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  • gretchenrubin 20:25:46 on 2017/12/12 Permalink
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    Need Holiday Gift-Giving Ideas? Here are the 7 Books I Most Often Give as Gifts. 

    I love giving books as gifts -- during the holiday season, and throughout the year. I constantly recommend a million books, but there is a handful of books that I find myself giving over and over, because they've had such an influence on me.

    Here are the seven that I most often give as gifts:

    1. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes.

    As I write about in Better Than Before, this book changed my life in dramatic ways, and all for the better. It also changed my father's life. I hand this book out constantly. It's easy to read, interesting, and (for me) utterly convincing.

    2. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander.

    I'm not a visual person, and this book was a revelation to me; it allowed me to understand space and design in an entirely new way.

    3. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte.

    Yes, I know, it's the worst title ever, but it's a gorgeous, brilliant book that changed the way that I think about information. I just gave this book to a friend last week.

    4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

    This is the novel that I give someone who's stuck in the hospital and needs to be distracted. It's so absorbing and exciting.

    5. Selected Essays by George Orwell.

    I admire Orwell's writing tremendously, and am always trying to encourage other people to read his work.

    6. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

    This is by far the most useful and entertaining parenting book that I've ever read. I use the advice to deal more effectively with my daughters, and also with adults. I've probably read it five times.

    7. Open by Andre Agassi.

    I don't know anything about tennis, but I love memoirs, so I read this book because so many people praised it as a memoir. It's a brilliant, fascinating book, but I give it as a gift because it's an astonishingly accurate portrait of an Obliger. Some people make inaccurate assumptions about the Obliger personality, so I often say, "Read Open, and you'll get a very different understanding of how this Tendency can play out." (Don't know what an Obliger is? Read here.)

    I hear from a lot of people who give my books as gifts, and that's always thrilling to hear.

    What books do you most often give as gifts?

    You'll notice that I didn't include any works of children's literature or young-adult literature. That's a whole different category. If you'd like to see my 81 favorite works of kidlit, look here.

  • gretchenrubin 13:15:01 on 2017/12/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , Edna St. Vincent Millay, ,   

    Ever Get the Feeling that You Just Can’t Contain the Beauty of the World? 

    O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
       Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
       Thy mists, that roll and rise!
    Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
    And all but cry with colour!   That gaunt crag
    To crush!   To lift the lean of that black bluff!
    World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
    Long have I known a glory in it all,
             But never knew I this;
             Here such a passion is
    As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
    Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
    My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
    No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
    -- Edna St. Vincent Millay, "God's World"
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:01 on 2017/12/09 Permalink
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    My London Color Adventure, Part II — Getting My “Color Season” Analyzed. 

    The other day, I wrote about my decision to have color adventures while I was visiting London.

    Before I left New York City, I'd made a plan to visit the Lycurgus Cup in the British Museum.

    As reluctant as I usually am to have spontaneous adventures (Upholder), I did have an unplanned color adventure during my visit.

    I got the idea for this adventure from the brilliant journalist Hannah Betts. Talking to Hannah was a fantastic experience, because she's so funny and thought-provoking, and because she knows my work so well. She's a Rebel who has embraced her Tendency in a big way, with great results -- it was very fun (and gratifying) for me to hear about her experiences.

    It turns out that Hannah is also very interested in color, and she convinced me to get my colors analyzed, to discover my "season." You can read her piece about this kind of color analysis here, "What Clothes Season Are You? Are you spring or winter? The 1980s trend of getting your ‘colours’ done is proving a hit with a new generation."

    I'm not very good about making spontaneous plans, or adding new items to an already crowded to-do list, but I thought, "This is a color adventure! I should do it!" She made it easy by telling me exactly how to go about it.

    So I made an appointment with Red Leopard and consultant Ilka Dunn did the color analysis. Spoiler alert: I'm an "Autumn."

    While I was there, I also met Melissa Nicholson, who has a clothing line, Kettlewell, where she creates clothes featuring that reflect this color system.

    It was fascinating to think about color in a new way, and also talk to two people who are as passionate about color as I am. Since I started getting interested in color, I've been surprised to learn that there are many more fellow color-obsessives out there than I thought.

    Talking to these two also made something clear to me about myself: Ilka and Melissa were both highly visual, while I'm not visual at all. One reason I'm drawn to the study of color is that it helps me to key into the visual world, which is a practice that doesn't come naturally to me. But I have to approach color through words -- that's why I'm writing a little book about color! I can only see it by reading and writing about it.

    Are you good at having adventures when you travel?

  • gretchenrubin 22:06:09 on 2017/12/08 Permalink
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    Looking for Holiday Gifts? Consider These Suggestions. (Warning: Blatant Self-Promotion!) 

    'Tis the season to buy presents, and most of us can use some good suggestions. So be warned, I’m going to make a plug for my various creations -- books, journals, calendar, coloring book, and even mugs.

    The Happiness Project was a #1 New York Times bestseller, on the bestseller list for more than two years, translated into more than 30 languages, and was even a question on the quiz show Jeopardy! (Which was quite surreal, I must admit.) I spent a year test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific research, and lessons from pop culture to figure out how to be happier.

    Happier at Home is about how to guessed it...happier at home. Of everything I've ever written, this book is my sister Elizabeth's favorite. Time, possessions, neighborhood, clutter (of course), the sense of smell -- I got to write about so many great subjects in this book. Also a New York Times bestseller.

    Better Than Before is all about how to make or break habits -- so if you know someone who's planning to make 2018 a happier, healthier, more productive year, this book might be a big help. It turns out it's not that hard to change your habits -- when you know how to do it in the way that's right for you. Also a New York Times bestseller.

    The Four Tendencies is my newest book, and is all about a personality framework I discovered. When you know if you're an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, many things in life become much clearer. And when you know other people's Tendencies, that's a big help as well. Great for health-care professionals, managers, colleagues, teachers, parents, sweethearts. Also a New York Times bestseller.

    Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill -- ah, what a joy it was to write that book! I wrote it thinking, “I want to write an accessible, manageable book about Churchill so that people can learn enough about him to want to tackle the giant biographies.” I wanted everyone to be as interested in Churchill as I was. What I've learned, however, is that the people who enjoy my book most are the people who already know a lot about him. So if you know someone who is a big Churchill fan, he or she might enjoy it. Also a bestseller.

    Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal -- a one-sentence journal is a manageable, realistic way to keep a journal. Writing one single sentence is something that most people can manage, and one sentence is enough to hang on to memories.

    Better Than Before Day-by-Day Journal -- this journal is designed to make it easier to stick to your good habits. There are tips, quotes, trackers, "don't break the chain" boxes, and everything else to make it easier to achieve what you want.

    Happier 2018 Page-a-Day Calendar -- this calendar one page for each day of the year, with a strategy, tip, quotation, or reminder. I like formats that let me read one item a day; it makes it easy to digest information and put it to use. (Some people have asked if the content differs from the 2017 calendar. Yes, it does.)

    Happiness Project Mini Posters: a Coloring Book of 20 Hand-lettered Quotes to Pull Out and Frame -- I love the trend of adults returning to the love of coloring books -- meditative, creative, fun, and also makes it harder to snack. As someone who is obsessed with color, I love any excuse to pull out my colored pencils or fancy markers.

    Mugs! For a fan of the Happier podcast, I have a "Happier" mug. And for fans of the Four Tendencies, I have a mug for Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel -- each one featuring my favorite motto for that Tendency. For instance, the Rebel motto is, "You can't make me, and neither can I."

    What's the most memorable book you've received as a gift?

  • gretchenrubin 11:00:06 on 2017/12/07 Permalink
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    My London Color Adventure, Part I — the Lycurgus Cup in the British Museum. 

    I'm in London to promote my book The Four Tendencies, and to make my explorations of London even more fun, I decided to have some color-related adventures while I'm here.

    Now why color?

    I spend most of my time reflecting and writing on human nature -- happiness, habits, the Four Tendencies, and so on. But I've e also developed an obsession with the subject of color. My interest in color has become so strong that I'm even going to try to write a little book about color, My Color Pilgrimage.

    Yesterday, I went to the British Museum for the first time -- how had I never been before? And I was able to see for myself the astonishing Lycurgus Cup.

    Most likely, this Roman cup dates from 4th century A.D., and it shows King Lycurgus of Thrace entangled in grapevines, for crimes against Dionysus.

    The cup is extraordinary because it has very unusual color properties: it's the only complete example of "dichroic" glass, which changes color when held up to light.

    When the light is seen in normal light, it looks opaque green. But when light shines through it, it turns red.

    The cup is exhibited with a light that slowly turns on and off, so I could watch the cup turn from brownish-green to red and back again. It's breath-taking.

    Apparently, even though the museum acquired the cup in the 1950s, scientists couldn't figure out how the color change occurred until the 1990s.

    It made me very happy to see the cup itself, and it also made me happy to have a little mission to give shape to my visit. I wasn't just walking around the museum, I was in search of Gallery 41 and the cup. It was also fun to see with my own eyes an object that I'd read about.

    Have you found ways to make visiting a new city more fun?

  • gretchenrubin 17:02:43 on 2017/12/05 Permalink
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    From London: Some Thoughts About Happiness, and a Few Travel Hacks. 

    Hello from London! I'm here after a whirlwind stops in Dublin and Belfast -- I want to go back to both places for a longer visit.

    It's often noted how travel expands the mind and our sense of possibilities, and how it shakes us out of routine and familiarity. And like many cliched ideas, it's very true.

    When I travel, I try to pay a lot of attention to the differences around me. Little things, like the sound a phone makes while ringing, the sound of a siren (though I think that London has changed its siren tone so that it sounds more familiar), the feeling that I don't know how to cross the street safely, or where to look to find the name of the street.

    There are differences in vocabulary too. I accidentally got a big laugh when I gave a talk a few nights ago. I was discussing how Questioners can help themselves to do something that's inefficient or unjustified, by thinking of their second order of justification. As an example, I said, "I talked to a Questioner who said, 'My grandmother doesn't like for me to wear pants. Even though I prefer to wear pants, and think her rule is silly, I don't wear pants when I'm with her, because it makes her happy, and that's important to me.'" Turns out that in the U.K., "pants" means "underwear." Yikes. I meant "trousers!"

    Visiting London always gives me new appreciation for New York City's grid system of streets. Those straight, predictable lines are less interesting and charming, but easier to manage. Whenever I go someplace in London by taxi, I feel that I'm being driven by someone who's trying to escape pursuers -- the route is so circuitous, it feels like we're trying to throw off the people tailing us.

    When I travel, my new favorite activity is to visit a grocery store. Even though I'm not buying any groceries, it's so interesting to see the differences in what people eat, how food is packaged, and how groceries are displayed. Side note: Heathrow Airport has a grocery store at the Arrivals Area; I've never seen an airport grocery store before. Last night, I went into a Whole Foods grocery store, to see how a U.S. brand was adapted; the store felt familiar, but little things were different. Like the salad bar offered "chicken thigh."

    I always love to visit bookstores when I travel. I'm especially interested when familiar books have different cover in other countries -- I like seeing the different interpretations. As it happens, The Four Tendencies has the same cover art in the U.S. and the U.K.

    I had a big stroke of luck right before I left New York. I took an overnight flight to Dublin in the morning, so I landed in the morning, and my hotel room wasn't ready. I felt cranky and exhausted and just wanted to crawl into bed, but I managed to pull myself together. I had a big cup of strong coffee, checked my bag at the hotel, and set off to explore the city. I always enjoy walking around more when I have some kind of mission or destination in mind (do you feel the same way?), and fortunately, right before I left, a friend told me, "If you only manage to do one thing in Dublin, you must see the Book of Kells." So as I was gulping that coffee, I looked up the Book of Kells, and there it was, a nice walk from my hotel. I had a lovely walk there, had a fascinating viewing of the Book of Kells, walked back by a different route -- and then my room was ready.

    I'm also always looking for new ways to make traveling easier.

    On the "Happier" podcast, I've talked many times about my (perhaps excessive) love for light canvas tote bags, and I have a new favorite way to use them. Because we're only allowed two carry-on bags on an airplane, I was often juggling a lot of stuff in my arms, in addition to my two bags. My book, some magazines and newspapers, a container of cinnamon Ice Breakers, my shawl that I always take on an airplane because I'm always freezing, etc.

    Now I put everything in a canvas tote to make it easy to carry it around. Then, right before I board, I take it all out and carry it in my arms. You can carry as much loose stuff as you want onto an airplane -- you just can't have more than two bags.

    One of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood is: Always leave some room in the suitcase. This is both literally and metaphorically true.

    However, because I wanted to avoid having to check a bag for this trip, I crammed my carry-on bag full. That was the right decision for this trip, but boy, I really dislike the feeling of being packed to the brim.

    My other Secret of Adulthood for travel: Always bring snacks! This is especially true when I experience a big time change; I've arrived in places where it was hard to eat, because my body clock was so contrary to the normal eating patterns of the place where I'd arrived.

    Do you have any great travel hacks, or suggestions for ways to make travel more interesting, broadening, or easy?

  • gretchenrubin 14:00:52 on 2017/11/26 Permalink
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    As You’ve Grown Older, Have You Become More Willing to Consider a Person “Good?” 

    “As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly.”

    --Samuel Johnson, quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

    As you've grown older, and had more experience of the world, do you think you are more or less likely to consider a person to be "good?" Do you expect more, or less, of people?

  • gretchenrubin 12:44:19 on 2017/11/25 Permalink
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    Working Is One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Procrastination–18th Century Style. 

    “Idleness is often covered by turbulence and hurry. He that neglects his known duty and real employment naturally endeavours to crowd his mind with something that may bar out the remembrance of his own folly, and does any thing but what he ought to do with eager diligence, that he may keep himself in his own favour."

    --Samuel Johnson, Selected Writings, "Idler no. 31," November 18, 1758

    One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: "Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination." I got a kick out of seeing one of my favorite authors, Dr. Johnson, express the same notion in his inimitable, eighteenth-century style.

    Agree, disagree?


  • gretchenrubin 21:19:32 on 2017/11/21 Permalink
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    What Do You Plan to Read Tomorrow?–Apparently It’s the Biggest Reading Day of the Year? 

    According to a study commissioned by the huge bookseller Barnes & Noble, Thanksgiving Eve--which this year falls tomorrow, on Wednesday, November 22--is the busiest reading day of the year.

    It's a very popular (and therefore stressful) travel day, and many people turn to books and periodicals to make traveling more pleasant.

    My family usually celebrates Thanksgiving in New York City, so I don't have any travel-related reading time.

    In general, though, I love to read on airplanes. I made a rule for myself: when I'm in transit, I don't work; I read for pleasure. This rule means that I get much more reading done, plus I enjoy traveling much more.

    I can't read during car trips, however -- I get car-sick. Can you read while riding in a car?

    If you're traveling tomorrow, do you plan to do some reading? What book or periodical are you taking?

    If you'd like to see my one-pager on tips for getting more reading done, it's here.

  • gretchenrubin 14:00:47 on 2017/11/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , Scarlett Thomas   

    Which Do You Prefer? “Simple Beauty with No Explanation, or Knowing Exactly How and Why?” 

    'You know, I haven't been able to look at flowers the same way since I learnt about the Fibonacci sequence,' Violet says, stroking the pink daisies with her thin white hand as we walk along the wall. 'I don't know which is better: simple beauty with no explanation, or knowing exactly how and why seed pods are organized.'

    --Scarlett Thomas, PopCo

    This comment reminded me of the conversation Elizabeth and I had on episode 105 of the "Happier" podcast, about the question of "Do you prefer childlike wonder or adultlike wonder?"

    Which do you prefer? I prefer adultlike wonder, myself. The more I know about something, the more I enjoy and appreciate it.

    How I love the novels of Scarlett Thomas! I'm working my way through everything she's written. I can't recommend her work highly enough. It's thrilling to discover a new author.

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