One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. I’ve been surprised how often this “secret” comes in handy.
Exercising — I have a friend who thinks she’s a regular exerciser because every several weeks, she goes to the gym for two hours. Nope!
Having enough time to read — I used to think, “I love to read, it’s my favorite thing to do! Of course I make time to read.” But when I really examined my schedule, I realized I needed to clear out more time to read; day after day, it was getting shoved aside.
In his fascinating book, House Lust, Daniel McGinn notes that market researchers use the term maximum-use imperative to describe the fact that people will often buy something to accommodate a use that they need only rarely. So, for example, you might look for a house, or a dining room table, that’s big enough to seat your entire family when it’s your turn to host Christmas dinner, even though you have a family of four that’s dwarfed by that size.
Along the same lines, I’ve noticed that when making decisions, I tend to give too much thought to what I do once in a while and not enough weight to what I do every day. For example, I wear running shoes 29 days out of 30 days a month, yet I have three pairs of black flats and only one pair of running shoes.
Why does this matter for happiness? Because we’re happiest when our decisions most closely match our natures and our values.
If I splurge on linen cocktail napkins, but never have cocktail parties, I’m not going to be pleased with my purchase. If I tell myself I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but actually eat lots of pizza and subs, I’m not going to fostering good health. If I insist that I love skiing, when in fact, I love staying inside reading, I’m not going to enjoy the vacation.
It can be hard to be myself, to acknowledge what I really enjoy — it can be easy to let lofty fantasies get in the way. Again, I ask, why is it so tough to Be Gretchen?
If I pretend to myself that I’m different from the way I truly am, I’m going to make choices that won’t make me happy.
A version of this article originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website.