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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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?


Podcast 82: Make a To-Do List (or a Could-Do List), Why Your Identity Matters for Your Habits–and Gift Bags.

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: Make a to-do list, or a could-do list.  We talked about the Four Tendencies — whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel — and you want to take the Four Tendencies Quiz, it’s here.

Happiness Hack: Our listener Carolyn suggests that if you constantly run out of a certain item, just buy it whenever you have the chance. I mention the over-buyer and under-buyer distinction; you can read about it here.

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: The powerful, sometimes elusive Strategy of Identity.  I quote from Letters of James Agee to Father Flye, where novelist James Agee wrote, after he’d been told that he really needed to cut back on his drinking and smoking:

I am depressed because whether I am to live a very short time or relatively longer time depends…on whether or not I can learn to be the kind of person I am not and have always detested.

Listener Question: Kelly asks, “How do I handle my trove of gift bags?”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I didn’t check my print job until many, many pages had been printed.


Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to her long-desired breakfast nook.

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, check the schedule. 

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Olive and Cocoa. Surprise someone you love with a meaningful gift today. Go to OliveandCocoa.com/happier to see gift options specifically chosen for our listeners.

Also check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #82

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7 Tips for Clearing Clutter in the Office.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: Outer order contributes to inner calm.  And that’s just as true at the office as it is at home.

True, in the context of a happy life, a messy desk or a box of files on the floor is a trivial problem—yet I’ve found, and other people tell me they feel the same way, that getting control of the stuff of life makes me feel more in control of my life generally. And if this is an illusion, it’s a helpful illusion.                               

When I’m surrounded by a mess, I felt restless and unsettled; when I clean up a mess, I’m always surprised by the disproportionate energy and cheer I gain—plus, I’m able to find my stapler.

Here are some ways to fight clutter at the office:

 1. Never label anything “Miscellaneous.”


2. Abandon a project.

One source of office clutter is stuff related to unfinished projects. You’ve always meant to learn that software program. You were going to switch to using a different kind of planner.  You were going to review that proposal. But that stuff has been sitting in your office for months, maybe years, and it hasn’t been used. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not going to complete that project, abandon it — and get the stuff off your shelves, and off your conscience.

3. Beware of freebies, swag, and give-aways.

Yes, you went to that conference, and they gave you a branded mug, t-shirt, metal water-bottle, journal, pen, and an eraser in the shape of a cow. But if you don’t have a clear plan to use these things, they’re clutter — and the best way to deal with that clutter? Don’t accept those freebies in the first place.

4. Don’t get organized.

When you’re facing a desk swamped in papers,  don’t say to yourself, “I need to get organized.” No! Your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. If you don’t keep it, you don’t have to organize it. You can spend a lot of time filing papers that you don’t even need to keep—and one of the biggest wastes of time is to do a chore well that need not be done at all. (See also #7.)

5. Establish ownership. This is a particular problem at the office.

Often, clutter sticks around because it’s not clear who owns it– those aren’t your files, and no one seems to know why they’ve been in the hallway for two years, but how can you throw them away? If you encounter something that you think is clutter, take the time to ask around and find out if anyone wants it. It’s surprising how often things go unclaimed. Relatedly…

6. Beware the tragedy of the messy commons.

When several people use one area, and no one person is responsible for keeping order, people tend to become messy and careless. Establish some system—for instance, by taking turns, assigning people to oversee specific areas, or enforcing the expectation that people mind their own messes—for making it clear who’s responsible for any disorder. This is related to the painful truths about shared work.

7. Toss unnecessary papers.

Paperwork is one of the toughest forms of clutter to vanquish.  Ask yourself: Have I ever used this paper? Could I easily replace it, if it turns out I need it? Is this information on the internet (e.g., manuals)? What’s my reason for keeping it? Does it become dated quickly (travel materials)? What’s the consequence of not having it if I do need it? Could I scan it, so I can keep it as a reference but get rid of the physical paper?

NOTE: Outer order contributes to inner calm — for most people. But not for everyone.

Some people thrive on disarray; they find it stimulates their ideas and doesn’t slow them down. It’s probably related to being an abundance-lover instead of a simplicity-lover.

Some people are just clutter-blind. They simply don’t see the clutter. It doesn’t affect them for better or worse. They just don’t see it.

Different levels of clutter-acceptance can lead to conflict, because the people who love order tend to try to badger the disorder-tolerant people into cleaning up. I always remind myself, “There’s no right way or wrong way, just the way that works for a particular person.”

As part of my “Design my summer” project ( you can hear me talk about it on the Happier podcast), I wrote a little book called “Outer Order, Inner Calm.” I’m just finishing it up now. It was so fun to write that book! So if you have any great tips about clearing clutter — at the office or at home — I’d love to hear them, to see if there’s anything I’ve overlooked.

What are your great clutter-clearing tips?