Podcast 18: Buy an Experience, Strengthen the Foundation, and the Challenge of Table Manners.

It’s Wednesday — time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

We’ve been busy preparing for the Very Special Episode, coming up in episode 20, where we’ll feature our listeners. Thanks to everyone who called or emailed us — the comments are so thought-provoking.

This week:

Try This at Home: Buy an experience. We were inspired by the suggestion made by Tom Rath, in our interview with him in episode 15.

BetterthanBefore_TiltedBetter Than Before Habit Strategy: The Strategy of Foundation (eat and drinking right; move around; get enough sleep; and — more surprisingly — unclutter). Here’s the image that Elizabeth referred to, the cover of Better Than Before.

Listener Question: “On the Four Tendencies — Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel — I’m a Questioner.  If I don’t see the point, I find it difficult to do what I’m supposed to do, and sometimes I get in my own way. So how does a Questioner get over that?” Great question. Want to take the Quiz? Here it is.

Gretchen’s Demerit: Table manners. For me and my family.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Her gold star goes to Julie, a fellow pre-school mother, who volunteered to make a keepsake yearbook for the children.

preschoolyearbookgretchenAs it happened, I did know the exact place to find my pre-school yearbook (very impressed with myself), so as promised, here’s a picture.

Don’t miss the extra little exchange between Elizabeth and me, at the very end of the podcast! (That’s called a “button” in podcasting parlance.)

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors. Check out Smith and Noble, a solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and a free in-home consultation. Limited time.

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We’d love to hear from you: did you buy an experience — and if so, what was it?

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

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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!

  • S.Woods

    Hi Gretchen and Elizabeth, I just listened to all 18 of your podcasts in a couple of days and I’m really enjoying it!

    I’m from Chile, and I read about “Happier” on Buzzfeed. Apparently, you’re life-changing!

    Like many people, I’ve been trying the one-minute rule and it’s been working pretty well! Specially when it comes to putting away my clothes of the day, instead of just throwing them on THE CHAIR.

    I wanted to thank you for making me realize it’s ok to quit a book if I want to! I went through the entire Twilight saga and 50 Shades of Grey, just because I kept thinking it would be a failure to quit! Now I’m reading another book I don’t like (which is also a trilogy, so it would have kept me going until next year, probably!) while staring longingly at an awsome book by Julio Cortázar, that I’ve never read. So thank you!!!

    I wanted to talk about my shrines…I have two, my Harry Potter books, which are on a special shelf, with no other books touching them. It does kinda bother me that I have the first four books in spanish and the last three in english and that they’re from 4 different publishing houses…the horror…but I love it anyway.

    I also used to have a shrine for my Grey’s Anatomy DVDs…I even rejected Season 8 as a gift once, because the cover was in english and I have the rest of them in spanish (a little, OCD, I know). But just a couple of weeks ago, after recent events on the show, I took everything and put it in the back of my garage. It brings back bad memories…

    And lastly…I think my spiritual master is Jamie Oliver, the chef. I love cooking and I would love to not only make a career of something I love so much, but also, to find a way to do something good for the world, using those tools.

    Anyway, thanks for everything! I’ll keep listening!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for listening – wow, all 18 in a few days!

      Great to hear that it strikes a chord with you. such great examples.

  • Siena Kaplan

    I have a lot of questioner tendencies although your quiz told me I’m an obliger, and I have a tip for the listener question. This doesn’t work for everything, but in school I used to get really frustrated with writing assignments that I thought were dumb. I couldn’t make myself do them. So instead I would create a more interesting but related writing assignment for myself and write that instead, sometimes even explaining the why the assignment was…inadequate…in the writing itself. For example, for an assignment to write about why Anne Frank was so special, I wrote about why she wasn’t actually that special (…but her diary is a good window into seeing everyone who died in the holocaust as a real person, I’m not a monster). I did some of my best writing that way. The point is to find a way to own the obligation yourself.

    Love the podcast 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Interesting strategy for completing the assignment —

  • Mama_Skywalker

    My husband and I love experiences – there is a saying that travel is the only thing that you pay for that makes you richer. However, with almost-four year old twins, we have been having quite different experiences in the last few years. Recently though, we treated ourselves to a good one. We rarely get dates, so when my mother in law came to town to watch the kids, we went to the first movie we’ve seen in a long time – but we went all out! We went to one of those super nice theatres, where you get a reclining seat and a pillow and table service, and had dinner and a movie in style! It made our night out so special and the movie even better.

    • gretchenrubin


  • Gillian

    Wow, Gretchen – A 100% Upholder who can’t make herself follow good table manners?! That surprised me. Elizabeth’s idea to put your daughter in charge of your Polite Night is brilliant. Maybe over time you can institute a simplified version of it every night.

    Good table manners do make a difference to the atmosphere in which the food is enjoyed. I think the most important rules, which I didn’t learn at home but which my husband’s family follow almost religiously:
    – No-one starts taking food until everyone is seated.
    – Dishes are passed in one direction so everyone is served at the same time.
    – No-one starts eating until everyone is served.
    If you have the tradition of saying grace, this would automatically enforce these rules but it can be done without that tradition. It makes meal times together so much more civilized and respectful than everyone just grabbing food and looking after themselves. I think this sort of thing is much more important than using the right fork or not putting your elbows on the table.

    I’m enjoying the podcasts.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s interesting….perhaps counter-intuitively, Upholders often resent and resist enforcing expectations on others. They want people to do things on their own.

  • Jen

    Hi Gretchen, love LOVE the podcast!

    I completely agree on the value of buying experiences, rather than objects. For the first birthday I spent with my partner, we agreed together that we would go up in a hot air balloon while on holiday in Noth Africa. The moment that the balloon took off, i burst into tears; I felt indescribably happy. I still think of it as the best single moment of my life.

    Here’s a photo he took while we were airborne – I’ve said since that I think it’s the moment that I realised I was in love with him.

    That was the first event we spent together – we only buy each other experiences as gifts now: I’m taking him to Barcelona for his Birthday this year.

    Thanks again for an excellent show,

    Jen – UK

    • Jen

      Wrong photo…

    • gretchenrubin

      Gorgeous photo! What a memory.

      Thanks for the kind words about the podcast!

  • Heather Harbeke Prouty

    Hi Gretchen, I am loving the podcasts, and I eagerly await each next episode to be automatically downloaded on Tuesdays! 🙂

    This week, we bought an experience – my family of five went to the circus! Our kids are 13, 5, and 4, so sometimes it’s hard to find something everyone loves, but we all had a great time. As a tie-in to your discussion about whether something is an experience or a possession, we bought my son a toy “spinner” while we were there (it lights up and has several pieces that spin). While he loves these types of toys, he will also remember where he got it and the fun we had today as a family.

  • Jess

    When my husband wanted me to think of a good date idea, Instead of spending $$ on dinner, I bought a groupon for 2 scooter tours to see old covered bridges in Amish country in Lancaster County, PA instead. Pictures attached. Going past the horse and buggies and waving back at the Amish families, seeing their lovely gardens and traditional clothing was definitely a better experience than an expensive meal!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Briana Aldrich

    Hi Gretchen (and Elizabeth), your podcast really makes me so HAPPY!

    This last episode made me think of Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman — have you read it? She writes about how the French parenting approach is based on a cadre (frame or structure) that is very strict about certain things. And to use your language, they are super strict about the foundations. Bedtime and healthy eating habits are nonnegotiables for the French which must help protect the kids from getting too cranky or hyper leading to better behavior overall… I know I behave better when I’m not hungry or sugared out or overtired!

    Anyway, always looking forward to the next episode popping up in my feed!

  • Lori McKee

    Listened to this one today. Really enjoying your podcasts. SO much to learn here, and I’d love to share them, but I’m wondering if I could ever get, for example, my husband to listen- he’s either a rebel or a questioner so I’m not optimistic.

    That’s a question I have for you – could you ever interview Jamie for the show? I’m wondering how you two put up with each other. LOL. It does sound, Gretchen, like you have a lot of empathy for other types and have even learned that empathy FROM your study of habits and happiness. I salute you.

    On table manners – it has surprised me how even teenagers today don’t know how to do a basic table setting: Forks on left, knife and spoon on right. I guess in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, but it’s just a part of our … civilization? Why didn’t their parents teach them?

  • Kirstin

    Gretchen and Elizabeth, I love the podcast! I read the Happiness Project and Happier at Home years ago, the podcast helps remind me of the tips in those books that I’ve forgotten. I cracked up in this episode when Elizabeth mentioned that she had a behavior chart for her son to wear button down shirts.. I would have never thought of that for a 5 year old!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for the kind words!

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    Experiences don’t take up space on a shelf or in the closet. They open up space for more experiences, and greater adventure. Good idea!

  • emd04

    I do the same thing–I like to buy people experiences instead of gifts, unless the physical object is something super meaningful. For example, for my best friend’s birthday, we always go to the symphony together. I let her pick the concert and I buy the tickets. It’s a great way for us to “get out” and spread out her birthday love a little bit, since the concert is usually later in the fall (her birthday is in September).

  • gRed

    I recently used the ‘experience’ opportunity vs. purchased item to help motivate my 6 yr old daughter to do homework. I set up an ‘experience menu’ of things we can do together. She earns ‘fun tokens’ by doing certain work – reading, spelling, math etc. We decided on the value for each homework activity as well as how much the experiences will cost. In one week she’s been more excited about doing her homework and it has already bought her a bike ride with me, and a workout with me. We are both benefiting from this arrangement.