Gretchen Rubin

Are you looking for a way to eliminate problems and annoyances?

One of my Twelve Commandments (see left column) is “Identify the problem.” I’ve realized that often I’ll put up with a minor problem or an irritation for years, simply because I haven’t taken a minute to consider the nature of the problem and how it might be solved.

This rule seems so obvious that I'm surprised that it has proved so tremendously helpful. Nevertheless, it has.

Here’s an embarrassing example. I was always slightly annoyed by my need to run around the apartment getting this or that—a screwdriver, a pair of scissors, some Advil. Finally, light dawned, and I realized that as an expression of my love of clearing clutter, I was an over-consolidator.

What’s an over-consolidator?

I’d consolidated all the tools in the toolbox, all the scissors in the office-supply drawer, all the medicine in the medicine cabinet. Not a good idea. Some items SHOULD be spread around.

I put a screwdriver, a pair of scissors, and a bottle of Advil in the kitchen. I scattered scissors throughout the apartment. Etc. How did I not figure this out earlier?

Here’s a solution to a trickier problem. I’d been feeling weighed down by all the adorable drawings the Big Girl brought home from school. I loved them, but I didn’t know what to do with them. They were everywhere.

Finally, I said to myself, “Take a minute. Identify the problem. What am I going to do with these drawings?” and I came up with a great plan.

I chose the twenty best drawings. The Big Girl and I sat at the computer, and she dictated an explanation of what was going on in the pictures (not always quite obvious). I printed out the captions, glued them on the drawings, took the drawings to Kinkos to be color-xeroxed and bound. Then I threw away the originals (an important clutter-clearing step).

The whole process took weeks, and the color-xeroxing was surprisingly expensive, but it was worth it; now the drawings are preserved forever, and I gave copies for the grandparents and great-grandparents, who loved the gift.

So whenever I feel fretful, I instruct myself, “Identify the problem.”
Therese Borchard has a blog on beliefnet, Beyond Blue, where she writes about “the daily spiritual journey of life with depression and anxiety.” We come at the subject of happiness from different angles, but obviously, we’re both deeply interested in the question of how we and other people can be happier. Therese was nice enough to run an interview with me.

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