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.

Podcast 71: Choose a Signature Color, and Ask “Am I an Alchemist or a Leopard?” Plus FOMO.

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

Update: We’ve heard from people about how they’re designing their summer. Great ideas.

Try This at Home: Choose a signature color. This is a big commitment! I’m not sure I can make the jump, but I’m intrigued. What’s your color? How did you choose it?

I mention the Time article, “How Your iPhone Photos Make You Happier. ” And I also mention Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

Below is the photo from my friend with her collection of things in her signature color.
Signature Color

 Know Yourself Better: Are you an alchemist or a leopard? My first Personal Commandment is to “Be Gretchen.”

Listener Question: Bethany asks about FOMO — “fear of missing out.”

If you want to take the Four Tendencies quiz, it’s here.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth screamed at Adam when he didn’t like any of the fabric choices for their new banquette.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give myself a gold star for managing to stay calm and enjoy Eliza’s prom experience. If you want to listen to Eliza’s view of her junior prom, you can listen to her podcast, Eliza Starting at 16.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, tune in Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Headspace. Experience the benefits of meditation in your busy life. Download the Headspace app for free, and begin their Take 10 program for ten days of guided meditation. Go to Headspace.com/happier.

Also check out Stitch Fix — clothing and accessories hand-selected by a personal stylist, especially for you, and delivered right to your door.  Sign up at Stitchfix.com.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #71

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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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Featured image by Emily Orpin.

Struggling with Tasks That You Don’t Want To Do? Try These 7 Tips.

How many times each day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you’re like me – several times.

For instance, I’ve been refining my Four Tendencies Quiz. Almost 500,000 people have taken the quiz — which is extraordinary — and I’ve made adjustments to it, along the way, to make it better.

Analyzing the Quiz results takes a very different kind of brain work from the kind that I usually do — and it’s not the kind of brain work I like to do. And so I put off that work, and put it off, and put it off. And then when I finally do the work, I get through it quickly and am so relieved to have it done. So why procrastinate?

If you face a similar struggles, try these strategies:

1. Put yourself in jail.

If you’re working on something that’s going to take a long time, and you have the urge to try to rush, or to feel impatient, pretend you’re in jail. If you’re in jail, you have all the time in the world. You have no reason to hurry, no reason to cut corners or to try to do too many things at once. You can slow down, concentrate. You can take the time to get every single detail right.

2. Ask for help.

This is one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood (see left column). Why is this so hard? I have no idea. But whenever I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much it…helps.

3. Remember: most decisions don’t require extensive research.

This is another important Secret of Adulthood. I often get paralyzed by my inability to make a decision, but by reminding myself that often, one choice just isn’t that much different from another choice, I can move on.

4. Take a baby step.

If you feel yourself dismayed at the prospect of the chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and before long, you’ll probably find yourself speeding toward completion.

5. Do it first.

The night before, vow to yourself to do the dreaded task. And the next day, at the first possible moment – as soon as you walk into work, or when the office opens, or whenever – just do it. Don’t allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. This is particularly true of exercise. If you think you’ll be tempted to skip, try to work out in the morning.

6. Protect yourself from interruption.

How often have you finally steeled yourself to start some difficult project, only to be interrupted the minute you get going? This makes a hard task much harder. Carve out some time to work.

7. Ask yourself: Do you need to make a change?

Pay attention to the amount of time you spend working on tasks you dislike. No one enjoys invasive medical tests or preparing tax returns, but if you feel like your life consists of nothing but going from one dreaded chore to the next, you should take note. Maybe you need to think about switching jobs, or delegating a particular chore to someone else, or paying someone to take care of a task that’s making you miserable.

Speaking of the Four Tendencies, as an Upholder, I’m very good at making myself do things I don’t want to do, and while this is an enormous help in many situations, it has also allowed me to go down some dead ends in my career. The fact is, you’re unlikely to be happy or successful when every aspect of your life or job feels like a big drag. Don’t accuse yourself of being lazy or being a procrastinator, but ask – what’s making this so difficult? The fact that you’re finding it hard to make yourself do something is a sign that maybe you should be doing something else.

On the upside: novelty and challenge, as uncomfortable as they can be, do bring happiness. The chore that feels onerous today may give you a huge boost of satisfaction tomorrow, when it’s behind you. Keep that in mind.

What are some other strategies that you’ve found useful in trying to get yourself to jump some hurdle?

A Little Happier: Bill Clinton and Rob Lowe’s Son Give a Lesson in Happiness.

I don’t often read celebrity memoirs, but my sister Elizabeth and others told me that actor Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends was terrific, so I decided to read it myself.

They’re right — it’s a great book. This episode, in particular, really stuck in my mind. Rob Lowe recounts:

On my last visit to the Clinton White House, I’m standing on the South Lawn with [my wife] Sheryl and the boys talking to the president before he hops onto Marine One. My youngest son, Johnowen, is holding his stuffed frog, Gwee Gwee, which he never lets out of his sight, under any circumstances. It has been his security blanket since he was an infant. But now, he takes it out of his mouth and hands his old, tattered from to the president.

“Well, look at this!” says the president. “Is this for me?” he asks.

Johnowen nods shyly. “For you,” he says in a small voice.

Sheryl and I look at each other in shock.

“Wow, Johnowen!” exclaims Matthew.

“Well, thank you, young man. I bet you didn’t know, but I collect frogs. Have since I was a boy like you….I’ll keep him nice and safe. You can come visit him at the Clinton Library someday.”

How about you? Have you ever been in a situation where you realized that the generous thing to do was to take?

I must admit I’m a little obsessed with this theme. I collect examples. It’s a paradox that fascinates me.

Thanks to my terrific sponsor: Squarespace. Start building your website and get your free trial today.  Go to Squarespace.com, and enter the offer code “happier” to get 10% off your first purchase.

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Have You Ever Read Anything That Made You Think, “I Must Change My Life”?

A friend showed me the poem “The Archaic Torso of Apollo” on her phone, and told me, “I read this, and I know I want to change my life.”

I read it, too. That last line! It swept me off my feet.

Have you ever read anything that made you think, “I must change my life”?

Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke

We cannot know his legendary head

with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso

is still suffused with brilliance from inside,

like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

 

gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs

to that dark center where procreation flared.

 

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

 

would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

That final line! Rarely have I read a single line that was so powerful in its context.