An Interesting Accountability Solution from a Fantasy Novel: the Booth of Promises.

I love fantasy fiction, and I recently discovered the work of Sharon Shinn. I’ve been reading my way through all her novels.

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of her novel Unquiet Land, which is the new addition to her Elemental Blessings novels.

These days, everything reminds me of my Four Tendencies framework, and Unquiet Land was no exception. (Don’t know about the Four Tendencies? Find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel here.)

One key aspect of the Four Tendencies is understanding the role that accountability can play. For Obligers, outer accountability is crucial; for other Tendencies, it may not be needed, and for some people, may even be counter-productive.

But because Obliger is the largest Tendency, accountability is a very important strategy. And Unquiet Land features a great accountability solution.

In the country of Welce, people can go to the Plaza of Men to visit the booth of promises. “Here patrons could swear, before witnesses and for all eternity, that they would accomplish specific tasks, and their vows were recorded in books kept by the booth owner and his family.” The promissor can choose whether to make a public recording that anyone can ask to read, or a private one that’s not released until he or she gives permission or dies.

In beautiful script, the promise is written in a record book and on a heavy sheet of paper. Both copies are signed and can be sealed, and one copy is given to the promissor.

An interesting method of holding yourself to a promise! Using the strategies that I outline in Better Than Before, a person commits in writing (Strategy of Clarity), decides whether that promise is more powerful when public or private (Strategy of Distinctions), and is creating accountability (Strategy of Accountability). Plus, the promise is made as part of a formal, elaborate ritual, which gives it extra strength (Strategy of First Steps).

I wish we had something like a booth of promises — but of course, we probably do. I’m sure there’s an app that does the same thing!

If you want to read the first book in the Elemental Blessings set, get Troubled Waters. So good.

Do you think that you’d be better able to stick to a good habit if you made a promise in a booth of promises?

Podcast 83: Are You A Hedgehog or a Fox? and Read 3 Unfamiliar Magazines

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

Update: If you live near Seattle, please come to our live event! We’ll be recording an episode of the podcast live on stage at Seattle’s Town Hall on October 13, 7:30. Tickets are $25. More info and buy tickets here. Please come, bring your friends.

In episode 76, we talked about manifestos, and if you’re coming to the Seattle event, we’d love to highlight a few manifestos from listeners. So send us your manifesto for work, life, parenting, marriage, exercise, clutter-clearing — whatever! And maybe we’ll talk about it with you on stage.

Try This at Home: Read three magazines that you don’t usually read. I tried this creativity exercise as part of writing my book The Happiness Project.

Happiness Hack: Doug suggests using the reminders app in your smart-phone to remind yourself to any tasks you need to complete.

Know Yourself Better: Are you a hedgehog or a fox? We refer to the enigmatic line from Archilocus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” According to the understanding of that line that Elizabeth and I share, we’re both hedgehogs.

Listener Question: Daniel asks “I’m now working freelance, and I struggle to create habits, because my schedule changes all the time. How can I built my habits?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: She and Adam neglected to get their son Jack back into an earlier sleep schedule before school started.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: The musical Hamilton! Such a fresh, beautiful way to think about American history.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #83

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A Little Happier: Justice O’Connor’s Three-Word Secret to Happiness.

I started my career in law, and back then, I clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court — certainly one of the highlights of my working life.

When I was writing my book The Happiness Project, I asked her, “What do you think is the secret of a happy life?” I was surprised by her answer, but as I thought about it, I’ve understood more and more what a good answer it is.

Do you agree that “Work worth doing” is a key to a happy life? What do you think that means, exactly? I suspect that Justice O’Connor takes a very broad view of what counts as “work” that’s worth doing.

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Happier listening!

Do You Have a Place Where No One Will Find You and Disturb You?

“There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men….

“Once you have found such a place, be content with it, and do not be disturbed if a good reason take you out of it. Love it, and return to it as soon as you can, and do not be too quick to change it for another.”

— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

I imagine that for many people, finding a place like this would be very tough. I don’t have a place like this, myself.

Do you have such a place? Do you wish you did?


Research shows that September Really IS the Other January.

I’ve written many times about how for me, September is the other January — a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to use new pencils, fresh notebooks, and begin again.

In fact, in my book Happier at Home, I did a happiness project that stretched from September to May, to take advantage of September’s clean slate.

So I was fascinated to read a piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, “Now Is the Real New Year” by Anne Marie Chaker.

Some interesting points about why people make resolutions in September:

  • with the start of school, families get back into routines, and that helps people get organized and set goals
  • January is a tough time for resolutions, because of post-holiday exhaustion
  • summer efforts can get derailed because of vacation
  • September is one of the biggest months for enrolling in weight-loss programs, going to the gym, and cooking at home
  • people often change their hair style in September
  • people often take steps to change careers in September, and work on household budgets
  • September is now bigger than June as a time to get married; it’s second only to October


How about you? Do you feel like September is a time for a fresh start?