Tag Archives: research

Why It Doesn’t Matter Much Whether You’re a Man or a Woman, for Happiness and Good Habits.

When it comes to figuring out happiness and good habits, I don’t think it matters much if you’re a man or a woman.

It’s easy to assume that certain aspects of ourselves matter more than they do. For instance, birth order. People believe that birth order has a big influence on personality — but research has disproved this. Birth order just doesn’t matter for personality.

Now, whether you’re a man or a woman matters in some situations, sure.

But in general, in my observation, for any particular person, individual differences swamp gender differences.

In my own work and research for The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, I came to believe this more and more strongly.

In my experience, women, especially, often assume that they are the way they are because of being a woman. “I’m like this, and I’m like this because I’m a woman, and most women are like this.” But to me, it seems that this points to some aspect of their personality that’s not related to gender.

My first and very strong clue about this came when I was devising the Four Tendencies framework. I’d noticed that many women said to me, “Why is it that busy moms like us can’t take time for ourselves?

And I’d think, well, I consider myself a busy mom, but I don’t have trouble taking care of myself. So why am I different?

Now I know: this feeling of “not being able to take time for myself” isn’t a female thing, it’s an Obliger thing. Obliger men feel this way, too, but they don’t ascribe it to gender.

Because of my strong conclusion that gender matters a lot less than people assume, I was fascinated to read the two pieces: Wired’sNetflix’s Grand, Daring, Maybe Crazy Plan to Conquer the World” and Fortune‘s “Netflix Says Geography, Age, and Gender are ‘Garbage’ for Predicting Taste.”

When Nexflix tries to figure out what will appeal to viewers, it ignores geography, age, and gender: “in general, the variation within any population group is much wider than the collective difference between any two groups.” So whether  a person is a man or a woman isn’t useful information for Netflix, when they’re trying to understand their customers.

The fact is, people often make sweeping generalizations about what “women” and “men” are like — but research suggests that these assumptions aren’t correct. The article “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth,” summed up research done at the University of Rochester:

“From empathy to sexuality to science inclination to extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.”

This wrong belief matters to happiness and habits, I think, because it means that people often misunderstand their own experience, and for that reason, can’t tackle a challenge in the most effective way.

If I think “I can’t take time for myself because I’m a woman,” I may not try to do anything about it. If I think “I can’t take time for myself because I’m an Obliger,” I may decide, “I need accountability to get myself to go to the gym, so I’d better sign up with a trainer/join a running group/take a class.”

More and more, I see that it’s very, very hard to appreciate how other people might see the world in a different way.

People often say things like, “Well, of course, sometimes all of us just need to throw all the rules out the window and just indulge ourselves.” “All teenagers rebel.” “If people would just read the report and understand the facts, they’d follow this program.”  “No one wants someone looking over their shoulder all the time.” “It’s not healthy to be too rigid.” “If something’s important to you, you should be able to do it without any reminders.”

But these generalizations just aren’t universally true. They’re true for some people.

I think it’s much more helpful to say, “What kind of person am I? What’s true about me?” than think “We women struggle with…” or “We men always…” Because when we’re trying to understand ourselves, gender doesn’t provide a very helpful guide.

Agree, disagree?

Podcast 59: Find a Lucky Charm, Distract Yourself for 15 Minutes, Listener Mantras, and Godparent Guilt.

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

Update: Elizabeth is still in New York City, as she works on her pilot. We also talked about the new mini-episodes I’m doing every Monday morning. Two or three minutes to help you start your week “A Little Happier. (As always, it’s a huge help if you rate or review. Not sure how? Scroll down, here.)

Try This at Home: Find your lucky charm. (Sidenote: I was surprised to learn that Elizabeth wears her wedding ring only occasionally. Do you wear your wedding ring all the time?) What’s your lucky charm? I mention CB I Hate Perfume. Beautiful scents! But alas, I don’t think you can buy the Hay accord online.

craftservicesBetter Than Before Habits Strategy: The Strategy of Distraction. Particularly helpful for fighting cravings. As promised, here’s a photo of Elizabeth at craft services. You can’t see the huge amount of food that’s there.

Listener Answers: In episode 57, we talked about the try-this-at-home of “choosing a daily mantra,” and listeners sent in so many great mantras.

 Gretchen’s Demerit: Elizabeth wants to be a better godparent.

 Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Jamie gets a gold star for knowing exactly how to make me less crabby.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #59

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much.

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A Little Happier: Stressed? Try This.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood, and one that never fails me: When I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself.

What are your healthy treats? We should all load ourselves with healthy treats! (Pictured: my idea of a healthy treat. Not for everyone, but works for me.)

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

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How I Do My Research: Is “Despite” Actually “Because?”

People often ask me, “How do you do your research?”

I’m a kind of street scientist. I don’t have a lab full of undergrads eating marshmallows to study; I rely on my own observations.

Really, I feel more like Samuel Johnson or William Hazlitt or George Orwell, in the way that I analyze human nature. I love reading the science, and I think about the science all the time, but in the end, I pay the most attention to what I see around me. And what I read — not just science, but memoirs, biographies, novels.

I tell people this, and they say, “But how do you draw any conclusions?”

I can never think of a good answer. I just read a lot, talk to people a lot, take gigantic amounts of notes, and ponder. I look for patterns. Certain actions or remarks strike my attention, often for reasons that take me months to identify.

But it did occur to me that I’ve hit on one very useful analytic technique, without quite realizing it.

If I’m stumped by something I see, I substitute “because” for “despite,” and see if a proposition makes sense.

For instance, one thing that puzzled me tremendously when I was writing Better Than Before was the number of people who trained for the marathon as a way to get into the habit of running. But over and over, people told me, they’d had a great experience training, they’d successfully run the marathon — and then they’d stop running! This seemed counter-intuitive to me. Wouldn’t hitting a big goal like completing the marathon make people more committed to their habits? These people didn’t make sense.

Then I realized: I’d been thinking, Despite the fact that they successfully ran the marathon, these runners quit running.” What if I thought, “Because of the fact that they successfully ran the marathon, these runners quit running.” Eureka! For the first time, I was able to grasp the great danger posed by finish lines in forming habits. (To read more, check out the chapter on the Strategy of Reward in Better Than Before.)

This technique works surprisingly often.

Despite the fact that Americans are eating less fat than before, obesity levels continue to rise” becomes Because of the fact that Americans are eating less fat than before, obesity levels continue to rise.” This was a huge Lightning Bolt for me! For more on this, read Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat.

A friend told me about taking her father to the doctor, and although the doctor emphasized the importance of following his instructions for taking medicine, and how he’d be monitoring to see if the medicine had been taken, her father wouldn’t take the medicine. “Despite the fact that the doctor ordered him to take the medicine, and checks up on him, her father won’t take the medicine.” Could it be that “Because of the fact that the doctor ordered him to take the medicine, and checks up on him, her father won’t take his medicine.” Yes! Her father is a Rebel.

I’m sure my legal training was helpful here. In law, you always have to make the contrary argument, to push as hard as you can to make the opposite points, to make your case as strong as it can be.

Have you ever discovered that a “Despite” is actually a “Because?” Or do you have other techniques you use to figure things out?

Podcast 32: Why Elizabeth and I Raise the Bar, the Surprising Downside of Teasing–and Please Comment on Four Tendencies.

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

Update: I talk about Barnaby, our new dog! (As promised, here’s a picture of Barnaby with our producer, Henry Molofsky.) And a shout-out to our super-fans in Omaha, Nebraska.

Also, you’ll hear us talk about our new (and we hope improved, though Elizabeth is doubtful) way of referring to previous episodes, so that you can easily find them here on my site. That’s happiercast.com/32 (or the number of whatever episode you’re looking for).

Try This at Home: Raise the bar (yes, you remember that right, in episode 29 we suggested lowering the bar; the opposite of a profound truth is also true). What works for you — lowering or raising the bar, or (more…)