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  • 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.

     
  • gretchenrubin 15:00:25 on 2019/02/15 Permalink
    Tags: , daily, , question, ,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: Describe a Day in the Life of Gretchen Rubin. 


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    I'm often asked what my typical day includes.

    I wish I could have a highly routinized day. My fantasy is to live the life of a Benedictine monk—and I mean that quite literally. I've done a huge amount of research into the Rule of St. Benedict and how monastery time is structured because it's so appealing to me.

    But alas, I can't manage that.

    The beginning of my day is usually predictable.

    At 6:00 a.m., I wake up (even on the weekends and holidays). I get dressed, spend 10-15 minutes clearing clutter in our kitchen, family room, entryway, etc. I take my dog Barnaby outside for his morning walk, then head up to my computer to start working on my emails. (I know, many productivity experts say that a morning person like me shouldn't waste good mental energy on emails--but I find I can't settle down to my day until I've cleared out my inbox.)

     

    At this point, my husband Jamie and my daughter Eleanor are getting ready for the day. I talk to them until they leave. I continue working until sometime between 8 am and 10 am, at which point I exercise. I go for a forty-minute walk in Central Park, or I do my weekly yoga class with my mother-in-law, or I do my weekly session of high-intensity weight training.

    From this point, my days differ wildly.

    I might be writing—could be a book draft, a newsletter update, a blog post, a script for a podcast episode, jacket copy, a written

    interview. If I'm in the stage of my work when I'm actually writing or editing a book, I aim to write or edit for at least three hours on that project. Three hours may not sound like a lot, but believe me, it's a lot of writing for one day (at least for me). When I'm in maximum concentration mode, I often take my laptop to my beloved New York Society Library and work at a desk hidden in the stacks. I love to do my writing in a library.

    If I'm not writing, I'm talking. I might be doing an interview, meeting someone for lunch or coffee, recording a podcast episode, or having a call with someone.

    My days differ dramatically depending on where I am in my book cycle. Right now, because my book Outer Order, Inner Calm is coming out in March (have I mentioned that I have a book coming out? Oh right, I think I have), much of my day is related to the book launch, plans for the book tour, creating the pre-order bonus, etc.

    Once that book is well launched, I'll begin to work on my next book. I've already started reading, thinking, and taking notes, but at this point, the intensity will ramp up dramatically.

    Of course, throughout these days, I'm hacking away at my never-ending scroll of emails. For me, email is very valuable. Usually, it's the most efficient way to get things done, and I love to hear from readers, listeners, and viewers—my understanding of my subjects has been deepened tremendously by what I've learned from people emailing me. So I don't begrudge the time I spend on email—but I also try to stay on top of it, because I dislike knowing that I've fallen far behind.

    As the day unfolds, I'm also reading and writing on social media. For me, social media feels like time well spent. I don't have the feeling that it's sucking away my time or that my usage is out of control. Whether that's because I'm an Upholder, or for some other reason, I'm not sure.

    And of course, I see friends and family. I make lots of fun plans, and fortunately for me, my husband also makes fun plans.

    At night, and especially during the weekend, I try to spend a lot of time reading. Some weekends I get a lot of reading done, some weekends are so busy that I can't read much.  I feel like I never read, but I do see that I manage to get books finished. It's a mystery to me. I always want more time to read!

    Is your schedule pretty predictable, or does it change dramatically? I love as much routine as I can manage.

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:25 on 2019/02/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Some Advice I Give Myself Over and Over, About My Romantic Relationship. 


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    I love my husband Jamie with all my heart.

    But as research shows—and I've found this in my own experience—married couples often treat each with less courtesy than they show to friends, or even strangers.

    I find it all too easy to snap at Jamie, to read my email while I'm talking to him on the phone, or to get annoyed by some of his habits.

    I remind myself often to take good advice—that I know perfectly well!

    Here are the challenges that come up most often for me, and the advice I give myself most often.

    1. Don't take things personally.

    It was really helpful for me to realize that Jamie is a Questioner, and that Questioners often intensely dislike answering questions. Before I understood this, I always wondered, "Why does he refuse to tell me what he's making for dinner, or what time we're supposed to arrive for the party?" I thought he was subtly trying to drive me crazy. But now I realize, "Yeah, that's an annoying thing about a lot of Questioners; it doesn't reflect on our relationship, he's like this with everyone."

    2. Use gentle language.

    Elizabeth and I just talked about this idea on the Happier podcast. I can be short-tempered and accusatory. Sad but true. I constantly make an effort to speak more gently, to say, "Do you know where the latest copy of The New Yorker is?" rather than "Did you throw away The New Yorker before I've read it, the way you always do?"

    3. Connect with love.

    I have so many resolutions related to creating a tender, attentive connection. Especially in The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I write about the many ways I try to show affection. For instance, the very first thing I do every morning is to give Jamie a kiss, and I get up to say hello or good-bye every time he comes and goes from the apartment.

    4. Look for ways to be thoughtful.

    I used to wish that Jamie handed out gold stars more often than he does—and in fact, I still wish he did, but I've accepted the fact that he doesn't. I remind myself that I'm doing thoughtful things for him not because he'll thank me, but because that's the way I want to be, that's the kind of atmosphere I want to live in. I'll buy him his favorite kind of shampoo if I notice that he's running low. I'll send him funny photos or cheerful updates during the day, especially when he's traveling.

    5. Make the positive argument.

    I'm very interested in the problems of shared work (one of my very favorite posts that I've ever written is on the subject), and this is an issue in marriage. Because of a phenomenon called unconscious over-claiming, we unconsciously overestimate our contributions or skills relative to other people’s. This makes sense, because of course we’re far more aware of what we do than what other people do. According to Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, “when husbands and wives estimate the percentage of housework each does, their estimates total more than 120 percent.”

    When I start telling myself things like, "Jamie never helps," "Jamie never plans," "Jamie never answers my emails," I make the positive argument, and remind myself of everything he does do.

    In David Dunning’s fascinating book, Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself, Dunning observes:

    [People] can argue anything. If asked to argue that some assertion “A” is true, people can do that. If next asked to argue that the opposite of “A” is true, they can do that, too, often with the exact same ease and effectiveness…When testing a hypothesis, people tend to emphasize evidence that confirms the hypothesis over information that disconfirms it. For example, if I asked someone whether he or she was an outgoing individual, that someone will likely sit back to think about times he or she has been an extroverted, sociable person…if I asked the same person whether he or she is the shy type, he or she would likely think of exactly…opposing examples because they confirm the new hypothesis. (46-47)

    I have really found this to be true.

    I have Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness, and the Sixth Truth is: "The only person I can change is myself." I can't assign resolutions for my husband to follow (as tempting as that sounds; it wouldn't work). Nevertheless, I've found that when I change, a relationship changes, and the atmosphere of my home changes.

    How about you? What advice do you have to repeat to yourself, about your relationship to your sweetheart?

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:05 on 2019/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    A Yearly Challenge: How to Deal with Post-Holiday Clutter? Here Are My Seven Tips. 


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    I love the holidays! It's a fun, festive, family- and friend-filled time.

    It's also a messy, overwhelming, clutter-creating time.

    Over the years, I've developed some strategies to help deal with post-holiday clutter, and this year I added a few new ones.

    1. Each Christmas, my family spends a week in Kansas City with my parents. If possible, I try to do a round of clutter-clearing with each family member before we go. That way, we make room for any new gifts we acquire.

    2. Also before we leave town, I try to get the apartment as tidy as possible, because I know it will be a relief to return to a clutter-free home.

    3. I aim to put the holiday decorations away as soon as possible. Usually I aim for New Year's Day. This year, we didn't manage to get them down until January 5—still, it could've been worse. I love seeing holiday decorations go up; I also love seeing them cleared away.

    4. This year, as we were putting up and taking down holiday decorations, I made a big effort to weed out the items we don't love. We have a lot of decorations—it's a big tradition in my family—but there are some things that just never get used. I told myself, "Rather than leave this quirky elf in the box year after year, let me give it away, so someone who loves quirky elves can enjoy it." I tried to be as ruthless as possible before Christmas, so that these decorations would be out in the world seeking new owners before the holidays. But I did give away more things on the other side, too. As I noted in Outer Order, Inner Calm, it often takes a few passes through our possessions to loosen our grip.

    5. This year, I made a big effort to put away gift items as soon as possible. At least with my family, people tend to leave things out, and not put them away in their new places. For instance, my daughters each received a very attractive travel jewelry box. Now, where exactly does such an item belong? Rather than figure the answer to that question and put away the boxes, they each left the box on their bureau. I try to speed up this process by looking for unhoused items and helping us all figure out where things should go. I strongly believe that everything should have a proper place—not just be shoved in a closet somewhere—but it often takes some thought to decide, "Where does this item belong?" What's the proper place for a travel jewelry box? A meat thermometer? A retro pocket games device? It's not always obvious.

    6. I push myself to be honest about what gifts we will actually use—and if we won't use them, figure out to whom to re-gift them, or where to give something away. My family relies heavily on wish-lists, and one of the nice things about that is that we usually don't have many unwanted gifts.

    7. Put gifts to use as soon as possible. One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is "Spend out," and this continues to be a struggle for me. I put that fancy soap in the soap dish right away, and I wear that new sweater as soon as possible. Otherwise, I will "save" them. For instance, I love a pair of rainbow-striped pajamas I received (color!) and a great stylish gray sweatshirt, but I can feel myself wanting to keep them pristine and tidy. No, put them on, wear them! Why is this so hard for me? A mystery.

    What strategies do you use to conquer post-holiday clutter?

    Don't forget to claim your bonus if you pre-ordered Outer Order, Inner Calm.

     
  • 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 10:00:45 on 2018/12/20 Permalink
    Tags: Atlas of Happiness, , Denmark, , Helen Russell, ,   

    “I Use Everything in My Resilience Toolkit to Keep My Mental and Physical Health Intact.” 


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    Interview: Helen Russell.

    Helen Russell is the bestselling author of The Year of Living Danishly. Formerly the editor of MarieClaire.co.uk, she now lives in Denmark and works as a Scandinavia correspondent for the Guardian. For a long time, she wrote a column on Denmark for the Telegraph and has written features for the Times, the Observer, Grazia, the Wall Street Journal and the Independent.

    Now she has a new book, The Atlas of Happiness. It's an illustrated, full-color, around-the-world look at the happiness secrets of different countries. The book covers 33 international happiness concepts, and explores places like Australia, Wales,  Bhutan, Ireland, Finland, Turkey, Syria, Japan, and many more.

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

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

    Helen: Being open to new experiences and talking to strangers. Both are outside of my comfort zone but I’ve found that the more I reach out and engage—interacting with the world around me—the more fulfilled I feel in every aspect of my life. And this habit has helped me meet some amazing people and write for a living—a huge privilege.

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

    Helen: That the lows are all part of it and that we also need fallow periods to just be. I grew up in the 1980s and 90s where the pace of life was fast and if you weren’t aiming for the top (of everything) you weren’t aiming high enough. But life is filled with sadness as well as joy and not every day will be unicorns skipping with rainbows. This is something I’ve learned with age and through my research into happiness and the cultural differences in what ‘a good life’ means around the world.

    In Sweden and Brazil, for example, a degree of melancholy in life is considered inevitable—desirable, even—and something to be savoured rather than ignored. No one can be "jazz hands" happy all the time. I’ve also been inspired by my recent research into the Italian concept: Dolce far niente or "the sweetness of doing nothing." Stillness isn’t something that comes naturally to me but as one of my best friends puts it, "We all need some sitting down and staring into space time once in a while."

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

    Helen: I’ve become very interested in work culture around the world and how in many prosperous nations, the daily grind is actively damaging our mental well-being as well as impacting negatively on productivity. When I swapped a big, shiny job in London for life in rural Denmark, I was staggered by Danish working culture—with the average Dane only working 33 hours a week and prioritising family and leisure time. Happiness at work is prized and Denmark also comes top in terms of worker motivation, according to The World Competitiveness Yearbook.

    At first I presumed that this made Danes massive slackers, but then I found out that workers are 12 per cent more productive when they’re in a positive state of mind, according to research from the University of Warwick—and Denmark is the fourth most productive country in the world, according to Expert Market data. It’s staggering that a culture of presenteeism still pervades in much of the world when we know now from the data that this is bad for workers and bad for the bottom line. Now, I try to log off, power down and stop work on time.

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

    Helen: Living by the sea means I can get out on my beloved paddle board a few times a week to broaden my horizons, focusing on nothing but a wide open expanse of blue for an hour. For my new book, I’ve been writing about Hawaii, where water is sacred and there’s an ancient proverb, ola alla wai, or “water is life.” I’m beginning to agree with this.

    Music is important, too—I listen to different playlists depending on the task at hand or how I’m feeling. Numerous studies have shown how music can alter our mood and I am a big fan of a psychological tool called "emotional arousal," whereby you listen to music that makes you feel fired up and charged with energy to help you to tackle whatever lies ahead. So far today, it’s been a "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman on repeat kind of morning...!

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

    Helen: I came to exercise late and only realised relatively recently that it was something I could do to make me feel better. At school, I was always told I wasn't sporty. I got picked last for all team sports and then I did no exercise at all until my mid 20s when I approached it with self-loathing. My body was a human pincushion for years, with various failed fertility treatments, then it miraculously grew three people and my body became theirs for a while. But now it finally feels like it’s mine and so I'm taking care of it -- exercising to feel strong and stay sane and just for me. And I love it.

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

    Helen: I’m a terrible Obliger (thank you for pointing this out!) and as a freelancer I now make sure I litter my life with people who make me do the things I know I ought to (eating well, socializing, self-care or what Danes call "putting your own oxygen mask on first" and the brave new world of "relaxing").

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

    Helen: Travel is tricky, because I tend not to eat well or exercise and it’s tough being away from my family. For the first few hours, I feel wonderfully free and giddy about the fact that I can go to the bathroom without toddlers following me in there—but then I miss them terribly. Yet as soon as I get home, the house is so chaotic, I’ll often long for the solitude of a single occupancy hotel bedroom again.

    There’s still a lot of guilt tied up with being a working parent that no amount of research and logical thinking can totally assuage. My kids are small and still wake up, on average, every other night, requiring something or other. So with three of them, statistically, I’m woken up at least once a night, every night. I know that if I don’t get eight hours of sleep, I have a tendency towards depression—but I haven’t had eight hours of sleep in four years. As a result, I use everything in my resilience toolkit to keep my mental and physical health intact.

    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? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Helen: There’s a phrase in Icelandic that has become the unofficial motto for Icelanders and wannabe Vikings everywhere: Þetta reddast. This roughly translates as "it will be all right," but has come to represent the unwavering belief that everything will work out in the end. There’s a sense that since Icelanders have made their home in such an inhospitable landscape that they can handle anything and all the Icelanders I know have an easy-going manner with a core of grit—an unusual but powerful combination. Studies show that resilience is key to happiness and the idea of taking the long view that "no matter how big a problem, we’ll find a way" really appeals to me. So now I have the phrase pinned up above my desk to remind myself to be more Viking, wherever possible.

    The Atlas of Happiness by Helen Russell

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:16 on 2018/12/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , The Practicing Stoic, Ward Farnsworth   

    “Stoics Generally Are a Humble and Good-Natured Crowd.” 


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    Interview: Ward Farnsworth

    I got to know Warn Farnsworth during the year when we were both clerking for the Supreme Court; I was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and he was clerking for Justice Anthony Kennedy.

    I've strayed far from law, but not Ward. He's dean of the University of Texas Law School and has held many important legal positions over the years. Not only that, he's written many interesting books on law, rhetoric, philosophy, and chess.

    For a long time, I've been meaning to read his book Farnsworth's Classical English Metaphor, and while I haven't read it yet, I recently finished his terrific new book The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User's Manual.

    It's a clear, accessible, enjoyable, and thought-provoking look at Stoic philosophy—which, as Ward makes clear, has much value to us today.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Ward about the relationship between happiness and stoicism.

    Gretchen: To most people, Stoicism doesn’t sound like it has much to do with happiness—more like the opposite, right?

    Ward: Yes, that’s the first thing to know about Stoicism—the word is misleading. In ordinary modern English it means something like “suffering without complaint.” But Stoicism as an ancient philosophy was a way to think about every aspect of being human, including happiness. The Stoics were deep analysts of happiness—in my view, the most interesting students of that subject who ever lived—present company excepted, of course. One of Seneca’s most important essays was called “On the Happy Life.”

    Gretchen: So what are some of the things they have to say about being happy?

    Ward: Well, I’ve written a new book—The Practicing Stoic—that presents the teachings of the Stoics in way that is meant to make sense for us now. Lesson number 1 is that we don’t react to events or people or anything else in the world. We react to our thoughts about them. And the thoughts are up to us.

    Gretchen: Hmmm. What’s an example?

    Ward: Let’s say that others are criticizing you—on Twitter, maybe—and you’re feeling down about it. The Stoic would say: you aren’t unhappy about what they said, at least not primarily. Your being upset arises from beliefs you hold—that you care what the critics think, for example, or that their opinions are worth worrying about for some other reason. If you didn’t hold those views, you wouldn’t be unhappy. So then the Stoic would spend some time asking why you care what some idiot on Twitter said, and after a while you would probably feel better.

    Gretchen: Definitely useful. But aren’t some reactions harder to see that way?

    Ward: Yes, I picked an easy example. But the Stoics think everything works roughly like that. If you’re mad about something, it’s because of your judgments, not the thing you’re mad at. If you’re afraid of something, it’s because of your thoughts, not because of the thing itself.

    Gretchen: But sometimes we should be mad or afraid, shouldn’t we?

    Ward: The Stoic would just ask: how does the anger or fear serve you? It probably makes you worse off. If something is dangerous, by all means avoid it; but how does the feeling of fear help? If something makes you angry, by all means consider fixing it or rectifying it; but how does getting angry help?

    Gretchen: But it isn’t that easy to decide to stop being afraid of some things.

    Ward: Yes, of course—sometimes it’s harder than it sounds. But sometimes it’s easier than it sounds. You realize that your fear comes from the way you talk to yourself, so you knock it off. But anyway the Stoics don’t just tell us to take responsibility for our thinking and leave it at that. They offer lots of ways to take apart a fear or a source of anger or whatever else and dissolve its effects—ways to replace thinking that probably doesn’t help with thinking that does.

    Gretchen: All right, but then let’s go back to happiness. How does that figure in?

    Ward: Of course reducing anger and fear is a great help towards happiness for most people. But the Stoics also talk a lot about gaining more happiness as such. Basically they think you can’t gain real happiness through direct effort. If you try to make yourself happy by satisfying your desires, for example, you find that they never really end. The way to find happiness is by focusing on things larger than yourself—on serving others and the greater good, on the love of truth, or (in a word) on virtue. The Stoics think of happiness as a byproduct of that way of life. It’s like sleep. You can’t fall asleep by working hard at it. You fall asleep by focusing on other things. The Stoics think happiness works in roughly that way.

    Gretchen: You talked about “Lesson 1.” What are some other Stoic teachings that are useful in trying to find happiness?

    Ward: Lesson 2 is the difference between things that are up to us and things that aren’t. The Stoics thought that most people waste a great deal of energy and misery worrying about things they can’t control. The Stoic approach is to never get worked up about them, and to focus on the things in life that are up to you. This turns out to be a very versatile and helpful idea.

    Gretchen: Again, how about an example?

    Ward: The simplest example, and a case everyone can understand, is spilled milk. Once something you don’t like has happened and can’t be helped, the Stoics would say it’s a mistake to spend a moment agonizing about it. It’s done. If you can learn something from it, great, but otherwise forget it. It’s the same if you’re stuck in traffic. If you can’t change it, shrug it off. These examples are understood by all of us at least some of the time. But again, the Stoics take that attitude toward everything in life that they can’t control. One can’t control one’s partner, as you’ve emphasized in your own writings; you can’t control other people in general, and what they say or think, or the fact that you’re going to die eventually. So Stoics don’t worry about that stuff.

    Gretchen: Does that mean that Stoics don’t care about politics?

    Ward: No, that’s not quite it. The Stoics thought participating in public life was important. And some of the greatest Stoics, such as Marcus Aurelius, were important public figures in Rome. The Stoics believed we should each regard ourselves as individually small but as parts of a whole, so doing one’s part is important even if it’s a small part. But if some politician did something that they couldn’t affect, Stoics wouldn’t let it disrupt their equanimity. That’s an important idea in Stoicism in general. Stoics have preferences about things like anyone else does. They just don’t let their peace of mind depend on them.

    Gretchen: Do you think of Stoicism as a kind of psychology or philosophy?

    Ward: It’s both. The old Stoics did their writing at a time when those two disciplines weren’t separated the way they are now. Sometimes they do talk about the same themes you would find in modern books about psychology. For example, they’re very interested in what we now might call adaptation—the ways that we get used to things, and how this affects the way we feel about them. We tend get used to the good things in our lives, and so lose the ability the appreciate them. We also tend to get used to the bad things, which prevents them from always making us miserable. Stoics try to undo the bad kind of adaptation by staying grateful for what they have. And they try to cultivate, or simulate, the good kind of adaptation. When they deal with some sort of adversity, they try to approach it as they would if they had dealt with a lot, not like amateurs.

    Gretchen: So do you think the ancient Stoics were happy?

    Ward: I think their Stoicism made them happier. For them, “happiness” had multiple meanings. It usually meant eudaimonia—the good life, rather than the good mood. But they also cared about simple peace of mind and pleasures they considered natural. Most people who study Stoicism end up with a least a little more of those things. People nowadays think of Stoicism as a kind of grim resolve. But Stoics are more likely to find mild humor in things that everyone else regards as grim. They find the comedy in things that made everyone else mad. Stoics generally are a humble and good-natured crowd.

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 10:00:20 on 2018/12/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , commitments, , , , , , , , , , ,   

    2018 Is Almost Over! Time for an “18 for 2018” Update. 


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    In episodes 149 and 152 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I talked about how we created a list of our "18 for 2018"—eighteen things we wanted to get done in 2018.

    I've been surprised by how enthusiastically people have embraced this approach to making changes and meeting aims for the new year. It's a really fun exercise.

    Well, we’re nearing the end of 2018, and I thought I’d review my progress so far.

    I have to say, I'm pleased with my list! I've crossed off every item.

    1. Start having weekly adventures with Eleanor.

    Eleanor and I have gone on many adventures in 2018, to the Cooper Hewitt (Eleanor's favorite museum), the Metropolitan Museum, the Frick, Color Factory exhibit, the Asia Society, and elsewhere. We also did a big adventure to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, though that doesn't really count as a "weekly" adventure.

    eleanor at museum 1 

    2. Fix my headset, runs out of battery really fast.

    3. Set up a home studio in this closet for my "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live" Facebook show.

    After talking to a lighting expert, I decided not to convert my closet, which he thought might seem claustrophobic to me and viewers, so instead, I bought a big standing light. He showed me how to adjust the light in the room for better video quality. Click here to view the schedule and join me on my next live show.

    4. Work with Barnaby so he’s better at coming when I call him.

    When I announced on the Happier podcast that I'd given up on this item, many listeners got in touch to encourage me to keep working on it—so I did! Now Barnaby does reliably come from anywhere in the apartment when I say "Barnaby, TOUCH."

    5. Clean out my massive tote bag collection. Each one is special.

    6. Take Eleanor to get her contacts checked.

    Although she (and I) resisted dealing with it, Eleanor is now very happy to be wearing contacts.

    7. Start making consistent progress on "Report to the Committee on Exploration." [should be crossed out//]

    We're in the very final stages of this project! My friend and I are creating this together, and our part is finished. All that's left is to receive the actual books. I'm so excited to see the final masterpiece. (If you want to read about a similar project called "Four to Llewelyn's Edge," I describe it here). We even have a gorgeous logo that was created by the brilliant Gabe Greenberg// for this imaginary inter-steller organization.

    8. Create a work calendar for the year.

    9. Finish My Color Pilgrimage and figure out what the heck to do with it; similarly, Outer Order, Inner Calm.

    Outer Order, Inner Calm is well on its way to publication on March 5, 2018. (If you feel inclined to pre-order, I really appreciate it! Pre-orders give such a boost to a book among booksellers, the public, and the press). Because of that book's publication, and also because The Happiness Project, Tenth Anniversary Edition came out November 2018, I decided to postpone worrying about My Color Pilgrimage until February 2019. I want things to calm down a bit.

    10. Tap more into my love of smell.

    I've been trying new perfumes more consistently and wearing my favorites more consistently. (One of my favorite times to wear perfume? When I'm going to bed.) I also signed up for two terrific perfume courses at the Pratt Institute. This weekend is my final class. Most important, I've been more aware of scent as I go through my ordinary day. It's easy to ignore smells, I find, if I don't make an effort to notice and appreciate them.

    11. Plan perfume field trip with a friend. [should be crossed out//]

    I did this twice and want to continue to do it. I've been to Perfumerie and Fueguia—I highly recommend both shops. I tried to go to Twisted Lily, which is near the Panoply studio where I recorded the Happier podcast, but it was closed. Eleanor and I went to an exhibit called "Design Beyond Vision" at the Cooper Hewitt—that was a great scent field trip. We visited a perfume museum when we were in Paris this summer. I'm always looking for a way to have a scent field trip.

    12. Get new phone for camera to improve the video quality of my weekly Facebook show, "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live".

    13. Figure out Instagram features and use it regularly.

    I still want to make better use of the many fun features of Instagram, but I am using it consistently. Eleanor has really enjoyed showing me how to use some of its quirkier aspects.

    14. Decide on a cause to give to as a family.

    We decided to give to Bottom Line, which helps low-income and first-generation-to-college students get to and through college; students get individual support to ensure they have the information and guidance they need to get into and graduate from college, from being a high-school senior all the way through to college graduation and career plan. I have a friend who works in philanthropy and is especially knowledgeable about educational organizations, and she recommended Bottom Line as an organization that does a really great job achieving its aims.

    15. Create the Four Tendencies workshop.

    As I expected, this item was one of the most demanding of all the items on the list. It took many months, lots of hard work, and the contributions of several terrific people. It's so exciting to have it finished! Ever since Better Than Before was published, people have asked for a Four Tendencies workshop. It's thrilling to be able to answer "yes" at last.

    16. Deal with the items we want to donate to Housing Works.

    In an extraordinary piece of luck, a Housing Works store has opened less than a block from my apartment. I've given so much to Housing Works (which, unlike many places, also accepts books). Working on Outer Order, Inner Calm has really helped me to stay focus on the satisfaction of donating items.

    17. Creating a list for listeners of the Try This at Homes and Happiness Hacks so far.

    At last! And just in time. You can download these two PDF resources here. I'll update these lists at the end of each year, and periodically after that.

    18. Get current with making physical photo albums with Shutterfly.

     

    What conclusions do I draw from my list?

    The biggest conclusion is that making an "18 for 2018" list is a great idea. I'm sure that I accomplished much more in 2018 than I would have otherwise. Putting items on the list, reviewing the list, talking it over with Elizabeth, seeing the list on the cork-board next to my desk, the desire to score a perfect 18 by December 31—all these mean that I'm much more likely to get these things done.

    Plus it's fun! I got a tremendous kick out of this challenge.

    I've also concluded that it's good to have a mix of items, with different levels of difficulty.

    Some span a long period of time and take collaboration with other people, like #9 and #15.

    Some are fairly easy, but need to be done regularly for me to see the benefit, like #1 or #16.

    Some were fairly easy to cross off the list, like #14.

    Some are time-consuming, but just once, or every once in a while, like #6.

    Some are fun, like #10 and #11.

    Some aren't fun, like #18.

    But they've all made my life happier in some way.

    One question: Given that I completed all items, should I have aimed higher? Was I too modest in my list-making? Robert Browning wrote, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what's a heaven for?" I can see an argument for both approaches.

    Are you finding it fun or burdensome to try to meet your New Year’s resolutions, observe your one-word theme for the year, or tackle your "18 for 2018?" 

    Want to share your list on Instagram? Use #18for2018 and #HappierPodcast and tag me: @gretchenrubin

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:21 on 2018/11/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Erica Meloe, , , physical therapy, Why Do I Hurt?   

    “The Relationship of Our Body to Our Mind Is More than Just a Tagline. It’s a Real Thing.” 


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    Interview: Erica Meloe

    Fortunately for me, I've know Erica Meloe for years. From time to time, for no apparent reason, I start to have a lot of pain in my neck—or more rarely, shoulder. Usually this pain goes away on its own, but there have been occasions when the pain was bad and didn't seem to be on the mend.

    In those cases, I turn to the brilliant, super-effective Erica Meloe. She's a physical therapist who has made such a difference for me—and for my husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, among others.

    She really understands the body in an extraordinary way.

    She just wrote a terrific book, Why Do I Hurt? Discover the Surprising Connections that Cause Physical Pain--and What to Do About Them.

    I'm particularly interested in this book because I've developed a minor preoccupation with the subject of pain (a frightening subject, but interesting).

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Erica about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

    Erica: I have been doing a lot of Spinning at Soul Cycle these days and I have never felt more exhilarated! I believe that movement in whatever form, is good for your body, mind and soul. I get an enormous amount of inspiration from exercise. Whether it is the community, the movement or just the feeling of sweating through a good workout, it stirs up my creative juices and I feel more alive. Another habit that I do almost every night is read. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and try to read something from the Regency period fairly often. It really grounds me.

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

    Erica: This is a great question! The first thought that comes to mind is, “That it doesn’t just happen to you, you have to create your own happiness." I think that our definition of happiness changes, as we grow older. And one of the biggest lessons for me is that what I think will make me happy, actually doesn’t make me happy.

    We think if "we get or achieve" certain things or goals, that is the ultimate in happiness. And what I have found, is that it is the little things that make me happy and fill me with gratitude. For example, going to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” with my niece, learning something new, or going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the “Versailles” exhibit, this is what makes me happy.

    Professionally, helping a patient to problem solve their persistent pain and get them moving better is so rewarding. And even more recently, seeing my book Why Do I Hurt? finally published!

    Making beautiful memories is what happiness is all about for me.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or others – most?

    Erica: What continues to intrigue and motivate me to search for more evidence is that the relationship of our body to our mind is more than just a tagline, it is a real thing. The body has amazing healing powers if we only tap into our own internal resources.

    As a physical therapist, I see so many people affected by persistent pain as is evidenced by the rising rates of consumer opioid abuse. When someone has persistent pain, more often than not, the source of that pain lies somewhere other than their symptomatic body part. Our bodies are such great compensators, that long after an injury or painful part has healed, there are some people who still experience pain.

    What surprises many of my patients is the fact that we also need to treat at least one or two other regions of the body in order for them to achieve any long lasting change. That is the epitome of treating the source versus just treating the symptom.

    What I also find extremely fascinating is that when you give someone a diagnosis, in my field for example, like a “herniated disc” or “your hip or knee is bone-on-bone,” this can be seen as a placebo or alternatively as a nocebo, which can be detrimental. The delivery of a diagnosis to a patient is the most important piece in health care delivery.

    I will stick to physical therapy, as it is my scope of practice, but think about this: “You have bone-on-bone in your hip which is seen on your most recent x-ray and you need a hip replacement." Versus, "You have some degenerative changes in your hip which are very common as you grow older. We call them the 'kisses of time.' You can rehab this or at some point in the future, you may choose to have a very common surgical procedure called a hip replacement. Your CHOICE."

    I believe the first one is a nocebo and the second one is a placebo. Being given a choice versus being told what to do has an enormous impact on how we process pain and ultimately in how we manage it. A health care professional’s words matter.

    Gretchen: What advice do you find yourself giving over and over? If you could wave a magic wand so that just about everyone followed certain habits or practices, what would you choose?

    Erica: I constantly find myself telling people that our body makes unconscious choices in how we move. We resort to old movement strategies or habits that our body sees as “normal.” Our bodies take the path of least resistance until we run out of options. We run a certain way (and we have been running that way for years) until we change something, like our environment, our shoes, our running pattern, and then breakdown occurs. It can manifest as fatigue, pain or lack of endurance as examples.

    Our old habit or strategy that has reached it’s “buckle point” as I like to call it, is now something that needs to be re-patterned or re-trained. I always tell my patients that we need to develop a new habit or a new normal. And that changes depending on the amount of load, stress or activity that we put on our bodies.

    Being open minded to developing new movement patterns, practices or habits is what makes us unique. If I could wave a magic wand (and I would use Hermione’s wand!) it would be to develop many habits or practices. The body responds really well to variance in the sense that if we vary our movements, positions and activities and make that a habit, our bodies would thank us!

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

    Erica: I thought I would be an Upholder when I took the quiz but my results showed that I am an Obliger! I am working at meeting my inner expectations and learning how to say “no,” more often! I do believe that when you work with patients and are in a healing profession, there is a tendency towards meeting others’ needs ahead of your own.

    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?

    Erica: “Faith and Courage” and more recently, “Bring the Joy.”

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

    Erica: As an Obliger, I tend to over-commit and take on too many obligations. Often times, I find myself saying no to certain things because of a deadline or expectation on my part that I have to get something done.

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

    Erica: Yes, thank you! The biggest misconception is that physical therapy is a uniform profession. That is, the same results will be achieved with any physical therapist. This is simply not true.

    Practices, techniques, and philosophies differ. I have heard many stories where patients have not gotten the results they wanted from a medical provider, but have achieved noticeable benefits when they see a good PT who looks at the body differently from a holistic and integrated perspective.

    So I would encourage all patients to try a new physical therapist if they have not gotten the results they wanted. Their experience may be vastly different with someone else.

    why do I hurt? cover

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:49 on 2018/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: Alice Robb, , , , , , Why We Dream   

    “What You Think Is Existential Angst Might Actually Be a Lack of Sleep.” 


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    Interview: Alice Robb

    Alice is a writer who lives here in New York City, in Brooklyn. She's written for many publication, including The New Republic and The Cut.

    She has a book that just hit the shelves: Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey.

    Throughout history, people have been fascinated by dreams—why we dream, what dreams mean, and if you're my husband, how do you stop having the same bad dream over and over? (He dreams that he didn't study for an exam).

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

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

    Alice: When I started freelancing a few years ago, I realized how important it is to find ways to divide the day between work and leisure; no one is going to say, “Good job, go home,” at 6 o’clock. At the end of the day, when I’ve decided I’m done working, I make a list of everything I’ve left unfinished. This helps me switch gears; I don’t have to worry that I’ll forget what I was in the middle of or lose momentum the next day. I save it in a draft email in my inbox, and I wake up with my to-do list already made. Most of my projects are ongoing—I was working on the book for years—and I’m not always at a natural breaking point when I need to stop.

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

    Alice: What you think is existential angst might actually be a lack of sleep.

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

    Alice: Most of us have been taught to ignore our dreams; many people I’ve spoken to say things like, “I never dream.” But even if you don’t often remember your dreams, you’re still having them. And it’s easy to improve your dream recall—just by spending a few minutes during the day thinking about dreams, deciding you want to remember them, or making a habit of writing them down when you wake up. You might even find that you remember your dreams tonight, after reading this interview.

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

    Alice: One of the great things about freelancing is that I can structure my routine around what makes me feel and work best. I used to struggle to fit it in exercise in the morning; by the time I got to work, I felt like I was already halfway through the day. Now, I exercise in the early afternoon, and it helps me break up the day and avoid that afternoon slump; it also feels very luxurious to go to the gym or bike around the park when most people are at the office.

    Another habit that’s important to me is keeping a dream journal. I became diligent about writing down my dreams several years ago, and I was amazed at the level of detail I quickly became able to reconstruct. Apart from the psychological and creative value of this exercise, it’s become a part of my writing routine; writing a couple hundred of words first thing in the morning—words that take no effort—helps me transition into writing that’s more challenging.

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

    Alice: I used to think of procrastination as a terrible habit, but I’ve come to accept it as a part of my process. My productivity is always going to skyrocket in the run-up to a deadline; I’ve pretty much always worked best with time pressure. So, rather than torturing myself and feeling guilty long before I’m actually going to do anything about it—opening the Word document and then just opening Twitter on top of it—I clear my schedule for the time leading up the deadline and plan to take advantage of that period when I’ll be most productive. [Gretchen: In Better Than Before, I explore the difference between "marathoners" and "sprinters," and Alice is clearly a sprinter.]

    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.?

    Alice: I read Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea when I was in college, and I was astonished; it was the first time I’d read a reported book of non-fiction that was as gripping as any novel. That was the book that made me realize I wanted to be a non-fiction book-writer.

    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?

    Alice: “Sometimes there is writing, and sometimes there is typing.” A very kind editor said this to me when I was struggling with a piece. When you’re blocked, you can start to feel like you’re never going to write again; it’s helpful to remember that everyone gets stuck sometimes, and that if you push through and don’t put too much pressure on yourself—just keep typing!—you’ll eventually start writing again.

    why we dream

     
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