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  • gretchenrubin 16:00:00 on 2022/08/02 Permalink
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    A Question I’m Often Asked: How Do I Spark My Creativity? 

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    A question that I'm often asked is, "How do I spark my creativity?" I find it very helpful to consider this question, to make sure I keep doing the things that keep me sparked!

    These are the strategies that work for me; I'm also fascinated to learn about other people's methods of stoking their creativity and productivity.

    1. Reading. Reading is my tree house and my cubicle, my work day and my snow day.

    One of my favorite things about myself is that I often become intensely interested by certain subjects. I’ll do countless hours of reading about these subjects, sometimes over the course of years.

    For instance, my preoccupations have included: color, clutter, aphorisms and proverbs, the placebo response, the sense of smell, dogs, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Winston Churchill, cold reading, the nature of biography, the question of why owners would destroy their own possessions, happiness—and, very appropriately for this post, ways to spark creativity. (So if you have suggestions, send them my way!)

    2. Taking notes. When I read, I’m always looking for passages that I want to note. I mark them as I read—either by adding a sticky flag if I’m reading a library book, or by marking the page if I own the book. Then, when I’ve finished the book, I type my notes into my computer. I have many giant documents that hold various types of notes, and sometimes, one part of a giant document will split off and form its own book.

    3. Talking to people. I get many of my most important insights and examples from conversation. For instance, years ago, at lunch with a friend, she said, "I don't get it. I know I'm happier when I exercise, and when I was on my high-school track team, I never missed track practice. So why can't I go running now?" Our conversation haunted me, and pondering her question gave me a crucial clue in my understanding of what became my Four Tendencies personality framework.

    Back to #2—if I want to take notes during a conversation, I email myself.

    4. Watching documentaries, movies, TV shows, plays...more fodder! Ask me about the Get Back documentary. I can't stop thinking about it.

    5. Making a daily visit to the Metropolitan Museum. As part of my research for my book about the five senses, I do a "daily visit." I visit the same place every day—to see how the place changes over time, and how each of my senses reveals different aspects of it, and how making a daily visit changes me. I may visit the Met every day for the rest of my life.

    Also, when I go to the Met, I'm walking (research shows that walking is very good for creativity) and I'm also spending time outside as I make my way there and back (also good for creativity).

    6. Turning my ideas into some kind of written creation. This could be a book, like Better Than Before. Or a podcast episode of Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Or an entry in my "5 Things Making Me Happy" weekly newsletter or for my "Moment of Happiness" daily quotation newsletter. Or an entry in my Book of Aphorisms. Or an article like this one. To think through ideas, to organize my thoughts, to test my conclusions, I always need to put them into words.

    7. NEW: Creating physical objects. Inspired by my five senses, I've become increasingly drawn to the prospect of making tangible, visual creations. I write about one such project in my upcoming five-senses book (stay tuned! I love this project), and when my daughter Eleanor and I were in Paris together, she made an impassioned case for why I should put more energy into making things. The thing that surprised me was that once she suggested it, I knew what I wanted to create. Can I execute on my vision? I don't know. But I'm enthralled with the prospect.

    8. Tapping into my five senses. When I started my research, I predicted that tuning into my five senses would spark my creativity—and wow, that has happened. In fact, I'm a bit overwhelmed by how many more projects I'm working on or planning. (If you're thinking, "Okay, Gretchen, but how did you tap into your five senses?" never fear, that's what my next book is about.)

    9. Giving myself recess. To keep going, I need to let myself stop. As an Upholder, I can get very focused on my schedule and my to-do list, so I schedule time to goof off (as ridiculous as that may sound). For instance, going to the Met (#5) is one way to make sure I have time to wander.

    Also, because I'd read so much research about the benefits of a daily nap, I've been napping regularly as part of #Rest22in22. I'm a real fan of the short mid-day nap.

    10. Working steadily. I realized a long time ago that if I want to create, I need to work constantly. As one of my aphorisms (see #6) holds, "Pouring out ideas is better for creativity than doling them out with a teaspoon."

    I work just about every day—including weekends, holidays, and vacations. It might just be twenty minutes, but I sit down to work. For me, that practice works best. Relatedly...

    11. Suiting myself. I plan my work with my natural rhythms in mind. I'm a real morning person, plus I love the silence of the early morning, so when I'm doing original writing or tricky editing—my most difficult intellectual work—or other difficult tasks, I tackle them in the morning. As the day goes on, I turn to less taxing work. (Want to track your own energy patterns? Look here.)

    Nevertheless, while many experts say, "Never look at your emails first thing in the morning," and even though that's precious time for me, I know that for me, it's impossible to concentrate on anything until I've glanced through my emails to make sure there's nothing I want to answer. That works for me.


    In my study of happiness and human nature, I've learned something essential: there’s no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all solution for happiness, creativity, or anything else.

    We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.

    In his fascinating book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey examines the work habits of 161 writers, composers, artists, scientists, and philos­ophers.

    His examples make it clear that while brilliant people vary tre­mendously in the specific creative habits they follow, they all know very well what habits work for them, and they go to enormous lengths to maintain those habits.

    If you'd like to stoke your own creativity, try my Creativity Jump-Start.

  • feedwordpress 16:00:01 on 2022/07/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , Bookends, , , Zibby Owens   

    Zibby Owens: “Books Change My Life Every Day.” 

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    Interview: Zibby Owens

    Zibby Owens is the founder of Zibby Owens Media, which, among other things, includes a new publishing house for fiction and memoir. She's also the host of the award-winning podcast, Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books, and a regular columnist for Good Morning America. And if all that's not enough, she's also an editor and author—her new memoir, Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature (Amazon, Bookshop), just hit the shelves this week.

    I've known Zibby for many years. We first got to know each other through our deep love of reading and libraries.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Zibby about happiness, habits, and, of course, books.

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

    Zibby: A habit that makes me more productive is active email management. Once a day, I stop replying to incoming messages and attack the backlog. (Okay, fine, maybe once a week.) When I do that, I dedicate at least two hours to it and sort the emails alphabetically rather than by date received. That way, I can go through one person’s emails at a time, delete unnecessary emails, and then really dig into the rest. I note the starting amount when I get discouraged about how many I have left, I start working my way up from the Z’s. Then I’ll flip back to working down from the A’s. If I don’t do this after two weeks max or when I get to 500 emails, I basically freak out.

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

    That I could be profoundly happy at my current weight. I think that would have horrified me then.

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

    I’ve started eating a protein and veggie shake for breakfast every morning instead of my kids' leftover pancakes. It sets the day on a better path. (I love the chocolate flavor from Ka’Chava, a sponsor of my podcast that I have grown obsessed with.) I did it a few times in a row and realized it really did make me feel better. Now I miss it on the days I’m traveling or have run out.

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

    Obliger. 100%. After doing a recent event with Gretchen, I realized that each one of my four kids is a different temperament. It’s actually changed the way I parent in such a positive way!

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    My compulsion to manage my emails and not get behind on work. (See #1 above.) It throws a huge wrench in my determination to move more.

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

    Don’t miss the plot. An old therapist told me that and it helps me every day.

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

    Books change my life every day. I do 365 podcasts a year, each one with a different author. I’ve learned such an enormous amount it’s crazy. I’m like in the school of life.

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    I’m in a lot of fields: podcasting, publishing, book-fluencing (is that a thing?!), parenting, being an author. A misconception is that you have to pick just one field!

  • feedwordpress 16:00:12 on 2022/06/21 Permalink

    Design Your Summer with the Happier App 

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    Toward the end of a summer, do you ever wish you’d done more with the season? “Designing your summer” is about taking advantage of the season and making it distinctive. Life feels richer and more memorable when each season of the year feels special in some way.

    This idea comes from a quote by the writer Robertson Davies, who says:

    Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer. —“Three Worlds, Three Summers,” The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies

    For many of us, summer means good weather and more hours of sunlight, less structured schedules, time off from school or work. These weeks and months present an opportunity to break out of our normal routines and have adventures (whatever that means for us). 

    Planning ways to make your summer stand out doesn’t require taking a vacation or scheduling something expensive. You might make a list of places to visit, choose a theme for the season, make a summer reading list, or aim to spend more time outside.

    One useful way to think about this is to ask yourself: What do I want to do more of this summer? What do I want to do less of? 

    However you choose to design your summer, the Happier™ app offers tools that can help.

    • Use the Don’t Break the Chain tool to check off every day you take a walk
    • Use the Numbers Tracker tool to track how many hours you spend outside
    • Use the Photo Log tool to document your adventures
    • Record a highlight of each day with the One-Sentence Journal tool
    • Check in every day you read with the Accountability Partners tool

    Your aims might be:

    • Visit a certain number of parks
    • Spend a certain number of hours outside
    • Check off a summer reading list
    • Enjoy local summer produce
    • Block out time for a creative project or hobby—and aim to finish a project by summer's end
    • Ask your kids for a highlight of the day each evening
    • Make progress on tasks around your home
    • Train for a race
    • Plan and save for a trip or vacation

    Summer can also present potential pitfalls and loopholes for maintaining good habits. Our schedules might change, we might go on vacation, our priorities for how we spend our time might change, we may be faced with temptation.

    One trick to stay on track? Decide ahead of time which habits you’d like to maintain, which you want to modify, and which you want to take a break from—and if you’re taking a break, be sure to give yourself a return date.

    You can also make planned exceptions. With a planned exception, you decide in advance to permit yourself an exception to your usual habit. To work effectively, this exception needs to be planned ahead of time and limited in scope.

    The Happier app will feature tips, prompts, and ideas for designing your summer all season long. If you don’t already have the app, you can try it for free by tracking a single aim, or subscribe to track multiple aims.

  • gretchenrubin 16:00:48 on 2022/05/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , distinctions, ,   

    What’s the Secret to Happiness? 

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    I study happiness, good habits, and human nature, and people often ask me, “What the secret to happiness?”

    I would give different answers, depending on what perspective is taken.

    One answer, certainly, is relationships. To be happy, we need enduring, intimate bonds; we need to feel like we belong; we need to be able to confide; we need to be able to get support—and just as important, give support. Anything that deepens or broadens relationships tends to make us happier.

    Another answer is self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is key, because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own values, our own interests, our own temperament. When we know ourselves, we can take action based on our values and our nature, and that makes us happier.

    In reality, these two answers are intertwined, because it’s when we know ourselves that we can connect most deeply and harmoniously with others.

    It’s so easy to assume that’s what true for us is true for everyone—and vice versa.

    But the fact is, there’s a paradox: we’re more alike than we think, but the differences among us are very important. Or to put it another way, you’re unique—just like everybody else.

    By thinking through how people are different—how they have different preferences, need different strategies, and see the world in a different way—we can gain more compassion for others, and also for ourselves.

    Because when we don’t understand how people can be different, we can feel hurt, puzzled, resentful, or angry when they don’t do things our way. Or we can feel discouraged or frustrated with ourselves, when we can’t do things someone else’s way.

    To give just a few examples of differences:

    Morning people and night people. As a morning person, I used to think everyone could be a morning person if they just went to bed on time. But in fact, it’s largely genetically determined, and a function of age.

    Once we realize that some people are morning people, and some people are night people, we can use that understanding. A friend, a morning person, said to me, “I’m so frustrated with my husband. I’m racing around every morning, getting our two little kids ready for school, and he staggers out of bed, he’s useless. I end up doing everything.”

    I knew her husband well. I said, “He’s a night person. He can’t do anything for anyone in the morning! Why don’t you let him sleep late in the morning, and then he handles bedtime duties by himself, when you’re tired?” They sorted the responsibilities to suit their individual energy levels.

    Simplicity-lovers and abundance-lovers. Simplicity lovers are attracted by space, bare surfaces, lots of room on the shelves; abundance lovers are attracted by buzz, profusion, collections.

    Simplicity lovers and abundance lovers thrive in different environments—which is fine, unless a boss declares, “A cluttered desk means a cluttered mind,” and forces everyone to embrace simplicity. Or a boss declares, “Let’s really decorate for the holidays” and covers everything with twinkle lights and garlands for two months. The fact is, some people love simplicity, and some people love abundance—so how do we create an environment where everyone feels comfortable?

    Accountability. Some people need outer accountability, even to meet their expectations for themselves. If they want to exercise more, they need to work out with a trainer, work out with a friend who’s annoyed if they don’t show up, or raise money for a charity. But other people resist accountability: they don’t want someone looking over their shoulder, or tying up their schedule with appointments, and they do better when they do what they want, when and how they want to do it.

    I’ve seen this difference crop up among writers I know. Non-fiction writers usually sell a book after they’ve written a few chapters. One writer I know wrote his whole book before he tried to sell it. He told me, “I wrote the book because I felt like writing it. If I had an editor telling me that I had to finish a certain chapter by a certain date, I wouldn’t want to write it anymore.” By contrast, I know two writers who meet on Zoom. They mute themselves, sit there, and do their own writing. They both benefit from being accountable to each other. (To learn more about the key factor of accountability, check out my Four Tendencies personality framework and take the quiz to find out if you're an Obliger, Rebel, Questioner, or Upholder.)

    When we understand that people are different, instead of trying to convince each other that “I’m right,” feeling bad when thinking “You’re right,” or arguing about the “best” or “right” way of doing things, we can focus instead on creating an environment where everyone can thrive. After all, what's the best way to cook an egg?

    By knowing ourselves, we can grow closer to others.

  • feedwordpress 16:00:36 on 2022/04/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , Bomb Shelter, , , Mary Laura Philpott, memoirs   

    Mary Laura Philpott: “I’m What I Call an ‘Anxious Optimist.’” 

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    Interview: Mary Laura Philpott

    Mary Laura Philpott is an author, former bookseller, and Emmy-winning co-host of A Word on Words, the literary interview program on Nashville Public Television. She's the author of the national bestseller I Miss You When I Blink (Amazon, Bookshop) and her new memoir, Bomb Shelter: Love, Time and Other Explosives (Amazon, Bookshop) just hit shelves this month.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Mary Laura about happiness, habits, and seasons of life.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you calmer?

    Mary Laura: I was so skeptical about meditation before I started, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. It should be required from preschool onward — we humans need it!

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

    There’s no finish line. I keep having to re-learn this lesson. I’m always setting my sights on some elusive goal or state of being, thinking, “Once I reach _______, I can finally relax and be happy.” Nope. Happiness doesn’t come from finally reaching a particular status or achievement.

    Can you think of a spontaneous, unexpected moment of joy, silliness, or amusement you’ve had recently? What sparked it?

    During the Winter Olympics, there was a tweet going around asking what song people would choose if they were doing a figure skating routine. I knew the answer instantly: “MMMBop” by Hanson. Wait, hear me out! I know it’s cheesy, but it is one of my core beliefs that you cannot feel sad listening to that song. Can you even imagine someone gliding out onto the ice as that chorus kicks in?

    It makes me laugh every time I think about it.

    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 changed my eating habits significantly when I was pregnant with my first child and I was diagnosed with borderline gestational diabetes. I’d always had a sweet tooth — I loved good ol’ refined carbs and white flour, too — and I had never tried very hard to eat better. Knowing that what I ate would be the only source of nutrition for my unborn baby and that if I didn’t change my ways he’d be swimming in sugar-water (*not a scientifically accurate description) made me overhaul my habits completely. I do eat sugar and carbs now in moderation, but I never really went back to how I ate before. That’s the number-one way to get me to do something: tell me someone else’s well-being depends on my behavior.

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

    Oh, I am an Obliger, through and through.

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    My own brain! I’m what I call an “anxious optimist.” I have a general baseline belief that most things will probably turn out okay, but my mind also never stops spinning an array of horror stories about all the ways things could go wrong. It’s as if by anticipating every possible catastrophe, I can be prepared for them all, and thus avoid any unfortunate surprises…which, of course, is not really how life works. And it’s exhausting. That’s how meditation helps me; it makes me practice holding my mind still in the present instead of letting it run wild into a hundred hypothetical futures.

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

    This is my favorite work motto lately: “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” a quote from Steve Martin. It can be hard to stay confident and focused during the in-between phases of a literary career, the years when you’re just sitting alone, writing, with no idea what will ultimately become of what you’re creating. There are so many ways a book can ultimately succeed or fail, and during those long periods of uncertainty it’s easy to get caught up in comparisons. Will my book sell as many copies as so-and-so’s? Will the reviews be good, or will it even be reviewed at all? The truth is that I can’t control any of that. The only thing I can control is the work itself, and I’m the only one who can make that work great.

    I also tend to be attracted to shiny, new endeavors and often feel drawn to multi-task more than is actually good for me. I’m always thinking, should I start another newsletter? Maybe a blog or podcast or show? I tell myself, “Be so good they can’t ignore you” as a way of saying, “Get back to work, and write a book that’ll get you on everyone else’s blog or podcast or show.”

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    There’s a funny tendency among readers — not all readers, obviously, but enough that I’ve heard it often: People will say they love the latest novel set in space, they can’t wait for the new tell-all biography about a movie star, or they’re absolutely addicted to a murder mystery series. And then some of these same people, if you were to recommend to them a memoir that includes motherhood, will say, “Eh, I can’t really relate to that. I’m not a mom.” Really?? You’re not an astronaut, a celebrity, or a serial killer either, are you?

    I used to avoid writing about family and motherhood, and I still draw my boundaries very carefully when I do write about it, but exploring the experience of parenting another human being is at least as good a way to illuminate the meaning of love, risk, joy, and pain as writing about the trials of life on Mars. I mean, didn’t we all — at some point, for at least a little while — come from a mother?

    Anyway, I guess my point is this: Books, especially memoirs, are not meant only for readers who are just like the people in those books. It’s wonderful if you can relate to something you read, but it’s especially cool when you find something elemental to relate to in a story about someone who, on the surface, is different from you.

    If you were to describe your work using a comparison from a different field, what would that be?

    I write books, so I’ll use a comparison from a different entertainment medium, television: I’d say the experience of reading my new book, Bomb Shelter, combines the big, cathartic emotional range of watching a show like Parenthood or This Is Us with the quirky, feel-good laughs of, say, Ted Lasso. I love it when something hits that sweet spot that lights up my whole emotional circuit board — when I’ve both cried and laughed by the end of an episode or a chapter. That’s what I’m going for.


  • feedwordpress 16:00:41 on 2022/04/26 Permalink
    Tags: , , , cleaning, , How to Keep House While Drowning, , KC Davis, , , ,   

    KC Davis: “You Don’t Have to Care About Yourself to Start Learning to Care for Yourself” 

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    Interview: KC Davis.

    KC Davis is a therapist, author, and creator of the mental health platform Struggle Care. She has a new book, How to Keep House While Drowning (Amazon, Bookshop).

    I couldn't wait to talk to KC about happiness, habits, and mental health.

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

    KC: Closing duties! As a busy mom, I found myself collapsing on the couch each night at 7:30pm as soon as the kids were down, and not moving again until I went to bed. This made my mornings stressful because I had to hit the ground running as soon as the babies were up. Yet the idea of cleaning the house after my kids went to bed was daunting because…when do you stop? I felt like I could clean for hours and there would still be more to do. 

    Since doing nothing wasn’t functional, and trying to do it all wasn’t possible, I took some inspiration from my waitress days and came up with a short list of “closing duties” to do every night after my kids go to bed. It only takes me about 25 minutes, but I am always shocked how much I can get done in that time. Having a list helps keep me on track and feel accomplished. Every night I unload and reload the dishwasher, clear the island, sweep the kitchen floor, and take out the trash. Voila! Functional space for a calm morning. I often add something to the list that just makes me happy, like making ice coffee or making sure my slippers are by the bed. It’s been a game changer to find a way to be kind to morning-me, while still having my evenings to myself to rest or create. 

    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 always struggled to stay on top of housework. Laundry, dishes, clutter…it all seems to pile up so quickly and I get too overwhelmed to deal with it. For most of my life I felt embarrassment by this, as if it was some sort of moral failure to not be good at domestic tasks. I would always tell myself that I just needed to try harder – and, in general, I had a lot of critical self-talk around it. 

    Today, I have amazing systems in my home that keep it functional, and I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore. The big change was when I started practicing self-compassion. I realized that being messy is not a moral failure. I deserve to be treated with kindness, even when speaking to myself. I started changing my self-talk, and realized that as a woman with ADHD, I may need to think creatively about creating systems in my home that work for me. I gave myself permission to throw out all the rules, and just think about what works for me. 

    So now we have a family closet and a no-fold bin system for all of us. And just like that—laundry gets done every week. I bought a dishrack and a second silverware caddy for my dishwasher and set up a “dirty dish station” where I could quickly dump dishes throughout the day, but they stayed organized and out of the sink. Like magic, now my dishes get done every evening. I do my “closing duties” list at night, and I’m kinder to myself. It’s amazing how self-compassion and adaptive routines have completely changed how I function in my home. 

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

    I got Rebel! That makes sense as I prefer to be internally motivated, rather than to simply meet expectations. 

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

    My ADHD certainly does. I find that I need to give myself lots of grace and work with my brain, instead of against it. Like most people with ADHD, I benefit from having structure in my life, but I also get easily bored and prefer to always be inspired to action. I’ve learned that trying to stick to a habit through pure self-will doesn’t work for me. Instead, I think of ways to create momentum in my life to push me forward, making it easier to engage in rituals and behaviors that help me. 

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

    Whenever I talk about hacks for taking care of yourself or your space, I always have someone say, “but what if I don’t feel I deserve a functional space or self-care?” One motto that I use frequently on my platform is “you don’t have to care about yourself to start learning to care for yourself.” There are three powerful reasons why this statement is so profound. 

    First, I think a reason a lot of us get stuck when we struggle with mental health is that we feel like the motivation to care for ourselves must come from thinking you deserve to be cared for. So, we often spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to love ourselves, so that we can care for ourselves. I have found that it’s the opposite. Once we begin the journey of learning to care for ourselves, often liking ourselves flows from that. 

    Two, trying to learn to love yourself is an ambiguous goal and we can become absorbed with self by thinking about it all the time. Learning to care for yourself, on the other hand, can be a very practical and actionable journey—one where you do not have to dwell on yourself, but can face outward towards the world. 

    And three, the connection between care and admiration isn’t as innate as we assume. We can always make the choice to care for someone that has done nothing to deserve it. We care for our newborns that haven’t done anything, we rescue dogs even when they’ve bitten people or torn up the furniture, and we give to charities even when those receiving have made big mistakes in their lives. So, it often hits people like a ton of bricks when they realize they can just….decide to care for themselves, even though they’re not entirely convinced they deserve it. Heck, most of us agree even murderers have the right to three meals a day—yet how many of us have skipped a meal because we feel we don’t deserve to eat that day?

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

    A couple of years ago I read The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner (Amazon, Bookshop), and it had a profound impact on the way I view my body and my diet. It helped kickstart my journey of moral neutrality around food and weight; this idea that there are no good or bad foods and that my weight was not a moral failing or something I had to fix. This inspired my philosophy of moral neutrality when it comes to housework. There is something life-changing about the idea of moral neutrality that makes us kinder to ourselves, and in turn makes it easier to make changes that benefit us. 

    In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

    One misconception I get is that people believe I am enabling people to be dysfunctional. The truth couldn’t be farther from that. What I am doing is empowering people to care for themselves in a way that makes sense to them and is sustainable. I want people to function, and I find that the best foundation sustainable motivation and skill building is radical self-kindness and self-acceptance.

  • gretchenrubin 16:00:11 on 2022/04/25 Permalink
    Tags: , calendar of catalysts, good habits, , , minor holidays, resources,   

    For Happiness and Good Habits—More Dates for the Calendar of Catalysts! 

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    I'm a big fan of any reminder to stop to consider what changes could make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative—whether that prompt comes from the New Year, a birthday, Valentine's Day, a significant anniversary, or official "days" like "Earth Day."

    Some people (Questioners!) often object to using a date like January 1, because they consider the date arbitrary. It's true, it is arbitrary—and why wait? Now is always the best time to begin.

    External dates can be valuable reminders to reflect. In the tumult of everyday life, it's hard to remember to step back, reflect, and think about what changes we'd like to make.

    For that reason, I've been working on a Calendar of Catalysts—a menu of dates to use as reminders to stop,  evaluate, and plan. I want to offer a range of choices, because different dates will appeal to different people.

    I added a bunch of dates, then asked people for more suggestions—so have added a few more.

    General dates:

    March 21—3-2-1 is a great day to "blast off" on a project or undertaking you've been meaning to start

    March 25—National Waffle Day is a day to make any decision you're "waffling" about

    May 23—May 23 is the 143rd day of the year, which has been declared "1-4-3 Day" in honor of Fred Rogers and is a day for acts of kindness and neighborliness. "Mr. Rogers" used the numbers 1-4-3 to stand as a code for "I love you" (based on the number of letters in each word), and the number also had significance in his personal life—for instance, he weighed 143 pounds for thirty years.

    August 8—8/8 is a day to evaluate your eating choices, and consider making healthy changes

    October 10—10/10 is a day to celebrate everything that's going right

    Ideas? I'm trying to think of a way to use the number "1729"—a Hardy-Ramanujan number or taxi-cab number—but I haven't figured out a way. This could be a day to remember that the curious, engaged mind can find the world to be a fascinating place, and to push ourselves to learn something new.

    For personal dates:

    A date that might be meaningful is your "Name Day." I learned about name days from one of my favorite works of children's literature, Jennie Lindquist's wonderful The Golden Name Day (Amazon, Bookshop). In that novel, Wendy is sad that her non-Swedish name isn't listed in the Swedish Name Day calendar; these days, however, it looks like you can find many names online. I learned that "Gretchen" day is June 10—though more traditionally, as a diminutive of "Margaret," it might be May 23 or January 25. I have options!

    I also like the idea of using a date based on your street address to remind you to make repairs, buy necessary supplies, clear clutter, consider a move, or complete delayed household projects. For instance, if I still lived in one of my childhood homes, I could use the date of April 21, because our street address was 421. (This won't work for every address, however.)

    If you'd like to hear my sister Elizabeth and me talk about the Calendar of Catalysts on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, we discuss it in episode 364.

    If you'd like to download a free, updated PDF of the Calendar of Catalysts, it's here.

    Thanks to the readers and listeners who sent along their suggestions! And keep them coming! Creating the calendar has been such a fun and useful exercise. Also, I'd love to hear if you've found this calendar useful, as a catalyst for making change in your life.

  • gretchenrubin 09:00:45 on 2019/05/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , frustration, guilt, , , persistence, ,   

    A Happiness Question: What Should We Do if We Feel Like We’ve Fallen Behind or Fallen Off the Wagon? 

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    When we're trying to make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative, we often find ourselves in a frustrating situation: we fall behind or we fall off the wagon.

    What to do? Here are some useful points to consider:

    1. Don't beat yourself up.

    Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more.

    Often, when we feel bad about breaking a good habit, we try to make ourselves feel better by...indulging in the bad habit! A woman told me, "I felt so bad about breaking my diet that I ate three orders of french fries." This is the cruel poetic justice of bad habits.

    2. Remember that what you do most days matters more than what you once in a while.

    If you're pretty good most days, don't get too upset if you don't have a perfect record. Don't let yourself start to think, "Gosh, I haven't exercised in ten days, what's the point of starting now?" Sure, you wish you'd exercised those ten days, but if you get back in the habit, those lost days aren't a very big deal.

    And fail small, not big. Once a good behavior is broken, we sometimes act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken by a little or a lot. “I didn’t do any work this morning, so what the heck, I’ll take the rest of the week off and start on Monday.” “I missed my yoga class over spring break, so what the heck, I’ll start again in the fall.” Pick yourself back up right away!

    3. A stumble may prevent a fall.

    If you've fallen behind or fallen off the wagon, remind yourself of the valuable proverb: "A stumble may prevent a fall." Sure, you've gone through a rough patch, but you can use this experience to learn more about yourself and your challenges. Maybe you fell behind while traveling, or when you had family visiting, or when you were in a tough stretch at work. How can you use this experience to set yourself up for more success in the future?

    Let's say you were eating very healthfully, then you spent a weekend to a hotel where you ate too much of the wrong food at the all-you-can-eat buffets. So now you've learned, "I shouldn't pick the buffet option. I should order off the menu. That way, I'll know exactly what food I'll get, in a set portion." Studies show that we tend to eat more when faced with a bigger variety, and when it's self-serve, we can serve ourselves a lot! Remind yourself, "I learned this lesson the hard way. Next time, I'll make a different choice."

    4. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    When we're making resolutions, it's easy to set big ambitious goals, and sometimes it's tough to meet them. We plan to train for a 5K, or get the basement cleared out, or write a rough draft of a novel by the end of the year. Then, we fail to make progress, it's easy to get discouraged and accuse ourselves of laziness.

    Remember, any progress is better than no progress! You may not have finished a full draft, but you have an outline of your novel. You haven't switched careers yet, but you've started thinking about next steps.

    Some people find it helpful to keep a ta-da list. A to-do list reminds you of what you need to get done; a ta-da list reminds you of all you've accomplished already. A ta-da list can be a tremendous source of energy and reassurance.

    5. Consider your Tendency.

    Often, when we fail to make progress, it's because we haven't taken our Tendency into account. For instance, if you're an Obliger, you must have outer accountability. You must! That's what works for Obligers! If you see that a particular form of outer accountability isn't working, trying a different form. If paying for a trainer doesn't get you to go to the gym, try working out with a friend who's very annoyed when you don't show up. If that doesn't work, teach a class. If that doesn't work, think of your duty to be a role model for someone else. If that doesn't work, join a group on the Better app where you tell each other, "I'm counting on you to count on me. If none of us hold each other accountable, none of us will succeed."

    If you're a Rebel, don't try to lock yourself into a to-do list or a schedule. That often doesn't work for a Rebel. Think about what you want, and how you want to live up to your identity.

    If you're a Questioner, really examine your reasons. Why are you doing this, in this way? Is it the best, most efficient way, and is it tailored to suit you specifically? When Questioners struggle, it's usually because they're fundamentally unconvinced by whatever they're trying to do.

    If you don't know your Tendency—whether you're an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel—you can take the free, quick quiz here.

    6. Are you giving yourself healthy treats?

    When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. If you're asking a lot of yourself these days, make sure you're helping yourself feel energized and cared for by giving yourself healthy treats, whatever that might be for you. For me, it's reading children's literature.

    But make sure these are healthy treats. You don't want to try to make yourself feel better by indulging in something (wine, impulse purchases, sweets, messiness) that will make you feel worse in the end.

    7. Remember, it's easier to keep up than to catch up.

    Sometimes, when we're creating a healthy habit or practice, we need to catch up. We need to clear out a lot of clutter before we can maintain good order. We need to adjust to life without the morning doughnut. This is hard, but remember that once we're caught up or accustomed to a new way, it gets easier. It may take a few tries to get over the initial hurdle, but remember that the situation will get easier once it's more ingrained.


    Stay the course! Don't give up! My book Better Than Before examines the 21 strategies that we can use to make or break our habits, and one of the most helpful strategies is the Strategy of Safeguards. It's all about how to anticipate challenges, and how to deal with it when we run into trouble.

    It's a very common frustration.

    Have you found any great ways to stay on course, even when you feel as if you're falling behind?

  • gretchenrubin 09:00:33 on 2019/04/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , motherhood, ,   

    Need a Gift for a Mother in Your Life? Some Suggestions. 

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    In the United States, Mother's Day is coming up on May 12.

    I’m a big fan for using dates as milestones, as prompts for reflection or action. People sometimes complain that Mother’s Day is a Hallmark-driven, consumerist holiday—but I think it’s nice to be reminded to think about my mother, and to remember everything she’s done for me, and to send a token of my appreciation.

    Philosophers, religious leaders, and contemporary scientists all agree that gratitude is a key to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy; when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more. That, in turn, makes it easier to live within your means and also to be generous to others. Gratitude fosters forbearance—it’s harder to feel disappointed, angry, or resentful toward someone when you’re feeling grateful toward him or her.

    Mother's Day is an occasion for gratitude.

    I'm very grateful that I have such a wonderful mother! I don't want to take her for granted, or neglect to show her my appreciation -- so I think it's very helpful to get a nudge at least once a year.

    If you want to read about one of my happiest memories of my mother, look here.

    If you'd like to hear my story about why I'm lucky to have a mother who's lucky, you can listen to this two-minute "A Little Happier" here.

    We can express gratitude in many ways. Phone call, letter, email, text...or we can give a gift.

    If you're looking for a gift for a mother in your life, read on!

    From what I've heard, of the things I've created, these are the most popular gifts:

    1. The Four Tendencies course. This course is something I've created fairly recently, but people seem to love to give it as a gift. I think that's because when you see that someone's Tendency is a big factor in their lives—and perhaps in ways that they don't recognize or that are causing conflict or frustration—it seems like a great gift.

    In this course, you identify your Tendency—whether you're an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel—and learn how to use that knowledge to make practical changes to create the life you want. And you also learn how to appreciate other people’s Tendencies, and how to support them effectively, to cut down on stress, burn-out, conflict, frustration, and procrastination.

    For people who wouldn't take the course, there's also the book The Four Tendencies.

    2. The Gift of a Podcast.

    Give the gift of a podcast! Go to giftofpodcast.com to download the "gift certificate" and the cheat-sheet of instructions. This makes it easy to give a podcast to someone you know will love it. It's a gift that's free; it's easy; it's an experience not a thing; and there's no limit to the great content in the world of podcasts.

    3. The One-Sentence Journal for Mothers.

    This small journal makes it easy to write one sentence every day, which is a manageable, realistic way for a busy mother to keep a journal. What's surprising is that one sentence is enough to bring back floods of memories, and to capture those little moments we never want to forget.

    On book tour, many people show me their journals and ask me to sign the entry for the day—so fun!

    4. The Happiness Project

    I can't resist mentioning, this book was a #1 New York Times bestseller and stayed on the list for two years. It's all about (spoiler alert) how to be happier.

    5. Happier at Home

    And I can't resist mentioning this book was also a New York Times bestseller. It's all about happiness through the lens of home which, for most people, is at the very core of a happy life. I love all my books equally, but my sister Elizabeth says that this is her favorite book of everything I've written.

    6. The Happiness Project Mini Posters: A Coloring Book.

    If you know a mother who loves to color, here's a fun book!

    7. Personalized, signed bookplate

    Speaking of my books, if you'd like to make your gift more special and personalized, sign up here, and I'll send you a bookplate that's personalized for the recipient and signed by me. Think how happy you'll be to cross some gift-giving tasks off your list! Feel free to ask for as many as you like, but U.S. and Canada only—so sorry about that (mailing costs).

    I can be a little slow, so to make sure that neither of us has to worry about whether you'll receive the bookplates by Mother's Day on May 12, request as soon as possible.

    If you'd like to listen to me talk about my mother, you can listen to this two-minute episode of a "A Little Happier": I'm Lucky to Have a Mother Who Is Lucky.

    Do you observe Mother's Day?

  • feedwordpress 09:00:40 on 2019/04/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , dessert, Emily Luchetti, Erin McHugh, , , , So Who's Counting   

    Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh: “We Are Big Believers in Doing at Least One Fun Thing a Day, However Small.” 

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    Interview: Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh

    How I love quotations—I collect them myself in giant troves, I collect books of quotations, and I love sending out my free daily "Moment of Happiness" newsletter with a terrific quotation about happiness or human nature (sign up here if you'd like to get it).

    So of course I was immediately intrigued by the new book from two friends and authors Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh. So Who's Counting?: The Little Quote Book About Growing Older and Still Kicking Ass is a book of quotations that remind us that with age comes the opportunity to ask, "What's next? What do I really want? What have I learned the hard way?"

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

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

    Emily: Exercise. Either a hike or working out at the gym in a TRX/weights class. The former I do on weekends with my husband and a friend. The classes first thing in the morning during the week. I feel more productive, energized, and ready to take on the world once I have gotten my body in gear.

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

    Emily: Don’t worry so much about what other people think. And don’t compare yourself to others. Be your own authentic self. Now that I am older I take many things less personally. I can keep myself and others happy. I don’t have to forfeit what I want over others’ needs.

    Erin: That it isn’t an inalienable right. Happiness is work, and it needs constant attention and upkeep. Feed it and it grows. And that, along with the time to pursue it, happiness is worth more than any commodity on earth.

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

    Emily and Erin: What turned out to be a revelation for us while we were working on So Who’s Counting? was getting to delve in and discover more about the people we quoted, not just the quote that ended up on the page. We conferred on every passage in the book—more than once—and researched where each came from, whether it was a speech, a letter, a passage from a book. But in doing so, we went down the most intriguing and rewarding rabbit holes. We found that Julia Child’s family had a cook growing up, and young Julia could have cared less about food. We were reminded about Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War draft, how it caused him to lose all his titles, left him on the sidelines during his best fighting years, but became the beginning of his journey as a humanitarian. How Maya Angelou’s life was burdened by a past as a sex worker, and a childhood in the Jim Crow South. And though these were people we had never met, we found then began to influence us in profound ways.

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

    Emily: I took the quiz (I love things like this!) and am an Upholder. “I do what others expect of me—and what I expect from myself.” In my younger days only the first part of this sentence would have been true. I took care of others needs and put myself last. A real plus about getting older!

    Erin: I’m a Questioner. By profession I’m a writer and an interviewer: so it’s no surprise that curiosity drives me even when I’m practicing neither!

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

    Erin: Time—especially as one grows older—seems to whiz by. You’ve got to keep it in your grasp! A good calendar with some structured activity, whether it’s yoga, writing, getting together with friends, and whatever else pleases you, is key. Then the distractions don’t seem as...well, distracting. And Emily and I are both big believers in doing at least one fun thing a day, however small.

    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.?

    Emily: When I turned 60, I became aware of time in a good way. It hit home that we each only have one life and should live it to the best—whatever that means to you. For me, it’s a different answer each day. Some days it will be all work, sometimes all play. Sometimes something totally new, sometimes something I have done a zillion times. That’s what makes life exciting. I never really celebrate my birthdays but at 60 I wanted to make a statement to myself and saw it as an opportunity to do something I always thought would be fun but never did, I had a luncheon (cooked by Chef Jonathan Waxman) for about 70 women in the food world. It was electrifying to be in that room. Since then I have tried to make more time for these friendships and connections. We are always all so busy. You need to make a concerted effort to get together. And it’s worth it.

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

    Emily: “Someday is Today.”

    Erin: Singer Lauren Hill says at the end of one of her songs, “Everything is everything.” From the first time I heard it, I have found it such a valuable reminder for me. It means “Every little thing matters,”  “Every moment counts,” and “Even the tiny things sometimes end up being the thing that makes the difference.”

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

    Erin: I wrote a book a few years ago called One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better, in which I tried to do just a small, positive thing each day as I went about my business. Almost immediately it clocked the way I looked at the world, and how I approached life on a daily basis. It trained both my head and my heart to be aware, mindful, kinder. I treasure the experience and take myself back to its pages constantly to remind myself that better doesn’t have to be hard.

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

    Emily: "Never trust a skinny chef." For sure, I know how hard it is to not succumb to sweets. Especially when there are several ten-pound boxes of chocolate on the shelf. But it is possible to enjoy desserts and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s all about moderation. I started a movement around it called dessertworthy. Pastry chefs like to bake but we also like to exercise, eat veggies, and fit into our jeans. People don’t automatically assume a wine maker is an alcoholic or a pharmacist is a drug addict.

    Erin: Writing a book is never a simple task. It’s long, arduous, vexing...but always rewarding.


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