Gretchen Rubin

My Father’s Advice for Being Happier and Forming Habits

My Father’s Advice for Being Happier and Forming Habits

Here in the United States, Father’s Day is coming up on Sunday, June 17.

I’m a big fan for using dates as milestones, as prompts for self-reflection or for action. People say Father’s and Mother’s Days are Hallmark-driven, consumerist holidays—but I think it’s nice to be reminded to think about my father, and to remember everything he’s done for me.

Ditto with Valentine’s Day, January 1, spring cleaning. I find it very useful to be prompted to take a moment to celebrate the people I love, and to take stock of how my life could be made better.

As I was thinking about my father, I reflected on all the good advice he’s given me over the years—both for helping me to be happier at home and at work, and helping me to develop good habits, especially the habit of exercise (which doesn’t come naturally to me at all).

Some highlights:

  1. "If you’re willing to take the blame when you deserve it, people will give you the responsibility." This advice from my father is the best advice for the workplace I’ve ever received. I think about this all the time.
  2. "As a parent, at some point, you have to switch from being an advisor to cheerleader." (If you want to hear me talk about this advice, you can listen to this short episode of "A Little Happier.")
  3. "Alas, there are no wizards." My father reminded me that it can be tempting to believe that if I could just find the right helper, the right adviser, the right person to do a job, all my problems would magically be solved, and I wouldn’t have to be worried or involved with a project any more. But while there are smart and capable people, if something’s important to me, I have to stay involved. I can’t just delegate to some wizard.
  4. "Energy." My father always stresses the value of energy. In large part because of this, the first chapter of my book The Happiness Project is devoted to energy. (Here are nine tips for giving yourself an energy boost in the next ten minutes.)
  5. "Enjoy the process." My father always emphasizes that if we can enjoy the process, we’re less concerned about outcomes, and we’re less devastated if our efforts end in failure or frustration. That's a big help in the world. It also makes for a much happier, more mindful life.
  6. "All you have to do is put on your running shoes and let the front door shut behind you." Back in high school, when I was first trying to get myself in the habit of daily exercise, he gave me this advice. It’s an excellent mantra for all couch potatoes trying to pick up an exercise habit. Just put on your shoes and step outside! It’s one of my Secrets of Adulthood: It’s enough to begin.
  7. "Go to the library." When I was growing up, my father—and my mother, too—often suggested making a visit to the library. This family habit meant that I always had plenty of books to read, of whatever kinds of books I wanted at the time. Many of my happiest and most vivid childhood memories involve the Kansas City Plaza library. But more than giving me good advice to visit the library, my father also set a good example by reading books all the time, himself. Example is more persuasive than precept.

Speaking of books, if a father in your life might enjoy a book for Father’s Day, might I suggest my short, unconventional biography, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill? Judging from the emails I receive in the weeks following Father’s Day each year, I’ve concluded that many people give it as a Father’s Day gift.

Or if a father in your life is working on an important habit, consider my book Better Than Before, which explains the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits. It turns out that it’s not that hard to break a habit, when you do it in the way that’s right for you.

Fun fact: in book publishing, Father’s Day is a major event, because so many people give books as Father’s Day gifts.

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