Tag Archives: fun

Do You Pull April Fool’s Day Pranks? I Pranked My Daughters–But Not for Long.

In The Happiness Project, I write about one of my favorite resolutions — to celebrate minor holidays — and Elizabeth and I have also talked about this a few times on the Happier podcast. I’ve been gratified to hear that many people also have fun celebrating these little, colorful-yet-not-much-work occasions. (I love it when people send me photos.)

Today is April Fool’s Day, and I played a trick on my daughters (my husband is traveling for work). It’s a Saturday, and they’ve been on spring break, so I went into their rooms at the time when I wake them up on school days, and went through the whole morning routine as if it were Monday morning.

For a few minutes, I managed to fool them in their grogginess, but pretty quickly they realized what I was up to.

Reflecting on my last few years of April Fool’s Day pranks, I’ve learned something about myself: I do better with a sight gag, like the time I dyed the milk in the carton bright green, and then poured it over my daughter’s cereal (see image), than I do when I’m misleading them. I’m a terrible liar and can’t fool them for long.

I love these kind of easy, fun traditions. They build happiness because they mark the passage of time in a special way, they’re memorable, they’re light-hearted, they contribute to a sense of group identity.

Do you play April Fool’s Day pranks? What are some good ones? I’m already collecting ideas for next year.

What Healthy Treats Do You Give Yourself? (Note the “Healthy.”)

In my book Better Than Before, I describe the many strategies that we can use to change our habits. We all have our favorite strategies — but I think most of us would agree that the Strategy of Treats is the most fun strategy.

“Treats” may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not. Because forming good habits can be draining, treats can play an important role.

When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command—and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.

Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video, gained in self-control. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.

When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful.  We start to feel deprived — and feeling deprived is a very bad frame of mind for good habits.

When we feel deprived, we feel entitled to put ourselves back in balance. We say, “I’ve earned this,” “I need this,” “I deserve this” and feel entitled to break our good habits.

So we need treats.

But it’s crucial to give ourselves healthy treats, because unhealthy treats are often bad for us. We don’t want to give ourselves something to feel better that just makes us ending up feeling worse. Like a costly splurge, an extra glass of wine, a big brownie.

All of us should have a long list of potential healthy treats. That way, when we think, “I need a treat,” we have ideas.

For something to be a treat, we have to think of it as a treat; we make something a treat by calling it a “treat.” When we notice our pleasure, and relish it, the experience becomes much more of a treat. Even something as humble as herbal tea or a box of freshly sharpened pencils can qualify as a treat.

For instance, once I realized how much I love beautiful smells, a whole new world of treats opened up to me. If I need a treat, I visit my “collection of smells” in my apartment or I stop by a perfume counter.

At the same time, it’s important not to call something a “treat” if it’s not really a treat. It may be good for you, and it may even feel good, but it’s not a treat if you don’t look forward to it with pleasure. So a yoga class could be a treat for someone, but it’s not a treat for me. I do it, and I’m glad I do it, but I don’t think, “Oh, yay, time for yoga!”

Sometimes, treats don’t look like treats. For example, to my surprise, many people consider ironing a “treat.”

Here are some other treats I’ve heard about:

  • crossword puzzles
  • looking at art books
  • shopping at a very expensive store (no possibility of buying, so just enjoy looking)
  • translating Latin
  • breaking codes
  • manicure (I never get manicures and dread them; the opposite of a treat for me)
  • visiting camping stores
  • online shopping (I heard from many people who enjoy online shopping with no plan to buy–they have fun filling their cart, then abandon it)
  • choosing plants and seed for the garden
  • video games and phone games
  • getting a massage
  • taking a bath, especially if with special bath salts
  • buying yourself flowers
  • visiting a special place (a park, sculpture, or museum)


If you want to hear me and Elizabeth talk about why you should treat yourself, listen to this episode of the Happier podcast.

And if you want to hear Donna and Tom of Parks and Recreation talk about their annual Treat Yo’ Self day, watch the hilarious clip here.

What healthy treats are on your list?

“I Try to Make a Regular Custom of Listening to Music for 20-30 Minutes Without Any Other Distractions.”

Interview: Steven Johnson.

Steven Johnson has written many fascinating books, such as How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World. (which is also a PBS series). I absolutely love the title (and argument) of his book Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.

His most recent book just hit the shelves: Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, for which there’s also a podcast. Wonderland is all about how playful aspects of life — like fashion, shopping, music, illusion, games, taverns, parks — have had a big impact on our history.

I was eager to hear what Steven Johnson had to say about habits and happiness.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Steven: I think the most interesting finding is really closely connected to what you’ve tried to wrestle with in The Happiness Project — that we are surprisingly creative and innovative when we’re having fun, when we’re in a playful state. There are probably a hundred different stories in Wonderland that showcase how an idea that came into the world originally in the form of a toy or a game or a new fashion ended up laying the groundwork for a “serious” revolution in science or technology or politics. The best example of that is the industrial revolution. When we were kids, we’d read accounts of why industrialization happened, and it would always be about these brilliant engineers and early capitalists building steam engines and designing the factory system. But if you go back and look at the sequence, what really started the whole process was the moment of delight that Londoners experienced (mostly women) encountering the soft, beautiful fabrics of calico and chintz for the first time. That obsession with imported cotton ended up triggering a huge backlash because it threatened the existing wool industry in Britain at the time, but eventually it lead to the inventions of the industrial age. You see that again and again in history: interests and passions that start out just as seemingly idle pursuits end up changing the course of history.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Working on a book every day. Or even better, working on two books every day. I like to have one active book that I’m focused on writing, and then another one that’s in the background, that I know I am going to write eventually, that I’m researching and thinking about in the gaps between working on the main project. I try to write 500 words a day when I’m actively writing a book, which is really not very many words — it’s like three paragraphs. You can write them in an hour or two if you’re well prepared. So I rarely have that feeling of sitting down at the computer in the morning and thinking, oh my god, I have so much writing to do. But I’m pretty rigorous about hitting that target. And if you write 500 words a day for 4-5 months, you’ll have a book. Or at least enough words for a book.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

One of my rituals that is very important to me — that I have preserved from my teenage years — is that I try to make a regular custom of sitting and listening to music for twenty or thirty minutes without any other distractions. Not background music as I work, music that I am listening to without any distraction, no screens, no other people in the room with me. The only distraction, I suppose, is that I usually have a glass or two of wine while I do it. It is very soothing as an experience, even if the music is not, but it’s also a very creative time for me: my mind wanders over different ideas, digests the day’s work. I sometimes get a comparable experience going out for a long walk in Brooklyn, or a hike in California — sometimes with headphones on, sometimes without a soundtrack. Just giving yourself that continuous time to let your mind wander, with some kind of sensory accompaniment — either the scenery or the sonic landscape, or both — is incredibly valuable, I think.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

My wife and I have a wonderful shared quality in that we both are entirely happy to stay home every single night of the week. We have no compulsion to be social and always have something on the calendar. When we are out in California we often have stretches of 10-15 days with literally zero social events on the calendar — no dinner parties, no drinks, no lunches. And it’s always a terrifically productive time for us. When we are in NY the calendar fills up a lot more easily, but I’ve gotten very good at just saying no to things because I know that if I have a week with a ton of meetings and evening events, I’m not going to be happy. And it has a nice positive effect when we actually do go out: we’re both like, “oh it’s so fun to hang out with friends! we should do this more often!”

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I was always a very habitual person, with very fixed tastes and attitudes about things — though not a particularly organized person, I should say. I would drink a certain kind of coffee, and only eat certain dishes, and could only write in certain environments. For like fifteen years, the only kind of alcohol I would drink was low-sugar red wines. But one of the strange things that happened to me becoming a middle-aged person (I’m 48) is that I started shaking things up. I’m still very habitual; I just keep changing my habits. We moved to California full-time for three years about six years ago for no other reason than it would be change of pace. I started drinking white wine almost exclusively like two years ago. I suddenly decided I like spicy food about six years ago. It’s a good antidote to getting old, I suppose: don’t let yourself get settled in your ways. Invent new ways!

A Little Happier: Important Lesson from Dr. Seuss–It’s Fun to Have Fun, But You Have to Know How.

The Cat in the Hat said it, and it’s a truth that I feel more deeply with every year that passes: It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how — and that may take some serious reflection.

Research shows that the absence of “feeling bad” doesn’t mean that we “feel good.” We must actually strive to find sources of “feeling good.” Having fun on a regular basis is a pillar of happiness.

As you ask yourself, “How can I have more fun?” keep two things in mind:

1. Be honest about what’s actually fun for you. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. Wine-tasting, skiing, baking bread, reading mysteries—I personally do not enjoy any of these “fun” activities. They’re fun for some people; not for me. Don’t try to be self-improving, and don’t plan a “fun” event based on what other people would enjoy. Make time for something that’s fun for YOU.

2. Do have real fun. I often feel so overwhelmed by tasks that I think, “The most fun would be to cross some items off my to-do list. I’d feel so much better if I could get something accomplished.” In fact, though, I just make myself feel trapped and drained. If I take time to do something that’s truly fun for me (re-read All the King’s Men for the fourth time, call my sister), I feel better able to tackle that to-do list.

In case Dr. Seuss hasn’t convinced you, I’ll also invoke Samuel Butler:

“One can bring no greater reproach against a man than to say that he does not set sufficient value upon pleasure, and there is no greater sign of a fool than the thinking that he can tell at once and easily what it is that pleases him. To know this is not easy, and how to extend our knowledge of it is the highest and most neglected of all arts and branches of education.”

An example from my own life: I always knew that I found it fun to read children’s and young-adult literature, but I never paid much attention to that passion; when I made this activity a major pastime, by acknowledging what I found fun and starting three kidlit reading groups, instead of pushing it to the corners of my life, I dramatically ramped up the fun I got from it. (Read about these groups in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.)

How about you? Have you ever had trouble finding fun, or making time for fun? It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.

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


Happier listening!

I Make a Good Happiness Choice, and a Bad Happiness Choice.

One of the advantages of being a writer is that I have a lot of control over my time. However, I often don’t take advantage of that. I feel uncomfortable if I’m not being “productive” when I feel like I should be working — and most of the time, I feel like I should be working.

But the other morning, I made a good happiness choice. I was going to the Panoply studio in Brooklyn to record an episode of my podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and somehow I got it in my head that I needed to leave my apartment at 8:15. Only when I arrived at my subway stop did I realize I should’ve left at 9:15.

So what to do with that hour? First, I considered using that time for work. I saw a nice outdoor cafe, but then I thought — no, I’ll choose to wander.  I want to explore, and spend this lovely June morning getting to know a new part of New York City.

So I did. I walked around Brooklyn Heights, I saw the waterfront, I went to the bank, I got some exercise (I haven’t had much exercise in the last few weeks), I got to understand the geography of the city better — I had a very happy hour. And I had plenty of time to work, later. In The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I write about why these various elements give a happiness boost.

Today, I made a different choice. I met a friend for lunch, and her office was right near a perfume shop that I’ve been meaning to visit for months. I’d planned to go to the store after lunch, but when I got out on the street, I thought, “I just took a long break for lunch. I need to get back to my desk.” And here I am, back at my desk — and I wish I’d visited the perfume shop! I love perfume, it was only a few blocks away from my friend’s office, but it’s quite far from my apartment, so I’m unlikely to be down there again soon. I wish I’d taken the time to enjoy that neighborhood, enjoy some beautiful scents — and delayed my desk time by an hour.

We talk a lot about the problem of procrastinating work in order to goof off. But sometimes, we procrastinate goofing off in order to work. Do you ever have this problem?

Obviously, it’s not a good idea to leisure over work all the time. But sometimes, it’s the right choice.

I should’ve put “Visit perfume store” in my calendar. Upholder that I am, I bet that would’ve helped me to go.