Need an Idea for a Gift for a Mother in Your Life?

Next Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day in the United States and Canada.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a mother in your life, may I self-promotingly suggest one of my (bestselling) books about happiness?

The Happiness Project was a #1 New York Times bestseller, was on the bestseller list for two years, and has been translated into more than thirty languages. In the book, I describe the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. I examined areas like energy, work, play, mindfulness, money, attitude, and eternity.

If you’d like to read an excerpt, to see if you think the book would be a good gift, read here.

Happier at Home was also a New York Times bestseller. I did a second, deeper happiness project — this time focused on being happier at home. Because if I’m not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy.

So, starting in September (the new January), I dedicated a school year — from September through May — to concentrate on the factors that matter for home, such as possessions, marriage, time, parenthood, body, neighborhood.

If you’d like to read an excerpt, read here.

I love all my books equally, but my sister Elizabeth says that Happier at Home is her favorite of all my books.

Or perhaps a mother in your life is interested in changing her habits? Nothing is a bigger source of happiness than good habits! If so, I suggest my latest book, Better Than Before.

If you’d like to read an excerpt, read here.

Or for something completely different, for a mother who likes to color, there’s my coloring book: The Happiness Project Mini Posters: A Coloring Book with 20 Hand-lettered Quotes to Pull Out and Frame.

You could also buy the coloring book in advance and ask your kids to color in a quotation appropriate to the occasion — such as “The days are long, but the years are short” — to give to their mother as their gift. Kids love to give handmade gifts, and mothers sure love to receive them.

I know some people think that days like “Mother’s Day” and “Father’s Day” are artificial and forced, but for myself, I find it helpful to have reminders to think about the important people in my life.

How about you? Do you embrace these holidays — or resist them?

Warning! Don’t Expect to Be Motivated by Motivation.

I really dislike the word “motivation.” I try never to use it.

In writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change, and in talking to people about their desired habits, the term “motivation” came up a lot.

And here’s why I don’t like it: People use the term to describe their desire for a particular outcome (“I’m really motivated to lose weight”) as well as their reasons for actually acting in a certain way (“I go to the gym because I’m motivated to exercise”). Desire and action are mixed up in a very confusing way.

To make it even more confusing, people often say they’re “motivated” to do something when what they mean is, “My doctor and my family tell me that I need to quit smoking, and I know it would be healthier and cheaper to quit smoking, and I wish I would quit smoking, but I have no desire to quit and no intention to try to quit. But am I motivated to quit smoking? Oh, sure.”

People often tell me that they’re highly motivated to achieve a certain aim, but when I press, it turns out that while they passionately wish they could achieve an outcome, they aren’t doing anything about it. So what does it mean to say they’re “motivated?” No idea. That’s why I don’t use the word.

In fact, people aren’t motivated by motivation.

Expert advice often focuses on motivation, by telling people that they just need more motivation to follow through. This may work in a certain way, for certain people (see below), but not for everyone.

The bad result of this advice is that some people spend a lot of time whipping themselves into a frenzy of thinking how much they want a certain outcome, as if desire will drive behavior. And it rarely does.

Instead of thinking about motivation, I argue that we should think about aims, and then concrete, practical, realistic steps to take us closer to our aims.

Instead of thinking, “I want to lose weight so badly,” think instead about the concrete steps to take, “I’ll bring lunch from home,” “I won’t use the vending machine,” “I won’t eat fast food,” “I’ll quit sugar,” “I’ll cook dinner at home at least four nights a week,” “I’ll go to the farmer’s market on Saturdays, to load up on great produce.”

Of course, in Better Than Before, I argue that it’s a lot easier to follow through with such steps consistently if you make them into habits.

The great thing about habits is that you don’t need to feel “motivated!” And that’s important because again, motivation doesn’t actually matter much, if what you mean by that is “How badly do you want this?”

In my forthcoming book, The Four Tendencies, I do talk about how thinking about reasons for action can help some people to act, and how desire does help some people to act — but that’s not the same as motivation.

For Upholders and Questioners, thinking about reasons helps.

For Rebels, thinking about desire helps.

For Obligers, outer accountability is the crucial element. What does this mean? It means that Obligers are the least likely to be helped by thinking about “motivation.” And guess what? They’re the Tendency that talks most about motivation! They keep trying to amp up their motivation, and then they get frustrated because that doesn’t work. Nope. Obligers should focus on systems of outer accountability.

So whenever catch myself saying or writing, “I’m really motivated to do ___,” I stop and think: “What do I want, and why do I want it? And given that, what steps can I take to achieve my aim?”

Because we really can’t expect to be motivated by motivation.

“The Incremental Improvements We Make Become Dramatic and Powerful over Time.”

Interview: Tasha Eurich.

As someone who values self-knowledge, I was intrigued by Tasha Eurich’s new book, Insight, about self-awareness. Her research shows that we are remarkably poor judges of ourselves and how we’re perceived by others, and it’s rare to get candid, objective feedback from colleagues, employees, and even friends and family.

In my own life, I’ve found that responses from others have helped me better to understand myself and how I come across. My daughter Eleanor recently made me see myself in an entirely new light. And through my discussions with Elizabeth on the Happier podcast, I’ve come to understand better how my Upholder ways may sometimes rub people the wrong way. What, I’m being rude when I send that work email over the weekend?

In Insight, Tasha tells stories of people who’ve made dramatic self-awareness gains, and offers secrets, techniques and strategies to help readers do the same — and therefore improve their work performance, career satisfaction, leadership potential, relationships, and more. I was curious to learn about her habits.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?

Tasha: I love this question because my research on self-awareness relates so nicely to your enlightening work on habits. I’ve spent the last three years researching what self-awareness is and how we can improve it to be more successful and confident at work (and at home). Part of that involved studying people who’ve dramatically improved their understanding of who they are and how they’re seen by others. Interestingly, I didn’t find any consistent patterns by gender or by job type or even by age—what they all had in common was a belief in the importance of self-awareness and a daily commitment to it.

In a way, self-awareness was the habit they cultivated. Whether they spent time each evening reflecting on what went well and what didn’t or regularly questioning their assumptions about themselves by getting feedback from people they trusted, or daily mindfulness meditation, each person made it a habit to reflect on their self-knowledge.

What I love about this is that it shows that often there is no big moment or epiphany for most people, rather, it’s something we can chip away at each and every day. Added up, the incremental improvements we make do become dramatic and powerful over time.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Most recently my adopted dog Fred! She’s a five-pound poodle and puppy mill survivor, from the National Milldog Rescue (an incredible organization!!). I’ve taken to bringing her with me to lots of the places I go—to restaurant patios, to friends’ houses, and even on some of my business trips. Whenever I’m taking Fred somewhere, I’ll announce to her that we’re about to go on an adventure, and her ears perk up and she runs towards the door. It’s a small thing but I think any day that I get to practice that habit is a day that we both feel more relaxed, happy, and at peace. We are each other’s emotional support animals!

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

About three years ago, I joined Orange Theory Fitness, a gym that does high-intensity interval training. I’d literally never run a mile in my life—I was the awkward kid who sat out in gym class because of my asthma. I started going once or twice a week, and not only did I find it surprisingly enjoyable, I was actually sad on the days I didn’t go! I joke that I wrote most of my book while running on the treadmill at the gym. I’ve found that there’s no better way for me to get unstuck—intellectually and emotionally—than high impact exercise.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

Based on the quiz, I think I’m an Upholder and I am very goal and rule oriented. But I also care about others’ expectations of me. The day my first book hit the New York Times bestseller list, I literally turned to my husband and said “Well, I guess it’s time to start the next book!” He was horrified and dragged me to a celebratory dinner. I’ve always had pretty unreasonably high expectations for myself and while it’s helped me achieve many of my goals, it wasn’t always healthy. I’ve found myself worried about whether I’m meeting others’ expectations—am I being a good consultant? A good wife? A good friend? A good daughter? Most days, asking these questions is healthy, but I have to make sure that my own needs are not getting lost in the shuffle, which is a little Obliger-y. [From Gretchen: These views are absolutely consistent with Upholderness. Upholders respond both to outer and inner expectations.]

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I’ve always craved novelty in my day-to-day life. It’s so interesting being married to someone who has worked for the same company for 22 years—my husband loves having the same routine every day and finds comfort and excitement in it. For me, though, one of the reasons I was less-than-fulfilled when I worked in the Fortune 500 world was showing up to the same office in the same place with the same people every day.

But that’s also why I love what I do now—I go from being locked in my office or a coffee shop writing one day to getting on a plane and flying to work with a consulting client or do a keynote. No two days are the same, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That said, I don’t think that an ever-changing routine necessarily precludes one from developing habits—for example, if anyone messes with my airport check-in/security routine, I get pretty stressed. These habits just might not be as apparent to outside observers as they are to me!

One of the things I hope people learn from my new book Insight is that self-awareness allows you to acknowledge the things that are important to you—not what you think should be important but what actually is—and design your life (and by extension, your habits) around them. I can have both novelty that I crave and habits that create healthy order.

Podcast 115: Boost Your Energy and a Deep Dive into Loneliness.

Update: We heard from many people on the issues of “textiquette.”

Elizabeth’s new podcast Happier in Hollywood launches on May 18! Also, my book The Four Tendencies is now available for pre-order. (If you’re inclined to buy the book, it’s a big help to me if you pre-order.)

Try This at Home: Boost your energy. As I describe in my book The Happiness Project, when I did my own happiness project, I made January the month of “energy,” because when we have more energy, everything is easier.

Some long-term energy solutions: get enough sleep, get some exercise.

Some quick energy fixes: doing ten jumping jacks, listening to upbeat music (try our Happier 911 list on Spotify), tackle a nagging task, listen to a high-energy podcast, have a mantra.

Happiness Hack: Our listener Elizabeth suggests that during times of romantic heartache, listen to music in foreign languages, so the lyrics of love songs won’t affect your mood.

Deep Dive into Loneliness: We got such a big response to our Very Special Episode 110, about loneliness, that we wanted to go deeper into the subject. People had such thoughtful responses.

Demerit: I give myself a demerit for not staying up late at a bar.

Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to Adam’s aunt, who hosts an annual Easter party.

Two Resources:

  1. Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” Check out Side Hustle School and Radical Candor.
  2. In episode 98, we interviewed Gary Taubes about his book The Case Against Sugar. If you’d like the transcript of a longer interview I did with him, just email me to request it.

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to for 20% off window treatments and free in-home or on-phone design consultations and free professional measuring.

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Also check out Little Passports. Check out “Science Expeditions” — the new educational subscription with a science theme that kids and parents will love. To save 40% on your first month’s subscription, go to, and enter the coupon code HAPPY.


Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #115

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier 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!

Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that.

HAPPIER listening!

Revealed! Books for May: Featuring Coal Miners, Hedgehogs, Foxes, Scarecrows, and Tin Men.

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

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits or human nature

— 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 IndieBound,, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library!

For all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read most of them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

Now, for the three book-club choices. Drumroll…

A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

I love the non-fiction writing of George Orwell. So clear, so insightful, so thought-provoking — and often, so unexpected. This book is an examination of the nature of work, poverty, and self-reflection. That description may make it sound dry, I realize, but it’s not; it’s a masterpiece.

Buy from IndieBound;; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Yes, I agree, the movie is wonderful, but the book is also terrific — and as is always the case, differs from the movie in significant ways. I love all the Oz books, so don’t stop with the first one, but keep going! Other favorites of mine include Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and Glinda of Oz. But I love them all.

Buy from IndieBound;; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin

I don’t understand much of this short book, but I find it very thought-provoking. I’ve read it a few times, and although I can’t follow Berlin’s argument very closely, it always stimulates my own reflections. And I love the reference in the title to the fragment from the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” I drew on Berlin’s discussion of that phrase for my book about habit change, Better Than Before, in which I made many divisions like “Are you a hedgehog or a fox?” “Are you an Abstainer or a Moderator?” “Are you an Abundance-lover or Simplicity-lover?” “Are you a Sprinter or a Marathoner?”

Buy from IndieBound;; Amazon.

If you want to make sure you never miss a month’s selections, sign up here for the book club newsletter.

Remember, if you want to see what I read each week, I post a photo of my pile of completed books on my Facebook Page every Sunday night, #GretchenRubinReads.

Lately I’ve been in the mood for memoirs. Any great ones to recommend? Or books about color, of course.