Smarter Living

Work - Nest - Invest - Relate - Thrive


By Karen Barrow

By Tim Herrera

By Karron Skog

By Reporters at The New York Times

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 3, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Smart, actionable advice and life tips on how to improve your career, your home, your finances, your relationships, and your health for a happier life — all from the popular Smarter Living section of the New York Times.

Launched in the summer of 2016, the New York Times Smarter Living section was created with the mission to help readers live better lives by publishing stories that have fallen between the news desks. Since then, the section has produced more than 250 pieces offering useful advice on a wide range of topics — including career and finance, love and relationships, health and wellness, and more — that have been read by more than 22 million unique readers. Smarter Living collects these very popular pieces into one handy guide, creating a trusted source that will appeal to those just starting out as well those looking for new approaches to life’s problems.

The book identifies 5 key areas for building a better life: Work, Nest, Invest, Relate, and Thrive. Each area contains advice curated from the column on topics such as the Art of the Out of Office Reply, the Annual Home Checklist, What to Do When You’re Bad at Money, How to Maintain Friendships, and How to Be Better About Stress. Each entry breaks down these sometimes overwhelming topics into manageable tasks through clear and concise guidance, easy-to-follow lists, and informative sidebars.

Thoughtfully designed with bright, four-color illustrations similar to those found in the section, Smarter Living will be a perennial reference on how to create a healthy and happy life.


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LET’S GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY nice and early: You will not find the definitive answers to all of life’s problems and mysteries in this book.

Phew. Glad we covered that.

The easiest way to tell you what you are going to find in the following five chapters is to tell what you won’t find: prescriptive, end-of-conversation, “this is the only solution you’ll ever need” type of advice and guidance. If you ever see a book selling you the one answer to all of your problems, put it down immediately and walk away. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to any of our problems, much less the complicated, messy, personal, impactful and important ones we cover in this book.

Now that the pressure’s off, let us explain what you will find in this book.

Smarter living.

Smarter Living, the guidance and advice section of The New York Times from which this book was created, tries to tackle life’s problems from a better point of view. The five chapters in this book—which cover your home; your work life; your health; your finances; and your relationships (with others and with yourself)—are written not by so-called “self-help experts,” “productivity hackers,” “gurus,” “ninjas” or “rock stars” of any sort. They’re written by hardworking, rigorous journalists who are regular people first and deal with the same everyday issues that you do, and who are also looking for solutions.

Let’s look at one of our favorite stories in this book: “How to Be an Ace Salary Negotiator (Even if You Hate Conflict)” from the Work chapter:

Written by A. C. Shilton, this story coaches you on everything you may need to advocate for yourself during a salary negotiation—with the understanding that there’s likely nothing in the world you’d less like to do than negotiate your salary for a new job. (Yes, it is a nightmare, we agree.)

This story is a perfect example of the Smarter Living ethos: a fully reported, wonderfully written piece of journalism born out of the author’s own fear of negotiating her salary. A. C. was the perfect journalist to write that story because it was an issue that personally impacted her life and gave her the insight and clarity to approach the problem from the common perspective. She picked up on the issues and ideas that a “career coach” wouldn’t even know to address. It’s this fundamental curiosity and desire for answers that drives Smarter Living, and that’s what drives this book.

But this book isn’t all how to’s and step-by-step guides. Alongside thoughtful, well-reasoned stories advising you on everything from your 401(k) allocation to stain removal are emotional, relatable stories on dealing with anxiety, overcoming the unconscious biases that affect us every day, and small things you can do now to live a happier life. (Hint: Treat yourself like a friend.)

Our goal was to cover the spectrum of modern life, and regardless of where you are in your journey on this planet, there is something for you in these pages. In building this book, we pored over thousands of New York Times stories to find the absolute best of the best advice, and we couldn’t be prouder of this collection.

All that said: Smarter Living is nothing without its readers! And we want to hear from you. Tweet your best tips for living smarter—whatever that looks like for you—using the hashtag #smarterliving.

We’re all in this together, figuring it out as we go and trying to live smarter every day.

Networks provide a connection with fellow workers—an emotional link with those who know us. But they also provide a source of information or business intel—about your department, your business or your industry.

In fact, it is often the distant links in your networks that provide the most value—such as helping you find a job. The sociologist Mark Granovetter makes a distinction between strong ties (close friends, family, co-workers) and weak ties (former classmates, ex-colleagues, people we know but not well). In “The Strength of Weak Ties,” he shows how these more distant links provide doorways into other networks we wouldn’t normally have access to.

Here’s how to think about nurturing your networking relationships:

Start small. When you run into a former co-worker at your place of business, say more than a quick hello. Try to take a moment and find out how they are doing. Jobs and responsibilities are always changing, and, frankly, it’s nice when someone takes a sincere interest in our lives.

Take a leap. Invite folks to drinks after work or to join you in a company-sponsored volunteer effort. The thing here is just getting to know people a bit better beyond working hours.

Use social media. LinkedIn and Facebook can provide an effective and relatively painless way to reach out to people you know, especially those who have changed jobs. Think of a colleague or classmate you’ve lost touch with, and make contact with a simple “what’s new?” message. Relate a little (no more than a few sentences!) on what you’ve been up to, and ask how they’ve been doing.

Beyond managing your relationships, careers thrive when people keep up with changes in their fields. In every endeavor there are new technologies, new “best practices,” changing regulations and previously unforeseen challenges. This applies to both the skilled mason and the architect of office towers. This is another way to keep building a solid career foundation.

Some ways to achieve this:

Join a professional organization and attend their events. Better yet, take part in different projects and help make presentations. You’ll learn more about your field, gain experience, raise your profile and meet new people in your industry.

Enroll in workshops and training sessions. If they are offered at your workplace, these opportunities will expose you to something new, even if they don’t always overlap with your current job.

Continue your education by taking classes in your field. There are several ways to do this, from the many free and relatively cheap courses online to attending a local brick-and-mortar school. Some labor unions, too, offer training. If you aren’t sure what kind of course to take, ask co-workers or your supervisor. And be sure to check whether your employer can help underwrite the tuition. Many companies offer this benefit for classes that relate to your job. If this is an option, make sure your course plan satisfies your company’s rules.

Become the teacher. If you have a special skill or knowledge, consider becoming an adjunct professor in your field at a college or university. Higher education institutions rely on adjuncts to teach professional courses. You’ll earn some extra money and meet other adjuncts, who will give you new perspectives on your field.


Let’s say you have a job you like, but want to do even better and find a more prominent role in your organization, commensurate with your skills and interests. Or perhaps you have a nagging feeling that you aren’t being recognized for what you’ve brought to your team.

In a perfect universe, this sense of dissatisfaction would solve itself—the boss would recognize your efforts and potential, and you’d receive better assignments, a better work shift and a raise. But improving your situation at work will most likely require some proactive attention. It begins with a careful assessment of the person we’re dealing with.

Start with a self-evaluation. Grab a piece of paper and jot down the following:

Your strengths and weaknesses in your present job.

Your skills and limitations.

Your recent accomplishments and shortcomings.

Critical here is becoming aware of your own natural strengths and interests. You may already have a pretty firm grasp of them, or you may discover them as you piece together your self-assessment. If you are unsure, turn to a trusted colleague or former boss; their viewpoint will be especially valuable. You may look at your self-assessment and tell yourself, “Damn, I’m one of the best workers here, and nobody knows it!”

If so, it may be time to make a concentrated effort to raise your profile in the workplace. This will likely take some extra work. But here are a few suggestions, and none of them are backbreakers.

Step up to solve problems. You and your co-workers can probably come up with dozens of small (or large) processes that don’t work for some reason—a software issue, a procedure issue, a deadline that no one can ever meet. But everyone is so busy that no one has time to find a solution. Make yourself that person. Odds are, the answer may simply involve getting the attention of the person in your organization who can address it.

Suggest it. Figure out how to make your department’s work easier or better. Suggest it to your boss, and if she green-lights it, be ready to take the next step to make it a reality. Don’t be hurt if your idea gets turned down; these things are like batting averages, and one out of three is excellent. The point is that you’ve made a stab at improving your workplace.

Speak up. Some people have absolutely no hesitation chattering away in group sessions and team meetings. Others have a natural reticence. If speaking in these settings doesn’t come naturally, try to take a moment before the meeting to develop some questions. Some experts recommend trying to be the first person to speak up once the floor is opened up to questions—if only to quickly get the monkey off one’s back.

Beyond raising your profile, it may be most strategic to flat out ask for a raise. What better way to improve your current situation?

Like a good lawyer about to argue a case, preparation is critical to improving your chances of success. From a variety of experts, here are some points to consider.

First, do some research on salaries in your field. Data is available from different online sources (the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles data for more than 800 occupations; many other sites gather their data from different sources). Discussion of salaries can be difficult, but consider talking to colleagues or former co-workers. If you belong to a union and work according to a contract, check to see where you stand on the pay scales.

Collect your “attaboy” and “attagirl” testimonials and complimentary comments from evaluations.

Rehearse your arguments. Not just on paper, but speak them aloud. (Yes, it will help to have a friend play the boss.)

Don’t chicken out and make your request for a raise via email. Set up a meeting time with your boss and signal that it will be an important conversation.

Your attitude at the meeting is critical.

“You’ve got to go into these discussions with a clear sense that this is something you have earned, not a gift from your boss,” said Kenneth N. Siegel, an industrial psychiatrist and president of the Impact Group, Inc., a leadership consulting firm.

If your boss says a pay raise is out of the question, either because of financial restrictions or your work doesn’t merit it, here are some fallback positions:

Offer to take on more responsibilities if that increases the chances of a raise.

Propose agreeing to revisit the raise request at a future date, say in six months, when the company’s finances may be more flexible.

Consider asking for more vacation time, or a better work schedule, or broader training opportunities in place of a raise.

Negotiate for a bonus or stock options.


Sometimes a job is not working out and it’s time to leave. Or the decision is made for you, and you’ve been laid off or fired. Or, after a period away from work to raise children or care for aging parents you are trying to re-enter the workforce. Each of these presents special challenges to keeping your career moving forward.

If leaving your job wasn’t your choice—i.e., you were fired—you probably feel hurt, humiliated and angry. Getting fired, even from a job you didn’t enjoy, is a kick in the gut. And a layoff, even one that’s couched in language of “a numbers game,” isn’t much better. Emotionally, it’ll take a while to recover. So take that time to assess what went well and what didn’t and what you want out of your next job. Then, get ready for the job search.

Once you’re on the job hunt, your best resource will be—you guessed it—your network. The collection of people you know—and who know you—can provide intelligence about who might be hiring or even open doors and make a call for you.

Here are a few other things to remember:

Customize your cover letter and résumé. Do this for every job and company you apply to. This is a bit of flattery, but it also demonstrates your willingness to work for this job. Be aware, though, that varying your text presents additional opportunities for errors in grammar or spelling, so make sure to proofread your material several times.

Make sure your online profiles are up to date with your latest skills. Job recruiters often troll through these sites looking for qualified candidates.

Get out and talk to people. Reach out to people in the company or field where you want to work, ask about openings and how they got started. It’s sometimes surprising what happens when you ask for some help. You will learn things, including whether the field you are thinking about is a good match.

Be aware of age discrimination. If you are nearing retirement age but still want to work, beware of the difficulties your age may pose. Age discrimination is tough to prove, but many older job seekers know it as a fact of life. To find a job that feels like a good fit—not like something that fit you 20 years ago—you might look for smaller organizations, including nonprofits, that will take advantage of your experience and expertise.

Consider a career counselor. If you are having a hard time getting back on your feet after a job loss, career counselors can help with résumé writing and career coaching. Fees vary, but expect private counselors to charge several hundred dollars for a few sessions. There are also free services offered through the Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop services.


As you consider your options, you may look to freelance or join the gig economy. For some, that can feel like an endless hamster wheel of low-paying work, scrambling to find the next gig to pay the bills. Others insist it is a realistic response to a new labor landscape, and that, handled well, it can provide a better life than working for a large organization and always fearing the next round of layoffs.

Before you decide, it helps to look at the pros and cons of independent work.

In the pro column:

A better home-life mix. You can expect to have more control over your schedule when you work on-demand or freelance. This can feel liberating after the controlling schedules of life as an employee. A survey compiled by LinkedIn and Intuit found that 67 percent of freelance workers were satisfied or highly satisfied with their work-life balance.

A sense that you are in control of your life. You may work just as hard, or harder, but it will be work that you will have chosen, rather than had imposed on you.

Encourages an entrepreneurial view of life. It will be to your advantage to explore and develop new ideas for work—to come up with ideas to use your skills, to be resourceful, to stay up late some nights planning the day ahead. Work will not be handed to you.

For retirees, a source of extra income. The gig economy has a lot of appeal for people who have retired from a traditional full-time job but still want some stimulation and a stream of money coming in.

And on the con side:

Your pay will be unpredictable. The steady reliability of the same paycheck every pay period will disappear. You will have some great months and some not-so-great months. This will require some discipline in your spending.

You may need to get used to a smaller income. Becoming an independent worker may mean you’ll need to scale back and consider living a simpler life. Advocates say this may be the temporary cost of taking more control over your life—and that you could end up making more money and living a better life in the end. But transitions can be difficult.

You’ll lose corporate benefits you may have had. Things like company contributions to health insurance, unemployment insurance, disability income, paid vacations and 401(k) matches will go away when you are on your own.

You’ll need to be disciplined with your schedule and finances. A sense of the daily routine—which can be a creature comfort or a source of mind-numbing boredom—will be out the window. If you have two or more sources of work, all with different deadlines and time requirements, you’ll need to become an expert at keeping a good schedule. The same goes for your finances and accounting. You’ll need to keep good receipts for tax purposes. Keep track of payments—and get ready for a situation when you might have to demand payments when a customer is tardy.

Fear of the unknown. This is perhaps the biggest reason some people are repulsed by the independent-worker lifestyle. Will you be able to pay the bills? Will you be happy or miserable? The prospects may strike you as thrilling and life-affirming, or may keep you awake every night.

The best way to set up a gig-economy or freelance career is to make sure you always have work coming to you, so you don’t have to go searching for the next paycheck. This comes from developing a reputation in your line of work. Some call this creating a brand.

(Wallflowers, step aside.)

“Many people don’t want to deal with the hassle of a ‘permanent career campaign,’” wrote Dorie Clark, the author of “Reinventing You.” “They think it’s too much work to contemplate their personal brand, maintain their social media footprint, or cultivate relationships when they’re not on the make for a new job. Those are the people who will lose.”

Think of your personal brand as simply letting people know who you are and what you do, and what work you have accomplished recently—through networking, personal contacts or a website. Remember, you are independent of the big corporation, and you should spend some part of your time drawing work to yourself. Being invisible isn’t a good idea, or lucrative.

The bottom line: Pay attention to your career.

It sounds simple, but it’s not so easy to follow, because we tend to confuse jobs and careers. Jobs demand so much of our time. But jobs are temporary, and are almost always in service of someone (or something) else.

But your career belongs to you alone, to nurture, steer, imagine and reimagine. No one else can do it for you.

Find the time to show your career some love. It’ll be time well spent.


On Sale
Dec 3, 2019
Page Count
224 pages

Karen Barrow

About the Author

Karen Barrow is a senior editor for the New York Times Smarter Living section. Previously, she was an editor on Well, the New York Times personal health blog. Her goal is to help readers learn tips, insights and research-based truths to help them live a better, easier life.


The New York Times is regarded as the world’s preeminent newspaper. Its news coverage is known for its exceptional depth and breadth, with reporting bureaus throughout the United States and in 26 foreign countries.

Learn more about this author

Tim Herrera

About the Author

Tim Herrera is the founding editor of Smarter Living, where he edits and reports stories about living a better, more fulfilling life. Before coming to the Times, he was a reporter and editor at the Washington Post covering digital culture, and in a previous life he was a metro reporter for amNewYork and Newsday.
The New York Times is regarded as the world’s preeminent newspaper. Its news coverage is known for its exceptional depth and breadth, with reporting bureaus throughout the United States and in 26 foreign countries.

Learn more about this author