Podcast 331: Give Yourself a Prop to Hold, Ways to Maintain Healthy Habits as Ordinary Routines Resume, and Hack for Little Kids and Chores


I’m creating some products, such as mugs, water bottles, pouches, and t-shirts. If you’d be inclined to buy an item like that, what phrase would you like to see printed on it? I’ll definitely do some mugs for the Four Tendencies. What else would you like to see? Send us an email at podcast@gretchenrubin.com and let us know.

Crying in H Mart (AmazonBookshop), the brilliant memoir by Michelle Zauner, is our next choice for the Happier Podcast Book Club. What are your questions or insights about the book? Share them on social media using #happierpodcastbookclub, and we’ll incorporate them into our interview when Michelle Zauner joins us.

Try This at Home

Give yourself a prop to hold.

In his memoir Brat: An 80s Story (AmazonBookshop), actor Andrew McCarthy writes about getting ready to do a scene for the movie St. Elmo’s Fire. In it, his character is alone and singing along to Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect,” and McCarthy was feeling very self-conscious about filming the scene. He writes:

I needed something.

Now there are two kinds of actors: those who love props and those who hate them….For those who dislike props, interaction of any kind with objects can be awkward and intrusive, while for someone like me they were a lifeline. A cup of coffee, or a watering can, or—the queen of all props back then—a cigarette, could help to ground the work and take the internal focus away from the self and place it on behavior, liberating the performance.

During the course of the shoot, I had been reading about Marlon Brando and learned that he played the bongo drums when he was a young actor. I bought myself a set…as I was walking out to work on the morning the scene was to be filmed, I grabbed them….

Slapping on those bongos, no matter how poorly, liberated me. Suddenly I was flopping around with Aretha—a private moment of freedom and joy my character would never allow others to witness.

In everyday life, we can give ourselves a prop, to help feel grounded.

Here’s the bongo scene from St. Elmo’s Fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T34tr2K-bIc

Happiness Hack

To help give a child a sense of independence and responsibility, clear out the lowest drawer in the kitchen and store their items—dishes, cups, bowls, etc.—where they can reach them for themselves.

Happiness Stumbling Block + Listener Question

A listener asked for suggestions about how to maintain healthy habits once life returns to a post-pandemic routine.

We distinguish between can’t and could habits—some habits simply can’t be followed, and some could be followed, but may be more challenging. You can’t read aloud to your children during lunchtime once your children are back in school and you’re back at work. You could eat a light homemade lunch (as you did during safer-at-home) instead of eating from the chain restaurant across the street from your office, once you’re back at the office.

Some suggestions:

  • do social things that are physical, like hiking together
  • doing if-then planning — “if X happens, then I will do Y.” “If I travel for work and can’t go to my gym, then I will go for a thirty-minute walk before breakfast.” I write about this approach in Better Than Before, my book about habit change, in the chapter on the Strategy of Safeguards
  • Start as you would begin
  • Remember that starting over is harder than starting. I write about this observation in the chapter on the Strategy of First Steps.
  • Watch out for loopholes! Some loopholes that might be particularly tempting in this situation include:
  • Think about your Tendency and what you need! You can take the quick, free quiz here to learn whether you’re an Obliger, Questioner, Upholder, or Rebel
  • Accountability can be very helpful, especially for Obligers
  • Adjust what’s working so you could keep it up
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; if you can’t go to yoga three times each, go once a week on Saturday.

Other thoughts? Please weigh in!

In particular, do you have any favorite examples of loopholes and ways they’ve been invoked? I love studying loopholes.

Gretchen’s Demerit

As the weather gets warmer and my office heats up, I’ve started chewing ice, even though I know it’s very bad for my teeth.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star

Elizabeth gives a gold star to her old friend from Kansas City, Miguel Sancho, for his honest, thought-provoking memoir More Than You Can Handle: a Rare Disease, a Family in Crisis, and the Cutting-Edge Medicine That Cured the Incurable (AmazonBookshop).


  • Subscribe to my free “Moment of Happiness” newsletter. Five days a week, I’ll send you a quotation related to happiness or good habits. It’s designed so you can screenshot and share if you want. Click here to join.
  • If you listen to Happier (or most other podcasts), you hear the hosts ask listeners to rate and review the show. Why? Listeners respect the views of other listeners, so by rating and reviewing—assuming you have good things to say!—you make other people get interested. It’s easy to rate and review—once you know what to do. Click here for step-by-step instructions. It really is a tremendous help to Elizabeth and me.

What we’re reading

  • Elizabeth: Re-reading Crying in H Mart (AmazonBookshop) because Michelle Zauner will be joining us for the Happier Podcast Book Club in July.
  • Gretchen: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (AmazonBookshop)



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