Why It’s a Bad Idea to “Interview for Pain.”

One of my favorite parenting books is Michael Thompson and Catherine O’Neill’s Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understand the Social Lives of Children.

Like most good parenting books, the advice turns out to be just as useful when dealing with adults as it is when dealing with children. (I think about Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s brilliant How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk more often in the context of adult than of child interactions.)

As I was reading Best Friends, Worst Enemies, I was particularly struck by Thompson’s warning against “interviewing for pain.”

He describes a situation where your child complains about another child’s behavior, and then every day, when your child returns from school, you ask, “So, honey, was Pat mean to you today?”

Thompson points out that children are quick to realize that bad stories about Pat will be a good way to get your attention, and that they may seek to satisfy you, and present the facts in the most attention-grabbing way. Also, Thompson writes,

“I believe that we live the story we tell ourselves–and others–about the life we’re leading…If you constantly interview your child for pain, your child may begin to hear a story of social suffering emerge from her own mouth. Soon she will begin to believe it and will see herself as a victim….

“Please understand that I am not advising you to disbelieve our children, nor am I saying that you should not be empathic…But…don’t interview for pain, don’t nurture resentments, and don’t hold on to ancient history. Kids don’t.”

And although Thompson doesn’t make this point, it also seems to me that by asking this question, we focus a child’s attention on that part of the day. Instead of thinking about the happy interactions that took place, the child tries to remember painful interactions.

Not “interviewing for pain” seems to me to be excellent advice for dealing with children–and also adults.

For instance, I can imagine a well-meaning friend or spouse or family member asking at every meeting, “So is your ex-wife still as awful as ever?” or “Is your boss still so difficult to work with?”

Now I remind myself not to interview for pain. Yes, stay open to a discussion, if someone close to me wants to talk about something painful. Not to be dismissive, not to be eager to avoid the subject — but also not to shine such a spotlight on a difficult situation that everything good fades out.

Have you ever interviewed for pain — or perceived that someone was interviewing you for pain?

“It Seemed to Put One Part of Him to Sleep and Wake Another Part Up.”

“Setting the gently sloshing tank on the dresser, Ellsworth sprinkled in some food and spent a few minutes watching the little fish dart up and away from the surface, over and over again. Like always, it did something to him, that movement, something he could never quite figure out. It seemed to put one part of him to sleep and wake another part up, the part that sent ideas bubbling up and out.”

— Janet S. Anderson, The Last Treasure

A few months ago, my younger daughter got a betta fish. I’ve never had a fish before, and I’ve been surprised by how gratifying it is to see Esther swimming around in her tank. That bit of life.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for May 2015.

Before I get to the fun of recommending some good books to read for May, here’s a quick bit of book-self-promotion: Mother’s Day is coming up on May 10. If you’re looking for a good gift for a mother in your life, may I suggest…you guessed it…Better Than Before.

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, BN.com, 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:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

In a Mirror by Mary Stolz

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

Buy from WORD; BN.com; 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. I just finished Jane Gardam’s The Hollow Land.

Speaking of my own book…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 the time and the inclination, 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 May, and happy reading! So many good books…

Need a Good Gift for Mother’s Day? Guess What I’ll Suggest.

Next Sunday, May 10, 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 suggest my new (bestselling) book, Better Than Before?

I’ve heard from a lot of people who are giving the book as a gift. I offer free, signed bookplates, to make books more special, but because I’m traveling on my book tour, I’m not sure I could get those back to you in time for Mother’s Day. But I’ll try, or if you’re willing to wait a few extra days, you can request bookplates here, and I’ll get them to you as quickly as possible. (U.S. and Canada only, sorry–mailing costs.)

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

If you’re considering giving the audio-book, listen to a clip here.

I love all my books equally, but a surprising number of people have told me that of all my books, Better Than Before is their favorite.

I know some people think that days like “Mother’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.

Podcast #10: Special Episode! Live from Elizabeth’s Cluttered Closet.

My sister Elizabeth Craft and I are having a great time doing our new podcast,  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Elizabethclosetbefore1Today’s episode is completely different from our usual format. Because I was in Los Angeles for my book tour for Better Than Before,  we were in the same place (which we usually aren’t). And Elizabeth had the brilliant idea that we should record ourselves as we observed one of our familiar sisterly rituals: whenever I visit Elizabeth, we clean out her closet.Elizabethclosetbefore2

So this episode comes straight to you from the depths of Elizabeth’s closet. Which happens to be a walk-in closet in Encinco, California.

I’ve always loved before-and-after photos, and here are some from her closet.

Among other things, we discuss why, trivial as it may be, cleaning out a closet is likely to make you happier; why you should designate a recipient for your give-aways, before you start clearing; why you should actively ponder your stuff; why it’s helpful to store something in an exact place; why you shouldn’t get organized — plus there’s  a shoe-sorting montage. elizabethclosetafter1

We had a great time doing this — though I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it more than Elizabeth did. Note that we both wore Kansas City shirts, in honor of this occasion.elizabethclosetafter2

We’re thrilled–we’ve hit more than 600,000 downloads, in just eight episodes! Thanks for listening! And we’ve heard from so many listeners — which we love. (By the way: if you like the podcast, we’re sheepishly asking people to rate and/or review it, if time and inclination permit; that’s very helpful for a new podcast like ours.)

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors! Like Smith and Noble. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and a free in-home consultation.

And to Travel Zoo. Head to www.travelzoo.com to sign up for a free membership–or download the highly rated Travel Zoo app.

Want to get in touch? Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Phone: 774-277-9336 (774 HAPPY 336). Click here for the Facebook Page — post your own “before and after” closet photos, we’d love to see them. Or comment right here.

And we would love to hear from you — about whether you were inspired to clear a closet– and if so, if it made you happier — your questions, and any other comments.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click here to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what you can usually 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).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from aforementioned problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest” (well, we plan to — we haven’t had a guest yet), consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really. Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336. Or just add your comment to this post.

Again, be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!