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  • feedwordpress 17:52:53 on 2018/03/15 Permalink
    Tags: anna palmer, , , politico   

    “A Good Nap Can Change a Person’s Whole Perspective.” 

    Interview: Anna Palmer.

    Anna Palmer is the senior Washington correspondent for POLITICO and the co-author of POLITICO's Playbook She’s also the co-host of the daily POLITICO morning podcast Playbook Audio Briefing (which she records at 4 a.m. every morning!) as well as host of the Women Rule podcast.

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

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

    Anna: WATER. I challenge myself to drink 90 oz of water a day – I really believe it bleeds into making similar healthy choices and keeps me peppy despite my early mornings and late nights!

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

    Anna: FOMO. I used to have a huge fear of missing out and that would mean I was going to all kinds of things on the off chance it would be something special and run myself ragged in doing so. I try to be much more deliberate and be present at the events I choose to attend.

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

    Anna: Sleep. I always want more but it's hard when we are all on the go. I got great advice a few years ago -- and that was to be comfortable taking a nap. A good nap can change a person's whole perspective.

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

    Anna: Regular workouts are a must to keep me sane -- it's easy to blame my schedule for my energy levels, but I know that a session with my trainer Keith will always turn things around. He's also refocused my energy from just doing cardio to really spending time with weights, squats and ab work. I love band workouts -- we are focusing on walking lunges and eliminating sugar (except my wine, a lady needs one outlet!).

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

    Anna: I used to love to stay up late. My hours made that impossible and I have found early to bed, early to rise is a much healthier, consistent way of living my life.

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

    Anna: Definitely an Upholder. I like to know what the expectations are from others and myself and then not only meet, but exceed them.

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

    Anna: I travel a lot for work and keep unconventional hours -- waking up between 3:30 AM and 4 AM Monday through Friday to write Playbook and record the Playbook Audio Briefing. At the same time, I am really focused on keeping up my close relationship with my friends and family. That can be challenging when traveling to the West Coast and getting up at 1 a.m. to do my job.

    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.?

    Anna: I made a promise to myself in my early 30s that I would try to travel abroad at least twice a year. I hadn't done much international travel at that time (mostly because I was working and a struggling journalist). It hit me that I needed to work hard, but also play hard -- and I have traveled the world, explored new cultures and come back reinvigorated in my career.

    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?

    Anna: There is no substitute for excellence. My mom Joyce -- or JMom as she calls herself -- repeated that a lot to us as kids. And I have even heard her say it as an adult. Without that internal north star, I wouldn't be writing my first book and still dragging myself to the treadmill in the mornings!

  • feedwordpress 17:34:49 on 2018/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , LifeSpan 1200 DT, treadmill desk, walking,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What Kind of Treadmill Desk Does Elizabeth Use? 

    In my book The Happiness Project, I describe how and why I bought my sister Elizabeth a treadmill desk, to use in her office where she works as a writer and producer in Hollywood.

    Along with getting my husband a subscription to Sports Illustrated, this is the most successful gift I’ve ever given.

    I had to ask her permission, of course: you can’t just spring a treadmill desk on someone. They’re enormous.

    But after some thought, she did accept it, and it makes me so happy that she’s used a treadmill desk ever since.

    In fact, as soon as she announced that she was getting a treadmill desk, her writing partner Sarah Fain got one, too! They have two treadmill desks side by side in their office on the Disney lot, and use the treadmill desks while they work. I often hear it softly whirring in the background when I’m talking to Elizabeth on the phone.

    There’s even a segment on their podcast Happier in Hollywood called "From the Treadmill Desks of..." when they talk about what’s most pressing in their work psyches that week.

    Because we often mention the treadmill desk, many people become intrigued by the idea of getting one themselves – with the hope of getting more activity into their work day, without having to make a special time or trip for exercise.

    If you wonder what Elizabeth uses, she has a LifeSpan 1200 DT. It goes up to four miles per hour, no incline.

    I must confess that when I bought that model for her, I didn’t do much research on which one to buy. I’d read a lot about the value of treadmill desks, and when I read Susan Orleans’s article in The New Yorker, "The Walking Alive: Don’t Stop Moving"  about Orleans’s great experience with her treadmill desk, I looked up the model she’d bought, thought it looked good, and bought that one.

    To answer some questions that I’ve received about about treadmill desks: you walk very slowly, so you don’t sweat; the machine is quiet (quieter than a window air-conditioner) so it is possible to talk on the phone while on the machine; it is possible to type, answer emails, etc. while on the machine, though Elizabeth does sit down if she’s doing a lengthy piece of writing.

    I would love to have a treadmill desk myself, but my strange little home office is too small to fit one.

    Do you have a treadmill desk – or are you intrigued by the possibility of having one? Does your office provide them? I’ve noticed that in many offices, there are treadmill desk stations where people can go work, if they choose.

  • feedwordpress 10:00:11 on 2018/03/08 Permalink
    Tags: , Geneen Roth,   

    “I Made a Decision to Stop Complaining. About Anything.” 

    Interview: Geneen Roth.

    Geneen Roth is a bestselling writer of many books who, in her work, examines the relationships among identity, food, spirituality, body image, money, and other aspects of our everyday lives. That is, some of the most some complex and charged issues within the larger subject of happiness.

    She has a new book that has just hit the shelves: This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide.

    I love the idea of a "field guide" to life.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Geneen Roth about happiness, habits, spirituality, and productivity.

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

    Geneen: When I wake up every day, within the first five minutes, I counter [what I fondly call] my marriage to negativity by asking myself: What’s not wrong right now? Then I list five things. They could be as simple as: “I woke up today. It’s another day on planet earth! I have eyes to see, ears to hear, a partner sleeping next to me, an irrepressibly silly dog”…and I make sure to not just list those things but to take them in, to feel them, to experience the goodness of them so that I’m not just reciting a checklist. Then, as silly as this sounds, I remind myself to smile right there, right then, not at anything or anyone but just because -- and I notice how that amplifies joy. It always amazes me that the littlest things make the biggest difference.

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

    Geneen: That happiness is not meant for a special few (of which I am not one). That it is possible to cultivate happiness and joy, and that if one’s nervous system is geared toward vigilance about sensing danger instead of noticing beauty or what’s good, it is still possible to develop the capacity for everyday joy. But/and, building a new habit takes consistency and willingness to do it, even when I don’t feel like it. When I want to whine or muck around in how awful it all is, I have to be (and most of the time, I am) willing to stop myself in the middle, to remember what I want more than I want to whine, and to live as if what I’m aiming for—joy, in this instance—is already true. Sometimes living as-if is the best I can do. And that’s good enough.

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

    Geneen: My default orientation to what’s wrong. And so, many times a day—after I do the five minutes in bed as described above—I ask myself, “Am I okay right now?” And since the answer is almost always yes, my nervous system and hyper-vigilance relax. Over and over, for as many times as it takes. As an extension of this habit of focusing on wrongness, I’ve also noticed that I blame myself when things don’t go as planned—or when, according to my mind, they have gone wrong. I have a friend who says he wakes up every day with this mantra: “Something’s wrong and who’s to blame!” I have to pay close attention to this in myself as well. Attention changes everything for me because it makes a separation between what I am seeing and who I am. When I see something, I immediately realize that that which is doing the seeing is not the pattern itself. I realize there is something bigger that exists than this poor, little moi—that I am not my history, but am instead the awareness that is noticing my history--and this cheers me up immensely.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you?

    Geneen: When I am writing a book, the habit of getting to my studio every day is crucial. Otherwise, I putter around in the house, procrastinate, call friends and schmooze on the phone. So I have a sign in my kitchen (since I walk out the kitchen door to my studio) that Nora Roberts has on her desk: Ass in chair. And even though I am dragging and kicking and feeling sorry for myself as I open the kitchen door and head to my studio (because I am certain that all my friends are making plans to go out to lunch at pretty restaurants with potted red geraniums), I am resolute about getting my ass in the chair.

    There are other habits, other routines or disciplines I follow almost every day because I find that structure (i.e., habits) are helpful to my somewhat chaotic mind. (Okay, very chaotic mind). I go to bed by 10 pm, I move my body every day, preferably outside, and I remember, many times a day, to come out of my mind and into my body. To sense my arms and legs, feel my feet on the floor, and to look up and around me. To be, as the Tibetans say, “like a child, astonished at everything.”

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to break an unhealthy habit?

    Geneen: The hardest habit to break has been to stop listening to what I call “the crazy aunt in the attic:” the voice that blares continually, day in and day out, about how I’m not good enough, did it wrong, should have done better. When I notice that I suddenly feel small, diminished, incapable, disappeared, I’ll track back and ask myself what triggered it and what I am telling myself. I’ve gotten very good at seeing that the crazy aunt is having her way with me. Then, I tell her to go out on the lawn, drink tequila and leave me alone. Or simply, that I am walking out of the attic and into the rest of the house (that is my body, my life) and so she can keep blaring on but I am not listening to her. I disentangle myself from her clutches and realize that she is not telling the truth.

    The second hardest habit that I have broken, and I realize you only asked about one, but I can’t help myself from mentioning this, is complaining. When I realized two years ago that most of my conversations were (very nice) rants against what was happening that I didn’t want to be happening (i.e, the weather, what someone just said, the politicians, being tired or sick, etc) and that there was nothing to do about it since it already happened, I made a decision to stop complaining. About anything. I gave myself three choices: accept the situation, leave the situation, or do something to change the situation, period. Although I often wanted to complain about not complaining, the truth is that my resolve has had a profound affect: there was an unexpected and almost magical lightness to the days. And there still is.

    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.?

    Geneen: When we lost every cent of our savings in 2008, my immediate reaction was terror and self-blame, fear and hopelessness. My husband and I were never going to get back the money we’d made from thirty years of being self-employed, and I felt despair, shame and totally overwhelmed. Luckily, I had good friends who told me that “Nothing of any value has been lost,” and although I responded that “this was not the time to be spiritual," I realized that if I was going to make it through the night without being frozen with fear, I was going to have to be vigilant NOW about re-focusing my mind on what I did have, not what I didn’t have. On what I could find, not what I had lost. And I realized, almost instantly, that there was goodness and beauty, love and chocolate in abundance. These things had always been there to see, take in, but that I had been disregarding them as I went through the regular day-to-day activities. Within a week, I was happier than I’d ever been. This process taught me something I will never forget: that no situation, no matter how awful it first appears, is unworkable. And just as important, that it is not the situation itself that is causing my suffering, but the stories I am telling myself about it. Radical.

  • feedwordpress 19:32:23 on 2018/03/01 Permalink
    Tags: 18 for 2018, , , , ,   

    I Wrote My “18 for 2018” List. Now It’s Time to See How I’m Doing So Far 

    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.

    Well, we’re a few months into 2018 now, and I thought I’d review my progress so far.

    I note an item as "underway" in two situations: if it’s a repeating action that I’ve done a few or several times, but not so many times that I consider it "completed," or if I’ve successfully started a long project but can’t yet check it off my list.

    1. Start having weekly adventures with Eleanor. [underway]
    2. Fix my headset, runs out of battery really fast. [DONE]
    3. Set up a home studio in this closet for my Facebook show. [underway; I did this, but now seem to be having technical issues with my lighting so not sure whether to "count" it as completed]
    4. Work with Barnaby so he’s better at coming when I call him.
    5. Clean out my massive tote bag collection. Each one is special.[DONE]
    6. Take Eleanor to get her contacts checked.
    7. Start making consistent progress on "Report to the Committee on Exploration" (if you want to read about "Four to Llewelyn's Edge", I describe it here).
    8. Create a work calendar for the year. I have a lot of little projects and I need more structure than usual; trips I need to make. [DONE]
    9. Finish My Color Pilgrimage and figure out what the heck to do with it; similarly, Outer Order, Inner Calm. **[underway]
    10. Tap more into my love of smell. I've fallen out of habit of regularly wearing perfume, smelling my smell collection, burning scented candles. Along those lines... [underway]
    11. Plan perfume field trip with a friend. [underway; I’ve done this once but want to do it several more times over the course of the year]
    12. New phone for camera to improve the video quality of my weekly Facebook show, "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live"[DONE]
    13. Figure out Instagram features and use it regularly. [DONE]
    14. Decide on a cause to give to as a family.
    15. Create the Four Tendencies workshop. [underway]
    16. Deal with the items we want to donate to Housing Works.[underway; the stuff is loaded into our car but not yet dropped off]
    17. I’m creating a list for listeners of the Try This at Homes and Happiness Hacks so far. And I'll update these lists at the end of each year, for people to request. [underway]
    18. Get current with making physical photo albums with Shutterfly. [DONE]

    So I’ve completed finished 6 items. Gold stars for me.

    I’ve started 8 items.

    And I’ve left 4 items completely untouched.

    What conclusions can I draw from my list so far? First, my schedule is crowded, so I resist items that need to be put onto my calendar.

    I’m more likely to do items – even challenging items – if they’re things that I can sit down and accomplish in one slot of time. This gives me the very great satisfaction of checking something off my list.

    For aims that are underway, it’s helpful to remind myself that I need to keep pressing forward.

    Halfway through the year, Elizabeth and I will do an update on the Happier podcast. But I find that the more frequently I monitor my progress, the more likely I am to get these aims accomplished.

    This is a surprisingly fun exercise, given that it’s just a way of getting myself to do things that I’ve been delaying!

    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

  • gretchenrubin 11:55:19 on 2018/02/24 Permalink
    Tags: , Francoise Gilot, Matisse, , ,   

    Secret of Adulthood: I’m Unique, Just Like Everyone Else. 

    In her memoir Life with Picasso, Francoise Gilot quoted Matisse:

    As Matisse said, "When I look at a fig tree, every leaf has a different design. They all have their own manner of moving in space; yet in their own separate ways, they all cry, 'Fig tree.'"

    It's one of my Secrets of Adulthood: I'm unique, just like everyone else.

    Do you have any favorite memoirs to recommend? I'm in the mood to read a really terrific memoir. Maybe I'll finally read James Boswell's London Journal.



  • feedwordpress 13:00:49 on 2018/02/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What Are Some Fun Things to Do in Kansas City? 

    I love my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and talk about it often – and people ask, "What are some fun things to do in Kansas City?"

    I like that question, because it reminds me that I can be a tourist without leaving home. A tourist reads and studies, a tourist shows up, a tourist looks at things with fresh eyes. A tourist appreciates everything a particular place has to offer.

    In fact, Elizabeth and I discuss the Try-This-at-Home tip of "Be a tourist in your own city" in episode 15 of the Happier podcast.

    In no particular order, here are some of my favorite stops in Kansas City.

    • The Nelson-Atkins Museum – this is a gorgeous, wonderful museum, with all sorts of treasures in a beautiful building.
    • The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures – this isn’t a huge place, but well worth a visit. It inspired my daughters to get a dollhouse themselves. The Museum includes displays showing the most popular toys of recent decades, and it’s fun to be reminded of all the various toy fads: Cabbage Patch dolls, G.I. Joe, etc.
    • Winstead’s – this diner is my family’s favorite restaurant. It’s the place we stop to eat on our way home from the airport. We can’t get these super-thin steak-burgers anywhere else.
    • Barbeque – Kansas City is famous for BBQ, and there are many great options. Q39 and Char Bar are among our current favorites, and of course Gates and Arthur Bryant’s have been famous for decades.
    • Kauffman Memorial Garden – a small, gem-like garden full of flowering plants and – of course – a fountain.
    • Loose Park – my family has lived near this park my whole life, and my school was across the street. It’s not large, but has a great playground, a duck pond, a gorgeous rose garden, and beautiful rolling hills and trees.
    • The Plaza; Westport – these are two shopping areas where it’s fun to walk around, look in the shops, try the restaurants, and so on.
    • J. C. Nichols Memorial Fountain – if you’re walking around the Plaza, take a look at this fountain. Kansas City is known as the "City of Fountains," and this is its most iconic fountain. It’s often said (who knows if it’s true) that Kansas City is second only to Rome in its number of fountains – see how many you can spot as you make your way around town.
    • If you’re visiting during the winter holiday season, be sure to visit the Plaza after dark. All the buildings are outlined with colored lights, and it’s a beautiful thing to see – one of Kansas City’s signature sights.
    • Worlds of Fun – this amusement park, much like Six Flags, is close to Kanas City. How many times have I visited Worlds of Fun, how many times have I ridden the Flying Dutchman or searched for a stand that sells corn dogs? Countless.
    • Science City in Union Station – a super-fun and educational science museum for children. Very interactive, with lots of captivating exhibits. It’s fun to see historic Union Station, too.
    • National World War I Museum and Memorial Memorial – right across the street from Union Station. This museum is fairly new, and was designated by Congress as the official museum deciated to World War I.
    • State Line – as you drive through Kansas City, watch out for State Line Road. It’s fun to realize that Missouri is on one side of the road, Kansas on the other. The state line cuts through the metropolitan Kansas City area. My family used to live right on State Line Road.

    My husband has really embraced KC – and his favorite things about visiting? Eating barbeque, of course, and the grocery stores. He loves a great grocery store, and after the cramped, crowded aisles of New York City, the wide open spaces and massive selection of the Midwest are a real pleasure. As Samuel Johnson observed, "It is by studying little things [like grocery-store aisles] that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible."

    What are some of your favorite things about your hometown?

  • Crystal Ellefsen 13:00:53 on 2018/02/22 Permalink
    Tags: , FAQ, , ,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What’s My Process for Taking Notes? 

    One of my favorite things about myself is that I often become obsessed with certain subjects. I’ll do countless hours of research to learn more about these subjects, sometimes over the course of years.

    For instance, some of my obsessions have included: color, clutter, the placebo response, the sense of smell, dogs, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Winston Churchill, the question of why owners would destroy their own possessions, and happiness.

    Some of these preoccupations turn into books; some burn themselves out. But whatever happens, I love discovering a new passionate interest – all of a sudden, an unfamiliar area of the library becomes extremely important to me.

    When I read, I take notes. Many people have asked about my process, so here it is:

    When I read, I’m always looking for passages that I want to note. I mark them as I read – either by putting in a sticky flag if I’m reading a library book, or by marking the page if I own the book. Side note: for books I own, I mark them up a lot – it’s faster, plus if I’m looking through a book later, those marks help me find the passages that I found most notable.

    Then, when I’ve finished reading the book, I go back and copy the notes into my computer.

    If it’s a particularly beautiful or thought-provoking passage, I copy it into a document called "Quotes2006+." This is a giant trove of my favorite passages – favorite either because they’re beautifully written, or because they capture an idea that I want to record.

    If it’s a passage that also happens to relate to happiness or human nature, I add it to the list of passages that I use in my free "Moment of Happiness" email newsletter, where each day, I send out a great quotation. (If you’d like to get the Moment of Happiness each day, sign up here.)

    If it’s a passage that relates to a subject that interests me enough to deserve its own notes document, I’ll copy that passage there. My notes documents include "happiness," "color," "Winston Churchill," and something called "Essential Placebo." (Long story; stay tuned.)

    As I’m taking notes on a subject, I don’t worry about organization. That comes later, when I’m ready to outline a book.

    I depend on the "search" function to find what I need. To help organize my thoughts later, and to find what I’m looking for, I tag a passage so that I can "search" to find it. So, for instance, if I’d copied a passage that related to an interesting accountability strategy that an Obliger used to help himself take medicine regularly, I might type "Obliger accountability health medicine" after it, so that later, if I’m looking for health-related material, I can find it.

    As I take notes, I also add any question that occurs to me, or any conclusion that I think I might forget.

    If I do decide to write a book about a subject, I go through my notes repeatedly and think about my own analysis about what I’ve learned. I begin to see where I disagree with others, where I think that certain points haven’t been emphasized enough, where I think new vocabulary is needed, how I would present a subject to make it clearest.

    For almost all my books, the structure was very, very difficult to create. Which isn’t obvious from looking at those books – if you look at The Happiness Project, say, you’d think, "What could be a more simple and straightforward structure?" And yet it took me several false starts to come up with that framework. Structure is so, so, so important – and the structure must serve the meaning. So I can’t figure out my structure until I know what I want to say, and I don’t know what I want to say until I’ve amassed hundreds of pages of notes.

    One advantage of this form of note-taking is that when I start a book, I never start with a blank screen. I start with hundreds of pages of notes to inspire me.

    I love taking notes, but while it might seem like a passive, easy task, but it’s actually very challenging. One benefit of note-taking is that it forces me to review all the most important parts of a book, and to decide what’s worth copying out. That takes concentration. This process helps me remember what I’ve learned, and find that information later, and for that reason, it takes a lot of time and mental energy.

    I often think I should print out my troves of notes in some attractive way, so that I could leaf through them for pleasure. I do love looking over my notes from previous projects, but I also find it exhausting. I can’t help but analyze, process, and criticize all over again.

    I always type my notes, because my handwriting is terrible, and I can type so much faster than I can write.

    Do you take notes while you read – and if so, how do you organize them?

  • gretchenrubin 10:30:03 on 2018/02/20 Permalink
    Tags: , elderly, , John Leland   

    “Spend More Time with Friends, Spend More Time in Nature, and Remember that My Job Is Just My Job, Not My Identity.” 

    Interview: John Leland.

    John Leland is a longtime journalist who has been at The New York Times since 2000. He's covered a wide range of topics, among them, retirement and religion.

    He also writes books, and he has a new book that is just hitting the shelves: Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old.

    It's based on a yearlong series he wrote for the Times. If you want to read a great article to get a sense of his project, check out his piece "When Old News Is Good News: the Effect of 6 Elderly New Yorkers on One Middle-Aged Reporter."

    His book is a fascinating look at the lessons he learned about happiness from studying the lives of a group of the "oldest old" (age 85 and older). The people in this group had very different backgrounds and circumstances, but John Leland was able to divine certain lessons about how to be happier -- at any age.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

    John: The biggest revelation was how much influence older people – and by extension, all of us – have over how we process the events of our lives. I don’t mean that we have control over them. At some point, bad things will happen to all of us. We’ll lose our jobs or our vision or our parents, we’ll suffer disappointments at work or in front of the mirror. But we have a choice: we can define our lives by these setbacks, or by the opportunities that are still available to us. One of my favorite lessons in the book is from Jonas Mekas, 95, who spent his 20s in Nazi slave labor camps and then UN displaced persons camps. “I don’t leave any space for depression to come in,” he said. “I gravitate more to neutral areas or to positive activities. I’m not interested to film some dark, depressive aspects. I’m more interested in where people come together, they’re singing and dancing, more happy aspects. Why? It’s my nature. I consider that maybe unconsciously I’m thinking that’s what humanity needs more.”

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

    John: The simplest: say hello to people I pass on the streets in the morning. It’s almost literally the least I can do, and it always starts the day off well. Give money to people who need it, and say thanks to anyone providing services, even if they’re just stopping me on the bike path or checking my ID to get into the building at work.

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

    John: I spent my early years not just thinking the glass was half empty, but outraged that the glass wasn’t bigger. I thought this dissatisfaction was the creative force driving my work. And this attitude got me pretty far. But it was a beast that always needed more food, and what it was feeding on was me. I’ve since learned that I’m more productive and creative, not to mention happier, when I’m working collaboratively with others rather than competing with them, trying to serve people’s needs rather than vanquishing injustice. Often that amounts to the same thing, but for different reasons and with a different orientation. It can be a great rush trying to make the bad guys lose. But it’s more rewarding – and more effective – trying to help the good guys win.

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

    John: Years ago I came up with three guidelines to right me when things get rocky: Spend more time with friends; spend more time in nature (loosely defined – a city park does the trick); and remember that my job is just my job, not my identity. I’ve added a few since then, the most helpful of which is not to over-react to things that haven’t happened yet. So many of the things we lose sleep over never come to pass. Or when they do, we discover we can handle them. If you can’t be happy until there’s no longer a storm brewing somewhere, you’ll never be happy. Live your life, have a picnic, and on those days when the rains actually come your way, find a dry spot and some friends to share it. You’ll be surprised by how much coleslaw you can squeeze in.

    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.?

    John: Most of my life I’ve been hearing about the value of gratitude, but I never understood what that meant. Then I met Fred Jones, one of the six elders in my book. Fred was 87 at the time, and struggling to manage the stairs to his walk-up apartment. He grew up poor and black in the South, and over the course of our interviews lost two toes to gangrene. Yet Fred always found reasons to give thanks. When I asked his favorite part of the day, Fred never hesitated: “My favorite part of the day,” he said, “is waking up in the morning and saying, Thank God for another day.” That attitude floored me. I didn’t see what Fred had to be thankful for. Why was he, with all his problems, always in such a good mood, hoping for another 20 or 30 years of life?

    But gradually I got it. Gratitude, for Fred, wasn’t being happy for that new toy he just got or that helping hand when he needed it. Gratitude was how he saw the world: as a place that was always doing things for him – providing warmth and light, food that nourished him, colors to delight him, sounds that soothed. Sex! It meant that he was never lonely because he was always surrounded by benign forces that were working in his favor. Roads! Bridges! Pringles! It was a revelation. Life wasn’t just a battle I had to fight on my own: it was also a bounty I was lucky to receive, hands I was lucky to have supporting me. Life itself was reason to give thanks. And once I understood this, everything became so much easier.

  • gretchenrubin 11:00:00 on 2018/02/17 Permalink
    Tags: , Anton Chekhov, , ,   

    Anton Chekhov’s Letter to His Brother about the 8 Conditions for “Civilized People.” 

    In 1886, Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov wrote a letter of advice to his beloved older brother Nikolai, a talented painter and writer who suffered from severe alcoholism.

    Chekhov writes:

    To my mind, civilized people ought to satisfy the following conditions:

    1. They respect the individual and are therefore always indulgent, gentle, polite and compliant. They do not throw a tantrum over a hammer or a lost eraser. When they move in with somebody, they do not act as if they were doing him a favor, and when they move out, they do not say, "How can anyone live with you!"...

    2. Their compassion extends beyond beggars and cats. They are hurt even by things the naked eye can't see. If for instance, Pyotr knows that his father and mother are turning gray and losing sleep over seeing their Pyotr so rarely (and seeing him drunk when he does turn up), then he rushes home to them and sends his vodka to the devil....

    3. They respect the property of others and therefore pay their debts.

    4. They are candid and fear lies like the plague. They do not lie even about the most trivial matters. A lie insults the listener and debases him in the liar's eyes. They don't put on airs, they behave in the street as they do at home, and they do not try to dazzle their inferiors. They know how to keep their mouths shut and they do not force uninvited confidences on people. Out of respect for the ears of others they are more often silent than not.

    5. They do not belittle themselves merely to arouse sympathy. They do not play on people's heartstrings to get them to sigh and fuss over them. They do not say, "No one understands me!" or "I've squandered my talent on trifles!" because this smacks of a cheap effect and is vulgar, false and out-of-date.

    6. They are not preoccupied with vain things. They are not taken in by such false jewels as friendships with celebrities, handshakes with drunken Plevako, ecstasy over the first person they happen to meet at the Salon de Varietes, popularity among the tavern crowd....

    7. If they have talent, they respect it. They sacrifice comfort, women, wine and vanity to it....

    8. They cultivate their aesthetic sensibilities. They cannot stand to fall asleep fully dressed, see a slit in the wall teeming with bedbugs, breathe rotten air, walk on a spittle-laden floor or eat off a kerosene stove. They try their best to tame and ennoble their sexual instinct...

    And so on. That's how civilized people act. If you want to be civilized and not fall below the level of the milieu you belong to, it is not enough to read The Pickwick Papers and memorize a soliloquy from Faust. It is not enough to hail a cab and drive off to Yakimanka Street if all you're going to do is bolt out again a week later.

    You must work at it constantly, day and night. You must never stop reading, studying in depth, exercising your will. Every hour is precious.

    Agree, disagree?

    I love lists, manifestos, personal commandments. If you'd like to see my personal commandments, it's here.

  • feedwordpress 10:30:47 on 2018/02/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , melissa Dahl,   

    “I Love Running More for the Mental Clarity It Provides Than Anything Else.” 

    Interview: Melissa Dahl.

    Melissa is a senior editor at New York Magazine, and I got to know her work because I've been a long-time fan of Science of Us, a site that has now joined The Cut. The sites cover mental health, human behavior, personality, relationships, work, health, wellness -- all subjects that I love to read about.

    Melissa is also the author of new book about a fairly unconventional topic: Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. She looks at the situations that make us feel awkward, and argues that such moments -- although, well, awkward -- have great value. Fascinating!

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

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

It’s funny — when I would tell my friends and colleagues what I was writing about, a lot of them had the same reaction: “You don’t strike me as particularly awkward!” Which, first of all, thank you, I will take the compliment.

    But that response kind of encapsulates what ended up interesting me (and surprising me) about this subject. I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of understanding awkwardness as an emotion, not a personality trait. I mean, it can be both of those things — there are certainly “awkward people” out there. But to me, it’s also a feeling. I may not seem “awkward” from the outside, but I feel it almost constantly! I’m always sure I’m saying or doing the wrong thing; I’m always convinced that people are staring or talking about me after I’ve said or done the wrong thing.

    Another thing that surprised me as I was studying this odd little emotion: I have a few first drafts of chapters floating around in my Google docs somewhere, which are all about how to totally ward yourself off from this feeling — with science! This book was initially going to be about how to “overcome awkwardness”; I actually just the other day looked at my book contract with Penguin, and that’s the description of the book that’s in there! But I didn’t end up writing about that at all. In the end, it became more about accepting awkwardness, and even appreciating it. It became a way of finding joy in the absolute absurdity of the human experience.

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

    Melissa: TWITTER! Oh my god!

    I mean, on the one hand, it’s great. I’ve connected with so many cool people through Twitter — it has brought genuinely good things to my life. I’ve made offline, IRL friends through idle chitchat on the site, and I’ve met editors and writers in my field who I’ve ended up working with. Sometimes it helps spark story ideas, or alerts me to some new psychology research that I’m able to cover before anyone else does. Actually, now that I think about it, I practically owe this book to Twitter: Years ago, I started chatting about running with another writer, who eventually connected me with her literary agent, who eventually sold Cringeworthy to Penguin!

    But on the other hand! Oh, the other, terrible hand. I waste so much time on the site, first of all. I know I need to download one of those apps that limits the time you spend on time-waster websites, but I think part of me doesn’t want to give it up. (Also, I tried doing this years ago, and just found ways to get around the blocks I set up for myself — I downloaded the app to Chrome, so after a while, I just started to go to Firefox to get on Twitter. Gah!) It’s also starting to feel almost unethical to stay on the site — I read something somewhere once (maybe on The Awl? RIP!) that compared it to eating meat: It’s something most of us ethically, logically, know we mayyyyybe should give up, or at least limit, but we just … don’t … want to.

    Can you quit a habit that part of you doesn’t really want to quit? I don’t know. But I do know this is getting ridiculous; I checked Twitter twice while writing this answer.

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

    Melissa: When I was in the final stages of writing Cringeworthy, a lot of my healthy habits disappeared as I desperately tried to finish this, the biggest project I’ve ever attempted. The last few days were particularly ridiculous: me shunning my perfectly functional desk for an Ikea Poang chair, surrounded by half-drunk cans of energy drinks and various open bags of chips and cookies. (All the greats are said to have had their idiosyncratic writing rituals; I was sad to discover that this, apparently, is mine.)

    It really wasn’t that hard to clean my diet back up, but during this time, I’d also totally fallen out of the habit of running, something I’ve done most days of the week for the past 10 years or so. There are obvious physical benefits to running, or cardio in general, but I’ve always loved the activity more for the mental clarity it provides than anything else. I always have some new race on the horizon, which usually helps keep me motivated. But for some reason, I just couldn’t get back into it! I would sign up for races and then fail to train adequately, so I would end up skipping them. I was even supposed to run the NYC Marathon this fall, but had to skip that, too, because — again — I hadn’t kept up with the training.

    So I tried something new: a run streak. The rules are simple. You run every single day, for at least one mile. And … it worked! I’ve run every day for the last seventy days, even in the rain, even in the snow. (Okay, sometimes I take it indoors, but still. It counts!) I know you’ve written, Gretchen, on how the small things we do every day sometimes matter more than the big things we do once in a while, and that feels so true to me in this experience.

    I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up. One hundred days seems like a nice goal. Only 30 days away at this point! But at the same time, I’ve sort of decided I’m free to abandon it whenever I feel like it. The point of this whole thing was to get back into the habit of running, and that’s certainly happened.

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

    Melissa: Honestly, I sometimes struggle with feeling like a total pain, or a killjoy! I want to eat healthy, but if everyone else is ordering fries, I feel like I’m letting them down, somehow, if I order a salad. People comment on it, you know? Or if I’m on vacation, and I get up to go running, people comment on that too. It’s those little comments that bug me more than they should. Sometimes I brush them off, but sometimes even anticipating them is enough to make me drop my habit for the duration of the dinner out, or the group vacation, or whatever.

    I’m getting better at sticking to my healthy habits, anyway, though. Maybe it’s just a matter of growing up a bit, and feeling more comfortable in my own dorky Upholder skin.

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

    Melissa: As I mentioned earlier, I lean Upholder, for sure. It’s usually not difficult for me to keep outer and inner expectations — well, with the exception of Twitter, I guess? Ha. But, yeah — I run marathons for fun, I wrote this book on top of having a full-time job. I floss.

    What I’ve really appreciated from your writing about the Four Tendencies is something that you’ve said yourself, Gretchen — correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember you saying that people have asked you things about the changes you made while writing books like The Happiness Project like, “How did you get yourself to do that?” And your response was something like, “I just … did it?” That’s mostly how I operate, too. I decide to make a change, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of inner or outer cajoling to make it happen. (I guess with the run streak and the Twitter debacle I’ve described my exceptions to this rule! But generally, when I decide to do something, I do just … do it.) I grew up going to church, and my favorite verse even when I was a little kid encapsulates this tendency of mine. I like the old-timey King James Version: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

    Anyway! What I’ve really appreciated about this notion of “tendencies” is the grace it’s reminded me to give other people. Not everyone functions the way I do — and that’s fine! It’s helped me so much at work and in my personal life, as a gentle little reminder that different people are different, and not everyone sees and responds to the world in the same way I do.

    Gretchen: I would also, of course, shine a spotlight on anything that you’d particularly like to bring to readers’ attention.

    Melissa: This sort of builds on that last question, of reminding yourself that your way of seeing the world is not the only way of seeing the world. It gets at what I’ve started to call Cringe Theory.

    I think that the moments that make you cringe are the moments when you realize that there is a difference between the way you perceive yourself and the way that others perceive you. Something that really helped me understand the feeling, actually, was a piece I wrote a couple years ago for Science of Us, about why so many of us cringe at the sound of our own voices. Briefly, here’s an explanation for why our voices sound so different to us when we hear them played back: When you speak, you hear your own voice through your ears, but you’re also sort of hearing it through the bones of your skull. Bone conduction transmits lower frequencies than air conduction; if you’ve ever heard a recording of your own voice and been surprised at how much higher-pitched you sound, this is why.

    So, okay, that helps explain why your recorded voice sounds so different. But why does that make you cringe?

    This turns out to be a pretty perfect metaphor for my understanding of cringe theory. I think we cringe — so, we feel awkward, in other words — when the version of ourselves we think we’re presenting to the world meets the version of ourselves the world is actually seeing. We like to pretend those two are one and the same, and that the way you perceive yourself is the way others are perceiving you, too. Sometimes that’s true. But when it isn’t — when you see the way your self-concept isn’t measuring up to others’ concept of you — I think that’s when we cringe at ourselves.

    It’s when we cringe at others, too — when we can see the self that someone else is trying to present to the world, and we can also see that they’re not quite succeeding.

    So, looked at in this way, awkward or embarrassing moments are moments that force you out of your own perspective and into someone else’s. They remind you that your way of looking at the world is not the only way. I’ve come to genuinely love them for that. It’s nice to get a break every once in a while from your own point of view.

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