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  • feedwordpress 11:00:48 on 2019/03/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Catherine Burns, , Occasional Magic, storytelling, The Moth   

    “If We Do Nothing But Try to Manage Well What We Do Have Control Over, We’ll Find We Have More Control Than We Think.” 


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    Interview: Catherine Burns.

    I met Catherine Burns when we had an hour-long conversation at a rooftop deck party thrown by a publishing house. Not long after that, we did an event together about podcasts. Every time I see her, I love getting the chance to talk about storytelling, speaking, audience engagement, and every other topic we wander into.

    She's the long-time Artistic Director of The Moth, which is a non-profit group in New York City dedicated to the art of storytelling. They're best known for their storytelling events, where a group of people each tell a carefully crafted story—a true story—around a theme.

    The Moth is a live event, a podcast and a radio show. And now there's a new book: The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories About Defying the Impossible. "From storytelling phenomenon and hit podcast The Moth—and featuring contributions from Meg Wolitzer, Adam Gopnik, Krista Tippett, Andrew Solomon, Rosanne Cash, Ophira Eisenberg, Wang Ping, and more—a new collection of unforgettable true stories about finding the strength to face the impossible, drawn from the very best ever told on its stages."

    I couldn't wait to talk to Catherine about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Catherine: Hands down: exercise. It really is medicine for me. If I can get either 10,000 steps in or a vigorous 2- or 3-mile walk in, I feel like a different person. It reduces my anxiety and seems to make my brain cylinders fire faster. I used to think I didn’t have time to exercise, but I’m so much more efficient on days when I work out that I now feel that I don’t have time not to exercise! I’ve been trying to add a longer walk on weekends—there’s a six-mile loop that goes from from my house in Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge, through Chinatown, then back over the Brooklyn Bridge to home. Doing that walk makes me so happy!

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    That nobody is coming to save me, and that happiness is a choice. I used to have this fantasy (Well, I see it as a fantasy now. At the time, I thought it was a fact.) that if I did X, Y, or Z the world would just fall into place. When people did things that made my life more difficult, I took it very personally—it would hurt my feelings and I’d feel like a victim, which was exhausting for me and also for the people around me. Now I know that my happiness comes from how I choose to react to the circumstances of my life, not from the circumstance itself. Most of us are lucky in that we have more agency in our lives than we may realize. If we do nothing but try to manage well what we do have control over, we’ll find that we have more control than we think. This realization makes it easier to deal with the things we actually can’t control.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    My work at The Moth involves people telling stories from their own lives in front of live audiences around the world. The best stories end up on our radio show and podcast and in our books. There’s a narrative being shared in the media right now that we are a country divided, and that the damage of that division is beyond repair. But I find again and again that what connects us to one another is almost always bigger than what separates us. I’ve seen people from very different backgrounds, with differing belief systems, bond deeply after hearing each other’s stories. On our first national tour, our storytellers included a retired NYPD detective and a former pickpocket who had spent years in Attica. Back in the day, their turf was Greenwich Village and they definitely would have been at odds with each other. But through telling their stories night after night they became close friends. We see this again and again. More recently, there’s David Montgomery, who has a story in our new book, Occasional Magic, about quitting his job to follow the Spice Girls around on their last world tour. The story is really about him becoming comfortable in his own skin as a gay man and how he and his mother were able to repair their strained relationship. After the story aired, he received several emails from parents of gay children who heard his story and then reached out to their own estranged children. We were all blown away by this!

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I have pretty much cut out sugar and I no longer drink soda. I was able to do it by focusing on how much better and more energetic I feel without it!

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I am definitely an Obliger, though I wanted to resist that when I first heard about the Tendencies. What gave me pause is that I’m very often Obliger-like, but I also have a pretty strong streak of Rebel in me at times. One day I heard you talking on your podcast about Obliger Rebellion and a big lightbulb went off. I realized I’d been obliging for so long that in some ways (as I later joked with my friends) my life had become one big Obliger Rebellion. Embracing this has helped me bring about some meaningful change in my life. For instance, I’m working on eating healthier and exercising, and as an Obliger I benefit from outward accountability. But it doesn’t entirely work without a few Rebel rules thrown in (like telling myself that I’m the kind of person who runs in the park every morning, or that I’m the kind of person who sets a healthy example for my nine-year-old son).  

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g., travel, parties, email)

    The disease of busyness is always a threat to my habits. When I’m away from work and completely in control of my own time, I tend to do well. I wake up early, read, meditate, walk daily, cook, and eat healthfully. I hear about people indulging too much on vacations, but for me it’s usually just the opposite. But when things get busy it’s very easy for my healthy habits to fall by the wayside. It helps me to remember how much happier I am when I stick with my habits, and actually doing things every day keeps me from the dreaded “decision fatigue.”

    This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I have quotes and poems that inspire me set to pop up regularly on my electronic “to-do” list so that I re-read them daily/weekly/monthly and then check them off as “done.” The quotes change depending on what I’m working on right then, and they help keep me in touch with my deepest values instead of getting dragged down by the details of daily life. One of them is actually a quote from you, Gretchen, that speaks to this: “Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of making decisions and using our self-control. When something’s important to us, and we want it to happen frequently, making it into a habit means that it does happen, and without a lot of fuss.” Amen!

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    I am stumped by this question, but I will say that thousands upon thousands of Moth stories are about a lightning bolt moment—something that happened that forever changed the storyteller.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    “The price of glory is high.” My high school marching band director used to say that, and it’s true. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, I try to remember how lucky I am to have a job that I love, doing work that’s meaningful to me. So it’s worth the occasional sacrifice.

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Yes: Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. I always say that if I could force everyone I love to read just one book it would be that one. Kate is the chaplain for the Maine game wardens, so she’s the person sitting with you if your child is lost in the woods. She also takes care of the game wardens themselves when things go wrong. The book is about how to hold space for your community during difficult times, and I read it during a particularly challenging period in my life, when I was trying to show up for our staff after a tumultuous event. Kate’s work has helped me find the courage to lead and show up as my best self even when I’m not feeling particularly strong or capable in the moment. She writes about a lot of serious things, but she’s also one of the funniest people I know, so the book is a joy to read. Kate has gone on to tell a number of riveting stories at The Moth.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    People think that by practicing telling a story it won’t feel spontaneous and you’ll make the story worse. But the opposite is true. The more you know the beats of your story, the more you can have fun with it and play with it on stage. You need to have the scaffolding in place and really know where the story is going if you want to be able to improv and play on stage. Moth stories aren’t memorized, but a great deal of time goes into crafting them so they can be told well in ten minutes. Ironically, it takes a lot of practice to appear spontaneous on stage!

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:11 on 2019/03/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Julie Zhou, , , The Making of a Manager,   

    “It’s Okay for a Manager to Say, ‘I Don’t Know, But Let’s Figure It Out Together.’” 


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    Interview: Julie Zhuo

    Julie Zhuo is one of Silicon Valley’s top product design executives. She leads the teams behind some of the world's most popular mobile and web services used by billions of people every day. She writes about technology, design, and leadership on her popular blog The Year of the Looking Glass and in publications like the New York Times and Fast Company. She graduated with a computer science degree from Stanford University and lives with her husband and two children in California.

    Now she's written a terrific book about her insights, experiences, mistakes, and conclusions called The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You. It's a fascinating look at how to manage—especially when your team keeps getting bigger and bigger.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Julie: I take 10 to 20 minutes every night before I go to bed to do something that’s just for me. Seventy percent of the time, it’s me lighting a candle and reading a few pages of my “book of the moment,” (I’m currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas), but I also sometimes do crossword puzzles, watch a video, or catch up with friends over text. I started to do this during a period of my life when I was extremely stressed after coming back to work from parental leave, which I talk about in my book, The Making of a Manager. I was having trouble falling asleep at night because I was furiously working until my head hit the pillow. I realized I needed a “transition” period into sleep—some time that was solely for me where I could do anything I wanted without feeling guilty about it. So that’s where this habit started. I’ve slept a lot better since.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Julie: That as time passes, happiness feels less like pure joy and more like deep satisfaction or contentment. It’s like the flavor has changed from fireworks to a lovely scenic view.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Julie: Fitness is my Achilles heel. I love the idea of being strong and healthy and having a daily regime. I hate the actual feeling of exercising. All of those people who rave about getting that “runner’s high” where you’re in this blissful state where it feels like you can just keep on going forever? Nope, that is the opposite of my experience. Every time I am exercising (and I have tried many, many times to get on that bandwagon), the only thing that is in my mind is, “Wow, this sucks. When can I stop?” I’d start classes or set New Year’s resolutions or train for a 5K over the course of weeks, sometimes even months, but inevitably I’d slip back into my old habit, and I’d lapse into months of no exercise again. This was the pattern until about four years ago, when I stumbled upon an insight of building "tiny habits." I started to set a goal of exercising for 10-15 minutes a day every morning. It felt like so little time that there really was no excuse. I could always manage to squeeze it in right before a shower. And it was short enough that the pain would be relatively contained. I found I was able to keep this habit going indefinitely.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Julie: Upholder. I take my obligations to others and to myself seriously. If you come over for dinner, I will stuff you silly with great food but also stuff myself silly.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Julie: I’m pretty good at staying present, but I am been known to succumb to the power of an overactive phone lighting up with pings and e-mails. I’ve found the best solution is to quarantine the phone for specific hours of the day, especially weekends, so I can focus on spending time with my family.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a "lightning bolt," where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Julie: I love January and the feeling of the the promise of a New Year, so my husband and I have a tradition called “Cleanuary,” where we try to create a recurring lightning bolt. For the month of January, we set ambitious health and cleaning goals and stick to them for 31 days as a cleanse from the excesses of the holidays. On the health side, we’ve done things like Whole30, a month of yoga, a Paleo diet, running every day, etc. On the cleaning side, we go through and Marie Kondo our entire house. Since it’s only a month, we ask our friends for suggestions on the latest health and lifestyle trends and incorporate them into our Cleanuary experiment. It’s much less daunting than the “stick- to-a-resolution-for-a-whole-year,” and sometimes little habits will emerge that change our lives beyond the month. For example, we eat much less sugar now than we used to, we learned to love black coffee, and we live with less stuff.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Julie: I don’t have a particular favorite saying or motto, but in starting my blog, one of the quotes I happened upon was from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: "I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” I liked it because it carried the whimsy of Wonderland, and also because it suggested growth—that every day we can learn and change and become better. I ended up calling my blog “The Looking Glass” because I wanted it to be a reflection of my personal growth.

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Julie: This one is easy. Mindset by Carol Dweck. I grew up as a perfectionist with the notion that there was a “correct” or “best” way to do everything. I believed life was a series of tests where you tried your best to achieve that “best” way. When I read Mindset, I was stunned to discover that this mentality had a name—fixed mindset—and was an incredibly limiting way to think about the world. The alternative mindset was growth mindset, which meant adopting the stance that there is no such thing as perfect. Everything can be improved with will and effort. This was so powerful to read and completely changed my perspective on how I approach failure, how I give or receive feedback, how willing I am to take on new challenges. Every day, I see examples of tension or lack of confidence in the workplace, and so much of it boils down to people’s mindsets. Recognizing and addressing this is something I talk a lot about in The Making of a Manager.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Julie: The Making of a Manager is about management, so here’s one of the biggest misconceptions: that managers know all the answers. This is a huge fallacy, and makes many early career managers feel secretly inadequate or come to the table with a case of savior’s complex. A manager’s job is to help a group of people get to an answer, not to know everything herself. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.” It’s okay to express vulnerability. In my experience, doing so wins you more credibility and nets you a stronger team effort than pretending like you’ve got that perfect master plan.

     
  • feedwordpress 18:13:59 on 2019/03/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    What I Read This Month: February 2019 


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    For more than two years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I now put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I've recently started tracking books I’ve read.

    If you want to see what I read in January 2019, the full list is here.

    February 2019 Reading:

    Pride by Ibi Zoboi -- a wonderful re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, set in Bushwick. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it's a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up."

    The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas -- This is the second in a YA series by Scarlett Thomas. Now I have to wait for the third book to come out.

    Eva by Peter Dickinson -- How I love Peter Dickinson! A girl is in a terrible accident, and wakes up with her mind implanted in the body of a chimp. Very interesting. Straight sci-fi.

    Earth and Air by Peter Dickinson -- More Dickinson! Short stories on the theme of earth and air. Wonderful. Fantasy.

    Angel Isle by Peter Dickinson -- What can I say? More Dickinson. The sequel to The Ropemaker.

    The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin -- Dickinson got me in the mood for Le Guin. These are various essays.

    Spring by Karl Ove Knausgaard -- Another author I love. You're either on this train, or off this train. I'm on it, all the way.

    How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee -- I love essays and kept hearing that I had to read this collection.

    Still Life by Louise Penny -- One of my most bookish friends keeps urging me to read Penny, even thought I don't usually like mysteries, and told me to start with this one. I really enjoyed it.

    How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand -- I skimmed this book. Very intriguing look at buildings, cities, and how time changes a place. Loved the illustrations.

    The Anatomy of Color by Patrick Baty -- I also skimmed this very dense book. It's an extremely comprehensive, authoritative and odd examination of historical issues related to color.

    My Father's Fortune by Michael Frayn -- I love Michael Frayn's work and love memoirs, so had to get this book. A very loving account of a family and a time in history.

    The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson -- how had I not read this book before? What a title.

    What have you read recently that you'd recommend? I'm particularly in the mood for essays and memoirs. Plus as part of my "19 for 2019," I vowed that during my upcoming book tour, I'd spend my time in hotel rooms reading children's/YA novels instead of watching before-and-after HGTV which (for some reason) is what I usually do. So I'd also love some children's/YA recommendations.

    Announcement! We decided to launch the Happier Podcast Book Club. We'll discuss Dani Shapiro's Inheritance on episode 212 (airing March 13). Spoiler alert: it's really, really good.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:09 on 2019/02/21 Permalink
    Tags: Ashley Whillans, , , Harvard Business Review, , , , Time for Happiness,   

    “If Time is Money, Money Can Also Buy Happier Time.” 


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    Interview: Ashley Whillans

    Ashley Whillans is a Harvard Business School professor and behavioral scientist whose research explores the connection between how we spend time to how we experience happiness. Her recent Harvard Business Review series "Time Poor and Unhappy" looks at why we feel so starved for time today when, in fact, we have more discretionary hours than ever before.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Ashley about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Ashley: My colleagues and I have conducted survey and experimental research with nearly 100,000 working adults from around the world. Across studies, we find that the happiest people prioritize time over money. People who are willing to give up money to gain more free time—such as by working fewer hours or paying to outsource disliked tasks—experience more fulfilling social relationships, more satisfying careers, and more joy. Overall, people who prioritize time over money live happier lives. Importantly, the benefits of choosing time over money emerge for the wealthy and less wealthy alike. Even spending as little as $40 to save time can significantly boost happiness and reduce stress. Our research suggests that even small actions—like savoring our meals, engaging in 30 minutes of exercise, or having a 5-minute conversation with a colleague (vs. focusing on work) can significantly shape happiness, more than most of us predict.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Ashley: Over and over, I find that prioritizing time over money increases happiness. Despite this, most people continue striving to make more money. For example, in one survey, only 48 percent of respondents reported that they would rather have more time than more money. Even the majority of people who were most pressed for time—parents with full-time jobs and young children at home—shared this preference for money over time. In another study, the very wealthy (i.e., individuals with over 3 million dollars of liquid wealth sitting in the bank) did not always prioritize time over money either. These data suggest that a key challenge to reducing feelings of time stress and increasing happiness for a broad range of the population is psychological: most people erroneously believe that wealth will make our lives better. Research shows that once people make more than enough to meet their basic needs, additional money does not reliably promote greater happiness. Yet over and over, our choices do not reflect this reality.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Ashley: As a happiness researcher, I should know better than to choose money over time. Yet, admittedly, like most people, I make these trade-offs suboptimally. I worked for an hour during my wedding reception and I can often be found typing on my laptop or taking work meetings in spa locker rooms. However, a recent experience solidified for me the importance of focusing on time over money. Two weeks ago, one of my closest friends from graduate school shared some devastating news: Her 32-year-old, fit, healthy partner was dying. Out of nowhere, her partner was diagnosed with terminal metastatic cancer. He was given three months to live. In her fundraising page my friend wrote, “We thought we had all the time in the world.” Today, my friend and her boyfriend ‘immediately-turned-husband’ are trying to savor every second of their time together before the inevitable. As a 30-year old myself, who has focused most of the last 10 years on my career (often at the expense of my sleep, my health, and my personal relationships), this experience was a wake-up call. None of us know how much time we have left, and we cannot take money with us. I have studied the importance of prioritizing time for years. And now, I have started truly trying to live this priority.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Ashley: Benjamin Franklin wrote “Time is Money.” My personal mantra is a play on this familiar quote: “If Time is Money, Money Can Also Buy Happier Time."

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Ashley: The book that changed my life is Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. This book introduced me to the scientific study of well-being. Dan Gilbert argues that we often mispredict what will make us happy. His persuasive arguments and energetic, insightful and witty writing inspired me to become a social scientist. Specifically, this book solidified my interest in conducting research to learn how to successfully nudge all of us to spend our time and money in ways that are most likely to promote happiness.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:27 on 2019/02/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World, , , Isabel Gillies, ,   

    “Making One’s Bed In My Mind Is the Most Direct Road to a Happier Life.” 


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    Interview: Isabel Gillies

    Now, how do I know Isabel Gillies? The answer is lost in the sands of time. We have several mutual friends, perhaps that's how.

    She has had a very interesting, varied career. She is an actor who appeared, among other places, on the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and in the movie Metropolitan.

    She's also a highly successful writer. Her bestselling memoir Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story recounts the story of how her first marriage broke up, while A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story is about the challenge of getting on with her life after the divorce; her young-adult novel Starry Night is about the passion of first love.

    Now in her latest book, she's tackled a different kind of subject: Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Isabel about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Isabel: Making one's bed in my mind is the most direct road to a happier life. It's manageable, satisfying and cozy.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    As I edge closer to 50, I find that happiness comes from trying the best you can to stay right in the very moment you are in. Don't worry about the past or future, just be in the moment. Noticing the light, or a smell, or the sound of the dog breathing will help you just be right where you are.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    I did a lot of research for Cozy, and what tickled me the most was that when I asked people what makes them cozy, everyone smiled.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    YES! I quit smoking. I used a nicotine patch. Right before I turned 25 I thought, "It's kind of sexy to see a young woman smoking, it's really not sexy to see an older woman smoking." I marched to the drug store, got the patch and never smoked again. It was about making up my mind, and committing.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Upholder (just took the quiz).

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    TEENAGERS! No, it's not them per se, it's my inability to stay in the moment, and put everything in its right place. Someone once told me that teenagers are on a roller coaster and as a parent your job is NOT to get on the roller coaster with them—just stand on the side. Sometimes I get on.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Even though I'm healthy (knock on wood), recently my doctor told me I had gained 12 pounds in 2 years. I have always eaten anything I wanted, whenever I wanted—but I guess when I hit menopause that all got turned on its ear. I walked out of his office and decided I would think more about calories in, calories out, and act on it daily—I got an app! I'm having radical acceptance about it. We change—what is there to do but deal with it?

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    "Radical Acceptance."

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Stephen King's On Writing. When I decided to become a writer, I read his book and followed his lead. I'm dyslexic and was an actress. I never had any expectation of becoming a writer so I never took a class or workshop. King was my teacher.

    In the area you’re writing about, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    I'm writing about being cozy. I think people believe coziness is about fires, hot chocolate and cashmere sweaters. I'm making the case that coziness comes from the truth of who you are. You can be cozy on the subway; I always am. If you know what you like, your beat, your point of view, you can carry that anywhere you find yourself and call upon it to find coziness, even challenging circumstances like a hospital.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:19 on 2019/02/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Brave Not Perfect, Girls Who Code, , Reshma Saujani   

    “Sometimes I Have to Remind Myself that Being the Best Me Doesn’t Mean Saying ‘Yes’ to Every Meeting.” 


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    Interview: Reshma Saujani

    Reshma Saujani founded a tech organization called Girls Who Code, and she served as the Deputy Public Advocate in the Office of the Public Advocate here in New York City.

    In addition to that, she's just written a new book: Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder.

    So many of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood are observations along these lines. Don't get it perfect, get it started. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If I'm not failing, I'm not trying hard enough. Enjoy the fun of failure. The best time to start is now. Wherever I am, and whenever it is, I'm in the right place to begin. Etc.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Reshma about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Reshma: Getting in my morning workout! I know that I feel my best and I do my best when I’ve spent an hour sweating it out and showering before sitting down at my desk in the morning. And my favorite part? I schedule it to be inconvenient to others! Sure, my dog Stan needs to go for a walk and my son Shaan wants to play Rescue Bots with me, but I take that hour for me—and I’m a better mom, a better thinker, and a better boss for it.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Reshma: When I was 18, I thought I had it all figured out—I was going to change the world, and that meant hitting every checkpoint along the way perfectly. I had to be the perfect immigrant daughter—I was going to go to Yale Law School like so many other politicians and I was going to get 100% in every class and do everything just right. And even though it took a few tries, I did that. I got into Yale and graduated with a law degree, but I still wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until I did something that totally terrified me—quitting my cushy job and running for office—that I realized that bravery (and sometimes failing!) really was the secret to living my best life.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Reshma: I did a ton of research when writing Brave, Not Perfect, and one story that I can’t get out of my head right now is how deeply ingrained that impulse to please really is. One study from ABC News, with the help of psychologist Campbell Leaper from the University of California, is especially powerful—and the video is even better! The researchers gave groups of boys and girls a glass of lemonade that was objectively awful (they added salt instead of sugar) and asked how they liked it. The boys immediately said, “Eeech . . . this tastes disgusting!” All the girls, however, politely drank it, even choked it down. Only when the researchers pushed and asked the girls why they hadn’t told them the lemonade was terrible did the girls admit that they hadn’t wanted to make the researchers feel bad.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Reshma: I think I’m an Obliger! [Gretchen: Yes, that certainly seems correct.] I’ve always struggled with perfectionism, and trying to do everything that was expected of me, but a lot of the times, I’ll give up on listening to myself. I’ve definitely been working on that, and I’m a lot better at doing things for me than I used to be.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Reshma: If anything, I’m usually the one standing in the way of my own happiness! I’m a notorious vacation email-checker, and sometimes I have to remind myself that being the best me doesn’t mean saying yes to every meeting. There are definitely times where I’ve taken a look at my calendar and had to put on my brave face and email people to change my RSVP to no! It’s always a balance—and I’m still working on getting that right.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Reshma: My lightning bulb moment came in 2008. I was in a job that I hated, miles away from the life I thought I would be living and definitely not changing the world. I’d done everything “right”—gone to the “right” schools, met the “right” people, and taken the “right” jobs. But I was crying myself to sleep every night and dreading work every morning. When I heard Hillary Clinton giving her concession speech after the losing the primary, something she said struck me: that just because she failed doesn’t mean that the rest of us should give up on our goals and dreams. And I realized that there was no reason not to do exactly what I had always wanted to do: run for office! I called my dad, and I was so afraid to disappoint him, since there’s such a big pressure as a child of immigrant parents to have this perfect life. And what did he say when I said I was quitting my job? “It’s about time!” We’re our own harshest critics and so much of our perfectionism is actually self-imposed. The people in our lives, we think we are doing it all for them—but really they just want us to be happy.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Reshma: One small thing that has totally been a game-changer for me is the word “yet.” Sometimes I get stuck in a rut of negativity, thinking “I’m not good at building my son’s toys,” “I can’t fix the broken setting on my computer,” or even “I’m just not good at saying no.” Tack on the word yet—and it’s a whole new mindset. Psychologist and motivational pioneer Carol Dweck referred to this as embracing the “power of yet” as opposed to “the tyranny of now.” It’s one of my favorite strategies for getting a little braver in my everyday life—I might not be there yet, but I will be one day.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Reshma: First: I think we mistake perfection for excellence—and they are two different things. Excellence is a way of being, not a target you hit or miss. It allows you to take pride in the effort, regardless of the outcome. The irony is that perfectionism can actually impede excellence because the anxiety about screwing up that comes with perfectionism can actually be crippling.

    Second: there’s also a difference between striving for success and striving for perfection. So many women today are ambitious. But being a go-getter doesn’t make you gutsy. Perfectionism leads us to following the “expected path” without questioning if it’s genuinely right for us.

    brave not perfect

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:40 on 2019/02/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    My Outer Order Manifesto for My New Book “Outer Order, Inner Calm.” 


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    One of my favorite exercises is to write a "Manifesto." No matter what subject I study, I find it helpful to try to distill my ideas into succinct statements of the most important principles.

    For instance, I’ve done a Happiness Manifesto, a Habits Manifesto, and a Podcast Manifesto.

    It’s a fun, creative, and clarifying process.

    So of course as I was writing my new book Outer Order, Inner Calm, I wanted to write an accompanying manifesto. As with all my manifestos, this one is aspirational—it’s not necessarily what I do, it’s what I try to do.

    Agree, disagree? Did I miss anything important?

    • Outer order contributes to inner calm.
    • Without delay is the easiest way.
    • Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.
    • It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.
    • When in doubt, toss it out—or recycle it, or give it away.
    • Remind yourself: I have plenty of room for the things that are important to me.
    • If you can’t retrieve it, you won’t use it.
    • One of the worst uses of time is to do something well that need not be done at all.
    • Accept yourself, and expect more from yourself.
    • What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.
    • Creating outer order isn’t a matter of having less, or having more; it’s a matter of wanting
    • what you have.
    • Things often get messier before they get tidier.
    • Store things at the store.
    • Little by little, you can get a lot accomplished.
    • Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started.
    • There’s no one "right" way to create and maintain order.
    • Clutter attracts clutter.
    • The days are long, but the years are short.

    What would you add?

    You can download this manifesto as a PDF here.


    My publisher is giving away 24 copies of Outer Order, Inner Calm!

    Enter to win on Goodreads. *Sorry, the giveaway is only open to readers in the US.

    If you’re inclined to buy the book Outer Order, Inner Calm, I very much appreciate pre-orders—pre-orders really do make a difference for authors, by creating buzz among booksellers, the media, and readers. To thank readers who do pre-order, I’ve created a pack of bonus materials to help you start creating outer order even before the book hits the shelves.

    You’ll get access to a special 21 Day Outer Order Challenge that includes videos, a PDF checklist, and 21 days of email prompts to guide you in the challenge. This 21-day project isn’t currently available for purchase—it’s only available for readers who pre-order Outer Order, Inner Calm. After the book goes on sale on March 5, I’ll charge $12 for this special upgraded 21-day project.

    I do believe that in just 21 days, we can make concrete, manageable changes that will help us create the outer order we crave. By taking the time to get our stuff under control, we make ourselves feel calmer, and at the same time, more energetic. Step by step, we can create a serene and orderly environment.

    Claim your preorder bonus here: outerorderinnercalmbook.com/bonus/.

    Do you want a signed, personalized copy of my new book, Outer Order, Inner Calm?

    Pre-order now from the beloved indie bookstore The Strand, and you can have it shipped anywhere (yes, internationally!) or pick up in store once the book is out on March 5.

     
  • feedwordpress 11:00:15 on 2019/02/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , What I read   

    What I Read This Month: January 2019 


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    For more than two years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I now put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I've recently started tracking books I’ve read.

    If you want to see what I read in December 2018, the full list is here. And if you're interested in seeing my year in books, check out this list on Goodreads.

    January 2019 Reading:

    The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai -- many bookish people told me that this is one of their favorite new novels, and I loved it too.

    Wise Child by Monica Furlong -- a terrific children's book with a "witch," an apprentice, a mysterious religion.

    Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders -- many bookish people told me this is one of their favorite recent novels. It was very different from what I expected, very interesting.

    The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin -- if you knew the date you'd die, how would that knowledge affect your life? Haunting question.

    I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott -- I love essays. If you're curious, these essays reveal that Philpott is an Obliger who shows Obliger-rebellion.

    And This is Laura by Ellen Conford -- I bought this book for nostalgic reasons; I remember reading it in middle school. A charming book about a girl who develops the ability to see the future.

    In My Mind's Eye by Jan Morris -- A "thought diary" is a fascinating idea for a structure of a book. I'm a big fan of Morris's work.

    Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver -- I read this book because at an event, someone told me that it changed her life. I can't resist a life-changing book!

    The Elephant in the Room by Tommy Tomlinson -- as someone interested in habit change, I was very interested to read this account of journalist Tomlinson's battle with his weight.

    Apples and Oranges by Marie Brenner -- I met Marie Brenner, and whenever I meet someone who has written a memoir, I run out and read it. This is a fascinating account of a difficult but loving relationship between an adult sister and brother, a subject that interests me greatly but isn't often written about.

    The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson -- More Peter Dickinson. I LOVED THIS BOOK. I plan to re-read it quite soon. I may have loved it as much as Tulku.

    Bad Blood by John Carreyrou -- An outstanding account of the crazy story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. A real page-turner. Just about everyone I know has read it, or like my sister Elizabeth, listened to the audio-book. I also just started listening to The Dropout, a 6-part podcast by ABC News correspondent Rebecca Jarvis about this subject.

    The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty -- an absorbing story by the beloved writer Moriarity. When I checked this novel out of the library, the librarian told me how much she'd enjoyed it, too.

    Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff -- A fascinating account by David Rieff, Susan Sontag's son, about the last year of her life and how she faced death. For some reason, I've suddenly become interested in Susan Sontag.

    Hindsight by Peter Dickinson -- More Peter Dickinson. I love his children's literature so much, I decided to read one of his adult books (of which, I'm excited to report, there are many). This crime novel had a very different flavor, but I really enjoyed it as well. Very interesting structure.

    The Golden Name Day by Jennie D. Lindquist -- How I love this book! I've read it many times. It's on my list of my 81 favorites works of children's and young-adult literature. I also love the two books that follow. Cozy, Swedish traditions, apple blossoms.

    What have you read recently that you'd recommend?

    I'm really in the mood for essays, so am particularly on the look-out for suggestions in that category. And did I mention that I'm a fan of Peter Dickinson?

    Announcement! We decided to launch the Happier Podcast Book Club.

     

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:32 on 2019/01/17 Permalink
    Tags: Aristotle, , , Edith Hall, Greek and Roman philosophy, ,   

    “People Need to Find When Their Brains Work Best and Fit Their Schedules Around That.” 


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    Interview: Edith Hall

    I love Edith Hall's short biography: "Edith Hall is a London University Academic who specialises in putting pleasure into the history, literature, theatre, myth and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome and their continuing impact in the modern world."

    It manages to convey not only her expertise but also her enthusiasm for her subject, and her passion for teaching others to appreciate the ideas and history that absorb her. (Also, from the spellings we know she's British.)

    Given her biography, it's very fitting that Edith Hall's new book is Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life

    "Read Aristotle" was one of the elements in the extremely long subtitle for my book The Happiness Project, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. (I love long subtitles, plus, ever since childhood I'd wanted to write a book with an "Or" title.)

    I couldn't wait to talk to Edith about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Edith: Daily switching off all social media and walking my dog in the local woods for an hour. Weekly cooking a full roast dinner with lots of interesting vegetables on Sunday for family and friends. Insisting everybody switches off all social media while we eat together.

    What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Being very judicious about whose opinion I care about. Women are trained culturally to want to be liked by everyone. But that is impossible because sibling rivalry, transferred out to our entire peer group in the world, makes envy such a motor in human life.

    There are some people whose opinion of you really, really matters. Building good long-term relationships is central to happiness, and it is essential to listen attentively to any complaints or criticisms from those whom I respect and want to live my life closely with. But there is a very large problem of envy and malice out there, which has become worse in the age of social media, and I, like many other people who try to do something creative with their lives, have suffered from a good deal of (what seem to me) unjustifiable attacks.

    But Aristotle says that if you are seriously trying to be the best version of yourself, and never damage people knowingly, then people who criticise you are inevitably motivated by envy, so their opinion really doesn’t matter at all. This realisation is incredibly liberating!

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    I was amazed when I first started reading ancient Greek and Roman philosophy when I was an undergraduate to discover that between about 400 BC and 300 AD there was a whole tradition of non-religious discussion of the right way to live, morality, and the best routes to contentment. The ideas not only of Aristotle but of Socrates and Plato, the Stoics and other philosophers, can be adopted by anybody today, regardless of their religious or cultural or ethnic background. What’s more, they really work!

    When I talk to people of all ages about Aristotle’s recipe for deciding to live a happy life, they often write to me to say they can’t believe how modern and fresh and in tune with their own instinctive beliefs his method is.

    Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Fronting any problems with my family and close friends very swiftly and not stopping until they are resolved. I can’t work at all when emotionally disturbed or worried about those I love.

    Having a flight booked to go somewhere sunny soon when the dark November days draw in.

    I am an early riser and get twice as much work done, of any kind, between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. than at any other time of day. This does mean not going out late on weekday evenings, but it pays off tremendously. People need to find when their brains work best and then fit their daily schedules around that.

    I have always kept a cat and write best with one purring beside me. I love the way animals don’t judge you and just provide perfect, uncomplicated companionship.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I struggled with my weight from childhood, as did my mother and sister. There was far too much instantly edible food in the fridge. After my pregnancies, when I ended up far heavier than I had ever been, I ditched all diets and just moved to only two meals a day, one of them light, and if I’m not hungry I don’t even eat those. But I don’t then obsess at all about what’s on the menu. I’ve been the same OK weight for years.

    I like cooking meals from scratch and make big pans of vegetable soup with. I gave up snacking completely, and, just as Aristotle says about habits, what seemed like hard work at first just became an unconscious reflex. Even on autopilot I genuinely don’t like sweet things now, and find I think and write better on a fairly empty stomach.

    The other habit was choosing hopelessly inappropriate men. In my late teens and twenties I dated people because they were handsome and exciting. This was not compatible with looking for a co-parent to raise the children I so badly wanted with! In the end I got lucky (or rather, more discerning) and found someone who is both stimulating and a great dad. But it took some very tough self-analysis to get there!

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Very definitely a Questioner. I did the quiz! But I think I am a reformed Rebel. As a young person I often did just do the opposite thing from what authority figures of the rules of systems dictated. I do think that personal autonomy is an important part of happiness: there are terrible figures about the depression that results from having a bad boss.

    But I now don’t just rebel for the sake of it. I think hard about every rule and system, and often they are the way they are for extremely good reasons, like wearing a seat-belt in a car. As an Aristotelian, I am a ‘moral particularist’, which means that every single circumstance and every single situation will be different, and you have to exercise your judgement in every single case. Blanket acceptance of rules is not the most constructive approach.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties)

    Travel is extremely disrupting to healthy eating. This is partly why I only eat two times a day and avoid the snacks. You can often buy better food at an airport/train station than what you are given on the plane/train. Bad weather and the mud it causes in winter is also really discouraging, as my main exercise is striding around in our lovely countryside, and I just don’t take well to indoor gyms etc.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Several times! At 13 years old, when a priest was blaming the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus of Nazareth at Easter, I lost my faith altogether. The priest seemed so unsympathetic to these ordinary men in an army to which they had probably been conscripted, having to do what their superior officers commanded and terrified of punishment themselves. It made me realise that life was incredibly complicated, morally speaking, and that religion wasn’t helping me, personally, to find the answers to the big questions.

    The second was my 30th birthday in 1989 when I looked in the mirror and had to admit to myself that my first marriage wasn’t working since my then husband didn’t want a family. It took me a few months to pluck up the courage to go, but I did the night the Berlin Wall came down later that year. I suspect many other people took important decisions that night. The example of those brave East Germans scaling the concrete was so inspiring!

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    “Onwards and upwards.” [Gretchen: How great! That's the signature sign-off line for my podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.] There is also a modern Greek proverb I like, “You help me and I’ll help you and together we’ll climb the mountain.” But it sounds better in Greek, like a line from a song.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:23 on 2019/01/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , Joy Enough, , Sarah McColl   

    “A Life of Contentment and Joy Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Experiences with Loss and Pain.” 


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    Interview: Sarah McColl

    Sarah McColl is a writer who has been published by a wide range of publications, and she also was founding editor-in-chief of Yahoo Foods.

    Her first book just hit the shelves, a memoir called Joy Enough.

    In it, she tackles her experience of simultaneously going through a divorce and losing her mother to cancer—a double blow.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Sarah about happiness, habits, and self-knowledge.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Sarah: When I moved to Los Angeles a little less than a year ago, I started attending a boot camp at the nearby recreation center three mornings a week. There’s a core group of the same women every day. We don’t know the details of one another’s lives, and many of us don’t speak the same language, but I love our sense of community. I know that every morning, rain or shine, we’re going to groan together during glute work and then high-five when it’s over.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Sarah: In my first job after college as an editorial assistant, my boss would walk into my cubicle in her low-heeled Ferragamos, drop off a manuscript, and offer some unsolicited advice. There are many I still rely on, but one that’s come up time and again is: People think relationships will make them happy, but you have to bring happiness to the relationship.

    I knew intellectually what she meant, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I really got it. To have a sense of wholeness on your own—to have passions and friendships and desires and curiosities and ambitions that are all your own, that belong solely to you, and then to choose to be in relationship with someone, someone who you don’t need for those feelings of aliveness in your life, but who brings them all the same—not to mention support, affection, companionship, all the good stuff of loving—that brings so much life and air and, yes, happiness to the dynamic between two people.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Sarah: A life of contentment and joy doesn’t mean avoiding experiences with loss and pain. Experiences with death, in fact, can heighten our awareness of and gratitude for living.

    In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky reports on a study in which 70 to 80 percent of people who had lost someone they love reported finding “benefit” to the experience. I don’t think we want a happy life so much as a meaningful one, and the meaning comes from the experience of feeling fully alive.

    Joseph Campbell said this pretty well: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

    I think death, loss, grief, and pain bring us in touch with the rapture of being alive as much as ecstatic happiness and joy.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Sarah: Well, apparently I’m an Upholder! These results are interesting to me, and also a bit surprising. Sometimes my self-imposed deadlines and goals get in the way of doing what others want or expect from me, and I have a fear that I let people down as a result. But if something is important to me—like writing time, or alone time—I don’t have a problem creating those boundaries for myself.

    If I took this quiz and thought solely of health and exercise, I might turn out as an Obliger or a Rebel. If I say I will meet you for a 6 a.m. spin class, I’ll be there, but if the promise of an early morning exercise class is just to myself, I will hit snooze. Three times. The idea of a diet that tells me what to eat when makes me want to totally rebel. I definitely have a contrarian streak.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Sarah: My mother lived with Stage IV cancer for more than a year. It’s very clarifying when the stakes are life and death for someone you love. I moved home to be with her, to tend her garden and cook dinner, to talk about her fear of death and what I was going to do with my life. Everything became urgent, and if there was something I wanted to do, what was I waiting for? With her encouragement, I applied to graduate school to study writing, and quit my job as an editor-in-chief to attend school time full-time. This decision divided the people in my life into two categories: the people who thought this was brave, exciting, and wonderful and the people who thought I was crazy. But I knew I had to devote myself to what I had most wanted to do since I was a child, which was to write, and that I had to do it now.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    Sarah: You got this is one I turn to in times of trouble, large and small. Driving in scary rush hour traffic? You got this. Pitching a big magazine? You got this. Pushing out those last reps? You got this. (Actually, I say, “Light weight, baby. Light weight,” which I stole from a weight lifter friend.)

    But someone told me something recently that really struck me with its beauty: Feelings are powerful, and they pass.

    My mother used to say, “Feeling is living to me,” and that’s my experience, too. The world of my mind and my heart is the world to me. Everyone’s experience is filtered through consciousness, of course, but what I mean is that I trust my feelings. I’m invested in them. The guy next to me on the bus doesn’t and needn’t care about my inner life—he’s got his own—but I care a lot.

    There are obvious downfalls to this, one of which is that’s a lot of emotional labor to be doing all of the time. So learning how to navigate that intense emotional world is really part of my work as an adult. How do I live and experience and love deeply in ways that make me braver, more powerful, more resilient?

    Writing is a huge part of this for me. If I can investigate on the page why I feel the way I feel and what it means, whether in a poem or a story or an essay, then I’ve created something artful and made a discovery about what it means to be alive. Boom! Net positive. I think the very practice of being vulnerable to our emotional lives—allowing and experiencing our feelings, and knowing we have the strength to feel things deeply and still survive—that’s the practice. That’s the work I’m up to. (You got this.)

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Sarah: Every book I love changes me. Reading is so intimate. We take someone else’s words inside our body. So reading something that fills me with awe and wonder, that opens my eyes to something I’ve never considered, or puts its finger on a thing I have always felt but have never articulated—I live for that! The poem “What the Living Do,” by Marie Howe; Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner; the poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass; the poem "We Are Both Sure to Die" by Wendy Xu; the recently-released second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters; Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am I Am I Am; Sheila Heti’s Motherhood; I Love Dick by Chris Kraus; The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. All I ever want to read about is what it all means, what other people are making of life. Or, as Miranda July writes in the also changed-me It Chooses You, “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.”

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Sarah: Aside from marketing and sales reasons, I don’t understand a commitment to genre in writing or in reading. “I only read nonfiction,” I heard someone say recently. Or, “I expect more from novels than I do from memoirs.” Wait, what? Why, I wondered? I love when writers blur the lines or ignore them or invent something new: autobiographical fiction, lyric prose, prose poems. I love surprising structures and forms, like an essay in the form of Trivial Pursuit answers. Maybe it’s because I like variety or because I’m greedy, but I want all the beauty, all the insight, all the awe. Who cares what it’s called. So maybe I am a Rebel after all.

     
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