A Little Happier: My Inconvenience May Be Someone Else’s Miracle.

When we’d just graduated from college and were working at our first “real” jobs, a friend told me how her local subway train ran express all the way downtown, so she got to a crucial meeting on time. For many people, that change in service was highly annoying — but for her, it was a personal miracle!

I remember that when things go wrong: My inconvenience may be someone else’s miracle.

Listen to this mini podcase episode by clicking PLAY below.

Check out Yogi Tea. When it comes to enjoying life, little moments — like drinking a delicious cup of tea — can make a big difference.

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E. M. Forster Explains How To Know If a Book Is Influencing You.

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have got ourselves. I suggest, furthermore, that when you feel that you could almost have written the book yourself—that’s the moment when it’s influencing you. You are not influenced when you say, ‘How marvelous! What a revelation! How monumental! Oh!’ You are being extended. You are being influenced when you say ‘I might have written that myself if I hadn’t be so busy.'”

– E. M. Forster, “A Book That Influenced Me,” from Two Cheers for Democracy

Does this ring true for you?

I have to say, I think that people sometimes get that feeling from my books, especially The Happiness Project. People often say to me,  “Wow, I could’ve written a book like yours myself.” And I always think, “Terrific, you should!”

One of my favorite happiness-project resolutions is to “Imitate a spiritual master,” and I feel influenced (I hope) every time I read Story of a Soul, the memoir of my spiritual master, St. Therese of Lisieux. She’s a great saint and a Doctor of the Church and I’m me, of course, but still, when I read St. Therese, I think, “That’s exactly right, I’ve thought the same thing myself, I’ve struggled with that impulse, too. ”

What books have influenced you — or extended you?

A Happy Memory: the “Stripey House” of Kansas City.

Gosh, I don’t remember much of my life. I constantly work on keeping mementos and photographs, because it seems like other people are so much better at remembering the past than I am. And I love to remember the past.

And it’s funny what I remember — the weirdest, most random moments and thoughts.

Some memories stick in my mind from sheer repetition, and for some reason, while I was walking home from the subway today, I was hit by the memory of the beloved “Stripey House.”

In Kansas City, there’s a mall called Ward Parkway where we often use to go, and on the way home, we’d pass the “Stripey House.” We didn’t know anything about it — who lived there, why they’d decided to paint their house in pastel stripes like a pack of FruitStripe Gum.

And we loved it — my sister Elizabeth and I always looked for it, and called out “Stripey House!” as we passed by.

Remembering that funny house brought back happy memories, of all those car trips to the mall with my sister and mother (not my father; my father avoids the mall whenever possible).

I was just back at Ward Parkway at Christmastime, but alas, the Stripey House is not longer stripey.

When I was very young, I vowed that when I grew up, I would paint my house purple. Living in an apartment building has excused me from that vow so far — but one day, I hope that I’ll keep it — or maybe I’ll take it up a notch, and go for stripes.

Especially now that I’m obsessed with color, I’m enchanted by the idea of painting a house a really striking shade(s).

Do you have a funny memory like that, from childhood? Something that you always looked for, with delight?

“I Really Dislike Traveling for Work…How Easily Travel Destroys What Makes Me Happy.”

Interview: Russ Laraway.

I’m thrilled that the Radical Candor podcast is one of the terrific new podcasts launching on The Onward Project, the family of podcasts about your life, made better brought to you by me (!). The Radical Candor podcast is about being a better boss, a better colleague, a better team member. Something that many of us aim for.

Russ has tackled many work environments: Company Commander in the Marines; launching his own company; Google; Twitter; and co-founder of Candor.

I was very intrigued to hear what Russ had to say about habits, happiness, health, productivity, and all the rest.

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

Russ: I have two.  First, I am committed to not allowing my career to interfere with being a good dad.  The easiest way to make this real is to prioritize my family, which means getting home at a normal hour to spend time with them.  I am maniacally disciplined about getting out of the office on time.  If there’s something happening that requires a late night, I’m there, but I’ve found that to be such a rare case.  This means dealing with and managing perceptions about “how hard you work.” I actually work very hard, but I reject that being present in an office for 12 hours a day is a good manifestation of that.  BUT so many people lazily ascribe your work ethic to your time in the office, that I end up battling perception.

Second, I work out nearly every day.  I carefully put my workout time to coincide with my normal afternoon energy lull.  Working out is a great way to relieve stress, but also a great renewal practice.  I often feel like a new guy and can fire my brain back up in the evening and be more productive than if I never worked out.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

When you’re 18, or young in your career, you don’t really understand what prioritizing means or more precisely, you don’t really know how to do it.  You think that “Work Life Balance” is impossible or for lazy people.  My happiness is a direct function of my ability to prioritize what really matters: my health, my family, my work, the Philadelphia Eagles in that order.  At 18 you say the word prioritize, but you rarely mean it because you’re not comfortable setting your own boundaries or saying ‘no’ to people.  It’s not easy.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

This will not sound realistic, but no. I have carefully developed routines and habits that help me manifest happiness, keep a positive mental state.

Now, not a habit, but I do occasionally fall asleep on the couch.  I wake up a bunch and won’t go to my bed because I don’t want to disturb my wife.

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

My daily workout at HomeGrown CrossFit. My wife and middle son are both also members, so we can integrate “family” and “health” habits – for example, we can connect on and discuss the “WOD” or workout of the day.  Sometimes we even do it together, as partners, which is awesome.  But also, the classes happen at specific times, which force me to step away from everything else, and then just go be in that moment.  CrossFit also has a certain intensity about it that makes it impossible for your mind to be anywhere else while you’re working out.  My gym is close to my home, so I can get home immediately after I work out and spend time with my family.  It all works together.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

See my lightening bolt below answer below.  After a long slow decline in my physical health after the Marines, I needed to develop habits around being physically healthy.

I’ve done that.

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

I am a Questioner. For example, I am sitting here questioning if this is really a MECE [mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive] list of tendencies and in what context are they MECE if at all?  I am probably not the most aggressive flavor of questioner…. But WOW do I hate arbitrary practices, doing things because conventional wisdom says to, doing things because it’s how others do them, or because someone think that’s how it “should” be done. (I immediately think “should? by what standard?”) I’m actually getting a shot of adrenaline as I type this, getting irritated by conventional wisdom.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

Not so much.  In truth, I lead a very simple life centered around the things I care most about.  The only times I get out of synch are when I’m allowing my carefully developed boundaries to get trampled because I feel like I’m being a “more reasonable” person to others.  An example, someone creates an urgent meeting at just the time I need to leave to go to my CrossFit class.  Most often, I can challenge whether this is truly an emergency (it rarely is), I can arrange to call in, etc., but sometimes, a person just really wants me there, possibly legitimately needs me there.  I will allow my boundary to be trampled, and it rarely (if ever), in hindsight, seemed worth it.

I really dislike traveling for work.  I do it, of course, but I try to minimize it, but you can see how easily travel destroys what makes me happy – I am usually away from family, and there is a ton of friction involved to exercising (I am a CrossFitter!) in other places – hotel gyms are mostly terrible.  I hate running, etc.  Over time, I’ve dialed in the exercise thing – you can drop in on any CrossFit gym anywhere in the world – and I do that, but still taxis, lack of familiarity with my surroundings, not having easy access to healthy food… it’s tough and takes a lot of effort.  There’s not a great solve for family when I’m traveling.   I don’t find Skype or Google Hangout calls to be particularly useful/meaningful/suitable substitutions for being fully present with my family at home. We actually don’t do them.  My wife and I catch up a little bit – she gives me small updates on the day, and I love that, but no good substitute to being around my boys.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

After getting out of the Marines, I allowed myself to get on a slow unhealthy decline over the course of 7-10 years.  When I moved to California, I got a horrible case of poison oak.  New to the area, I went for the first time to my new doctor knowing I needed a steroid shot, and she said, “Sure, sure, a steroid… but I want to talk about your blood pressure.”  I was surprised.  She said, “It’s 140/104, which is very high.  Are you doing anything about that?”  She inquired about medication and I gave her a bunch of crap about how I didn’t like medicine and would solve it with some running, etc. I waved my hand, dismissing her concerns.

She paused, looked at me, and said, “OK, let me tell you about the trade-off you’re making.  You ‘don’t want to make medicine’ (she used highly sarcastic tone of voice and air quotes which I can still see vividly in my mind’s eye 10 years later), and that means you’re almost certainly going to have a stroke before you’re 40.”  Yeah.

I got on medicine, but set a goal to be healthy enough to be off of it.  Built a fitness habit out of that.  [This is such a Questioner story that I’m laughing out loud.]

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

EMBRACE.  Routine and habit are critical to my positive mental state.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

No, unfortunately, these have been developed through trial and error over years.

Podcast 99: Take Personality Quizzes, Consider Your Email Habits, and Book Club Conflicts.

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

We’re having so much fun with our Instagram project. Every day, for the month of January, Elizabeth and I are posting a photo on Instagram of something that makes us happier (giving us a boost, helping us stick to good habits, reminding us to feel grateful, etc.).  Join in! Use the hashtag #Happier2017 and tag us — I’m @gretchenrubin and Elizabeth is @lizcraft.

Try This at Home: Katie suggested taking personality quizzes to get to know yourself better. We agree!

In episode 80, we talked about the “Five Love Languages” and why we found them so helpful. As a reminder, the Five Languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation — the love language for both Elizabeth and me
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch


We discuss the fascinating book by Daniel Nettle, Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are. In it, you can take the Newcastle Personality Assessor that measures the “Big Five.” You can take the test here.

  • Openness to experience:  The degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has.
  • Conscientiousness: A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
  • Extraversion: Energy, positive emotions, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
  • Agreeableness: A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others; a measure of a trusting and helpful nature; whether a person is generally well-tempered or not.
  • Neuroticism: The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control.


The Enneagram divides people into nine categories. You can take a paid test here or a free one here.

  1. The Reformer
  2. The Helper
  3. The Achiever
  4. The Individualist
  5. The Investigator
  6. The Loyalist
  7. The Enthusiast
  8. The Challenger
  9. The Peacemaker

If you want to take more personality quizzes, there’s a wide range on the Authentic Happiness website.

Here, I wrote a post about ten books of personality quizzes that I’ve found interesting.

As always, to take the Four Tendencies quiz, go here. Understanding whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel is very useful. If you want to be notified when my book, The Four Tendencies comes out, sign up here. I describe my framework as my version of a Muggle Sorting Hat.

We didn’t get a chance to talk about Myers-Briggs! Which is a very popular personality framework.

Happiness Hack: This may be controversial: my hack is to include only one issue per email, with a clear subject line. While some people try to send fewer emails, by fitting more issues into a single email, I (for one) find this confusing and difficult to manage.

Do you agree? Disagree?

If you want to read about the research I mention, about the benefits of using “search” instead of sorting emails into folders: “Stop organizing your email into folders: searching your email is way faster (study).”

Listener Question: Melanie and Rachel ask questions about book club behavior.

Speaking of children’s literature, here’s my list of my 81 favorite works of children’s and young-adult literature.

A lot of people read The Happiness Project in book groups of various kinds; if you’d like a discussion guide, look here.

Demerit: Elizabeth continues to struggle with her eye ailment, blepharitis.

Gold Star: I give a gold star to Eliza for getting me to do a better job of washing my face.

Bonus Gold Star: Elizabeth’s young-adult romance Flower just hit the shelves. She and Shea Olsen have written a novel that combines love, temptation, secrets, ambition, celebrity, college applications…delicious.

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.

Remember,  I’m doing 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

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #99

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