A Little Happier: Tell Me What You Want for Dinner.

It feels like a paradox: sometimes, by being more demanding, we’re more giving. Being very specific about what we want allows others to revel in the pleasure of giving.

I hope you’re enjoying the new mini-episodes. I love doing them.

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:


  • Diane

    When I ask the question about what my family wants for dinner I just want someone else to make the decision. I love to cook for my family but some times I just don’t want to be the one to decide what to make.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s certainly part of it. Decision fatigue!

    • Carla

      I came here to say the same thing!

  • Kim Hunt

    I’m a very busy grad student but can’t do without my ‘treats’. I thought you might like to hear that I use listening to your podcast as just that! (and oddly, as I was typing this Elizabeth mentioned using podcasts as treats 🙂 )

    • gretchenrubin

      Great! I love hearing that the podcast is a treat!

  • Natalie

    I do ask the family sometimes because I’m exhausted from years of menu planning, but then often they ask for something too unhealthy/complicated/expensive and I have to tell them to come up with something else!

  • Mimi Gregor

    If I asked that question of my husband, I would get the same answer your friend did, as my husband is a very indecisive person (as am I, at times). He does, however, tell me when we are eating a meal, things like “Wow! This is one of my favorite dishes of yours!” which is not only good to hear, but helps me decide what to make in the future.

  • Alex

    So frustrating to have to not only be the cook, but to guess what another person wants. Perhaps the problem can be solved by not asking an open-ended question, but by offering a limited choice of meal options, based on what ingredients are on hand.

  • Coral

    I’ve had almost this exact situation! My boyfriend and I have been together about a year and a half, and neither of us cooks much, but for Valentine’s day, I offered him a home-cooked meal of his choice. If I had to choose what the meal would be, I probably would have chosen something really easy, within my comfort zone, or I would have been wrought with indecision paralysis, but this way, he got to dream up something a little more complex that he REALLY wanted (chicken carbonara) and I got the NOVELTY and CHALLENGE of trying something I’d never made, along with the satisfaction of knowing it was something he’d really really like. (It turned out great, by the way!)

  • I have the same frustration, but for a different reason. When I ask my husband what he wants for dinner, I want him to give the idea of that to actually make. I dislike having to plan the meal every day.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s interesting. It sounds like for most people, the frustration is less about “I want to make your favorite” than it is “Please help me figure out what to make.” I read an article about meal kits this morning, and it made the point that one thing people like about meal kits is that you don’t have to decide anew what to cook every night. Decision fatigue!!!

      • Claire

        Yes! I don’t mind cooking but planning a week of meals (I try to plan this out before grocery shopping) stinks. I have found that narrowing down my (self-made, 3-ring binder) cookbook to only recipes that are quick, healthy, and taste good has greatly helped, since it narrows down my choices of what to make. I’m thinking of taking it a step further by trying to have theme nights (i.e. crockpot, burger/pizza, Asian, etc.) on the same day every week in order to narrow down my choices even more so that meal planning isn’t such a chore. I’m a Questioner – and I guess my tendency to collect recipes doesn’t help with any of this (which is also why I had to stop subscribing to magazines – I would collect so many recipes & articles!).

  • This reminds me of a problem my parents used to have when they took my grandmother on vacation. Every time it was time to eat out, they would ask her what she was in the mood for, and she always said the same thing. She said it doesn’t matter whatever you guys want. This used to drive my mom insane, because she said it was impossible to know whether my grandmother was actually pleased! My dad would defend her and say that she’s just being easy-going. I can see both arguments.
    But in my life, I do try to be specific, that way the giver can have the pleasure of knowing they hit the nail on the head! Communication is loving. Of course, if the person can’t provide what you want, or if something goes wrong, one has to be gracious and not be overly disappointed.

    • gretchenrubin

      A perfect illustration of this princpiple. It feels “easy-going” but is actually more generous, sometimes, to be specific!

  • MichelleAssist

    What I want to do is why I seem to have so much trouble even identifying (for myself) what it is I actually want. I’m totally decision-challenged!

  • Jessyka

    Hi Gretchen,

    First, I think you and Elizabeth are awesome on your podcast; I really enjoy listening to it on the bus on my way to work. Exploring and thinking about happiness early in the morning sets the mood for the rest of the day! 🙂

    Second, for me, I make an effort to give ideas of meals when my husband asks me what I’d want for dinner, because I feel like that’s part of contributing to the meal. It’s easy to say that you’d be happy with whatever, but then that puts the pressure on your partner to find a meal that 1) is different from what you’ve recently had and 2) both of you will enjoy. I feel like saying “whatever” is an easy way out. Preparing dinner is much more fun when both partners are contributing to it, whether that means they are cooking it together or one partner decides (or at least makes suggestions as to) what will be on the table tonight.

    I hope that’s helpful!