How Do You Feel About Gifts? A List of Questions.

Today is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day: A list of questions about gifts.

People often ask, “What’s the key to happiness?”

I think that question can be answered in a few different ways, depending on the framework used to approach the question.

For instance, one answer is: self-knowledge. As the Fifth Splendid Truth holds, we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, our own values.

Another answer — and maybe the best answer — is relationships. To be happy, we need strong bonds to other people; we need to get support and give support; we need to be able to confide; we need to feel like we belong.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of gifts in our relationships.

Consider these questions — and post your answers, if you’re so inclined! I’d love to hear them.

What’s the most successful gift you’ve ever given? I’ve given two outstanding gifts: I bought my husband a TiVO device when that technology was fairly new, and I bought my sister a treadmill desk, as pictured (you can read about that gift exchange in Better Than Before, or listen to us talking about it here).

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

Do you like to be surprised by a gift, or to get something you’ve asked for?

Do you like getting gifts—or is it not very important to you?

Are you good at choosing gifts for other people? Some people have a real gift for gift-giving.

Do you feel sad or angry if you don’t get gift at a traditional time (birthday, holiday, Mother/Father’s day, anniversary)? Be honest!  I know someone who clearly cares a great deal about getting gifts, but rather than admit she’s hurt when she doesn’t get a gift, she tells people, “Gift-giving is a stupid custom.” So guess what. No one feels obligated to give her many gifts.

If someone gives you a gift, do you feel that you must use it? Read the book, eat the chocolate, use the tote-bag. Or even if you don’t use it, do you feel that you must keep it, even if the gift-giver doesn’t know what you’ve done with it?

A gift can be an object you possess, or it can be an experience (like concert tickets), but giving or receiving of a gift is an experience, in itself. (If you want to hear Elizabeth and me discuss the benefits of “buying an experience,” listen to this episode of the podcast.)

Gift-giving can be complicated. We can feel bad about not knowing what to give, or not wanting what we’ve been given, or not getting anything at all…but exchanging gifts can also be a tremendous source of happiness.

I recently gave a plastic crown of flowers to a friend. I saw it in a store, and thought, “Boy, I know just who to give those to!” It was so fun to buy it, and so fun to give it.

How about you? How do you feel about gifts?

Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread–Know the Feeling?

For a while, I’d been feeling very…depleted. I kept feeling as though I needed to catch my breath.

As I was trying to describe how I felt, to myself, I was reminded of something Bilbo said to Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. It perfectly describes how I’d been feeling. Bilbo said:

I feel I need a holiday, a very long holiday, as I have told you before…Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”

So I decided to take a few weeks and try to re-charge my battery –which I do mostly through heavy reading. That really, really works for me. Now, once again, I feel like there’s enough butter on the bread.

What do you do, when you need to restore yourself?

Video: “The Label Says This Snack is Healthy,” and Other Questionable Assumptions.

In my new (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

Well, what is a “loophole?” When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ll describe them, one by one.

Fifth of ten loopholes: The Questionable Assumption Loophole. A very popular loophole! Consciously or unconsciously, we make assumptions that influence our habits—and often, not for the better. They often become less convincing under close scrutiny.

 

Dramatically changing my eating habits has allowed me to hit my goal weight, so now I can return to eating normally.

If I wait until I’m more in the mood to do it, I’ll do a better job.

It’s ridiculous to pay for a gym/a trainer/a home treadmill/a personal organizer/a financial advisor to help me with this behavior, when I could do it perfectly well for free on my own. (Especially if you’re an Obliger, forming those external systems of accountability are key.)

People who follow strict rules will inevitably fall off the wagon.

This will help me sleep.

If I indulge massively now, I’ll feel so disgusted with myself that it will be easy to be good.

Unless I can sweat for an hour, it’s not worth exercising.

 I’ll just have a few bites. (A reasonable assumption for Moderators but not Abstainers.)

 

How about you? What are some questionable assumptions you’ve made?

Note: Do you get the joke of the image?

Podcast 22: Creativity! Listen to Rosanne Cash, Save Your String, Fight Drift, and a Lesson from the Writers’ Room.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

This week, we have a theme! Creativity.

Update: Elizabeth and I, and our families, were recently in Kansas City together, to celebrate our mother’s birthday. We shot a quick little video to say hi to listeners. Check it out here.

Try This at Home: Save string — which is a phrase from journalism that means, find ways to save your little bits of ideas. To read more about choreographer Twyla Tharp’s process, look in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Woody Allen discusses his method saving string in this Wall Street Journal interview.

PodcastNotebookElizabethHere’s a photo of Elizabeth’s podcast notebook (string not pictured).

Do you “save string?” What do you save, and how do you save it? Fabric scraps, art supplies, recipes, quotations, ideas for a garden, ideas for April Fool’s Day pranks…let us know.

Interview: Our guest is my friend, the brilliant singer, song-writer, and author, Rosanne Cash. She’s a Grammy-winning singer and composer who has recorded 15 albums and won countless awards.

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As we discuss, she wrote a terrific memoir, Composed, which I read years before I met her, and loved. Elizabeth also loved it.

Her latest album, The River & The Thread, a collaboration with her husband, producer, and co-writer John Leventhal, won three Grammy awards.

It was so much fun to talk to her! I was just sorry that Elizabeth was in L.A. and couldn’t join us in person.

The song Rosanne talks about in the interview is When the Master Calls the Roll.

Now you’re probably dying to see Rosanne perform in person. In September, you can see her in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Info here. Or if, like me, you’re in the New York City area, you can see her at Carnegie Hall. Info here.

Gretchen’s Demerit: Here’s the link to the video of the 5×15 talk I gave ondrift and a post I wrote about drift. I’ve saved the string–but I haven’t turned it into anything (yet).

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to Jenna Bans, the creator of The Family, the TV show that Elizabeth writes for.  (Trailer for the show here.) Jenna Bans gets a gold star for building a great creative atmosphere in the writers’ room.

Elizabeth and I have a favor to ask. We’re part of the Panoply network, and Panoply has created a listener survey. If you could take a few minutes to take the survey, it will really help us — and Panoply — learn more about our listeners. Thanks!

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors. Want to avoid post-office pain, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Also, thanks to Casper, the online retailer of premium mattresses.  Pay a fraction of what you’d pay in the store, get free delivery, and returns within a 100 day period.  Get $50 off a mattress purchase by visiting Casper.com/happier, promo code HAPPIER.

We’d love to hear from you: have you saved string— and if so, did it make you happier? Like Rosanne Cash, have you figured out ways to help you quiet the critics in your head?

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

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What’s Your Idea of Luxury?

In her memoir Plant Dreaming Deep, May Sarton describes her move into a new house — how she renovated it, planted the garden, met her neighbors.

I wish I’d known about this book when I was writing Happier at Home — so many of the same ideas emerged. I’m planning to read her Journal of a Solitude next.

At one point, she remarks, “If someone asked me what my idea of luxury is, I think my answer would be: flowers in the house all year round.”

I think mine would be: going into a bookstore and buying every book — hardback or paperback — that caught my eye.

I think of luxury in the context of spending a lot of money, but now that I think about it, it would be interesting to learn if most people’s ideas of “luxury” are actually very expensive.

What’s your idea of luxury?