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

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

    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: author interview, , , 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.” 

    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.” 

    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

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:28 on 2018/11/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    Want to Give the Gift of a Book This Holiday Season? A Gift Guide for All Kinds of Readers. 

    It's holiday time! And that means it's time to choose gifts for the people in our lives. Which can be fun, but can also be frustrating and difficult.

    One of the best gifts to give is a book. How I love books. Plus they're easy to wrap, easy to transport, and easy to re-gift if necessary.

    But that leads to the question...what book?

    Here are some suggestions for different categories of gift-recipients, with suggestions of books that I love.

    If I'd made this list last week, or if I did it next week, I'm sure I'd come up with an entirely different list. I love so many books, it's hard to pick out a few. But this is a start.

    For a new parent: Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott

    For the parent of small children: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

    For a person interested in spirituality: Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

    For a person who loves celebrity memoirs: Born Standing Up, Steve Martin

    For someone who loves to cook: Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin

    For a fisherman: A River Runs Through It, Norman McLean

    For a history lover: Their Finest Hour, Winston Churchill

    For someone who loves a great study of character: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

    For a nature-lover: Into the Wild, John Krakauer

    For a person who's interested in sports and leadership: The Captain Class, Sam Walker

    For someone who loves fantasy: American Gods, Neil Gaiman

    For someone who loves to write: A Writer's Diary, Virginia Woolf

    For someone who loves science fiction: Lord of Light, Robert Zelazny

    Book that changed my life: Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes (Want to read my interview with Gary Taubes? Request it here.)

    Book that was made into a movie, and both are brilliant: Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

    Book that I played hooky from work to stay home to read: The Stand, Stephen King (I recommend the standard, not the unabridged, version)

    Book that people keep telling me to read: Bad Blood, John Carreyrou

    For someone who's starting to date or looking for a job: First Impressions, Ann Demarais and Valerie White

    For someone with a short attention span or who loves very short stories: Revenge of the Lawn, Richard Brautigan

    For someone who loves essays: Selected EssaysGeorge Orwell

    For a person interested in human nature: The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James

    For a person interested in film: In the Blink of an Eye, Walter Murch

    For a person interested in friendship: Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett

    For a person interested in journalism: The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm

    For a person who loves a twist at the end: The End of the Affair, Graham Greene

     

    If you're buying a book for a child or young-adult, check out my list of 81 Favorite Works of Children's and Young-Adult Literature. So many good books!

    Of course, I can't resist recommending my own books.

    If you're giving one of my books as a gift, and want to put in a free, personalized bookplate to make it more special, sign up here to request one. Feel free to request as many as you want (within reason). Alas, because of mailing costs, I can offer this to people in the U.S. and Canada only. Sorry about that!

    If you'd like to see what I've read, follow me on Goodreads. Or look on Facebook, where every Sunday night, on #GretchenRubinReads, I post a photo of the books I've read that week.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, I've changed my reading habits so that now, if I don't like a book, I stop reading it. So if you see a book listed in Goodreads or on Facebook, you know that I liked a book well enough to finish it.

    I love to choose, give, and receive books!

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 09:00:58 on 2018/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    30 Tips I Use to Make Myself Happier, Right Now. 

    My book The Happiness Project came out almost ten years ago—wow, that’s hard to believe.

    One of the most important things I learned as part of doing that project, and an idea that I put into practice in my own life all the time, is that I can influence my happiness. Yes of course, sometimes terrible circumstances make it impossible for me to be happy, but it’s almost always possible to be happier, and often with just a few small steps, I can give myself a big boost.

    I try to recognize the fact that I’m feeling blue (oddly, this is often easier said than done) and take action to lift my spirits.

    Here are 30 things I do to make myself happier when I need an immediate boost:

    1. Do ten jumping jacks.
    2. Go outside and look at the sky.
    3. Pet my dog Barnaby. Then…
    4. Text a photo of Barnaby to my family.
    5. Re-read a few chapters of a children’s or YA book in a series I love: Graceling, Harry Potter, Narnia, Melendy Quartet, etc.
    6. Enjoy a beautiful smell.
    7. Do a small good deed for someone else.
    8. Clear some clutter (I can always find some).
    9. Look for a beautiful color in my surroundings.
    10. Call my sister Elizabeth.
    11. Take a minute to be grateful for some basic aspect of my life: elevators, space heaters, Wikipedia.
    12. Send a family update (to learn more about “update,” listen to episode 2 of the Happier podcast).
    13. Clean off my desk.
    14. Copy some quotations into my giant trove of quotations.
    15. Look at my TimeHop app.
    16. Make sure I’m not cold, hot, thirsty, hungry, need to go to the bathroom, or experiencing mild discomfort: in other words, treat myself like a toddler.
    17. Re-copy my to-do list, so it’s fresh and clean.
    18. Go to the library.
    19. Watch an episode of The Office (American version).
    20. Make the positive argument.
    21. Randomly read a few pages of Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary.
    22. Make myself a cup of coffee.
    23. Make a plan for some future fun: plan an outing, make a date with a friend, add a book to my library list.
    24. Re-read Winston Churchill’s eulogy for Neville Chamberlain.
    25. Tackle some small, nagging task that’s been weighing on my mind.
    26. Move with more energy, put a smile on my face. When I act happier, I’ll feel happier.
    27. Plan to go to bed early. I always feel better in the morning.
    28. Hug a member of my family (whoever’s available).
    29. Allow myself to do some quick research on a subject that has been fascinating me, but is unrelated to my work.
    30. Listen to Nina Simone sing “Feeling Good.”

    In my books—The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, Better Than Before, The Four TendenciesOuter Order Inner Calm, and My Color PilgrimageI write about why these small actions do make me happier.

    It’s great to have a long menu of choices to consult. Of course, everyone’s list is a bit different. My husband’s list would include “Do a crossword puzzle,” for instance.

    What’s on your list?

     
  • feedwordpress 07:00:58 on 2018/10/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , Dalai Lama, , , hepatitis c, , , , quitting sugar, ,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What’s Changed in My Life Since “The Happiness Project” Was Published? 

    Zoikes, it’s hard to believe that almost a full decade has passed since The Happiness Project first hit the shelves. In many ways, my life is much the same—and of course, many things have changed as well. The Tenth Anniversary edition is on shelves today. Order a copy here.

    By far the most important thing that happened was that my husband Jamie’s hepatitis C was cured—a medical miracle.

    As I write about in The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Jamie got hepatitis C from a blood transfusion during a heart operation when he was eight years old. You really don’t want to have hepatitis C; eventually, it destroys your liver. Jamie tried many treatments over the years, but nothing worked.

    When a new treatment was approved, Jamie went on it right away, and as of January 9, 2015 (a date we celebrate every year), Jamie was cured. You can read more about it in my post "Today is one of the happiest days of my life. Here’s why."

    Brief service announcement: If you support organ donation, sign the registry at organdonor.gov, tell your family that you’d want to donate your organs, or post a message with #organdonor.

    Other big news: My older daughter Eliza is now off at college! That was a big family milestone. Here's the advice I gave her when she left.

    After much discussion and pleading, my family got a dog, a delightful black cockapoo named Barnaby. If you want to hear me talk about this decision, Elizabeth and I discuss it in episodes 24 and 27 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

    Speaking of the Happier podcast, launching the podcast has been one of my favorite undertakings from the last ten years. My co-host is my sister Elizabeth Craft, the TV writer and producer who lives in Los Angeles, and together we talk about happiness, habits, and human nature. We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much! We’ve had so many terrific sisterly adventures together because of the show.

    I quit sugar, and really, almost all carbs. (If you want to know more about this change, I write about it in my book Better Than Before.)

    Since The Happiness Project came out, I’ve written four additional books: Happier at Home, Better Than Before, The Four Tendencies, and Outer Order, Inner Calm. (Plus I’ve written My Color Pilgrimage, but it’s still in the manuscript stage.)

    In The Happiness Project, I write about starting a children’s literature reading group. Well, that group got so big that I started a second group, and now even a third group. Yes, I’m in three kid-lit reading groups, and these groups are a giant engine of happiness for me.

    A big personal highlight was getting interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. She recorded the interview at her home in Montecito, so I got to visit "The Promised Land," and I also got to bring my sister Elizabeth with me, on a terrific sisterly adventure. Oprah is so...Oprah. In person, she’s exactly the way I’d imagined her to be. (You can listen to the interview here.)

    Another highlight was meeting the Dalai Lama. In fact, at the end of our meeting, we needed to walk to the other end of the conference center in the rain, so he grabbed my arm to help him stay steady—yes, I walked arm in arm with the Dalai Lama.

    I had dinner with Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman—he’s notable for his work on the psychology of judgment, decision-making, and behavioral economics, subjects that fascinate me. He’s the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, among countless other accomplishments, and a person I was thrilled to meet.

    One very fun thing that happened—though I had nothing to do with it—was that "The Happiness Project" was an answer on the gameshow Jeopardy!

    Less flashy, but very gratifying, was that my personality framework of "Four Tendencies" was written up in a scientific journal.

    I’ve been on the cover of a few magazines. That’s surreal.

    I’ve also created several interesting projects. One-sentence journals, habit journals, mugs, Page-a-Day calendars, 21 Day Projects—I even designed a coloring book.

    My blog (which I now call my "site," because the very word "blog" seems old-fashioned) has been going strong for more than a decade. To celebrate the tenth anniversary, I created an e-book, The Best of the Happiness Project Blog—that was a lot of fun to put together.

    I started "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live," a weekly show on Facebook. It’s great to get a chance to talk about happiness, habits, and human nature with people in real time.

    I launched the free "Better" app to help people make their lives happier, healthier, more productive and more creative—just search "Better Gretchen Rubin" in the app store. It’s a place where you can join discussions, ask questions, weigh in, and form accountability groups.

    I also created my first video course to help more people harness the power of the Four Tendencies.

    Of everything I’ve written in the last ten years, I think my one-minute video "The Years Are Short" resonates most with people. It was a truth that I felt deeply at the time that I wrote The Happiness Project, and I feel it more deeply with every passing year. The days are long, but the years are short.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:09 on 2018/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: , Can You Learn to be Lucky?, , Karla Starr, ,   

    “My Life Today Is the Sum Total of My Past Choices.” 

    Interview: Karla Starr.

    Karla Starr has written for O, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science, the Guardian, and the Los Angeles Times, and she received the Best Science/Health award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Her first book recently hit the shelves:  Can You Learn to Be Lucky? Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others.

    Karla says, "The best way we can successfully deal with the unknown is by building our own character strengths: our flexibility, empathy, confidence, self-control, curiosity, self-esteem, humility, persistence, belief in our ability to improve, and the ability to simply show up. The key to maximizing luck is simply to maximize what you bring to the table, plug yourself into many outlets, and be open to whatever comes along."

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

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

    Karla: If I had to pick just one thing, it’s to get enough sleep. It’s the basis of physical and mental health, and I have no problems prioritizing it over everything else. When I go to bed early enough to wake up naturally, I have more energy, my brain works as well as it can, and I feel like a functional human.

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

    Karla: I knew nothing about happiness when I was 18; I just thought it was something for people who had summer houses, Ivy League scholarships, great wardrobes, and perfect test scores. But as it turns out, you can have all of those things and be miserable.

    Two people in the exact same situation can have completely different moods because of what they pay attention to and how they interpret it. Fortunately, we have complete control over those two things. Paying attention to something is what gives it power, which is why practicing gratitude is so important. I had no idea it was that simple.

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

    Karla: How much random, uncontrollable things influence our thoughts, behavior, and habits, which are entirely controllable.

    Small moments can alter our entire life’s trajectory by making us assume that it’s part of a larger pattern. For example, seeing someone try to cut in line at the grocery store can make us assume that they’re a jerk; if we see them later on, we’d probably ignore them or give them a look. But what if they were in a hurry to buy food for a sick friend, and felt awful about cutting in line? We never get a chance to find out if we’re wrong.

    Our brains love patterns, even though this means seeing regularities in the environment that may not actually exist.

    I was surprised to find out how easily this can happen when we get information about ourselves. If a grade school teacher tells us that we’re not cut out for music, we learn that we’re no good. So So we’ll never practice, get more flustered when we do, and assume that improving is harder for us than others—even though getting better takes time for everyone. More often, however, we’ll just quit. We don’t realize how many aspects of our life are self-fulfilling prophecies, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid being wrong about themselves and the world, even when it might lead to positive change.

    Our social environments play a huge role. Imagine someone with jaded friends who goes on a few dates that turn out to be bad. They might begin to think of dating as a pointless endeavor, and start acting distant or slightly hostile towards others—the very behavior that drives people away. Over time, they might conclude that they’re fated to be alone, stop giving new people a chance, or never meeting people. Guess what? That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You never learn that you’re wrong.

    Think of a story you might attribute to luck, like getting an offer for your dream job meeting the love of your life, getting your startup funded, or being accepted into your first choice school. We don’t see the lifetime of good habits that went into these moments, like attending networking events every week and keeping in touch with professional contacts for years, or staying positive after years of bad dates. No one posts on Facebook about living off of ramen and having tons of roommates while developing their app, or that they studied for a standardized test every weekend for two years.

    Actions that lead to larger rewards in the future often feel less rewarding in the present, and change itself can be difficult. It can take longer to see those larger fruits of beneficial habits than people realize. Doubting the value of good habits can make people inconsistent enough to never see change, or give up prematurely. Change takes time. Different habitual ways of responding to what happens to us create wildly different life trajectories over time.

    I was surprised to see how many aspects of life are self-fulling prophecies: when people become convinced that certain outcomes won’t happen, we never really try to make them happen. And guess what? We’re right—even if it started because of a random comment.

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

    Karla: I used to think that exercise was torture, and that being athletic just wasn’t in the cards for me. I used the research to turn it around: bit by bit, I made everything associated with a healthy lifestyle as positive and rewarding as possible. I found an activity that I really enjoyed and a coach I connected with. I started befriending people at the gym, got workout clothes that I loved, and focused on how good it felt to get better. My attitude towards health has done a complete 180. I even won a competition at my gym this past year!

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

    Karla: Absolutely no one who knows me will be surprised that I’m a Questioner! I researched my book for years and am obsessed with learning. I hate the feeling of being forced to do something just for the sake of doing it. But if I have a good reason, I have no problem moving time and space for something that I want to do.

    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?

    Karla: "One coin won’t make you rich, but the only way to get rich is by collecting coins." [Gretchen: This is one of my favorite teaching stories! Here's an episode of A Little Happier where I talk about it.] My life today is the sum total of my past choices. Each small action may feel inconsequential, but every one counts. Every smart decision you make adds value to your future self. Books are read and written one word at a time, well-being is improved one healthy decision at a time, relationships are strengthened one kind deed at a time, retirement accounts grow one dollar at a time, and marathons are finished one step at a time. Every extra minute of reading, writing, brownie-skipping, gym-hitting, hugging, thanking, saving, and stepping adds up over time. Everything counts.

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

    Karla: People think that personality traits and intelligence are static, but our brains are much more plastic and malleable than we realize, at any age. Personality traits also depend on the situation we find ourselves in: everyone becomes more conscientious when they’re about to finish a project they really want to complete, or more extroverted when they see a great friend they really want to catch up with. Our lifestyles and social environments shape what we think we’re capable of, especially the habits among people in your social circle. As the narrative we tell ourselves about our life starts to take shape over time, people settle into a story of who we are, and make a habit of putting ourselves in situations where we’re most comfortable.

    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.?

    Karla: Last year, when I was working on my last chapter on the importance and difficulty of open-mindedness, I had a health scare. One of my friends said she’d pray for me, and I replied that it wasn’t a good use of her time. After talking, I ended up testing the advice that I was giving in that chapter: what if I was wrong, and there was a divine presence in the universe? Why was I stubbornly refusing to even consider it? What was the worst that could happen if I was wrong?

    It felt so odd to challenge such a core belief, especially one I’d been writing about for years. But what if the universe wasn’t just made of chaos and randomness—what if coincidences were meaningful? A few days after my scare, I started to act “as if.”

    If you do everything in your power to make your future brighter, stay flexible about the outcome, and have patience that things will eventually work out, they will. Another word for luck is faith.

    can you learn

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:50 on 2018/07/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , knowledge,   

    25 Secrets of Adulthood that I’ve Learned the Hard Way. 

    With time and experience, life teaches us all lessons. I keep a running list of my "Secrets of Adulthood" -- the things I've learned, the hard way. (For instance, here are my Secrets of Adulthood for Habits.)

    I write about these in my books, I talk about them in my podcast "Happier," I think about them all the time. There's something about distilling an idea or observation into a proper "Secret of Adulthood" that makes it easier for me to remember.

    1. What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.
    2. For the most part, I'm very much like other people, but our differences are very important.
    3. Hell is other people; Heaven is other people.
    4. Every medicine can become poison. (Email, caffeine, social media, work, treats...)
    5. I manage what I monitor. So if something's important to me, I should figure out a way to monitor it.
    6. Never let myself get too hungry, too sleepy, or too cold. And never pass up the chance to use a bathroom.
    7. I bring my own weather to the picnic.
    8. Just because something is important to me doesn't mean that it's important to someone else.
    9. A stumble may prevent a fall. This relates to the Strategy of Safeguards in my book Better Than Before.
    10. One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself. This is one of my Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness.
    11. Outer order contributes to inner calm. I'm finishing up a little book with this title. Stay tuned.
    12. I can't expect to be motivated by motivation. This realization was a big inspiration for my forthcoming book The Four Tendencies.
    13. It's easier to change my circumstances than to change myself.
    14. Things often get harder before they get easier.
    15. The things that go wrong often make the best memories. My mother told me this, to calm me down before my wedding weekend.
    16. Choose the bigger life.
    17. Turning a computer on and off often fixes a glitch.
    18. When I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. This relates to the fun and helpful Strategy of Treats.
    19. What's fun for other people might not be fun for me--and vice versa.
    20. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Cribbed from Voltaire.
    21. Now is now. I write about this in the conclusion of my book Happier at Home -- which, I must say, is one of the best things I've written in my whole life.
    22. If I need to remember something, write it down. How many times have I regretted remembering this Secret of Adulthood?
    23. Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.
    24. There is no wizard. (I will explain this in an upcoming episode of "A Little Happier.")
    25. The days are long, but the years are short.

    What are your Secrets of Adulthood? I'd love to add many more to my list!

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:29 on 2018/07/17 Permalink
    Tags: announcement, audiobook, , , , recording   

    Announcement: I’ve Re-Recorded the Happier at Home audiobook 

    Announcement! I’ve re-recorded the audiobook of Happier at Home, and it’s available for order.

    Up until now, the Happier at Home audiobook was read by a professional reader, and over the years, many listeners have written to me to tell me—in no uncertain terms—that they thought that I should’ve read it myself.

    The fact is, back when Happier at Home was first being published, a writer friend argued very persuasively that listeners enjoy books more when audiobooks are read by professional actors. Writers, she said, have no experience or training in reading aloud and just don’t provide as good an experience as a trained professional.

    I found out later that she was married to an actor, which might have explained her view. In any event, since that time I’ve learned that with a memoir-style book like Happier at Home, most readers very much prefer to hear it read by the author.

    This is especially true now that people know my voice from the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

    Because I’ve heard from so many people on this issue, I asked my publisher if I could re-record it myself, and so I did.

    HAH recording 1

    I always enjoy the recording process. It’s interesting to go back through the book I’ve written and read every word aloud. One time, I got to sit in the studio recently occupied by the legendary Jim Dale when he’d been recording (under heavy security) one of the Harry Potter books.

    This recording session was particularly interesting, because it has been several years since I read Happier at Home.

    I was particularly struck by the chapter for the month of March, "Family," when I wrote about how much I wanted to do some project in collaboration with my sister Elizabeth. I describe how we hoped to write a young-adult novel about the Eleusinian Mysteries. Well, we never did manage to write that novel (though I still think it’s a great idea), but we did manage to figure out a way to collaborate—in a big way. Our podcast Happier is a much bigger shared project than we’d ever envisioned as possible.

    I’d forgotten that I literally mention the example of the Satellite Sisterswho also have a podcast, and one of whom, Liz Dolan, has been a guest on our podcast! Full circle. I’ve experienced such a crazy fulfillment of that March resolution to "Collaborate with my sister."

    HAH recording
    The engineer showed me how my voice looks.

    Another part that I especially loved revisiting was the section in the chapter for February, "Body," when I wrote about the resolution to "Embrace good smells." My passion for the sense of smell and fragrance started at this time, and has only grown in the passing years.

    As painful as it is to realize, I’d sort of forgotten about how we always used to say "Eleanor has a heart full of love." Thank goodness I wrote that down, it’s in the book, so I know I’ll never forget that sweet memory.

    I could go on and on.

    Fun facts:

    It took me 15 hours in the studio to record Happier at Home.

    I held a pillow in front of my stomach the entire time, to muffle "stomach noises." (I was reassured by the fact that they had the pillow handy—I must not be the only one with this issue!)

    HAH recording 2

    As happens every time I record an audiobook, I learned that I’ve been unknowingly mispronouncing a lot of words, such as many people’s names, plus Eleusis, Eleusinian, minutiae, pomander, and—biggest surprise—tumult.

    I was interested to trace, again, how my motif runs through the book. In English class at school, you may have wondered, "Come on, do writers actually think about things like motifs?" Well, I do! Happier at Home has a blaring motif; if you’ve read the book, did you notice it? This motif appears on the first and last pages of the book, and is repeated many times. Hint: it’s the last word of the book.

    I love all my books equally, but my sister Elizabeth says that Happier at Home is her favorite of all my books.

    Want to know more about Happier at Home?

    You can read a description of the book here.

    You can watch the one-minute video "Ten Ways to be Happier at Home" here. Some are serious; some are a bit goofy. Can you guess which suggestion has proved most controversial?

    You might also enjoy the Behind-the-Scenes video or the Behind-the-Scenes extra (email me gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com to request it). Yes, you can know the true story of "artisanal pickles." All is revealed.

    I know many book groups read Happier at Home, and if you’d like one-page discussion guide (also aimed at spirituality book groups, Bible study groups, and the like), email me gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com to request it.

    Note: this new recording of Happier at Home is considered a different item, so if you already have the earlier version of the audiobook, you’d need to purchase this new version; the audiobook won’t automatically update.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:14 on 2018/06/28 Permalink
    Tags: Alex Salkever, , , Vivek Wadhwa,   

    “Reading Is the Best Habit for Lifelong Learning, and It Helps with Other Skills like Concentration and Meditation.” 

    Interview: Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever.

    Vivek Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, has written several books and been a columnist for Fortune, the Washington Post and other noted publications.

    Alex Salkever is an author and technology executive who formerly served as technology editor at BusinessWeek and as a visiting researcher at Duke University. He advises technology companies on product, strategy and marketing and is a regular columnist for Fortune.

    The two paired up to write the book The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future.

    Now they've teamed up again to write a new book: Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain--and How to Fight Back.

    In it, they examine the question of how technology influences our thoughts and behaviors. They focus on the four key areas of Love, Work, Self, and Society and document problems caused by technology--and then suggest strategies to take back control of technology.

    I was eager to hear from Alex and Vivek about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

    Alex: This may sound strange, but doing the dishes! It’s a structured activity and I have a specific way of doing it that gives me some comfort. Every dish type has its place. And I have a routine around washing dishes - the small spoons go in the same basket, the desert bowls fit into the upper rack on right. More conventionally, I love going walking or jogging in the redwood forest near my house. If I am close to an ocean, I try to go surfing to clear my head. It’s my passion. I sometimes get my best ideas out there. And I can honestly say I have never gotten out of the water less happy than when I got into the water. In general, it's a question I ask - do I feel happier and more fulfilled after I do something. If the answer is consistently “No” then I try to curtail that activity. If the answer is “Yes!” I try to do more of that activity.

    Vivek: For me, going for a hike and getting off the grid is really crucial in keeping me healthy and productive. I also meditate daily to slow down my brain, which naturally runs at a really high speed. I make sure to spend some time every week disconnected and on a trail. And there is the question of happiness: spending as much time as possible with family is the best route for me.

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

    Alex: Don’t beat up on yourself if you don’t succeed in building healthy habits. Establishing and maintaining healthy habits is very hard, really a lifelong process that never stops. But make sure the habits you prioritize the highest and work the hardest to fulfill are the ones that make you happiest. When I was living in Hawaii as a recent college graduate, I made it a priority to get in the water and go surfing at least five days per week. I was often busy building a writing career which eventually took me to BusinessWeek and into books. But come 4 pm, I was in the water and to this day some of my happiest memories are with me. That lesson - prioritize what is the most important - is something I wish I had known when I was very young. I would have worried a lot less and probably had more fun.

    Vivek: You should follow your heart. It is easy to follow your mind or your hunger, but that little voice inside guides you on practically everything if you listen to it. This comes into play the most in happiness, when you are having to make decisions about what is right and wrong. There are choices we have to make every day that need to be based on our values.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Alex: Oh, definitely. Compulsively checking texts. In the book, I write about how I almost killed a group of cyclists while texting and driving on this dangerous coastal highway north of San Francisco. It was the stupidest thing. How could I risk so much just to read a text? But I’m not that different than tens of millions of people. (I’ve since set a new habit of putting my phone away when I get behind the wheel). I get distracted by shiny objects on the internet and have to work hard to stay focused. I struggle to not check email and read random news on the internet (usually on Hacker News). And I have to work hard to put down the smartphone and leave it alone, or in a drawer. I can honestly say my technology addiction is my worst bad habit - it pushes me towards doing the “urgent” or tackling the “noisy” task rather than working on what’s really important. I never met anyone who said they wish they had spent more time answering emails or looking at pictures on Facebook. And I personally find the less time I spend with technology, the more happy I am (to a certain point - I need technology to earn a living, of course).

    Vivek: I’m like Alex. I had a heart attack a few years ago driven in part by my technology-induced stress levels (I write about that in the book). So I have to work hard to disconnect and not feel like I need to respond to things quickly. I’ve gotten much better at it, though, and have built some systems around it. Like I don’t even bother to check voice mails a lot of the time and I post to social media but I don’t read that much on social media; it’s not the best use of time. Technology really is an addiction, that you have to manage--and overcome!

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you?

    Alex: Spending time with my children. I try to do it every day, for at least a few hours. Usually playing sports or talking. Reading is next. I think that reading is the best habit for lifelong learning and it helps with other skills like concentration and meditation.

    Vivek: Meditation and mindfulness.

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

    Alex: A healthy habit I started a year ago that has stuck is running in the morning when I wake up. It was a hard one to get going. I like running but am not really a morning person. I also have a bad habit of staying up late to read and sometimes I get creative inspiration at night. I’m not a night owl but I’m not a lark, either. I did a few things. First, I started laying out my running clothes - socks, shorts, shoes, t-shirt - every evening before I went to bed. That removed a mental barrier which may seem insignificant but actually was a key obstacle. I am a time counter so if it took me five minutes to gather my clothes, in my mind I would subtract five minutes from my running time and sometimes that took me below the threshold of where it was worthwhile to run. Second, I would write down a mini activity diary for the next day and would list in the “Exercise” section the run I planned. This was both an affirmation and a commitment. Third, I switched my running routine to places where I love to run. There are a few trails near my house that go through forests of oak, laurel and redwoods and one stunning trail down to the Pacific Ocean past hills of wildflowers. It takes a few minutes extra to drive to those trailheads. I don’t have enough time to get to them by running and get to work. But running in those beautiful places makes it so much more pleasurable that it feels like a real reward. Lastly, after my run I would stop at my favorite coffee shop and buy an Americano, my favorite coffee drink. By putting these pieces together - planning and reward - it helped me turn a resolution into a pretty robust habit that’s stuck for a year.

    Vivek: I try to switch off all technology by 9 PM and get to bed by 10 PM. And then I wake as early as I can. It is easy to watch late shows and stay connected, but early to bed and early to rise is the best habit of all.

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

    Vivek: According to the quiz, I am a Questioner. I won’t dispute this!

    Alex: The quiz results describe me as a “Questioner” and parts of that definitely make sense. I crave perfect information and am a perfectionist in many realms. I also think I have parts of Rebel and Obliger in me. I really don’t like getting bossed around and told what to do. I definitely resist external expectations and relish the role of non-traditionalist. I have trouble working for people I don’t respect. But I am an “Obliger” too in that sometimes I struggle to advocate for myself and I may coddle my children and my employees to much. I respect and prioritize my duties to others over what might make me happier and saner. But at least with family, I think that’s the only way to live - family comes first.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or to stay happy?

    Alex: I would say lack of sleep is the biggest problem. Everything else breaks down when I get less than six hours and less than seven is not great either. You can ask my wife. I am more likely to get angry, to get depressed, to say silly things. I am less patient. I have trouble eating healthy and sticking to exercise regimes. Sleep is the linchpin. I only realized this, ironically, after I left a heavy-duty job as a vice president at Mozilla, where I was expected to be always on. That meant never enough sleep. Once I left and took some time off, for the first time since college I made it a point to get enough sleep. It was like a light went on. I could actually feel the difference between six and seven hours, and see how negatively it affected my day.

    Vivek: It is always sleep that is the problem!

    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?

    Vivek: I’ll take this one. I was on a family vacation, a cruise in Mexico. I was a startup CEO and constantly checking in on work via email. On the cruise I couldn’t get any internet access and it was killing me! Literally, I found out. I started to get some chest pains. At first I ignored them. As I climbed the pyramid of Chichén Itzá, in the Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the pains became increasingly severe, and I began to feel nauseous. The views were stupendous. People dreamed for their whole lives of visiting this location and walking up these steps. Yet, amid the majesty of one of the greatest civilizations ever, my mind was on….when I can check my email? On the flight home, the chest pains and nausea turned into a shooting electric current in my left arm. My wife Tavinder insisted we go straight to the doctor. I said, no, I needed to go home and check email. Fortunately, my wife prevailed. We landed and drove straight to the hospital. I literally blacked out as he entered the emergency room, and sat propped up in a wheelchair while they registered me. My next memory was of waking up after lifesaving surgery for a massive heart attack. Had I waited another hour or two, my doctors said, I would have been dead. None of my emails would have mattered. That day woke me up and I decided to leave the world of startups and become an academic and teacher - to teach and assist others rather than try to make money as my primary goal. It was the best decision I have ever made.

    Alex: My story pales next to Vivek’s. For me, it was reading a website that tallied up how many times you will see your parents before they die. The number was a lot less than I had imagined it would be - my parents live on the East Coast. And I started doing the math on how many times I would see all my dear friends. It was very sobering. I vowed from that day to prioritize relationships and spending time with people over anything else in my life. I bailed on corporate America (I may go back, but only on my terms) and created a life where I spend time every day with my children and my wife, and see my parents and friends more. I’ve been much happier since I made these changes.

    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?

    Alex: “Put yourself in their shoes.” It helps me focus on empathy and stop thinking about myself.

    Vivek: Always give more than you take.

     
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