Podcast 118: Design Your Summer (Again), Start a Podcast Club — and Are You the Difficult One?

Update: Elizabeth’s new podcast with her writing partner Sarah FainHappier in Hollywood — has launched! Very exciting. Listen, rate, review, tell your friends, tune in tomorrow to listen to episode 2 for a discussion of bullet journals. Subscribe here.

Keep those haiku coming! As we discussed in episode 117,  this month we’re posting our haiku on #happierhaiku. It’s so much fun to see everyone’s contribution. (And yes, if you’re wondering, “haiku” is the form for both singular and plural.)

Our next Very Special Episode will be dedicated to listener questions about the Four Tendencies, so if you have questions or comments, send them in. (Don’t know your Tendency? Take the quiz here to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.)

Try This at Home: Design your summer. We’ve talked about this idea before, in episode 27 and episode 67. The challenge is to design the summer to be what you want it to be.

I plan to make lunch dates and to work on My Color Pilgrimage, my book about color.

Here’s the Robertson Davies quotation that I love:

“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

Happiness Hack: Simon suggests, “Start a podcast club. Like a book club, but for podcasts.”

Elizabeth mentions The New York Times podcast club on Facebook. It’s here.

Know Yourself Better: Are you the difficult one?

I mention the great books by professor Bob Sutton: The No A*** Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t and his forthcoming The A*** Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt. (I’m omitting certain words not out of prudery, but to avoid triggering a filter.)

Reading his books got me thinking…how do you know if you’re the difficult one? If you disagree with some of these questions, or would add different questions, let me know.

–When you do something generous for others, do you think it only right that your generosity will allow you to make decisions for them or direct their actions?

–Do you often find that when you do something nice for people, they seem ungrateful or uncooperative? For example, you offered to host Thanksgiving dinner, but no one appreciates it.

–Do you think it’s important to express your true feelings and views authentically, even if that means upsetting other people?

–Do you find that people seem resentful and angry when you offer helpful criticism or advice?

-Do you enjoy a good fight?

–Do you often find yourself saying defensively, “It was just a joke!” Along the same lines, do you find yourself remarking on how other people don’t have a sense of humor, or can’t laugh at a little teasing? [Elizabeth and I talk about the dark side of teasing in episode 32.]

–Do people tend to gang up against you – when you’re arguing one side, everyone takes the other side, or when one person criticizes you, everyone else chimes in?

–Do you find it funny to see other people squirm?

–Do you think it’s useful to point out people’s mistakes, areas of incompetence, or previous track records of failure?

–Do people volunteer to act as intermediaries for you, rather than let you do your own talking? Your son says, “Let me talk to my wife about it,” rather than have you two talk.

Listener Question: Katy asks, “How do I overcome my under-buyer reluctance to buy things that I know would make me happier?”

If you wonder if you’re an under-buyer or an over-buyer, here’s a description.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: She’s been using her “floodrobe” and not hanging up her clothes.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Gold star to listeners and readers who have sent me links, videos, podcasts, images, and posts about the subject of color. I so appreciate it. All fodder for My Color Pilgrimage!

Two Resources:

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #118

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Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, just launched! Check out Happier in Hollywood.

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  • Liz

    I have a cheaper alternative to a closet door for Elizabeth. When I was in college, my dorm had a closet but didn’t have a door. I bought a tension rod and a really cool tapestry and used some safety pins to basically make a curtain style door. It was quick and easy and inexpensive and adding the tapestry allowed me to show off some of my personality And kept everything inside hidden! It was a success and my roommate ended up doing same thing. Pretty soon a couple of other people on my floor also followed suit. Even if you do ultimately end up getting a door, this could be a quick and easy temporary fix!

    • gretchenrubin

      Worth a try! If multiple laundry baskets and hooks don’t work.

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books: Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
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      • Julina S

        I have 4 different laundry baskets for my husband because he has trouble regulating his body temperature and tends to drop clothes wherever he happens to be when he gets too hot.

        My hope was that he would be more likely to “hit the target” if there were targets nearby, but not really. At least *I* have targets close by when I want to tidy up. (one by his recliner, one by the bed, one in the closet, one in the bathroom…)

        His are black and plastic (to avoid confusion w/ kid baskets and to therefore help them always come back to their designated spots instead of being commandeered for other random collecting…), but you might be able to employ a similar principle with classier baskets (woven water hyacinth ones, fabric and wood “hampers”, ones with a lid)

        We’ve also done the curtain thing, but with an inexpensive black textured shower curtain (x3) and actual curtain rods (vs. tension rods, so they don’t accidentally get pulled down). Actually, the only one up is the divider between the toilet/tub and the sink/closet sections of our bathroom (didn’t you have a stumbling block at one point about the unfinished project…?), but it is working really well, and at some point I will get the others mounted in front of the closets themselves.

        Hope you find a workable (and ideally less expensive than “real” closet doors) solution.

    • Mimi Gregor

      I have a tapestry curtain hanging across the coat closet in my entry. It had a sliding door that was very plain and I did not like. Then, when my husband took up the piano and we put it in the entry, we decided a curtain would be better than a door because of the sound-absorbing qualities. It gives the room a warmer look than the utilitarian door did, and it’s easier to get things out of the closet.

  • Sara Gravelin

    I live in the Seattle area and summer is the best time just to stay in the Pacific Northwest. As part of my summer planning, I look up all the wonderful, free events hosted by our local parks and rec department: low tide walks, kids events, concerts in the park, and neighborhood festivals. I put all the interesting ones on our calendar so we can be intentional with attending local (and often free!) events. -Sara

  • Emily Maloney

    I answered yes to almost every single question. It is safe to say I am indeed a difficult person. Yes, I was already aware of this (to an extent) but the red flags are even more glaring. And of course, I would love to minimize the amount of ‘difficultness’ I seem to exude. But how? I am constantly striving to make changes to my bad habits, adopt new good habits, get healthier, be happier, and help others, but I can’t seem to shake this difficult nature of mine. Like you said, no one likes being the difficult person. I’d love any advice or tips you may have for someone who’s having a difficult time not being difficult.

    • Deanne

      Since you asked, I would gently offer this question back to you: do you know the root of your behaviors? What kind of childhood did you have?

      I applaud the desire to change — it truly precedes the work one must do to make the change — but for things that are deeply rooted, it can help to enlist someone with training, like a counselor or therapist, to help us understand (and possibly heal) the things that motivate behaviors that aren’t serving us.

      Best wishes to you.

      • Emily Maloney

        I appreciate it. That’s the most interesting part…. I am very aware of where a lot of my intensities and difficultness stem from. I had a somewhat difficult childhood and grew up acting out, misbehaving, seeking attention, and reflecting the actions of my father (who is indeed a difficult person too) So I feel that I have all the tools: The understanding of where my tendencies to be difficult stems from. The responsibility factor of knowing that it is ME who is difficult, not everyone else. And the desire to change it. I guess, to give myself some credit, it has lessened over the years. And as I continue to make good habits, and provide myself with some outer order and inner calm, it tends to get better. But still….the difficultness plagues me!

        • Deanne

          I feel a lot of empathy for the way you describe yourself… which makes me wonder — are you really a difficult person? Were you really a difficult child? And what do those labels really mean?

          Acting out, misbehaving, and seeking attention aren’t character flaws — they are normal ways of responding when we aren’t getting our needs met as children. If your father was a difficult person — if he treated other people like the problem — then you may have grown up feeling like you were the problem, rather than feeling accepted. Being treated this way as a child does two things — it sets up a pattern for how we talk to ourselves (“it’s my fault that I am this way”) and it sets up a pattern for how we treat others… because we do what feels familiar, even if it isn’t healthy.

          I am glad you have some insight into where your behaviors come from. Understanding and acknowledging the root cause is important. But knowing that intellectually is only the first step — knowing about it isn’t the same as healing it. We persist in familiar behaviors because they shield us from our feelings of pain, hurt, and sadness. These behaviors were adaptive. They helped us survive when we were younger. But they may no longer be serving us.

          You sound like you have been rolling this particular boulder up the hill for a long time. I would like to gently offer this suggestion — put the boulder down. Ask yourself what you are trying to protect when you are “being difficult”. What feelings are under there? Why does it not feel safe to express those feelings? What hidden family rules are you still abiding by, even now as an adult?

          I know it can be really uncomfortable to look at these things, and even more uncomfortable to do the work to heal old wounds. But behavior change is easier when we no longer need those behaviors as body armor.

          I offer this in kindness and compassion. I truly understand where you are coming from.

          • Emily Maloney

            I truly appreciate your suggestions. I will definitely keep your words in my thoughts and ask myself those questions when those situations arise.

  • Mel

    Regarding the under-buyer question, here’s something that works for me. I’ve always been frugal, and during the recession I was sub-optimally employed for several years and had to severely limit my spending. Since my various part-time jobs during that period only required jeans and t-shirts, when I finally got a decent job and needed some new clothes, I really struggled with spending money on my wardrobe. The “baby steps” approach to committing to a purchase really helped me. In the store, I would carefully select several outfits and then promise myself that I could return them if I was too uncomfortable with the purchases after a few days. I’d leave the clothes in the bags with the tags on them and over the next several days I’d look at them, try them on, see if they worked with other items in my closet, show them to my roommates, etc. When I finally felt comfortable with an article of clothing, I’d take the tag off and wear it. I returned many articles of clothing, but I also kept quite a few. Reminding myself that I could return unused items made it much easier to take the big initial step of actually making purchases. I realize that the returns are a hassle for the stores, but since the returns made it easier for me to make purchases, I think the stores still benefited from my unconventional manner of shopping. This process helps me to this day.

  • Weronika

    I also decided to design my Summer this year! Because of my job (I am a producer of souvenirs) Summer for me is a particularly high season. This year as the year before real holiday will come for me only in November – I suppose. However until then I need to survive somehow. I live in Cracow – one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. Ones a week I am in a city center in order to deliver my stuff to souvenirs shops. I realized that when I am in a center I tend to hurry up, I rush from one shop to another to come back home as soon as possible… But what for? I live alone so no one is waiting for me, one hour of work more also will make no difference for my income… This Summer I decided to slow down when I am in the city center. I will act as if I were a tourist in my own town. I will dress more carefully. From one souvenirs shop to another I will stroll gently looking around for whatever might seem interesting for me. During each visit in the city center I will try to go to at least one interesting place like museum, gallery of art, library. I will not consider wasted time when I decide to sit somewhere to contemplate the beauty around me. Being tourist in my town – it is my blueprint for this Summer!
    Best wishes to Gretchen, Liz and All the Listeners of the podcast from Cracow 🙂
    Weronika

  • LoriM

    Love your show and also the new Hollywood show.

    Just before listening to your podcast about underbuying (my problem), I actually went out and bought 4, count ’em, FOUR, new purses at a sale at JC Penney!! A new summer purse, a new winter purse, a wallet that will serve as a standalone purse OR can be tucked in to a bigger purse, AND a purse for my granddaughter.

    I’m so happy now! LOL Wait – where’s my purse pic? I actually uploaded a pic to show you!

    • LoriM

      Also regarding multiple laundry baskets. That has been a happiness hack for me, living in a condo with limited storage space. I have 4 identical baskets that fit inside each other. I use a couple for sorting clothing so we toss dirty clothes immediately in the “whites” or “darks” basket for less sorting at laundry time. Then we also have plenty of baskets for clean to-be-folded or to-be-put-away clothes too. And when we’re done with the baskets, they fit inside each other and take up less space. I actually enjoy folding laundry and getting it sorted and put away. A quick task for that good feeling of accomplishment. (Getting it IN the washer is usually my husband’s job). oh – and I own a TON of underwear so I rarely run out before laundry day, and that is why he usually ends up starting the laundry

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific!

  • Alina

    I have just started to listen to your podcast “Happier” a few weeks ago and have enjoyed at least one episode every day since. I love how if one theme does not seem to speak to me at all in the beginning, there is always at least one advice that helps me get to know myself better. You have been a huge help in my decision to switch careers and now settling for a new work / life routine, so thank you!
    I am currently reading your book “Better than before” and was wondering: Do you have any tips for Obligers that are introverted, too? When I was in school, I was always better at doing things somebody else had decided for me. But now, each time I set out to meet with someone e.g. for running or the gym, I dread the appointment even more than the activity and would rather cancel everything altogether. Which in return does not help to build any habit. How do you think should I, as an Introvert, act, when I am an Obliger as well? Thank you so much for your time and lots of greetings from Germany!

    • Introverted Obliger

      Yes! I agree. I have thought about this a lot, thanks for bringing it up, Alina. I am an introverted obliger as well. The biggest tip for obliger’s is to have external accountability – but external interactions sounds dreadful to me. I am not outgoing enough to want to go into all my goal’s, problems, or reasons with someone and then have to deal with all the extra interactions to keep up the accountability. I too would be very interested to hear Gretchen’s thoughts on this.

      One of the “Happier” episodes talks about ‘doing something for your future self’ which I love. I can remind myself I am accountable to my future self and I actually DO care about what they will think. The plus is that the future self is holding the present self accountable but my present self never has to meet with my future self!

  • Tiffany from Phoenix

    Listening to your ‘Design Your Summer’ segment reminded me of a project I did a couple years ago when my kids were younger. We created an ‘ABC Bucket List’ using some of the big plans we had for summer and adding some smaller things we wanted to do for fun. For example, “A for Airport” as we started a trip,”Beach for beach vacation”, “F for fireworks”, “I for going out for ice cream”, “K for fly a kite”, “Z for zoo trip”. So we had a list of 26 items to design our summer and we took a photo as we completed each. We had so much fun crossing things off the with the date as we completed them and looking forward to the items still on the list. We completed them all that summer and had the photos to make an awesome photo album of our summer!! Love the podcast and always look forward to my Wednesdays getting to spend time listening to you both!!

    • Tiffany from Phoenix

      B for beach vacation. Haha… you know what I mean!

    • HEHink

      What a great idea! As a teacher, I can see this being a fun end-of-school-year activity to do with a class, too!

  • theshubox

    I preordered the Four Tendencies today! But I got even more excited when you mentioned Outer Order Inner Calm on the podcast. Can’t WAIT for that one!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific!

      Now I just need to work on getting it PUBLISHED. The book is written. That was a fun summer project, wow.

  • Terry

    I have a suggestion for Elizabeth’s closet door problem. Consider using a nice tension rod and shower curtain (or curtain with grommets) to cover the doorway. This is a relatively inexpensive solution.

  • Skass

    After hearing this podcast last year I suggested to my husband that we celebrate Alfresco Fridays. Every Friday night we would find somewhere to eat dinner outdoors at restaurants and parks in and around NYC. We’re looking forward to doing it again this year! Hmm, where should we go this week?

  • Donna

    Gretchen, I am an underbuyer and found it interesting when you mentioned stocking up while in the drugstore to avoid a return visit. I do that too and it gets me in trouble with storage problems and a feeling of too much stuff. I do not enjoy shopping but this trait is counterproductive because I always forgot to buy one thing and have to return anyway.

  • Melaina

    Under-buying almost cost me my relationship.
    After losing my job recently, my loving, selfless fiance stepped up to support me in every way possible- especially financially. We live comfortably together, and he has a smaller income, but it is enough to purchase items we need and want. However, being raised by a frugal mother, I have been accustomed to generic materials and food. Whereas my fiance, who has the mindset of “money doesn’t rule me.” If we need anything: fresh produce, car check-ups, medicine, etc., he buys it without hesitation. He is not an over-buyer, though. He says we shouldn’t “chince” on things that make us happy or make life better. Our entire relationship, I’ve made going shopping miserable by refusing to allow him to buy certain things, or thinking we don’t need it- we can live without sour cream on our tacos. Or, $5.00 is too much for a pack of nice razors. Only to return home and be upset that things don’t work correctly, or feel unsatisfied with the food we have when we are both hungry. My manic under-buying tendencies drove him nuts, and we would often argue in the store. It always came to me opposing spending money on something that my fiance would buy anyways. Without failure, it turned out to be convenient and delightful to have the thing when we needed or wanted it. Then, I would have to tell him, “You were right. Thank you for getting that.”
    It was when I realized how my approach and mindset of money and necessity hindered our happiness, that I changed my attitude, and we changed the way we did things.
    Now, my fiance goes to the store without me, but he makes me create a list of what we need. Somehow, I can make the list, but I still have trouble buying the items on it when I do go in the store with him. At those times, I just walk away before the cashier reads the total. It may sound odd, but that’s the rules we have set for us! We are both a lot happier after finding a solution that works for us.

  • Courtney Hunt

    Here’s my question about the 4 tendencies. I think I’m naturally an Obliger but I’m also a lawyer by background. And I wonder if I’ve developed more questioner tendencies because of that training. Also, Gretchen has said many times that Obligers and Questioners are opposites but it seems that people often identify with both tendencies. How is that possible?

  • Maribeth Anderson

    Elizabeth has an unhealthy attachments to laundry baskets. I know because I do too. But then I started thinking about the concept of “staging” at work. We move inventory from one point to another until it is at it’s permanent home. The laundry basket is a staging area. A temporary platform and not a permanent home. The idea is to move things along to a drawer or a shelf and not let them hang out in the staging area. So really we probably don’t need more than one or two laundry baskets.

  • GreenSF

    I love your podcasts, Gretchen and Liz! This time the part about the “difficult one” really resonated with me. I an an obliger and I have a friend who I feel fits that pretty closely. I have a hard time spending time with her although I am trying to make this work. The easiest time spent is definitely one on one but even then sometimes I feel uncomfortable at times. I think i need to accept her as is but i often feel maybe we just don’t need to hang out anymore. That makes me sad. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  • Another Gretchen

    I could really relate to the listener question about underbuying. I have realized that I am a chronic underbuyer when it comes to buying things for myself. This was especially true when we did lots of traveling – we would return home and I would have a terrible feeling of regret that we termed Non-Buyer’s Remorse that I didn’t buy myself something, and at that point the opportunity was gone! Two things that have helped: thinking about the Non-Buyer’s Remorse that my future self will feel if I do not make a purchase, and a thoughtful husband who will lovingly encourage me to make a purchase when he knows it is something that I really like and sees me hesitating.

  • Gina

    The “difficult person” segment struck a chord with me because I have one in my family (don’t we all?) I thought of an item I’d add to the list: not realizing that you’re the common denominator in a lot of difficult situations. The person in my family has lived in 4 different cities in the past 10 years and been unable to make friends in any of them… and yet somehow doesn’t realize that this is a reflection on *her* and not on the populations of four disparate cities. Yes, it’s a mistake to get hung up on what people think of you, but if you’re unable to get along with *anyone*, across different situations, odds are that you, and not everyone else, is the problem.