Yes, It Really Does Make a Difference.

You know those unpleasant marital tasks that one of you has to do – and the question is, who’s going to do it? Yesterday, my husband and I had one of those chores, and he had agreed to do it. Then at the last minute, he backed out, because he had a work conflict – a legitimate conflict, but one he would’ve known about, if he’d been paying attention.

I was very annoyed.

But instead of following his usual instincts, my husband deployed some of the strategies that get recommended for such situations. He said, “I really screwed up here.” He said, “I know it would be a huge pain for you to have to deal with this now.” He said, “What would happen if we just bailed? Can we do it another time? Can I show up late?” After some discussion, I said I’d do it, and later he sent me an email that said, “Thank you, honey.”

And you know what? It really did help.

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I talked to Kimberly Palmer at U.S. News & World Report about 5 Ways to Be Happy in a Recession. Interesting topic!

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Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Five Tips for Getting a Little Kid to Take “No” for an Answer.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 5 tips for getting a little kid to take “no” for an answer.

My three-year-old hates being told “No” and “Don’t,” and she’s also one of those kids who immediately does exactly what you ask her not to do, so I’ve had to develop some strategies to get the “No” message across without unleashing the very behavior I want to stop.

I realized that although she doesn’t want to hear “no,” my daughter responds very well to certain kinds of explanations. While “It’s not healthy,” “We don’t have time,” and “I don’t want to buy that” don’t work very well, other justifications for saying “no” are more effective:

1. “It’s for safety.” For some reason, my daughter wisely accepts safety as an absolute directive, so I invoke it whenever possible. For example, I characterized the “no slamming doors” rule as a safety rule, not a noise/behavior rule. “When people slam doors, eventually, people get their fingers smashed. So for safety, no slamming doors.”

2. “That’s just for decoration.” We can walk into a store crammed with treats or gimcracks, and when she asks if she can get something, I just say sadly, “They’re just for decoration, they’re not for sale.” She never questions this!

3. “The doctor says…” Invoking the authority of a doctor, dentist, teacher, or grandparent often makes a message acceptable. “The Yellow Room teachers say children must wear mittens to schools, not gloves.” “I know you don’t feel like brushing your teeth, but Dr. Smith says it’s very important to brush every night.” I’m not above pretending to send an email to get a particular answer.

4. “I know you know.” My daughter hates being told “Don’t,” and she loves to show that she’s a big girl. So I often say things like, “I know you know this, but other children don’t know that you shouldn’t tap on the glass of a fish tank. They don’t know that the noise bothers the fish. Fortunately for the fish, you already know that.”

5. “The sign says…” Like most children who can’t yet read, my daughter is extremely impressed by the power of the written word. She will obey any sign. And because she can’t read, a sign can say anything that I want it to say.

Looking at the list, I’m struck by how devious and manipulative I sound. Oh well, I’m using my powers for good.

Have you found any good strategies for getting a little kid to take “No” for an answer?

*I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click here. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line.

What is a true test of a person’s character?

Yesterday, as I was reading Bob Sutton’s work manifesto, I was struck by his #9: “The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.” I love this way of thinking about character, and that statement got me thinking: what else is a test of a person’s true nature? Well, what a person finds funny is a good test. I asked a bunch of friends for their ideas.

–“How a person treats a waiter.”
–“Whether a person plays by the rules when no one is watching.”
–“How people behave when they’re pulled over while driving.”
–“How a person treats his or her own parents. And in-laws.”
–“My father told me never to trust a man who doesn’t drink – though he did say there are a few medical exceptions.” (Maybe I’m off the hook here as a woman, but I basically had to give up drinking, so I’d fail this test.)
–“How often they use the bcc function in work emails. I don’t think you should ever use the bcc.”
–“Whether a person eats a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party.” (As an unconventional eater myself, I’d fail this test; I wouldn’t eat that birthday cake.)
–“How he or she handles good fortune.”
–“How he or she behaves during a long, arduous trip.”
–“It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.” –John Henry Newman.

I get a tremendous kick out of collecting these kinds of observations. If you have one to add, please post it.

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Journalist Carlin Flora at Psychology Today wrote a big piece on happiness, Happiness Makeovers, and she was kind enough to include a profile of me.

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Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Check Out My Happiness Manifesto — Brand New.

For a long time, I’ve been meaning to write a Happiness Manifesto – a short statement that sums up what I think are the most important principles about happiness.

I love other manifestos I’ve seen. One of my favorites is Bob Sutton’s “Fifteen Things I Believe,” on his fantastic Work Matters blog:

1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!
2. Indifference is as important as passion.
3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.
4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
5. Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
6. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
7. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
8. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
9. The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.
10. The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
11. The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
12. The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
13. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
14. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
15. Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity.

Another interesting variation on a manifesto is on Madame X’s My Open Wallet. On this blog, where an anonymous New Yorker “tells the world how much she saves, earns, and spends,” she lists “My Rules” in the right-hand column. Here are the first four of her nineteen rules:

Rule 1. Credit card use
-Use a credit card for every expense you can possibly charge.
-Use a card that gives you frequent flyer miles or some other benefit that you’ll actually take advantage of.
-Only charge as much as you can pay off in full every month– don’t carry a balance.

Rule 2. Online access
-Use online access for all your banking, investment and credit card accounts

Rule 3. Found money
-If you find money on the street, don’t be ashamed to pick it up!

Rule 4. Shopping
-Don’t!

Another intriguing manifesto is the Manifesto of Style over at Carrie and Danielle. (Danielle is now blogging at White Hot Truth.)

1. Communicate who you are in all you do.
2. Style is multidimensional.
3. Style matters.
4. Authenticity is energizing, economical, and efficient.
5. Accentuate the positive.
6. People are like snowflakes—uniquely beautiful because of the details.
7. Pay attention to what attracts you.
8. Working from the outside in can create deep transformation.
9. Feel free to change.
10. True style is not dependent on wealth, and wealth does not necessarily create taste.
11. Cheap is expensive in the long run.
12. Use your best every day.
13. Choose from your heart, and your life will fill up with things you love.
14. Beauty transforms.
15. It’s always a good time to be yourself.
16. Only love is free—everything else costs.
17. Creativity + restraint = beauty.
18.Contrast makes things interesting.
19. Living is sensual.
20. Make more choices—moment to moment, day to day.

One reason I love manifestos is that it’s fun to decide where I disagree (for example, in the Style Manifesto, I disagree with #1!) or where I see an idea of my own, expressed differently (this manifesto’s #12 is related to my own Seventh Commandment, Spend Out, and its #7 is related to one of my Secrets of Adulthood, “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on my own manifesto. I don’t think I have it quite right, but it’s getting there. What important ideas have I left out? Could anything be phrased more felicitously? I welcome any suggestions. Also, I’d love to read other manifestos. Please post links to any good ones.

Here is my Happiness Manifesto:

• To be happy, you need to consider feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, and an atmosphere of growth.
• 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.
• The days are long, but the years are short.
• You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
• Your body matters.
• Happiness is other people.
• Think about yourself so you can forget yourself.
• “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” — G. K. Chesterton
• What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you, and vice versa.
• Best is good, better is best.
• Outer order contributes to inner calm.
• Happiness comes not from having more, not from having less, but from wanting what you have.
• You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.
• You manage what you measure.
• “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” — Robert Louis Stevenson


*Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Authenticity: Happiness Quotation from William James.

“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me,’ and when you have found that attitude, follow it.”
— William James

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.