My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Do You Have These Friends? Must Friends, Trust Friends, Rust Friends, and Just Friends.

crayons in a circleEvery Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Four types of friends.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key — perhaps the key — to happiness is strong relationships with other people. We need to have intimate, enduring bonds; we need to be able to confide; we need to feel that we belong; we need to be able to get support, and just as important for happiness, to give support.

We need many kinds of relationships; for one thing, we need friends.

Now, the term “friend” is a little loose. People mock the “friending” on social media, and say, “Gosh, no one could have 300 friends!” Well, there are all kinds of friends. Those kinds of “friends,” and work friends, and childhood friends, and dear friends, and neighborhood friends, and we-walk-our-dogs-at-the-same-time friends, etc.

Obviously, such relationships are very different, although they’re all “friends.”

In Geoffrey Greif’s book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, he identifies four categories of friendships:

Must friend: a best friend, a member of your inner circle, a person you count on when something big happens in your life

Trust friend: a friend who shows integrity, someone you feel comfortable with, that you’re always glad to see, but not in your inmost circle; perhaps someone you’d like to be closer to, if you had the time or opportunity

Rust friend: a person you’ve known for a long, long time; you’re probably not going to get any closer to that person, unless something changes, but a part of your life

Just friends: a person you see — at a weekly poker game, at your child’s school — who is enjoyable company, but you have no desire to socialize outside a specific context or to get to know that person better

I think it’s helpful to think about the different types of friends. Even if you wouldn’t invite some people to your wedding, they can still add a sense of warmth and richness to your life.

A friend of mine did an interesting friend-related exercise. She took a big piece of paper and made a chart of her friendships, based on clusters. As she did it, she highlighted the names of the people or institutions that had introduced her to a particular cluster. What she found — and this struck me as so interesting — was that a few people had served as very important connectors. Until she made that chart, she hadn’t realized that these few individuals had made such a difference in her social life.

I keep meaning to do this exercise myself.

What do you think of the four categories: must, trust, rust, and just friends? Are there any kinds of friends that aren’t captured in those four terms?

If you want tips for making new friends, look here, and tips for maintaining friendships, look here. I write about friendship in The Happiness Project, chapter on friendship.

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I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

Story: Everyday Life in Utopia.

This week’s video story: Everyday life in Utopia.


How I love this phrase! I want to tattoo it on my ankle, paint it on the wall above my desk, and wear it on a T-shirt. Everyday life in Utopia! This is my new motto.

I’d told my daughter about the word “utopia” and what it meant. Some days later, I was reading aloud to her from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I explained that Camazotz, in the book,  was a “dystopia,” and gave a little lecture about how that was the opposite of a utopia. My daughter listened patiently.

About a week later, as we continued with A Wrinkle in Time, I asked in a teacherly voice, “Now do you remember the word for the opposite of utopia?”

“Metopia,” she said, without missing a beat. It took me a moment to get the joke.

Everyday life in Utopia and Metopia!

Behind-the-scenes revelation: I use this story as part of my conclusion for Before and After. (As a writer, my speciaity is writing endings. The ending of Happier at Home may be the best thing I’ve ever written.)

Because it really does seem to me that when we think about all the resolutions we might follow, or all the habits we might change, we’re aiming at getting as close as possible to everyday life in Utopia.

Agree, disagree?

If you can’t see the video, click here.

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Will I See You on My Book Tour in January?

HappierAtHomePaperbackDid I mention that the paperback of Happier at Home comes out in a few weeks? Oh right, I think maybe I did.

The publication of a paperback is a weirdly thrilling moment for an author, and I’m especially looking forward to my book tour. I love to meet readers face to face, so I hope to see many of you along the way:

Washington, D.C.  — January 8, 2014 7:00 PM

Sixth & I, 600 I Street NW

Tickets are $15, or $20 includes a book.

Contact Sixth & I for details.

Phone:  202-408-3100


Philadelphia, PA — January 9, 2014 7:00 PM

The James Lorah House, 132 N. Main St, Doylestown, PA

Ticketed event (includes book).

Contact Doylestown Books for details.

Phone: 215-230-7610


Austin, TX — January 13, 2014 7:00 PM

Book People, 603 N. Lamar Boulevard

Free & open to the public.

Phone:  512-472-5050


Denver, CO — January 15, 2014 7:30 PM

Tattered Cover, 9315 Dorchester Street, Highlands Ranch, CO

Free & open to the public.

Phone:   303-322-1965


Phoenix, AZ — January 17, 2014 7:00 PM

Changing Hands, 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe, AZ

Ticket (admits two) is free when you purchase Happier at Home.

Phone:  480-730-1142


Portland, OR  — January 21, 2014 7:00 PM

Powell’s Books, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Boulevard, Beaverton, OR

Free & open to the public.

Phone: 503-228-4651


San Francisco, CA  — January 22, 2014 7:00 PM

Books, Inc. in Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness Avenue

Free & open to the public.

Phone: 415-776-1111


San Francisco, CA  — January 23, 2014 7:30 PM

Kepler’s, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA

Free & open to the public.

Phone: 650-324-4321

Double-check all details before you show up! You never know when something might change.

Now, why am I going to these particular cities? First—and more important—some kind bookseller or events organizer wants me there. Which I very much appreciate. Also, these are cities that I didn’t get to visit when I toured for the hardback launch (though I am returning to San Francisco).

If you live in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, or San Francisco, I hope to see you in January. Please come, spread the word, bring your friends.

This paperback launch is especially fun for me, because I love the new jacket design for the paperback. What do you think?






So mark your calendar, see you in January! (Is anyone else in shock that 2013 is almost over? The days are long, but the years are short.)

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“Self-Deception Remains the Most Difficult Deception.”

didion“Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect. Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count or nothing in that very well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions.”

– Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Self-knowledge! All my study of happiness, and habits, brings me continually back to the challenge of self-knowledge. It sounds so easy — after all, I hang out with myself all day long — but it’s tremendously challenging. Every day, I remind myself to Be Gretchen, to accept myself and also to expect more from myself.

Do you find it difficult to fight the impulse toward self-deception?

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Before and After: Wake Up 15 Minutes Earlier, and Put the Alarm Clock Out of Reach.

HabitsRepeatFourI’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from Patrik Edblad–check out his site at Selfication.

I used to set my alarm clock as late as possible each day, and then hit the snooze button at least one or two times before getting out of bed each morning. As I’m sure a lot of people can relate to, this sort of morning routine is far from ideal, as your day gets a very stressful start and often leads to being late.


After a couple of attempts at becoming an early riser and having a taste of the benefits it has, I decided to really commit to it and devoted myself to understanding the mechanics of habit creation and how I could re-programme my brain to love 6 am. I learned that a habit consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward and that I needed to optimize all of them have a successful habit change.


I knew from experience that setting my alarm to 6 am when I was used to 8 am wasn’t going to work in the long run, so I instead committed to pushing the time back for just 15 minutes once a week to give my brain a better chance of adapting.


Starting out, my cue was my alarm clock which was neatly put just out of arm’s reach so that I had to get out of bed before I could turn it off. This routine made it much more likely to stay up than if I gave myself the chance to snooze.


As a reward I used the awesome habit app “Lift” and crossed off waking up early. Lift is designed to keep track of your habit-building streaks, and as I put in more and more days without failing to get up on time, the more I didn’t want to break the chain.


As I started my days, I knew that I needed to expose myself to a lot of light to help my brain set its circadian clock to a light-dark cycle of my choice, so I went ahead and turned on a lot of lights as soon as I got up (it’s ridiculously dark in northern Sweden this time of year).


Today I almost always wake before my alarm goes off at 6 am and spend my mornings taking walks, planning my days and doing meditation. This way I’m much more productive, feel better and show up on time.

I’ve noticed that when people successfully change a habit, they often use several strategies simultaneously. We need a lot of fire-power to change our habits! He’s using the Strategy of Convenience, the Strategy of Starting, and the Strategy of Monitoring.

If you’re interested in how people’s sleep habits are affected by light, I highly recommend Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.

Waking up earlier isn’t a habit solution for everyone, but for many people, it’s a great way to get more out of the day. (Want a painless way to get an extra hour in your day? Try this.)

Have you ever tried to start waking up earlier? What strategy did you use?

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