A Little Happier: A Pediatrician Shows How Well She Understands How Children Think.

We all want to have the right words for important moments of our lives, and I love hearing examples of when people know just what to say.

I also love hearing clever solutions—when people understand human nature well enough that they tailor their instructions to take into account how people behave.

One of my favorite examples happened years ago. My older daughter Eliza was only about six or seven years old, and she had a terrible flu. She was moaning and groaning, and finally, I got really nervous. I thought it was just the flu, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe something was seriously wrong with her. Maybe she had a dangerous condition, like appendicitis.

Fortunately, we have the most wonderful pediatrician in the world. I called her up and explained the situation. And here’s what she said, which I think is so brilliant:

“Ask Eliza if she can jump—wait, no, don’t ask her that. She’ll say she can’t jump. Tell her that the doctor wants to know how high she can jump.”

So I put down the phone, told Eliza that the doctor wanted to know how high she could jump, and moaning away, Eliza jumped up and down a few times, then crawled back into bed.

“Okay, don’t worry,” said the doctor. “If she can jump, it’s not anything too worrisome.”

I was so impressed that she realized that she couldn’t ask if Eliza could jump, but how high.

That showed real insight into human nature. If I think, “Can I do this?” I might decide “No.” But if I think, “How well can I do this?” I encourage myself to give it a try.




Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.