This New Yorker Cartoon Expresses a Big Idea in a Very Brief Way.

I’ve often thought that it would be fun to write a book about happiness and habits that would consist of a series of New Yorker cartoons, with my commentary.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Consider, for instance, this cartoon by David Sipress. A guy in an office looks up from his computer to see Death, with his hooded cloak and scythe, walking through the door.

The guy says, “Thank goodness you’re here–I can’t accomplish anything unless I have a deadline.”

This reminded me of a couple of principles of happiness and good habits.

First, we all share that ultimate deadline. The days are long, but the years are short. I often remind myself: don’t wait to find time for something that’s important to me; make time for it now. Because we never know when we’ll run out of time.

Second, for most people, deadlines — and other forms of external accountability — are very helpful. If there’s something we want to accomplish, it’s helpful to put a deadline around it. Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time. Deadlines help.

And for Obligers, this external accountability is key. Crucial. Indispensable! (Not sure if you’re an Obliger — or what an Obliger is? Take this quiz.)

I admire the ability of cartoonists to capture large ideas in a single image and a few lines of text.

Is there a cartoon that you saw where you thought, “Wow, this cartoon says it all”? Or a cartoon that you’ve kept on the fridge or above your desk, for years?

How Are Your Habits Shaped by Your Surroundings?

“There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself…The fact is, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” —Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

One of the items on my Habits Manifesto is “It’s easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.”

Have you found ways to change your surroundings, in a way that helps you keep your good habits? Sometimes it’s as simple as not buying ice cream, or keeping the TV remote control hidden on a high shelf, or making your bed.

This comes up often with Obligers. Obligers often say to me, “I need to build my self-esteem,” “I need to learn to honor my own priorities,” or “I need to make time for myself.” My response is — change your surroundings, not yourself. Add external accountability, and you’ll meet that inner expectation. And adding external accountability is so much easier than trying to change ourselves.

What has worked for you?

Secret of Adulthood: Give Myself Limits to Give Myself Freedom

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

This is one of my Secrets of Adulthood, absolutely, and I used to think it was true for everyone, but now I know that not everyone has the same view about limits and discipline that I do.

I’m an Upholder. And an Abstainer. And an Under-buyer.

For all these reasons, and others, too, it seems right to me that discipline brings freedom. But now I understand that other people may have different perspectives. For instance, Rebels! I should have made the Secret of Adulthood, “Give myself limits to give myself freedom.”

For instance, as I describe in Better Than Before, in the chapter on the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt,” my eating habits are very limited. For me, observing those limits is tremendously freeing and energizing — but that doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same way.

I remind myself, as always to Be Gretchen — and also to remember one of the entries on my Habits Manifesto: We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.

How about you? For you, do limits give you freedom?

While traveling for my  book tour for Better Than Before, I’ve had the chance to to talk to so many interesting people and groups.

If you’re interested, you can…

watch my talk at Google, in conversation with Logan Ury

watch my interview on the BBC about how habits affect happiness

–check out the special page that iTunes created for me, which lists both my podcast and my books. I can’t resist quoting what they say about my work–zoikes!

“We’re major fans of Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project. Rubin’s fascination with human behavior–as well as her sincere believe that we can make our lives more fulfilling and joyous–shines through in her podcasts, blog, and books. Her new book, Better Than Before, looks at how we form and break habits and is packed with her trademark warmth, wit, and down-to-earth intelligence.”

–listen to the Washington Post podcast “On Leadership” or read it here

watch a clip on Big Think

I love getting a chance to talk about habits with readers, but boy it’s nice to be home for a few days. This year, for once, I remembered well in advance to get out the Easter decorations.

“I Formed a ‘Resolution Club’ with Three Friends. We Each Had Different Resolutions.”

Interview: David Lat.

I got to know David Lat through our connection as being combination lawyer/writers. He founded and is the managing editor of Above the Law, a site which covers law firms and the legal profession (in an edgy way).

David recently published his dishy first novel, Supreme Ambitions. It’s the story of a woman who graduates from Yale Law School and wants to clerk on the Supreme Court. As a Yale Law School grad who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, you can see why this intrigued me.

I was curious to hear how David manages his novel-writing habits, work habits, and health habits.

Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

David Lat: Procrastination. I postpone difficult, unpleasant, or challenging tasks until they can’t be postponed any longer. Running a widely read, commercial blog like Above the Law has been good for me because I can’t indulge my procrastination habit; I constantly need to be writing and editing. But procrastination was a major problem when I was trying to write my novel, Supreme Ambitions, which was a much more long-term project.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I managed to pick up a healthy habit (walk at least 15 miles a week) and break an unhealthy one (excessive consumption of desserts and sweets) by forming a “resolution club” with three friends. We each had different resolutions we brought to the group. Every Monday, we’d check in with each other: did we keep our resolutions over the prior week? Those who failed to honor their resolutions had to pay $20 to the other group members — and also had the shame of acknowledging failure. [If you’d like a “starter kit” for launching a group of people who work on their habits together, click here.]

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?  [Readers, to learn more about this framework, or to find your own Tendency, look here.]

I’m definitely an “Obliger.” When I was in school, I would do assignments to meet the expectations of my professors. When I worked as a law clerk and then a lawyer, I would complete projects to meet the expectations of my bosses. Now that I basically work for myself, running Above the Law and doing outside writing, I struggle more with getting things done. When I was working on Supreme Ambitions, I would have a hard time sitting down and producing pages. I didn’t start making real progress until, acknowledging my “Obliger” personality, I told my editor Jon that I would send him some pages every Monday. He didn’t have to read them immediately, but I committed to sending them to him every Monday, which at least kept me writing so I could meet Jon’s expectations.

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

Travel interferes with my healthy habit of going to group fitness classes at my gym. I’ve been traveling a lot over the past few months on book tour. I try to exercise in other ways while on the road, but I do miss my classes. What’s great about classes is that they occur at fixed times, and I make an “appointment” with my friend and workout buddy Jen to go to certain classes, ensuring that I actually go. But when I’m traveling, that’s not possible.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Generally I resist habits. I enjoy spontaneity, novelty, and excitement; I like every day to be different. So I have relatively few habits, since I associate habits with routine, and routine with a lack of freedom. But maybe I’m overlooking the way that good or healthy habits “free us” to be our better selves.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for April.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

· one outstanding book about happiness or habits

· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

· one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD,, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness or habits:

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

Buy from WORD;; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Buy from WORD;; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

Buy from WORD;; Amazon.

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links. I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think?

Lately, I’ve been doing some good reading on airplanes and in hotel rooms, while I’m on tour for Better Than Before. Right now I’m reading Andy Warhol’s POPism: The Warhol Sixties.

Things are going very well for Better Than Before: it was an instant bestseller, has received a lot of great attention in the press, and I’ve been able to talk with many readers as I’ve been on tour. Thanks as always, readers, for your enthusiasm and support.

If you like the book, and you have time chance, it’s a big help to me if you write a review or rate the book on the online bookselling sites. Readers really respect the views of other readers. As a big reader myself, I know that I often see what other readers have to say, before I head off to the library or bookstore or click “buy.”

Happy April, and happy reading.