Podcast 31: Observe a Threshold Ritual, Choose Your Personal Symbols, and Check Your Passport.

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

Bonus: Noises from Barnaby the puppy!

Update: In episode 30, one of our Very Special Episodes, our special guest was my daughter Eliza. She asked, “Do you have advice for a sixteen-year-old like me?” Thanks to everyone for sending in such thoughtful advice. Keep it coming.

Try This at Home: Observe a threshold ritual. As promised, I’ve posted a photo of Elizabeth’s sign — actually two photos, from where she kept the sign in two different workplaces.

Know Yourself Better: What are your personal symbols? Mine:
ruby slippers, dictionary, blood, gold star, dice, Holstein cow, peacock feather, cherry. Elizabeth: eyeglasses, mug, book, TV, jack, apple.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth wishes she’d been more supportive of her husband Adam’s desire to renovate their house.

it'safunjob2Listener Questioner: “After reaching a big life goal — after a wedding, having a baby, etc. — how do you deal with post-happiness depression?

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Gold star to the U.S. Passport Agency.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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Tell us — Do you have a threshold ritual — or some other way to remind yourself to be grateful?

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HAPPIER listening!

  • s_ifat

    My personal symbol (that I know for years, I will have to think about this some more) is the number 19. I was born on May 19th. My father and one of my sons also on the 19th (different month though). I always pay special attention to this number, can’t help it.

  • Msconduct

    Gretchen, just for future reference, a large number of countries (including the US, not that that’s going to concern you!) have the six-month rule for passports. I can beat you in the demerit stakes there, however! Normally I am the most uber-organised person on the planet when it comes to travel, but in the wake of a marital separation I was far from at my best: I turned up at the airport in Auckland ready to travel to Australia and found my passport had expired. This was more than an inconvenience: I was travelling for medical treatment not available in New Zealand and it was scheduled for the following morning. Fortunately I was able to dash home and grab my UK passport – now I’m really careful about my passport expiry dates.

    Re threshold rituals: not strictly a gratitude ritual per se, but the Japanese have a charming ritual in which the person who arrives home calls out “I’m home!” and whoever is already there says “Welcome home!”. No doubt it reinforces gratitude for family, though, as well as family bonds in general.

    • Julina S

      They have a similar one when leaving, don’t remember the exact translation (and don’t remember what the one leaving says), but the one staying says something like “go and come back…”
      (The “I’m home” ritual also has a very practical application to know that someone else is now in the house if you’ve been alone all day 🙂

  • Heidi

    I have been using an App called Gratitude 365 for the past two years. I add a picture and 3-5 things I am grateful for that day. I love looking back at the previous month of pictures and memories. It serves as journal in pictures and words. Recently, I upgraded my phone and I lost the journal, I was devastated! Thankfully, I was able to recover the app from a previous back-up and all is well!

  • Amber

    Where can I ask a question to be answered on their podcast? Thanks!!!!!

    • Julina S

      If you’re anxious about it getting noticed, I suspect calling the comment line or emailing the “podcast” email (both listed in the blog post above under “We love hearing from listeners”) are probably the most “secure”…
      This comment might work, too (or one w/ your actual questions, I suppose)…

  • Julina S

    I second the gold star, but for the Chicago office.
    Several years ago, my sister had a plan to travel to the UK w/ one of her best friends, and thought she’s allowed plenty of time to get her passport, but this was the year that border requirements clamped down and suddenly hundreds (thousands?) of people suddenly needed passports to travel to the Caribbean & Canada, so there was a major bottleneck in application processing.
    It was just a few days before her departure and she couldn’t wait any longer, so we both took a day off and drove up to Chicago (well, I drove – she was a nervous wreck and had no business behind the wheel). We missed the “be respectful…” speech (if there was one), but even so, the office people did such a good job, and I was particularly impressed with the attitudes and camaraderie, even, of our fellow line-waiters.
    Americans don’t always have the best reputations for patience and politeness, but most everyone waiting seemed to realize we were all in the same boat and we got along remarkably well (especially considering that at that time, electronic devices were verboten in the waiting room…)
    I don’t think we moved through the process as quickly as you did, but we did leave Chicago that afternoon/evening with my sister holding a passport in hand and she had a wonderful time.
    YAY passport office, for making an unpleasant, stressful experience ever so slightly less horrible…

  • Mimi Gregor

    I’ve had quite a few personal symbols for years now:

    The crow, for his intelligence and scavenging abilities. (As a garage-saler, I do a fair share of scavenging myself!)

    The spider, because she spins her web, then waits patiently for what she wants to come to her. (Patience is something I am trying to learn, especially regarding things that I want coming to me.)

    The rose. Several years back, I had a transcendent experience that involved a rose.

    Pennies. When I find one on the ground, I pick it up and think back to what I was thinking at the time I found it. The penny symbolizes the Universe telling me that I am on the right path. (Just as I typed this, a crow cawed! A symbol verified by another symbol!)

    The numbers 111 and 318. The later because it’s my birthdate, the former because I seem to see it everywhere.

    All these symbols, when I see them, tell me to pay attention to what is happening right then. That it is important to me in some way.

  • Marcy Crawford

    I have never really thought about this in the context you share and as others share below. But I do have a couple of personal symbols as well-all reflections of very happy or sad days in my life.
    Horseshoes-this is a game my dad enjoyed playing. I will always picture him throwing those horseshoes out camping or during family events. I even have a small horseshoe tattoo in his memory and brings happy thoughts to me whenever I see them.
    The numbers 7 and 8, but son was born on 7/7 and my daughter on 8/8. These were not “planned” dates (natural onset of labor). So those numbers always bring me happy thoughts.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to have personal numbers, too.

  • Sarah Younger Gay

    I listened to your podcast this morning and I was thinking about the symbols you were talking about and how they reminded me of the Origami Owl lockets and charms that I sell! (Sorry if this sounds like a sales pitch – it’s not!) I don’t know if you’ve heard of us but we’re a direct sales company and we sell tiny charms of tons of different things that go in a locket. Our motto is “we tell our stories with jewelry”. After listening today, I think I liked the idea of everyone’s different charms or “symbols” and that might have been why I was attracted to the company in the first place. The first locket I made said “choose happy” and I included my personal happiness symbols – a globe to represent traveling, a bubble bath because I love them, and a coffee mug. Now I’ve been thinking of other charms that would represent me best! Love the podcast!
    Here is my locket – except mine says “choose happy”

  • I’ve got a lot of personal symbols: I also have the ruby slippers, not only because I love Oz, but because I once wrote a newspaper column about the dissolving of a work group I was in, comparing it to Dorothy leaving Oz. One of the quietest men I worked with brought in a pair of tiny ruby slippers he made himself. I treasure them. Other symbols include lemons (my last name is Lemen, but is pronounced ‘lemon’), crescent moons (my teenage nickname was Junie Moon), fountain pens (I am a writer), the Chinese calligraphy symbol for ying (it’s a long story), the World tarot card (it’s my favorite card in the deck), the Queen of Hearts (she’s always there) and the blue topaz.

  • hoink_hoink

    I love the idea of personal symbols. I had a blast with this exercise. I probably provided too much explanation, but I really wanted to share!

    (1) A Star: because since I was very young I have loved the star shape. I have tons of star clothes, tattoos, jewelry, etc. and everyone gives me gifts with stars on them. (

    2) A Paw Print: I’m a huge lover of animals, especially dogs, and volunteer every week down at my local shelter. I’m also going through renal failure of my first dog I’ve had for 16 years and the end is near, so this is especially poignant and deep for me. Considering a great loss everyday and reflecting on it. Nothing is more soulful and special then the love of a dog.

    (3) A Tree Branch: For me it represents nature and growth, the passage of time and the seasons. I incorporate trees into a lot of the art I decorate my home with. My husband and I gave out small trees as wedding favors for our guests to take home and plant. I like to think that our new beginning was more then just about us, but on a larger natural scale. Oh and my last name is Twedt, pronounced Tweet – so you get the idea of a tree being home for birds (Tweets) as well.

    (4) A Cupcake: I bake cupcakes a lot. Crazy delicious, made from scratch Pinterest inspired cupcakes. I’m always asked to bring the dessert.

    (5) Cheese: I love cheese. No other explanation needed.

    (6) An Athletic Number: Representing the number on the back of a jersey or on a race bib. I am an athlete and so much of my time and identity is wrapped up in my hockey team and races I run. If I didn’t have the competition and adrenaline, I just wouldn’t be happy.

    (7) A Tent: If I could I would live outside in nature. Backpacking and adventures or what brought me and my husband together. The tent represents the place where I am the most happy, outdoors seeing the earth’s beauty.

    • aleishacd

      Loved your symbols. Sounds like someone I’d like to know. 🙂 And also just wanted to send a virtual hug about your dog.

      • hoink_hoink

        Your virtual hug is so appreciated. We are saying goodbye to my Peanut on Thursday and every kind word helps. So from the bottom of my heart – Thank you.

  • Sarah

    I keep a gratitude journal on my bedside table so I see it as I get into bed. If I’m too tired to write, I make a list in my head. Also, this summer my 5yo started a dinner ritual of everyone sharing three things they love about the other people at the table. It’s a great way to remember what you love about family and so interesting to hear what kids think (disregarding the 2yo who usually will work the word poop into his answers!)

  • Lena

    Whenever I look at a clock and see that it is a time like 11:11 or 4:44,
    I wish good things to each member of my family (in my mind!). I get
    this from my mother, who has a lot things she believes to be good luck,
    including each time she hears a Stevie Wonder song. You’d be surprised
    how often and where you hear his songs! Gretchen, I love your books and
    your podcast. Thanks for all of the great information presented with
    humor and creativity.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks for the kind words – and the great suggestion! love it.

  • Natalie

    So, I’m behind on the podcast and just listened this episode this weekend. I have a few personal symbols I’d like to share.

    A push pin because I love Pinterest and love making things, a house because I’m an interior designer and love to decorate, a puzzle piece because I’ve always felt like something was missing in my life, an ice cream cone because I love sweets and love baking, a kangaroo because I love animals and a kangaroo is known for it’s nurturing instincts that I feel like I have also, a book because I love to read self-help books and have a million, an anchor because I love the beach and because I trust the Lord to keep me safe, a globe because I collect them and love to travel, and a gift because my name literally means Christmas gift and Christmas is my favorite time of year! Shew! There are probably more, but this is a start.

  • I started listening to the podcast maybe two months ago and since have decided to go back and listen from the beginning and now I have all these thoughts I want to share about something that happened a year ago! So I’m sharing anyway. I planned a little 25th birthday party myself the year after my wedding, because I loved the planning process so much that I wanted to plan something else! Totally get it.

  • Turtlepea

    Just so you know – the six month passport rule is not a Germany specific rule, in fact it applies to most countries. It’s the reason why a 10 year passport is only good for 9 and a half years. Stupid rule I know!