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

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This Wednesday: Five tips to avoid having an office affair.

AffairEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 5 tips to avoid having an office affair.

A few nights ago, a friend told me an interesting story. When she’d started her job at a major financial institution, a family friend, who also worked there, pulled her aside to give her some advice about avoiding having an affair.

Many of the people who worked at their firm had affairs, he said. He’d seen it himself. And lots of marriages broke up. His own marriage had stayed strong for thirty years, and he wanted to tell her the five rules he’d always followed to make sure he’d never be tempted.

1. Never take a first step in flirtation, even in jest.

2. Never have more than one drink with people from work. If that.

3. Never confide details from your personal life to people from work, and don’t allow them to confide in you.

4. Never allow yourself to have a “special friend” of the opposite sex (sometimes called a “work spouse”) to whom you turn for particular support.

5. Unless it’s an unmistakably professional context, don’t meet alone with a colleague or client of the opposite sex. E.g, when a client calls with tickets for the U.S. Open, don’t go in a twosome.

He explained the reasoning behind his advice.

He’d seen the same thing happen over and over. There comes a time in every marriage, he said, when a couple doesn’t get along very well. This period might even last several years. Difficult kids, difficult in-laws, difficult schedules, health worries, money worries, and all the rest can create a lot of conflict.

If you have an intimate friend at work, someone who knows you very well, and understands your troubles, and appreciates you properly, and can offer you a sympathetic, conflict-free refuge from your annoying spouse, the temptation to turn to that person is very strong.

Or if you’re alone at night with someone, or out drinking – you might give in to a sudden impulse.

Now, some of this advice conflicts with the happiness research. For instance, as Penelope Trunk discussed in a post on Brazeen Careerist, studies show that people who have good friends at work are happier than people who don’t, and Tip #3, in particular, would make it hard to have a real friend.

Nevertheless, thinking back to my days working in an office, I think there’s some real value to these injunctions. They’re worth thinking over, to adapt to each person’s particular situation.

My friend has been working at that major financial institution for a couple of years now. “Are a lot of people really having affairs?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” she said. She lives by those rules herself — except #3, sometimes she breaks #3. She’s a very friendly person, so she can’t really stop herself from having those kind of conversations.

I’ve had a lot of trouble with spam lately. If you emailed me to ask for a copy of my resolutions chart, you should have gotten an email back from me by now. If you haven’t, your message must have been lost in the chaos, so just shoot me another email. Or send me a message if you’ve now decided that you’d like a copy.

To thwart spammers, here is a convoluted version of my address: the first part is grubin. Then put in that familiar symbol. The second part is gretchenrubin. Then comes the period, then the com.

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I've just finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you'd like to pre-order the book, click here.

How a fire station marked the anniversary of September 11.

September 11 is an important day, especially here in New York City.

On my way to a meeting this afternoon, I passed by a firehouse on the Upper West Side.


Outside the station, a quiet little shrine had been set up, with flowers and candles to mark the day. It seemed absolutely fitting and right. I saw passersby pause in front of it, to look at what was there.


For me, among many other things, of course, September 11th is a reminder to feel grateful for every ordinary day, to realize how precious and fragile life can be. It can change; it will change.

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Want to see a fantastic movie about the nature of happiness? Watch AFTER THE WEDDING.

AftertheweddingWe saw an extraordinary movie Saturday night, After the Wedding.

I don’t want to describe the plot, because I knew nothing about the movie before I saw it (the Big Man ordered it from NetFlix), and I think that’s the best way to see it.

I’m struggling to explain why I loved this movie so much, without making it sound like a lot of work – which it’s not. It’s a completely riveting, enjoyable movie.

In law school, exams often take the form of “issue-spotters.” The professor presents a story of a few paragraphs, and you have to spot and analyze all the legal issues. They’re exhausting, but also sort of fun.

Well, for me, After the Wedding was a happiness-project issue-spotter.

Happiness questions abound in After the Wedding: what’s the nature of happiness? how do we live by our values? how do we put love into action? Every time I thought the movie was slipping into simple cliché, it twisted into something more complex.

I love a surprise ending (like The Sixth Sense or Jacob’s Ladder), and the ending of After the Wedding – though not really a “surprise” – was astonishing. Just at the end, when it seems like the characters have resolved their issues, everything opens up again with a few comments by a six-year-old.

This makes the move sound dull and preachy, but it wasn’t at all. I haven’t seen such a great movie on the subject of happiness and love (and virtue – fact is, if you want happiness and love, you have to have virtue) since the happiness masterpiece Junebug.

My friend Marci Alboher, author of the terrific book, One Person/Multiple Careers and on-line columnist for the New York Times, tagged me in a meme called The W List: Women Who Blog. It was started with this post by Valeria Maltoni at Conversation Agent to catalog the great blogs by women. The list has grown quite a bit since the original post because when you’re tagged, you’re supposed to republish the list with your additions.

So I’m going to tag four women who have great blogs that I really enjoy — partly because the blogs allow me to enter into an experience, in many but not all ways, so different from my own. And they’re so different from one another that it’s funny for me to see them listed in a group. That’s part of what’s great about the Internet – the mash-up of all information.

So check out…

Brangien Davis at the Petri Project
Jennifer Niesslein at Jennifer Niesslen’s Internet Presence
Carolyn Elefant at My Shingle
Carolyn, Juggling Frogs

Confounded by my un-techiness, I can’t seem to figure out how to copy the complete list, with links, into my post. So to see the list, which is well worth a look, I refer you back to The HeyMarci Blog.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Samuel Johnson.

Samueljohnson“Let no man rashly determine, that unwillingness to be pleased is a proof of understanding…for though peevishness may sometimes justly boast its descent from learning or from wit, it is much oftener of base extraction, the child of vanity, and nurseling of ignorance.” –Samuel Johnson

I’ve translated this sentiment into my resolution, “Be easy to please.”

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I’m stuck in clutter limbo — are these possessions useful or not?

TangleEvery once in a while, I get overwhelmed by a feeling of disorder.

It hit me last night.

I realized what was causing it: too many items of questionable use lying around.

These things aren’t obviously clutter, because MAYBE they’re useful. But maybe not.

That phone toy might be broken, or maybe it just needs a new battery. The label-maker might be defective, or maybe I already remembered to replace it. Would this CD work if I wiped it off, or is it permanently scratched? Did I stop reading this novel, fifty pages in, because I didn’t like it or because I just misplaced it? Etc.

I’m gathering up these items. This weekend, I’m going to decide the fate of each thing. Nothing’s more aggravating than being surrounded by stuff in clutter limbo.

My First Commandment is “Be Gretchen,” and to that end, I sometimes like to take tests that analyze certain aspects of personality. If you like doing that sort of thing, check out the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center’s Questionnaires.

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