well read them! I also like everyone’s suggestion about if it doesn’t grab you by page 40, or whatever, then let it go and try something else.

  • happydorkjc

    I have a suggestion for Elizabeth when it comes to accepting free stuff–you can always donate it to a woman’s shelter. They LOVE donations, especially things that can make a woman feel really nice like free lipstick or lotion. Gift with purchase bags filled with goodies are a great donation iteam!