Agree? “The Best Kind of Laughter Is Laughter Born of a Shared Memory.”

“Playful arguments would become fits of uncontrollable laughter, and, like magic, that experience would be crystallized into a private joke, and the private joke would get boiled down to a simple phrase, which became a souvenir of the entire experience. For years to come, the phrase alone could uncork hours of renewed laughter. And as everyone knows, the best kind of laughter is laughter born of a shared memory.”

–Mindy Kalin, “Some Thoughts on Weddings,” Why Not Me?

How I love the work of Mindy Kaling! Everything she does.

Agree, disagree? There is something special about an inside joke.

Fill in the Blank: “Our Life Is What Our __ Makes It.”

How would you fill in the blank: “Life is what our ____ makes it.”

In his Journal, Jules Renard wrote: “Life is what our character makes it. We fashion it, as a snail does its shell.”

I’d propose “Life is what our habits make it.” As I write about in Better Than Before, my book about habits, habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. About 40% of our existence is shaped by our habits — so if we have habits that work for us, we’re far more likely to be happier, healthier, and more productive.

Other possibilities? Education, relationships, self-knowledge…?

I’ve never read any other writings by Jules Renard, but this journal is extraordinary.

How would you fill in the blank?

Do You Make This Huge Mistake, When Trying to Help Someone (or Yourself) to Change a Habit?

Recently, after I spoke about my personality framework, the Four Tendencies, a woman came up to me and said, “Because of your talk, I’m going to do something different.”

“What?” I asked, curious.

“My daughter plans to take the GRE. She keeps telling me, ‘Mom, I need to take a class.’ And I kept saying, ‘No, if you’re motivated to take the test, you should be able to buy a book and study from that.'”

When I heard that, I wanted to jump up and down and say, “No, no, NO! You’re making the classic mistake! You’re saying the dreaded ‘You should be able to…!’

Fortunately, she continued, “After hearing your talk, I realize that she’s right. If she needs to take a class, she should take a class. She’s an Obliger, and she needs the accountability of a class.

I was very relieved to hear that. I’ve found that one reliable sign that we’re about to make a big mistake, when we’re trying to help someone else (or ourselves) to change a habit, is to say “You should be able to.”

  • “If you want to exercise more, you should be able to get up an hour early and go to the gym before work.”
  • “If you want to eat more healthfully, you should be able to indulge in just half a dish of ice cream each night.”
  • “If you want to stop spending so much time on your phone, you should be able to limit Candy Crush to just twenty minutes a day.”
  • “If you want to get that report written, you should start early and work on it a little each day.”


When we say “You should be able to,” we’re talking about a fantasy person, one who may bear no relationship to the actual person we’re talking to.  And usually we’re talking about what habits would work well for us.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned about habits, is that each of us must change our habits in the way that’s right for us. There is no “should be able to” — it’s just a matter of what works.

“Should be able to” is harmful, too, because it makes people feel bad about themselves — “I should be able to get up early and exercise; I must be lazy” “I should be able to eat half a dish of ice-cream; I must lack self- control.” No! This habit is just being set up in the wrong way.

If someone keeps telling that you “should be able to” do something, but it’s not working for you, try something else! Night people shouldn’t try to do things early in the morning. Abstainers find it easier to have none than to have some. Sprinters find it easier to work for a shorter, intense period than to work over a long period. There are many ways to build better habits and the lives we want.

There’s no right way or wrong way — just what’s right for you.

How about you? Have you found yourself telling someone — or yourself — “You should be able to...?”


Be Selfless, If Only for Selfish Reasons. Be Selfish, If Only for Selfless Reasons.

From Further Secrets of Adulthood: Be selfless, if only for selfish reasons; be selfish, if only for selfless reasons.

This is a variation of my Second Splendid Truth about Happiness:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

I have Eight Splendid Truths, in all. (I was inspired by the numbered lists that pop up throughout Buddhism: the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the eight auspicious symbols, I decided to dub my fundamental happiness principles as my Eight Splendid Truths. ) You can read them all here.

What do you think? Agree, disagree?


Podcast 53: Put the Word “Meditation” Before A Boring Task, Competitive Parenting, and Ideas for Organizing Recipes.

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

Update: The TV show Elizabeth writes for — The Family — starts soon! Be sure to watch: ABC, March 3. Watch the trailer here. I mention one of my favorite children’s books, Father’s Arcane Daughter, now titled My Father’s Daughter, by E. L. Konigsberg, one of the true giants of children’s literature.

Try This at Home: Put the word “meditation” after any activity you’re finding dull. Relatedly, we talk about the value of boredom.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Being a competitive parent. I quote from Anne Lamott’s essay “Forgiveness,” from her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.

Listener Answers: In episode 50, we talked about Fiona’s question about how to organize recipes, and we got so many excellent responses — to that question, as well as some others — we wanted to share them. Many people with great ideas about this subject noted that they’re Questioners — which makes a lot of sense.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth is not keeping up with her night-time skin-care regimen.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to Elizabeth’s diabetes doctor, who told her, “I wish I could get this monkey off your back.” I quote from one of my favorite parenting (and adulting) books, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Such a great book.

Gretchen Rubin - Happier Podcast #53

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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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