Podcast 81: Introduce a Specific Conversation Topic, Park in a Far Spot, and Is It OK to Ignore the Olympics?

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

Update: In episode 76 , our listener Sarah asked for suggestions for wedding readings. We got so many great suggestions! As promised, I’ve create a PDF with some of the most outstanding choices. Email me if you’d like a copy — just write “wedding readings” in the subject line. As Kristen mentioned, in this episode of “A Little Happier,” I recorded the very short story that was one of my wedding readings.

And if you live near Seattle, please come to our live event! We’ll be recording an episode of the podcast live on stage at Seattle’s Town Hall on October 13, 7:30. Tickets are $25. More info and buy tickets here. Please come, bring your friends.

Try This at Home: Give people something specific to talk about. I mentioned my mother’s game (though it’s not really a game) of TableTopics Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations.

OliveandCocoaKimonoHere’s the photo of the surprise gift that I sent to Elizabeth from OliveandCocoa.com/happier.

Happiness Hack from Stacy: Go ahead and park at the far end of the parking lot. It means more exercise, and less annoyance, because you’re not circling around the parking lot looking for a spot close to the door.

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: the Strategy of Clarity.

Listener Question: Rochelle asks, “I find it hardest to reach out to the people closest to me. For these people, a casual check-in won’t do.”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth ignored the Olympics.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gets a gold star for making the effort to make a quick trip to Kansas City, and my father gets a gold star for his observation “When it comes to family visits, frequency is more important than length.”

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, check the schedule. 

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #81

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  • ChrisD

    I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but as I recall Stacey’s hack about parking at the back is backed up by time and motion studies which show that it is quicker to just park and walk, than to wait ages for a nearer spot.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great further confirmation!

  • Kaitlin

    As always- I look forward to this Podcast every Wednesday. I would love to hear more ideas for conversation starters! In one of my mom groups, someone mentioned that their husband asks people “what do you do with your extra pennies?”

  • Mimi Gregor

    I don’t think that Elizabeth deserves a demerit for skipping “Olympic Madness”. If it were something she really enjoyed, she would have made time for it. Ergo, perhaps she does not really enjoy these “sports” or competitions, and it was not a priority for her. I do not enjoy these things, so I did not watch. It’s not like it’s some civic duty, like paying taxes or voting. It’s basically entertainment, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

  • Lindsay

    “I like you” – I LOVED that reading!! Can you share the excerpt so I can email it to my husband? I thought it might boost his happiness today 🙂 Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin

      The poem is “I Like You” by Sandol Stoddard Warburg. You can find It here: https://rizzimeia.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/i-like-you-by-sandol-stoddard-warburg/

      • Lindsay

        A belated “thank you” for responding to my request, Gretchen! First, I was thrilled to hear back from you!! I have been saving this poem for my husband and will include it in his Christmas card this year. Just perfect. Thanks again!

  • Lauren Chenarides-Hall

    This “try me at home” could not have come at a better time! This past Sunday, I just implemented “specific conversation” with my friends, and I’m calling it “Conversation Cafe.” It was inspired by my husband’s (a rebel) desire for deep conversation. To continue from episode 80, his love language is quality time and I’m acts of service. I had read Chapman’s book before episode 80, but being someone who is acts of service (and an upholder), I generally like to make plans and stick to a mission. Also, since I can sometimes be focused on process-oriented things and might not be able to give my husband all of the time to dive deep into the types of conversations he craves, it was a way to relinquish some of the expectations he may unknowingly place on me.

    The purpose of this series is to inspire people to reveal their inner passions and quirky interests, to stimulate conversation and… (as much as I dislike this word) debate. So in this sense, it’s a way for me to get to know our friends in a deeper, more meaningful way, as well as serve as a way to connect with my husband.

    I had done some research before and have heard these types of events also called “Mindshare” or salons (in the classic-sense where men with mustaches would smoke pipes and discuss politics and the state of affairs). Before we started our first Conversation Cafe, I came up with a set of “rules” or guidelines (of course there had to be some rules!) that we would flush out. Here’s what I shared:

    The first rule is that all guests must at some point contribute a topic. If everyone takes part, there’s an atmosphere of collaboration rather than criticism – and the opportunity to discuss a topic you’ve been eager to dive deeper into.

    The second rule is that your topic can’t be about what you do for a living. This means that at Conversation Café we are all amateurs. No one expects you to be an expert so you needn’t worry about being able to answer questions. Ideally, if we have an expert on a particular topic among our group of friends – after the Conversation Café has ended, that person may have the chance to clear up any remaining questions. Here are some ideas: how can you fake a meteorite? How does imitation art work? How did we get accents?

    The third and final rule is to have fun… (Ok, not so much as rule as it is a strong sense of encouragement). We’re all adults so let’s keep the conversation flowing and keep our conversations enlightening and never belittling.

    Three topics can be discussed at each cafe, lasting around 20-30 minutes: time enough to develop an idea, brief enough to keep the evening fast-paced. Each person gets an index card and writes a topic or question on the card. All cards are placed into a hat and the first topic is chosen. Whoever wrote that card is the discussant and frames the question/topic. The best way we discovered with our group of friends to avoid side chatter and promote equitable time contributing to the conversation was for each person to go around the room and answer the question or share his/her thoughts. The discussant could chime in and clarify points to keep the conversation moving forward.

    I’m happy to report that my husband loved this event, as well as our friends, despite the modest constraints set ahead of time. We had several great discussions on whether we’d be happier as a society if we lived in tribal communities like our ancestors, questioned God’s existence, and whether today’s music of the 1950’s-2000’s would be relevant in 200+ years.

    • gretchenrubin


  • Sarah

    Hi Gretchen, the conversation starter game looks great – but at over $50 on Amazon here in the UK I don’t think I’ll be buying it soon! My kids are older – I think over Christmas our family game might be making some cards up. I could supply a stack of small file cards and box and everybody contributes a question at each meal, including visitors. You’d soon have a selection. And old favourites would crop up in future years too.
    We play a game when extended family is all together, for all ages, where we all put names into a hat or bowl, about a dozen each, sometimes more. Then in pairs we have to describe the person to our partner within one minute, and claim as many names as you can identify. I know there is a commercial version, but it is much more fun to make up your own. Then the kids can put in impossible to guess current children’s TV characters and the older ones can put in obscure celebrities from the 1970’s. One year the youngest aged about 5 got a name wrong, so the next time we played there were about 20 people called Dave in the mix – hilarious! We call it the bucket game. Xx Sarah

  • Meg

    The paralympics in Rio just started if Elizabeth still wants to get a little Olympics in her life.

  • Megan

    I love the happiness hack of parking in a far away spot. Besides avoiding the stress of searching and the bonus of working in extra steps, I have found over time that it has an unexpected benefit. Since I adopted this habit many years ago I have found that in situations when I would really want or need a parking spot closer to the store entrance, for instance when it’s pouring rain or I am in a time crunch, a spot often opens up just as I arrive. I refer to this as Parking Karma. Purely anecdotal, I admit, but it has held true over and over again for me. I tell my kids all the time that making it easier for others (by giving up the close spots generally) will often lead to it being easier for you down the road.

  • Sandra Seidel

    Hi Gretchen – I have to tell you about my trip to Barnes & Noble on Saturday. I was magazine hunting when a young women came over with a stack of books. “Happier at Home” was on top so I OF COURSE asked her if she’d heard of “Happier!” She hadn’t so I told her all about it. She was adorable & excited to find you & Elizabeth. So no worries about ratings & stars – the “Happier Squad” is out there spreading the word : )

    • gretchenrubin

      Wonderful! Thanks so much for spreading the word! GOLD STAR for you (and for her too)

  • lizardlodge

    Happiness Hack: We’ve always known that parking far away is a great trick for sneaking in a few more steps, but I got a whole new perspective when a friend told me how her mother (who had just had heart surgery) could barely make it into the store from the car. I realized that since I can EASILY walk from the far end of the parking lot, I should leave all those close spaces for anyone who might be having trouble walking.

    • gretchenrubin

      Another great reason!

  • My husband and I are in a “Life Group” through our church, where we get together each week and start out talking about the sermon(our “something to talk about”) and how it applies to our life, and then usually head down a rabbit hole and wind up somewhere totally different. But talking about our lives in this way has lead to rapid relationship growth. We’ve been in this group two years and are as close with some of those people as we are with our best friends, people we’ve known since high school and college, or in my husband’s case with his brother, since birth! Since we all live within 15 minutes of each other, it’s easy to gather weekly and is such a happiness boost each week.

  • kjett

    Loved today’s podcast. Sarah’s clarity is wonderful. I would like to urge her to change how she phrases it though. To not get alzheimers she is still thinking about alzheimers. It would be much better for her to have a positive goal of mind clarity for the rest of her life (or something similar.) This way she is focusing on what she wants rather than what she doesn’t want.

    I’m not sure if there is any scientific proof, but it is said that we attract what we think about. And for some reason the word “not” does not seem to be very strong. So this is more than an are we more motivated by moving towards or away from. Hope this helps.

  • Fallon Smith

    Just bought TableTopics for my dad, he always picks a dinner question and we all have to go around and share. He will love this! Thanks for the tip.