Talk Takeaway: Self-Improvement with Gretchen Rubin

Posted on Feb 5, 2013 | 10:45am

In today's Talk Takeaway, author of "Happier at Home," Gretchen Rubin was here to show us how to achieve perfect happiness despite our busy day-to-day lives.


Plan and strategize to be happy.
Studies show that some people are temperamentally more cheerful than others.  About 30 to 50 percent of happiness is genetically determined; about 10 to 20 percent reflects on life circumstances (such as age, gender, health, income); and the rest is very much influenced by the way we think and act.  As life goes wheeling along, I find it too easy to take my everyday happiness for granted, and to forget what really matters.  I recognized to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition.

Define who you are
The search for happiness means to know who you really are.  Are you the type of person who says "Now" or "Wait." "Get organized" or "Don't get organized." "Keep an empty shelf" or "Keep a junk drawer." I feel there are two types of people in the world, the abstainer or the moderator.  Abstainers aren't tempted by things they've decided are off-limits.  Moderators do better when they act with moderation, because they feel trapped and rebellious at the thought of "never" getting or doing something.  We have to understand that there's no one right way; different approaches work for different people.  

A friend once said to me, "Life is too short to miss the chance to eat a brownie."  Spoken like a true moderator.  I said, "No, for me, life is too shorty to let something like a brownie weigh my mind.  It makes me happier NOT to eat it." She replied,  "I don't think that attitude is healthy." I said with a laugh, "Very likely but it works for me.  She might disapprove, but I knew myself and what makes me happy.

Make a happiness resolutions chart.
This chart forces you to frame your resolutions as concrete actions, more easily scored than vague resolutions.  Also, this chart gives a sense of personal control which is an important element to happiness.  For instance, my happiness resolutions chart consists of many things. I added "Interior Design" (the inward-reflection of yourself, rather than in a magazine).  Another thing I added was "Body."  I knew that my physical experience influenced my emotional experience.  The place of my home in the world was important, so I added "Neighborhood."  Create a happiness resolutions chart and write down all the things that make you happy.

Stay engaged with your possessions.
Cultivating possessions isn't a simple matter of organization, elimination, or accumulation; it's a matter of engagement. When you feel engaged by your possessions, you will feel enlivened by them, and when you are disengaged by them, you will feel burdened by them.

Engagement comes in two forms.  First is the engagement that comes with use. When I often use a possession – wore the purple coat, packed up the duffel bag, consulted the laminated subway map – I felt engaged with that object. On the other hand, neglected possessions made me feel guilty and overwhelmed.  If you have uncomfortable shoes you never wear or board games you never play – get rid of them! Second form of engagement is response. Perhaps there is something that pleases you each time you see it such as a book your child made or an item that reminds you of your mother.

Your goal should be to rid your home of things that don't matter, to make more room for things that do.

Create personal commandments.
I worked for months to come up with my own twelve personal commandments - the twelve overarching principals that I use to guide my thoughts and behavior. I reflect on them every day, and check in to see if I'm living up to them, or failing to live up to them.  My commandments include: Be Gretchen. Let it go. Act the way I want to feel. Do it now, etc.  These commandments will help you be a better you and a visual guide for your happiness.

Beware of happiness leeches
Happiness has a surprisingly mixed reputation. There's an assumption that happy people strike others as annoying and shallow, but in fact, they tend to attract others. Happy people are more likely to be energetic, sociable, enthusiastic, and optimistic, in contrast to the unhappy who are often apathetic, more likely to complain, and sap others' energy – these people are called happiness leeches.  Not only do happiness leeches behave badly themselves, but they also spread their bad behavior.