Gretchen Rubin

A Little Happier: A Lesson from Waitressing: It’s Not About You.


A friend and I were swapping stories about different jobs we’d had when we were younger, and she told me a story about the first summer she spent as a waitress.

Several times, she had tables of people who seemed really nice, with whom she had a great rapport, for whom she went the extra mile, and she’d think, “Wow, I’m going to get a great tip!”

And she wouldn’t.

Other times, she had tables of people who seemed indifferent, demanding, or grouchy, and she’d think, “Wow, they’re going to stiff me.”

And they’d leave a generous tip.

She mentioned this observation to her manager. He said, “You’re only surprised because you’ve just started waitressing. You’ll see, almost always, people tip whatever they usually tip. They don’t tip more or less based on you and what you do.”

To me, this story seems to contain two lessons.

First, although I feel like the center of the action, often I’m not. People aren’t adjusting everything they do based on me. I need to remember that in many cases, I’m not responsible for the reactions that I think I’m provoking.

Second, habit is powerful. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” A generous person makes a habit of generosity; the service for that particular meal at that particular restaurant doesn’t matter that much. So I need to watch the habits I build.

It’s easy to think that when people’s actions affect us, they’re aimed at us. But often, they just aren’t.

Quote From the Podcast

We are what we repeatedly do.

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