If you’ve taken my advice and subscribed to the “Happier” podcast with Gretchen Rubin and her sister Liz Craft, advice which I have given any number of times, then you have already heard this. But if you haven’t, or even if you have, then I’m passing some thoughts from this week’s episode along now with my own take added. (See note below on subscribing.)
Because, if you think about it, the description given in the title is the recipe for being a super-nice person who’s fun to have around. The point
of this statement in the podcast was in the context of being a good house-guest, but let’s not limit this great advice to one situation, shall we? So, be a person who is interested in lots of things (full of desire) but who is happy to do any of those things (easy to please). And don’t mess it up with criticism (non-judgmental).
So here’s how this works:
1) Know what you desire and be willing to express your preference. Don’t say, “Oh, whatever you want” when someone asks you make a choice. Just do it. Recently my son had a birthday and I asked him what he’d like. He immediately said that he’d like a KitchenAid mixer. Isn’t that, like, just the greatest thing you ever heard of for a 23-year-old guy to request as a birthday present? Then I asked him what color he wanted—they come in a huge range. Well, he did a little dithering on that, saying that he liked the dark gray or the red, but he wasn’t picky. So I wrote back and said, “Just tell me what you want!” Pressed to the wall, he said he’d prefer the red one.
2) Express delight at what you get. Don’t say, “Oh, let’s go to a museum,” and then, when one is offered, say, “But I didn’t mean that one.” Don’t carp. Don’t complain.
3) Refrain from criticism (except when absolutely necessary). I always want to put in a little salt in with the sweet. Heaven forbid that I should offer unqualified praise! Sometimes a problem has to be pointed out, of course—if the chicken is raw at the restaurant, it needs to be cooked—but often we just want to put in an oar. I didn’t really need to point out to my husband on Sunday, after he preached at our church, that he’d left out a point. If he asks me for feedback of course I want to be honest and helpful, but there’s a time and place for everything. The sermon as a whole was his usual thoughtful, original take on a familiar Scripture passage, even including a great visual aid. That was all I needed to say at the time.
My favorite bit of unnecessary criticism came from my roommate in grad school. We had attended a program in which the choir sang a beautiful arrangement of “Man of Sorrows,” a hymn that has several different tunes. Each verse used a different one. I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed the performance, and she said, “The tenors were flat.”
Ain’t that just the way? That choir had worked hard on a difficult arrangement and, for the most part, done a beautifully. I wasn’t aware of the tenors’ malfeasance, to be honest. Why did my roomie need to mention it? And, honestly, the choir director probably would have been ill-advised to bring it up then. Maybe the next time that choir worked on an unaccompanied piece he or she could strategize with the group more about how to keep the pitch steady, but there was no point at the time. As the directors of the chorale in which I sing always say, “Don’t focus on some small mistake in the performance that probably no one even noticed.” I always want to say, when someone compliments our performance, “Yeah, but . . . “ No! Just say “thank you.” Just smile.
Gretchen mentions her parents as being people who fit the bill. Somewhere in one of her books Gretchen describes how her father would come home from work and ask what was for dinner. If he was told, “We’re having takeout pizza,” he’d say, “Wonderful! Do you want me to go pick it up?”
Well, we can all aspire to such greatness, I guess. For me, negative complainer that I tend to be, perhaps I should remind myself frequently, “Were the tenors flat? Well, keep your mouth shut about it!”
Note on subscribing to podcasts: I don’t understand iTunes and don’t have an iPhone, so I can’t be of any help there. Actually, it’s not necessary for me to subscribe to this particular podcast since I start checking to see if it’s up on Wednesday mornings and usually listen to it before I get the reminder e-mail. But just in case I happen to forget which day of the week it is, I do subscribe to this and other favorite podcasts through a phone app called Podcast Addict. You can also subscribe through Google Play or Stitcher Radio, to name just the main ones. I’m not going to try to write out specific instructions–if you type in the name of the app on your phone or other device it will come up, and you can then follow the directions given. If you don’t want to go the subscription route, you can just go to Gretchen’s website and click on the “Podcasts” tab.
And a further note: Liz gives herself and her husband Adam a gold star because they figured out how to use their new grill, taking only 15 minutes to figure out how to turn it on. They are both high-powered TV writers in Los Angeles, tremendously successful in their careers, and yet somewhat bewildered by simple, practical things. Kind of heartening!