Podcast 85: Have Something to Look Forward To, Keep a “Bowl of Requirement,” and Request a Collection of Great Wedding Readings.

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

To take the survey that Laura Mayer mentions, go here.

Update: 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. We hope to sell t-shirts — cash only, if we do manage to pull it together.

Try This at Home: Have something to look forward to.

Happiness Hack: I love my travel “Bowl of Requirement,” the bowl where we keep everything important when we’re not at home.

Know Yourself Better: Have you ever been made angry or upset by a well-intentioned gift? The line I quote from Andy Warhol comes from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again): “You can never predict what little things in the way somebody looks or talks or acts will set off peculiar emotional reactions in other people.”

Listener Question: Elizabeth asks, “How can I stick to my writing goal of writing a novel in November, with NaNoWriMo?” You can also read about this technique in Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. I write about my own experience of writing a novel in a month in The Happiness Project.  Want to take the quiz, to see which of the Four Tendencies describes you? It’s here.

 Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth hasn’t adjusted her sleep schedule for the school year.

If you want to watch that clip from the movie School of Rock, about demerits, it’s here at about 1:35.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: If you want to request the collection of people’s favorite wedding readings, click the button below.

Click here to get the Wedding Readings PDF now

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here.

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 #85

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  • Le Genou de Claire

    Your podcast every Wednesday is something I look forward to on my calendar!! I listen to your podcast while doing the weekly, much-needed cleaning around the house, it makes the job goes faster and oh so much more fun. Thank you!!

    In the episode of “expensive diaper bag,” I shared how my mom expressed her love in material gifts to me. When my son was born five years ago, my mom, who was a university professor (and in her defense — which I will explain below, rarely had to deal with domestic life such as cooking, cleaning, etc. as my grandmother and my aunt, her much younger cousin, who lived with us when we were growing up, did much of them), gave me a present of an expensive, non-stick cooking pan. I mean, why on Earth would someone give a non-stick cooking pan to a new mom who is already strapped of time and energy, to cook??? Only my mom would: in her mind, now that I am nursing my newborn, I should cook (myself) more healthy food and nonstick pan would help me do that. Yeah, thanks, Mom, I could have used meal delivery instead…

    My mom passed away last year and her gift to me couldn’t be more poignant. It highlighted our generational differences in expectations in life. Hers, as a career woman in the height of feminism and having her children taken care of by family members so she could be the first person in her family to not only finished college, but hold an advanced degree and taught at a university, and mine, as a woman who had achieved all that and have the luxury to choose to gave up her career to stay home with her child.

    The pan could seem like a crass gift but now I understand that it was my mom’s way to connect between us, as a bridge to my world, (and the world of her own mom who stayed at home to take care of children), and to say how much she cared. Maybe the gift was meant to hint something, but I choose to remember it this way.

    P.S. I love the PedEgg!! I’d appreciate such a gift, Elizabeth!

  • DCB

    Once my husband gift wrapped a huge container of tri-sodium-phosphate cleaner and put it under the tree. At some point I’d mentioned that I might, someday, in the future, could possibly consider painting the kitchen cabinets, and apparently he remembered that I also said they’d need a good scrubbing first. I’m afraid my face said it all when I opened it — and so did his, poor guy. Double goof for both of us. He’s a lot more careful about choosing, and I’m more careful about being grateful for the “spirit of the gift.”

  • Stella Jervis

    I listened to this podcast this morning on my way to work, and I have been waiting ALL DAY to finally get home and share my thoughts. I cheered out loud when I heard Elizabeth’s NaNoWriMo question. I have been writing a novel for 6 years running now. I love it. I dream up a story beforehand, come up with an outline and then I just roll with it on November 1.

    But what I really want talk about is Obligers and Accountability. Dear Gretchen, I love you. In many, many ways, you are my hero. And I understand completely that you actually came up with the four tendencies, but still I say that I think you’ve got Obligers all wrong. Maybe I’m alone here, but your advice on how to go about Accountability just doesn’t work for me, and I really don’t think I’m wrong here. Allow me to explain: your advice to Elizabeth to keep her motivated is to ask her English students to keep her accountable. That is not good advice, and I do not think she should do this. This is because there is zero reward set-up, and therefore zero motivation. In fact, it’s like setting up a punishment system, because if her students ask her, did you do it? And she says no, she feels bad about herself, and then she’ll associate bad feelings with writing. Bad because when you write, you want to feel as energized as possible.

    I am an obliger, and therefore I am a people pleaser. When I don’t please people, I feel bad about myself, and those feelings do not encourage me to do better. I will actually go out of my way if I think someone is nagging me… for example if I haven’t done something my mother wants me to do, I won’t do it because I know she’ll ask me about it, I just will avoid calling her. Nagging is no good. Well, what would help? It does involve people, but instead of asking people to nag you, ask them to cheer you on.

    One of the 5 love languages is affirmations. If someone knows your goal and gives you positive feedback, it gives you warm and fuzzy feelings that you carry with you as you write. It also lets your partner off the hook too. When I tried to have my boyfriend hold me accountable for writing he was like, “Listen, you don’t have to write. It’s okay, be good to yourself.” He said this because he felt bad about having to be the bad cop. But then I switched it around on him and told him that instead of nagging me, just cheer me on no matter what. This way, I don’t even have to tell him if I have my word count or not. He just knows I’m working towards a goal and he gives me hugs, high fives, and says “You can do it!” when I need a boost. Do you see the difference?

    Cheering is also great because it gives me back the power. When I tell someone else to hold me accountable, it’s like my fate rests in their hands. But when I ask for cheers and some high-energy high fives, I feel supported and therefore powerful. Cheering also feels a little less invasive. Just because I want help sticking to my goal doesn’t mean I want a therapy session about why I’m dragging my feet. I just want help getting back into the ring.

    Elizabeth, do not feel like you have to ask your students to hold you accountable for NaNoWriMo… but instead, ask them to cheer you on. You could even come up with a cheer that they could chant just when you need it, either because you’re doing really well, or when you are feeling like you are running out of steam. Mine is just, Go Stella Go! Write that novel! I made stickers that say that, and I passed them out to all my friends. Sometimes when my friends ask me about the novel, I actually don’t tell them, because a writer never talks about her project until it’s finished… just because I’m an Obliger doesn’t mean I’m not guarded about things that are important to me.

    I actually have a lot more to say about NaNoWriMo, but it’s late and I’ve said so much already. I’m not even sure if anybody will actually care what I have to say anyhow?

    So… Go Elizabeth Go! Write that Novel!

    • gretchenrubin

      This is SO INTERESTING. Fascinating!

      I would say, it’s not that you need a REWARD, but that you need POSITIVE ACCOUNTABILITY.
      For me, as an Upholder, the question “Have you done X?” is neither a positive nor a negative. It’s neutral. But it sounds like for you, that feels like a negative – which makes me suspect that you’re an Obliger who tips to Rebel – that’s the variation that feels the most pushed around.
      Getting cheers is still getting accountability, because it means that someone is observing and commenting on what you’ve done. But for you, and I bet for many people, this works better in the POSITIVE.
      Fascinating to tie this to the Love Languages. Weirdly, it had never occurred to me to do this, but I’ve heard from many people who have, and it adds another level of nuance to think about that aspect.
      I’m Words of Affirmation, too, a real gold-star junkie. But for me, they do not influence what I do or don’t do.

  • Kara aycock

    Hello! I love your podcast and listen every week while I walk my dog, often nodding in agreement or laughing as I walk. As Elizabeth was asking whether a Downton Abbey character was a rebel today, I had an idea: a novel or tv show where each of the characters is based on a certain tendency. You are both such wonderful writers that I would love to watch/read something fictional that you wrote that still illustrates these differences that we all have. It could be the new “sex and the city” with people identifying with which character is most like them:). Probably a silly thought, but thought I’d pass it along. Thank you both so much for your openness and authenticity in the show! Take care! Kara

    • Jodie

      I think this is a GREAT idea!!

  • Marie Murray

    I loved listening to this episode! I have three things to say.
    1) I am frequently annoyed by well-intentioned gifts. If I do not absolutely love a gift or know I will not use it, I would rather not receive it, and will probably get rid of it! I always thank the giver graciously, because I realize that gifting is an act of generosity, but when I receive something that has nothing to do with my interests, sometimes I am frustrated because it seems like the giver didn’t take ME into consideration. Could my reaction be explained by the fact that I’m a rebel?
    2) I absolutely LOVED hearing Gretchen laugh so hard over Elizabeth’s gift to her mother-in-law. It was contagious, and I began laughing until tears rolled down my face!
    3) I live in Beirut, and when I arrived to my in-laws to drop off my daughter, School of Rock was on, and I watched the scene with the demerits and gold stars. Hilarious and serendipitous!

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s great to hear that the episode struck such a chord with you!

    • Mimi Gregor

      Marie, I don’t think your reaction to inappropriate gifts is because you are a rebel. I am a Questioner, and I have the same reaction. Oh, I thank the person, of course. I’m not a savage. But, especially if it’s someone that I heretofore thought knew me, I begin to question whether they know me at all, or even care to. It seems to me that when someone gives you a gift that is vastly different than something you would use, they either didn’t care enough to think about what you would like (in which case, they shouldn’t give you a gift at all), or they wish that you were different somehow. More like them, perhaps. Being a Questioner, I’m always reading things into what people say and do… things that may or may not be the case. I keep a bag in the hall closet that is destined for Goodwill, and a gift that I will not use goes directly into it as soon as the person leaves. I’m not sentimental, and I don’t like clutter. I feel that things like to be used and have a purpose, and the object may be just what another person wants.

      • Marie

        Yes!! You sum up my feelings exactly. And I am similar in that I am not too sentimental and also can’t tolerate much clutter.

  • Sydney

    I loved the discussion on gifts! I can be overly practical, and hate getting “stuff”. My mother in law loves to give little knick knack gifts, and my husband and I are often the recipient. I remind myself every holiday season and birthday that sometimes you can be generous by taking. We graciously accept the gifts, and then add them to the donation pile. One gift that made me particularly uneasy was a wedding gift from an aunt and uncle. It was a wooden cross crafted by a friend of the gift givers. It’s beautiful, but it’s HUGE. It bothered certain family members for a long time that we didn’t hang it, but we honestly didn’t have a wall large enough. It’s hanging in our basement now. It’s lovely, but every time I see it I wish it were about 7 times smaller. Perhaps we’ll find a different home for it if we ever move again. I know someone else would probably love it and appreciate it much more.

  • Christine K.

    Yes, I agree we all need something to look forward to on our calendars! I have another separate calendar that also gives me joy, accountability, and those coveted gold stars. I have a calendar devoted ONLY to things I have already done. I write down all my workouts in pink, all my finished books in green, my girls’ nights out and my “me time” events (like a haircut, pedicure) in purple, my date nights in blue, any other finished projects in light purple… I am a stay-at-home mom, and I found that it was easy for time to get away from me without taking time for important things for ME like girls’ nights out. With this calendar, I love looking back at past months and seeing that I did a good job taking care of myself, and if my entries are looking sparse, I can try to make changes to improve next month’s entries.

  • Maria

    Very good episode!

    I have had experiences where I have been given amazing gifts that in fact I knew even at the moment I was receiving them that I just wasn’t going to use. Even big things like blenders, baking trays for cake pops etc. Then I just keep them on the shelf / in a cupboard and don’t have the heart to give them away as they were so well intentioned. I still have a few in my kitchen!

    one question for you. This November I’m planning to attempt NaNoWriMo and I wondered–apart from the book you suggested–whether you can recommend any simple tips for coming up with a plot / an idea? I don’t want to buy a book just for this, wondered if there are any online resources or just simple ideas? Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin

      I can’t think of any resources, but Baty’s book may list some.

  • Julie

    Thank you for the tips on how to get through NANOWRIMO on this week’s podcast. I am all signed up for it in November this year as it has been on the bucket list for a long time. Like the listener who asked the question, as it gets closer, I am now apprehensive about how to do it and all the normal life things as well. A lot more scheduling is going to be my main takeaway as I already have enough accountability.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good luck!

  • Leslie Fischer

    To the listener question: As a woman who has been a teacher and also a mom to four kids, I have some ideas for you. First, you need to use the strategy of convenience/inconvenience to achieve this goal. Make sure that your home is conducive this month to your writing. Ask your husband if he is on board with writing your novel that month and get his buy-in. Ask him to do the bulk of the kid care and meal prep. Better yet, make room in your budget that month to eat out as much as possible and hire a house cleaning crew. Use the strategy of inconvenience to hide distractions away from yourself, like putting your smart phone on a different floor from you, away from your writing space. Disable the wifi on the computer where you are writing. Activate your community this month and ask friends and family if they will take your kids for a play date, bring you a meal or drive a kid to after school activities. As a teacher, you should use the strategy of scheduling. Look ahead in your lesson plan book and be sure to create lessons that do not require lots of grading during that month. You could use assessments that are easily graded by a scantron. I am not sure of your kids’ ages but you could also tell them about the project and that if they cooperate, your family could be rewarded at the end of the month with an agreed-upon family incentive like a trip or new item for the home. Promise your husband that in exchange for his support during this month, you will pick up the slack for him and support him in a goal he would would love to achieve. Good luck and tell us when we can buy that book! 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Excellent suggestions – practical and simple to put into action.

  • Terri Chase

    Having something to look forward to is huge!! I recently finished “busy season” at work (I’m an accountant), and my husband’s service club obligations had us going to 14 dinners in 3 weeks. I was completely drained and feeling down. We decided to take a short trip away, and the minute I booked it, I got a HUGE happiness boost!! Ever since then, I think about it whenever I get stressed, and it makes me smile 🙂 P.S. I loved Elizabeth’s “ABC” strategy as well 🙂

  • Myra Moran

    I love the idea for the Bowl of Requirement. I just spent 9 weeks traveling in SE Asia this summer with my husband and two kids and I wish I had heard about this before. It would have made keeping up with all our stuff much easier. Great tip!
    Once I read a blog where the author put something orange in her house as a reminder to herself not to yell at her children. I really liked the idea and posted the blog on Facebook. My sweet mom, after seeing my post and reading the article, decided to send me an entire box of everything orange you could imagine to support me in my desire to be better about not yelling at my own kids. There were orange picture frames and oven mitts, dish towels, baskets, balloons, silly string etc. Seeing all the orange made me feel very anxious and overwhelmed. I kept one orange item (the picture frame) and gave away the rest. I never told my mom that the gift almost sent me into a full blown panic attack and can see the humor of it and appreciate the thought now. It has also helped me understand the need to be clear with what I want and need.

  • Cathy

    Regarding the listener question, I have some suggestions as an obliger who completed NANO a few years ago. First, I linked to a writer friend on NANO so we could see each other’s word counts. This gave me accountability. You could also report back to a non-writer friend or relative. Second, I took a notebook everywhere and drafted by hand in small moments while waiting to pick up children (I have 4) from things. Third, I didn’t allow myself off the hook at the end of the day. I hate writing at night but I did it when necessary. Fourth, I informed my family when I needed to get my allotted writing done.
    I had never written a 50k manuscript and I accomplished it against the odds of kids, family visiting for Thanksgiving, and my husband traveling for work.
    You can do it, as long as you tell yourself it’s possible!


    “It’s hard to not take that as an i….(? -nsult)”

    Also, “If they haven’t asked for it” in regards to the scale..

    Thank you for this, same, havent laughed this hard for a while!

  • LS Thomas

    Where is the promised picture of the ring?