Podcast 27: Choose the Bigger Life, Identify Your “Tell”–and I Reveal Whether I’ll Get a Dog.

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

I’m just back from vacation, this minute! But before I unpack, I want to post about the latest episode.

Update: In episode 24, Elizabeth talked about her beloved “Blankey,” her childhood blanket that she still sleeps with every night. We loved hearing about other people’s childhood “comfort objects” (such a bad phrase for such precious items). The books I mention are Rebecca Caudill’s The Best-Loved Doll and Dare Wright’s Make Me Real and The Lonely Doll. Oh, how I love the uncanny work of Dare Wright…I’ve collected all her books, including the ones that are out of print.

Try This at Home: Have trouble deciding whether or not to choose a course of action? Like — whether or not to get a dog? Try this: Choose the bigger life. 

In this discussion, I reveal the answer to the question first posed in episode 24: Should Gretchen and her family get a dog?  See if you can guess the answer.

We heard from so many people — it has been fascinating, and so helpful. You can listen to what people had to say in a montage of opinions. Also check out happierpodcastdogs.tumblr.com, to read people’s comments and see the photos of people’s adorable dogs.

In this answer, I mention that I’m an Upholder, which is one of the Tendencies in my Four Tendencies framework. To learn more about that, and to take the Quiz to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, read here.

Know Yourself Better: What’s your “tell?”

Listener Questioner: “I can’t answer the question, ‘How are you?’ in a light, positive manner…I always throw in a complaint….I genuinely love what I do, but I seem incapable of just saying, ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ I’m either a complainer or rude. Can you help?”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I don’t really have a summer. Yes, we have family vacation, but I don’t really have a “summer.”

Here’s the quotation I read:  “Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer.”
— Robertson Davies, “Three Worlds, Three Summers,” The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the extremely polite stranger who held the door open, even though he was in a tremendous rush.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors.

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin (Podcast episode #27)

We love hearing from listeners. Tell us — have you ever made the decision to “choose the bigger life,” and if so, what was it? Or if you’re struggling with a decision, does that question help?

Also, please send dog advice!

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

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HAPPIER listening!

  • Jenny J

    Great podcast episode! I loved the advice to “choose the bigger life.” It reassures me that I made a good choice to take some time off from working to pursue a lifelong dream, writing a book of short stories. As a result of taking this risk, I feel more alive than I have in years, and have exchanged the stagnation in my life for momentum.

  • CynCa

    Please make sure you get a rescue, a dog who needs you! Mine was a “retiree” from a vet tech training program, which meant she wasn’t housebroken (NOT a source of happiness but fine for people who like routine). However, her gratitude for being given a real home seems endless!

  • S_ifat

    Wonderful news! You inspire me to choose the bigger life. Such a great concept! Can’t wait to hear updates on your new family member.
    My ‘tell’ is that I start to talk in very short sentences, as if I don’t have it in me to explain anything. My husband’s ‘tell’ is that he starts speaking very loud, I’m not sure he makes the connection. So when we are both under stress it sounds a lot like an army barracks at our house 🙂

  • Msconduct

    Interesting podcast! My tell: when things are getting on top of me, I catch myself sighing a lot. I work from home and consequently spend a lot of time alone, and noticing my tell is a signal to me to get out of the house, mix with people and get a more positive perspective.
    Choosing the bigger life: a few years ago, I was in an interesting, well-paid job where I was making a difference. But I’d been doing it for eight years, and I was bored and in a rut. I had been doing some writing with a friend (I live in New Zealand, she lived then in the UK) and we entered a competition to get into a comedy writing workshop run by the BBC in London. And we got in. My choice was between continuing with my “sure thing” job or taking a big risk, moving to the other side of the world and trying to break into the insanely competitive world of UK TV comedy. I chose the bigger life. As a result of attending the workshop, we met a producer who bought some sketches from us: that show went on to win an International Emmy, which opened more writing doors for us. This story isn’t as glamorous as it appears: we spent several years writing for various shows, but as it turned out we both detested the TV industry and eventually got out. But I am SO GLAD I did it.

  • Clare

    Great episode and very glad you decided to get a dog. Would recommend looking at rescue dogs first. Here is my little guy 🙂

  • Molly

    I thought I posted here, but couldn’t find it. I just wanted to say…I think that if your daughter isn’t going to college in a few years, this is the best time to get a dog. Once she leaves, she probably won’t identify with it and it would be great to have memories of the family dog. (And having it will give her an additional creature to look forward to seeing when she comes home.) It’s amazing how much dogs can bring families together to have a shared pleasure! And yes, I completely agree, you will probably end up doing most of the feeding and clean up afterwards. I am like you…I hate making appointments, going to appointments, etc. Maybe you can make a pact with your husband…you will do most of the daily maintenance (once everyone inevitably gives up on that part) if he will be in charge of medical appointments: calling and taking whenever possible. That doesn’t seem like too big of a deal if he really wants one and you are ambivalent.

    • molly

      Oooo….typos! I meant…If your daughter is going to college… And, if you get a dog after she leaves, she won’t identify with it as much.

    • AKillins

      On the flipside, my parents got a dog when I went off to university, and I was home in the summer to devote time to him (he was a puppy when we got him), even when I left home and got married, he was my dog (I walked him the early morning of my wedding). He provided consistency to our family in a season of transitions and I was always happy to look after him, even when I left home. I always thought of him as “my dog” until the day he died.

  • Dana

    Love, love, love the podcast- it makes jumping out of bed on Wed mornings so much better. The “choose the bigger life” advice is spot on. And hearing you decided yes on the dog is fantastic! It can be really overwhelming to decide which is the right pup for you and your family but as a New Yorker, you’re close to some fantastic organizations. I’d definitely check out North Shore Animal League and Social Tees Animal Rescue…great dogs needing great homes. Adopting a dog who needed a home has brought SO much unexpected joy…doing something good for another pays dividends in happiness stock. Be patient and you’ll find the perfect match. Splitting up the dog responsibilities is key to a happy canine transition so make that clear from the start. Morning and evening walks are an excellent family bonding opportunity. Go together if possible. Some of the best conversations I have with my husband occur during our evening walks with our dog. Make it a fun event instead of a burden. Yay! Can’t wait to hear all about your new addition and thank you for all of your insightful and inspiring content.

  • Jeanne

    Loved the podcast as usual, but totally not believing that you’re choosing the dog for you. Easy to say now using the “bigger life” idea, but when the reality of living with a dog in NYC starts to set in, that could wear tissue paper thin. (The puking and pooping and peeing in the apartment, the dog smell, the constant walking, the need to go to the store for the dog, the nagging at others to do their share.) “Bigger life” sounds so all-upside, but consider that it can actually be a loophole to allow you to pretend to want what you really don’t. An excuse for doing what others want instead of “being Gretchen” so you’re not the bad guy. Getting a horse or taking flying lessons would theoretically give me a “bigger life,” but is that the “bigger” I want (NO!). Your life is pretty big now! I know you’ve already decided, but just one more idea in the no dog corner. If you feel bad about being the kind of person who doesn’t want a dog (when your family and “nice people” do) think of how bad you would feel about having to find the dog a new home because it’s just too disruptive to your family’s life. Happens all the time. Why do you think there are so many dogs at the shelters? I could hear the doubt in Elizabeth’s comments, and she knows you so well. Still time to reconsider.

  • Carol

    Since you are new to dog ownership, please, please, please don’t get a puppy. Yes, they’re cute, but they are so much work. Either go to a shelter or through a rescue adopt an adult dog who is already housebroken. (there are a lot out there) If you are on Instagram, check out Sophie Gamand. She photographs dogs who need a home in the NYC area. Also, when picking out a dog, considering grooming. Will the dog shed a lot? Will it need daily brushing? Will it need to be taken to a groomer monthly for hair cuts?

  • Debbie Holzgraefe

    My “tell” is that I don’t use contractions when I’m angry. Never realized it until my husband pointed it out one day. Totally true!

  • Great episode! When I start to get overwhelmed with too many things going on in my life, my “tell” comes in the form of dreams of airplane crashes. I’m never in the plane – I just witness the crash. It took me a few years to realize that when I have these dreams, I’m worried about things crashing in my life.

  • journeymama

    I just wanted to pipe up and say that I reread the Harry Potter series when I’m anxious, too! Other series I reread when I need to be brave: Anne of Green Gables, Lord of the Rings, and Jan Karon’s Mitford series. It all feels so much safer than the real world, and then soon enough I’m ready to step back in.

  • Maggie

    I’ve had the same tell since I was quite small: My stomach hurts/feels awful when something is wrong. When I was a kid, it mostly indicated I’m nervous about something. I would feel downright nauseous as a kid before dentist appointments and whatnot. Now that I know those things aren’t “wrong,” I don’t really get nervous/get a stomachache beforehand. BUT my stomach still tells me when something truly is wrong. Most recent example: I made the very, very difficult decision to end a relationship that I knew in my heart was not good for me. It was absolutely heartbreaking and so difficult, but my stomach did not act up once. It was my body’s way of “telling” me that I was doing the right thing. I found it very, very comforting even when I was feeling sad about the whole situation, but I absolutely knew that I had made the right decision. And I’m now a bit removed from it and feeling happier, healthier, and overall more whole than I did in the relationship, so my “tummy tell” was right!

  • Tania Kleckner

    My ‘tell’ is I crave to embroider. Sounds weird, I know. But when I stitch, I enter a zen like state. It calms and renews me.

  • AKillins

    I clean when I am stressed or angry. My family usually knows to stay away, but then again, they get the benefit of a clean house without having to help, which might be the cause of my anger in the first place (happiness demerit)

  • JeanStar

    “Choose the bigger life” implies that more is better. Does that mean simplifying your life is choosing a “smaller life”? Sometimes people need to to simplify and that would mean getting rid of things. Maybe you can clarify more about what you mean by “bigger”. Thanks.

    • Sabrina Shields

      Actually that wasn’t what she implied. She said bigger life was different for each of us and for some of us a bigger life can be less stuff and more doing for example.

  • RFBriggs

    Gretchen, you are making the right decision about getting a dog! I was in your shoes 5 1/2 years ago. We ended up getting an older puppy – a 6-month-old Schnauzer. It was a GREAT decision – he was nearly finished with potty training, slept through the night, really very easy transition. We crated him for 6 months, and by then he had basically become another member of the family.

    Yes, I am the one most responsible for his care, since I, like you, work from home. But I also get a minimum of 3 miles of walking a day in, rain or shine, and I get an infinite amount of unconditional love. Good luck on your new dog adventure!

  • Sabrina Shields

    I spent hours this weekend walking around the great lawn in Central Park thinking about “Choose The Bigger Life”. It really spoke to me and I know it will have a large impact on some upcoming choices I’m making in my life. Thank you and love the podcast!

  • I rewatch past TV shows on Netflix or DVD when I’m stressed.

    Like you Gretchen – I hate all the stress of appointments and errands and all that stuff (even though I’m a maximizer which don’t always seem to go together). But, I loved my Lindsay and my Baxter – two Golden Retrievers who both made my life better in different ways and I’m currently looking for a new rescue dog to add to my family. I will say that whether you work from home or not, a dog walker and/or a good doggy day care are excellent resources to keep in your arsenal for pet help – I used both with Lindsay and she loved those folks so much!

  • Camille

    I had a thought for the listener who struggles with responding to “how are you?”
    When I visit the women’s monastery near our home, I often ask the sisters “how are you?” and their reply is always followed with “thank God.” For example “I’m getting over a cold but getting much better. Thank God.”
    When they ask me “how are you?” and I respond “Good” they say in turn “Thank God.”
    It’s a very simple consistent way that they are teaching me to be grateful for whatever state I may be in, and it takes the emphasis away from ruminating on an annoyance, illness or other distraction. I feel like they are re-directing the question in a way that is positive, and turning my attention towards gratitude.

  • Cynthia Webster

    A dog decision is major! I work from home and have a 17-year-old daughter. After much consideration, I decided to get a puppy–a mini schnauzer, Bonnie Blue. She’s adorable, good, sweet, and smart: however, she has crate-avoidance issues. I’m following a technique that is working though. Already I can see that puppy raising/training is going to require a lot of work and patience, but I know it’s worth it! My advice is to take off the first few days of puppy ownership to bond and to begin rewarding good behavior.

  • Julia Rogers

    I bake when I’m trying to procrastinate and it’s completely unhealthy even if I am making healthy treats. I just eat a bunch! Another procrastination signal is cruising in Facebook. I took it off my phone and censored it at work and I’ve been more productive in just three days!

  • Laura

    “Choose The Bigger Life”, this phrase has been bouncing in my head ever since I listen to the podcast last week. Thank you! Hearing that has already made an impact and has moved me out of my comfort zone a little bit. Love the podcast and your books!

  • SophieA

    Thanks for a great podcast Gretchen and Elizabeth! The motto “Choose the Bigger Life” really helped me this week, my partner has been offered a great job interstate and we have been considering a move. We have discussed and both feel the move would be great for us and we are excited by the prospect of a new adventure, but then the doubts start to come (I’d be leaving a good job, all my friends and family are here, this is what we are familiar with). But when I think about “choose the bigger life”, the choice is obvious. Of course we should do the move! Thanks so much! And keep up the great work, I love listening every week 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to hear that it proved useful during a challenging time! Good luck —

  • Kelly

    I have a tell that my husband alerted me to. He used to say, “I can tell you’re mad,” seemingly out of the blue. It always shocked me. Sometimes, I would be trying to work through some frustration in my mind before coming to him with it, and would not have said anything at all about it. Often, I would not even be consciously “working through” anything at all.

    Eventually he told me that I’m sighing loudly, as if in exasperation. I realized that it’s not anger – or not always. It can be anxiety (most often, when I’m unaware of any particular feeling, it’s anxiety), anger, or frustration – negative emotions that make me feel like there is a ball of heat in my chest or stomach. I start taking deep breaths through my nose and exhaling forcefully. It’s a technique I learned in yoga, which I’ve been practicing for 10 years, to cool down my body when I start to get too hot. It’s amazing to me that I would not even realize I am doing it or what I’m feeling that would trigger it. It’s helpful now, because it alerts me when I am feeling anxious. (Of course, I usually am uncomfortably aware of my emotions when I’m frustrated or angry, but I do think that the technique keeps me a bit more level-headed than I would be otherwise.)

  • Mairsydoats

    When you talk about wanting a difference for summer, it occurred to me that you do have cyclical changes, seasons even, that correspond with publishing your books. Research, writing, editing, final edits, publish date, book tour. It doesn’t correspond with time of year, and isn’t a yearly cycle, but it’s a cycle intimate to your life as a writer, nonetheless.

  • Laura Craig

    My husband and I chose the bigger life when we gave up everything ( including promotions to partner for my husband and a management position for me) and moved to Jackson Hole Wyoming to try a few years at living our dream of backpacking, kayaking, climbing and cycling every week. We realized we were on a corporate path we didn’t truly want in our hearts and chose to give it all up to move to a place where we had never been and didn’t know a soul. It’s been one of the best decisions we ever made.

    • gretchenrubin

      Wow, that’s a dramatic change. Congratulations!

  • Cate Tucker

    Summer is the season to spend more time outside, since the weather is warmer, days are longer, the breezes are soothing,etc., therefore when I’m not working, I’m outside on my deck or in Maine on our front porch. The outside and inside blend. Gretchen, you are a New Yorker who works inside, without ready access to your ambient surrounding I presume, so you don’t notice the difference between the seasons as much. May I suggest that next summer Gretch takes the dog to an outside park, cafe, or atrium, where Gretchen can still get her work done with Wifi or a hot spot with her phone and computer. I recently sent you an email about the dog concept, this comment is related and I just learned you’ve decided to get a dog. Hopefully by next summer.

  • unreal

    I love Dare’s Lonely Dolls books as well and have some of the old ones (and an Edith doll to go with them). My boys even enjoyed reading them when they were young. We have vacationed in Hatteras and Ocracoke, NC, for years and discovered, after reading Holiday for Edith and the Bears, that it was one of her favorite places too..

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  • Jamie

    I still sleep with my blankie!

  • kelley

    I had a pretty big decision to make this week (about whether to take on a rather large work project), and I only had about 10 minutes to do it. So I dashed off my top-of-the-head pros and cons, then called one of my BFFs to run them by her. In that time, we both concluded that taking on the project would pull my focus from other things that were more important to me. I was able to turn down the project with a great sense of peace and freedom. It wasn’t until I heard your podcast that I realized, “Oh, I picked the Bigger Life!” Thanks for giving me the language for that!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Molly Sharp

    I love the “Choose the Bigger Life” concept! In fact 3 of my friends and I started the “Choose the Bigger Life Club”, and we keep each other updated on how we choose the bigger life. We also support each other in our choices, especially when choosing the bigger life can be scary!
    Thanks for a wonderful podcast- I look forward to it every week!

  • Eileen

    I want to make an anonymous comment. Wondering how my name shows up here?

  • Debra

    I really wanted to share with you how this episode helped me. I’ve just listened to it in the last couple of days and at the same time I have been trying to decide whether to apply for the job of managing the team I’m in at work. It was so helpful when you said that for some people choosing the bigger life would be NOT getting a dog, because that gave me permission to consider whether not taking on that job would be choosing the bigger life. I’m not going to apply because if I got the job I would need to spend much more time working and thinking about work. It would be a huge challenge, especially at the beginning and the consequences for me would be less time with my family and for myself, more stress and worry and less happiness. In the past I have often taken on something big when I have just begun to get on top of everything else in my life and it always leads to stress and unhappiness, which affects not only me, but also my family and colleagues. Thanks for the podcast and giving me a way to decide it would be ok NOT to take this challenge on at this time.

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