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

    What’s the Secret to Happiness? 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    To give just a few examples of differences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By knowing ourselves, we can grow closer to others.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:16 on 2022/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Data science, Don't Trust Your Gut, , Seth Stephens-Davidowitz   

    Seth Stephens-Davidowitz: “I Started Giving Myself a Life Report Card.” 


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    Interview: Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

    Seth Stephens-Davidowitz worked as a data scientist at Google and is currently a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times. His first book, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are (Amazon, Bookshop), was a New York Times bestseller and an Economist Book of the Year. I loved his first book, and was very happy when I happened to meet Seth at an event here in New York.

    His new book is Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in Life (Amazon, Bookshop). If you'd like to get a sense of his approach, he recently published the article "The One Parenting Decision That Really Matters: Almost none of the choices you make are as fraught as you think they are" in the Atlantic.

    I couldn't wait to read his new book and to ask him about happiness, habits, and the human psyche.

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

    Seth: I started giving myself a Life Report Card. At the end of every month, I grade myself on 15 categories for that month, including “relationships with friends, relationships with family, financial performance, fitness, fun, career advancement, giving back, and learning. “When I tell people this, they say it sounds nerdy, high-pressure and insane. And maybe it is. But I find it helps me achieve balance. If, for a few months in a row, I get a very low grade in, say, fun, I make sure to schedule more fun things the next month. Also, discussing the report card with others has allowed me to learn of new areas for growth that I hadn’t realized. My girlfriend suggested I add a category for “emotional openness” and hinted that my grade in that category is very low. Now I am working on turning those Fs into Ds.

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

    Happiness is more of a choice than I realized. My brilliant, life-changing therapist Rick told me I was choosing to be depressed. It was a somewhat shocking thing to say, and a lot of people would recoil at the suggestion. But it immediately registered with me. And my mood has improved by telling myself I can choose how I feel.

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

    In researching Don’t Trust Your Gut, I became obsessed with the Mappiness project founded by George MacKerron and Susana Mourato. They pinged people on iPhones and asked them some simple questions: What are you doing? Who are you with? How happy are you? From this, they created a dataset containing more than 3 million data points.  The major lesson I took from their ground-breaking research is that the things that make people happy are really simple and obvious. As I summed up the research, the answer to happiness is “to be with your love, on an 80 degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.” The key to happiness, I concluded, is ignoring the noise from the world that over-complicates things.

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

    On my Life Report Card, I noticed the only category I was consistently getting A’s in was fitness. And that’s because I hired an awesome personal trainer, John. From this, I concluded the only way I can really stick to difficult habits is external pressure. I’m working on setting up systems that pressure me to do the (many) things I don’t want to do but should do.

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

    I’m a questioner and a rebel, which gave me a proud smile upon writing. Makes me seem like a badass. [Gretchen: Hmmm...from the way you answered the question above, I'm wondering about that.]

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

    My job is really isolating, which is not good for happiness. Research shows that both introverts and extroverts get a big mood boost from being around people.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    I get hit by lightning bolts like once a week. I have strong emotional responses to things I read; pretty much every time I read a book, I am tempted to make some massive change based on the content. Like yesterday, I read the book The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins (Amazon, Bookshop). It included the parable of The Monk and the Minister, which goes as follows:

    Two close boyhood friends grow up and go their separate ways. One becomes a humble monk, the other a rich and powerful minister to the king. Years later they meet. As they catch up, the portly minister (in his fine robes) takes pity on the thin and shabby monk.

    Seeking to help, he says: “You know, if you could learn to cater to the king, you wouldn’t have to live on rice and beans.”

    To which the monk replies: “If you could learn to live on rice and beans, you wouldn’t have to cater to the king.”

    That was a major lightning bolt and tempted me to quit the consulting work I do. But I think making big, dramatic decisions based on something you read or hear isn’t a great life strategy. I try to talk things over with people and be more deliberate.

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

    “This too shall pass” has gotten me through some rough times.

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

    I thought Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman (Amazon, Bookshop) was profound.

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

    My entire book is about correcting misconceptions. Here are some: that successful entrepreneurs tend to be young; that the average rich person works in tech; that joy and smiles are the way to sell products; that work makes people happy; that great businesses are due to luck; that lacrosse is a better path than baseball for getting a college scholarship; that it’s crazy to try to be a celebrity; that parents have a big impact on their kids; that lounging around makes people happy; and that marital happiness can be predicted.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:00:49 on 2022/05/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Daniel Coyle, , interviews, , , teamwork, The Culture Playbook   

    Daniel Coyle: “When You Shift into a New Narrative, You Are Opening Up an Entirely New Set of Possibilities” 


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    Interview: Daniel Coyle

    Daniel Coyle is a contributing editor for Outside Magazine and the author of six books, including the New York Times bestsellers Lance Armstrong's War (Amazon, Bookshop) and The Culture Code (Amazon, Bookshop). In his new book, The Culture Playbook: 60 Highly Effective Actions to Help Your Group Succeed (Amazon, Bookshop), he provides readers with sixty concrete skills to help any team build a strong, cohesive, positive culture.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Daniel about happiness, habits, and success.

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

    Daniel: I find it deeply insane how much my internal state can be boosted by a hard physical workout. The simple, idiotic, Neanderthal act of putting your head down and pushing really hard for a few minutes shifts something deep inside you. It wakes you up in a new way. It’s your body saying, Hey, I’m down here, and the outside world saying, Me too! And those combine to get you out of your own head. It’s not that different from losing yourself in beautiful music.  

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

    Being young brings many happiness advantages because A) you don’t know much about the world; and B) you’re not actively trying to be happy. I find that the instant you start aiming for happiness as a goal, it evaporates. I think that’s why people who focus on happiness as an extrinsic goal (hello, wellness industry) project such a narrow, almost businesslike vibe. Now that I’m older, I focus less on happiness, and instead try to spot it out of the corner of my eye whenever it bubbles up. To pause and take it in for a second. Then get back to whatever it was that caused it to happen. Which usually involves some activity that is not centered on me – either absorbing work or doing something for someone else. 

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

    I’ve spent most of my career exploring big mysterious questions right under our noses – why do certain people and groups succeed, and others don’t? What is success, really? The continuing, everlasting surprise has been how much success is generated and governed by our internal narratives. To put it simply: success looks like a talent contest, but it turns out to be a story contest. Certain stories generate awareness and behaviors that generate virtuous spirals, producing creativity, well-being, and connection. Other stories generate the opposite effect. So story remains the strongest drug ever invented. When you shift into a new narrative, you are opening up an entirely new set of possibilities and pathways – which is sometimes a bummer but ultimately hopeful, especially considering the challenges we are facing as a species right now. 

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

    For most of my life, I had a big-time sweet tooth. I would not want to estimate my glucose intake from ages 5-25, but it would be measured in metric tons. Over the past few years, I’ve dialed back a lot, mostly by noticing the chain of sensations – the desire and the taste and the feelings in the body afterwards -- and then thinking about what is really happening during each of these steps. Not that I didn’t eat an entire box of Milk Duds at a movie last night – but hey, at least I realized what was going on! 😉 

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

    I’m an Upholder with my kids, an Obliger with colleagues, a Questioner with my siblings, but down deep I’d describe myself as a Rebel. I am attracted to boundaries and I like to push against them to see what happens. Maybe this is connected to spending my childhood in Alaska and visiting my parents’ homes in near St. Louis, Missouri, every summer. Early on, I was alert to the nearly-cartoonish contrast between the two places – one place wild and invented, with gravel roads and a culture of making up the rules as you went, the other tidy and traditional, where you color inside the lines (or else!). All that added up to create in me the unshakable idea that borders are most fun if they are discovered, stretched, and occasionally broken. 

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

    Like everybody, I would put distraction at the top of the list. At the same time, I want to put a good word in for distraction, because I find that it can help with creativity. I know it’s not supposed to (the research on “switching time” is pretty definitive) but I have to confess: the little time spent watching a funny video while I’m from writing (even as I’m writing this) ends up leaving me a bit refreshed and able to see new pathways that I might have missed. I’d say that the key is in paying attention to the ways that you are distracted – and in being intentional about it, so that you use your distraction in a healthy way (as a lever), and not in an unhealthy way (as a perpetual escape).  

    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.?

    Reading The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (Amazon, Bookshop) at age 15 set me onto this path of being a writer. For me, that experience was like when musicians of a certain age describe the feeling seeing the Beatles perform for the first time on television – a feeling a door opening to reveal an entirely new world — you mean people can get paid to do that? That book – that smart, fun, rollicking voice — lit me up and led to a set of questions that I’ve ended up exploring in various ways for my entire career: where does greatness come from? How do you get it? What is the price?

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

    I like “Get up on the Roof.” You use it when you feel stuck in a situation or in a particularly narrow emotional reaction to a situation, and it works because it nudges you toward the truth: there exists a higher perspective, and all you have to do is take the time and step up onto it, and look around.  I also like the way it speaks to the magic inherent in perspective shifts. Unlike so many other progressions in life, which require sweat and grit and time, changes in perspective actually do happen in a micro-second. Life seems fixed and utterly irreversible and then — presto! — you get on the roof and see it in a new way that makes your old way of seeing seem like a distant memory. This mantra is doubly useful because it applies in both “good” and “bad” situations.  It reinforces the truth: our lives, no matter how dire or how wonderful, are never purely bad or good, but rather exist in multiple ways. 

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

    Most people – me included, for much of my life – walk around thinking that good books are about providing answers, that the role of the author is to be the deliverer of Big Secrets. I’ve come to think this is wrong. Great writers aren’t the ones with the answers; they are the ones with the enduring questions and the useful tools for exploration. 

    They are able to do this because they are in in touch with the inner lives and curiosities of their readers. They have a sense for what anxieties, dreams, and questions people are thinking about when they’re laying awake at 3 am. Then they find ways to explore those areas – mostly questions. In all, I think good writers are sort of like the divers who explore these great oceans inside of us, and then they hand you a snorkel and flippers or maybe even a scuba set so that you can do it yourself.

     
  • feedwordpress 18:09:08 on 2022/05/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , ,   

    What I Read This Month: April 2022 


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    For four years now, every Monday morning, I've posted a photo on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads.

    I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

    As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

    This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

    When I read books related to an area I’m researching for a writing project, I carefully read and take notes on the parts that interest me, and skim the parts that don’t. So I may list a book that I’ve partly read and partly skimmed. For me, that still “counts.”

    If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my "Reading Better Than Before" worksheet.

    You can also follow me on Goodreads where I track books I’ve read.

    If you want to see what I read last month, the full list is here.

    April 2022 Reading:

    The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration by Sarah Everts (Amazon, Bookshop)—An Outside magazine 2021 Science book pick—A fascinating look at a very common aspect of life.

    The Bell Family by Noel Streatfeild (Amazon, Bookshop)—I just realized that Noel Streatfeild has several novels that I've never read, and it's so delightful to plunge in. This children's novel is based on her own childhood. It's very much like A Vicarage Family, below, which is a memoir.

    How to be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together by Dan Kois (Amazon, Bookshop)—I'm a big fan of the podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, which was co-hosted for many years by Dan Kois, and I knew that Dan and I would both be at the Iceland Writers Retreat, so I wanted to read his memoir. Funny, thought-provoking.

    Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times bestseller; I loved this novel; it was the chance to be inside a pure mind.

    In the Land of Pain by Alphonse Daudet (Amazon, Bookshop)—When I interviewed Meghan O'Rourke about her book The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness (Amazon, Bookshop), she suggested this book. Short, haunting account of Daudet's experience of chronic illness and pain.

    Inside Grandad by Peter Dickinson (Amazon)—I'm a huge fan of the work of Peter Dickinson but had somehow missed this novel. A simple, lovely story about a boy's love for his grandfather.

    Thinking 101: How to Reason Better to Live Better by Woo-Kyoung Ahn (Amazon, Bookshop)—A very engaging, readable, and powerful examination of how we can think more clearly.

    My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke by Robert McCrum (Amazon, Bookshop)—A very moving account of the author's experience of having a stroke at a relatively young age.

    First Bite by Bee Wilson (Amazon, Bookshop)—Fortnum & Mason Food Book of the Year 2016—a fascinating examination of why we eat what we eat.

    True Biz: A Novel by Sara Nović (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times bestseller, Reese's Book Club pick—I read this novel in one day. I'd just binge-watched the reality series Deaf U, and True Biz picks up on many of the same themes related to Deaf culture.

    The Vicarage Family by Noel Streatfeild (Amazon)—Streatfeild writes this memoir in the third-person, which gives it a different atmosphere. If you love the Shoes books, you'll love this.

    You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (Amazon, Bookshop)—New York Times bestseller, a Library Journal Best Book of the Year—These essays highlights very serious issues of racism by using humor and sisterly banter.

    Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness (Amazon, Bookshop)—I wanted to read at least one novel by Laxness before coming to Iceland. This is an extremely odd and interesting novel.

    Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (Amazon, Bookshop)—A travelogue from a very different time and place. I very much admire the work of Stevenson, and had never read this one.

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

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


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    Interview: Mary Laura Philpott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    It makes me laugh every time I think about it.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

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

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

    Oh, I am an Obliger, through and through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     
  • feedwordpress 17:21:58 on 2022/04/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , Happier app, , , the happier app, Webby Awards   

    The Happier App Won the Prestigious Webby Award! 


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    We won a Webby Award!

    I'm thrilled to announce that the Happier™ app has been named the Best Visual Design (Function) for Apps and Software in the 26th Annual Webby Awards Internet Celebration. Named the “Internet’s highest honor” by the New York Times, The Webby Awards, presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS), is the leading international awards organization honoring excellence on the Internet.

    “The Happier app has set the standard for innovation and creativity on the Internet,” said Claire Graves, Executive Director of The Webby Awards. “This award is a testament to the skill, ingenuity, and vision of its creators.”

    IADAS is comprised of Internet industry experts including Kerstin Emhoff, Co-Founder & CEO – PRETTYBIRD; Colleen DeCourcy, President, Wieden+Kennedy; Arlan Hamilton, Founder & Managing Partner – Backstage Capital; John Hanke, Founder & CEO – Niantic; Nikole Hannah-Jones, Creator – 1619, The New York TimesRenita Jablonski, Director of Audio – The Washington PostMikael Jørgensen, Founder & CEO – &Co; Monica Lewinsky, Activist, Fashion Designer & Producer; Swizz Beatz & Timbaland, Music Producers & Co-Founders  – Verzuz; Vanessa Pappas, COO – TikTok; Daniel Reynolds, Vice President, Digital Media – Disney; Dara Treseder, SVP,  Head of Global Marketing & Communications – Peloton; and Maya Watson, Head of Global Marketing – Clubhouse.

    For the Happier app, I’m working with an extraordinary team to build a beautiful tool that helps people make their lives happier, and it's an honor to have our hard work recognized in this way. A huge “thank you” to everyone who voted for us in the Webby Awards People's Voice, and to everyone who has downloaded and used the Happier app.

    One of my aphorisms is “Beautiful tools make work a joy,” and one of my chief interests is how people can effectively change their habits, and it has been so gratifying to think about how to make a habit-change tool that's highly effective, easy to use, and attractive to the eye.

    If there's one thing I've learned about habits, it's that we're far more likely to do something if it's even slightly more convenient or pleasant, and far less likely to do something if it's inconvenient or unpleasant. For that reason, we took enormous care to make the app intuitive and easy to navigate.

    Also, I've learned, there's no one magic solution for habit change; we all have to use the approach that works for us. (If you want to hear me explain the best way to change a habit, listen to this two-minute Happier episode here.) So the Happier app is a tool that is highly customizable—it reflects your nature, your aims, your preferences.

    As we all know, it's hard to make things easy, and simplicity is complicated. I'm constantly astonished by the ingenuity of the solutions that the team dreams up.

    We're still working hard to make the Happier app even better—simpler, richer, more beautiful, and more customizable. Onward!

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

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


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    Interview: KC Davis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

    General dates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    For personal dates:

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

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

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

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

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

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:03 on 2019/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, , , therapy   

    “The Most Important Habit I’ve Changed Is Going from Being Self-Critical to Being Kind to Myself While Holding Myself Accountable.” 


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    Interview: Lori Gottlieb.

    Lori Gottlieb is a bestselling writer and a practicing psychotherapist. I can't remember how I became aware of her work. Did I meet her at an event? Did I read a magazine story she wrote? Do we have a mutual friend? It's lost in the sands of time, but for some reason, for several years, I've paid particular attention to the career of Lori Gottlieb. I know I read her books Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough and Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self.

    Now she has a new book, an instant New York Times bestseller: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.

    She also has a weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column in The Atlantic.

    I was eager to hear what she had to say about happiness and good habits.

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

    Lori: Breathing! This might sound strange, but as a therapist, I notice that sometimes people forget to breathe—I mean really replenishing themselves with air. We tend to take shallow, short breaths as we rush through our days, but a simple way to make you happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative is to close your eyes and take a one-minute breathing break (slow, deep breaths) every so often throughout the day. It resets you both physiologically and emotionally. This one easy practice really works wonders!

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

    I’ve discovered that happiness—a lasting sense of peace or contentment—is simply a byproduct of living your life in a fulfilling way. This will mean something different for each person, and that’s important to remember when comparing your own happiness to what you imagine other people’s happiness looks like. (You’re often wrong.) If you live your life with intention—What am I doing and why am I doing it? Am I really trapped doing what I don’t like or are there other options? Am I wasting time today on people or activities that don’t matter?—the happiness follows.

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

    I started to notice that many of my therapy patients were so unkind to themselves. There were these critical voices in their heads that they weren’t even aware of. I had one therapy patient write down everything she said to herself in the course of a few days, and when she came back the next week, she was almost embarrassed to read it to me. “I’m such a bully to myself!” she said. “If I talked this way to any of my friends, I wouldn’t have friends anymore!”

    The more I saw this in my patients, the more I made a concerted effort to be kind to myself. Being kind and having self-compassion doesn’t mean that you don’t take responsibility for your mistakes or what you’d like to do differently. But you don’t have to self-flagellate while you take responsibility. In fact, the kinder you are to yourself, the easier it will be to make the necessary changes.

    Also, having self-compassion breeds compassion for others, so being kinder to yourself also tends to improve the other relationships in your life. Hands down, the single most important habit I’ve changed is going from being self-critical to being kind to myself while still holding myself accountable.

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

    According to the quiz, I’m a Rebel. Not surprising, given that I went from being a film and TV executive to medical student to journalist to therapist! It was a very circuitous route, and people often thought I was crazy to leave what I was doing for something else. But I did what I wanted to do—it was my life to live, after all, not theirs—and in the end, it makes so much sense. Everything I’ve done and continue to do are related to my greatest interests and passions: story and the human condition.

    I went from telling fictional stories (in film and TV) to real people’s stories (in medical school), and then from telling people’s stories (as a journalist) to helping people change their stories (as a therapist).

    If I hadn’t had some “Rebel” in me, I wouldn’t have taken those risks.

    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.?

    In the book, I write about my experience treating a young newlywed who’s diagnosed with breast cancer. Her doctors think she’ll be fine—it’s a very treatable form of cancer—and after surgery and chemotherapy, she is. But then, six months later, on a routine scan they discover a rare, aggressive form of cancer, and they tell her she has only a few years to live.

    “Will you stay with me until I die?” she asks. It was such a profound experience, looking death in the eye with her in way we normally don’t, and it made me consider my own mortality in a new way, a healthier way. We can deny death completely, even though we’re all going to die one day—and most of us have no idea how or when—or we can have some awareness of it so that we can pay more attention to the time we do have.

    There were many lightning bolts moments with her, but one stands out. In a session, she said that because of her illness, she noticed how much other people put things off for the future—I’m going to apply for that job I really want next year; I’ll try dating again after I’m done with this project in the summer; I’ll apologize to my sibling or repair that relationship when I’m not so busy—but what, she wondered, is everyone waiting for? I remember sitting in that session and thinking, “What am I waiting for?” It changed how I approached my daily life—I stopped putting the important things off for “later.”

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

    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor Frankl

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

    I think a common misperception of therapy is that you go in, talk about your childhood ad nauseam, and never leave (or leave years and years later). In my book, I wanted to bring people directly into the therapy room to show them what therapy really is. Therapists will hold up a mirror to you so that you can see your reflection more clearly. We all have blind spots, ways of shooting ourselves in the foot over and over and ending up in the same place because of something we’re doing that we aren’t aware of.

    Therapy is about helping people relate to themselves and others more smoothly so that they don’t have to struggle so much. We all struggle, of course, but we can change our role in it, and our response to it. That what therapy teaches you how to do. And then you leave—our goal is to encourage your independence, to get you not to need us anymore, to be able to manage life’s universal challenges more easily with the insight and tools you gained in therapy. As the late psychotherapist John Weakland famously said, “Before successful therapy, it’s the same damn thing over and over. After successful therapy, it’s one damn thing after another.”

    Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:35 on 2019/05/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , failure, , It's Great to Suck at Something, Karen Rinaldi,   

    “Happiness Doesn’t Mean We Are Feeling ‘Happy’ All of the Time.” 


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    Interview: Karen Rinaldi.

    Karen Rinaldi has a double bookish identity. She's worked in the publishing industry for decades, and is now the publisher of Harper Wave, an imprint that she founded.

    She's also a writer herself. She wrote the novel The End of Men, and now she has a new non-fiction book with an absolutely great title and premise: (It's Great to) Suck at Something: The Unexpected Joy of Wiping Out and What It Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, and the Stuff that Really Matters.

    She makes the case for why it's great to push yourselves, try new things, and find joy in the pursuit rather than the goal.

    I myself have been trying to tap into this kind of joy during my frustrations at trying to learn to play the ukulele!  (#7 on my "19 for 2019" list).

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

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

    Karen: Surfing!

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

    Karen: Happiness doesn’t mean we are feeling “happy” all of the time. We can be “happy” but still experience sadness, frustration, anger, loneliness—which are all part of what it means to be an open-hearted human. Our attachment to those negative feelings is what gets in the way of our happiness. But respecting those more uncomfortable feelings, making room for them, and not judging them allows us to release them and make room for happiness.

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

    Karen: I don’t know yet what my readers think but what surprised me the most while writing my book was that with every deep inquiry, in much of the research and reading, the philosophy and the science—it all kept leading me back to concepts and questions of the divine. I wasn’t expecting to wind up there at each turn, but it was a beautiful and unexpected journey. I was humbled by humankind’s constant search to understand meaning and to grapple with our mortality. This is as true for physicists as it is for poets, for doctors as it is for philosophers.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit?

    Karen: Yes—I have been able to change a bad habit when I was finally convinced that it was bad (it’s easy enough to lie to ourselves about stuff to keep us at it) and I’ve started new habits with the expectation, understanding, and self-forgiveness that I would fail to uphold it, so that the pressure was eliminated.

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

    Karen: I would consider myself a Rebel, but according to the criteria and the questionnaire, it turns out that I am an Upholder, which I think is funny! It’s probably true and just shows that we like to think of ourselves one way, when we are really something else. Can I be a rebellious Upholder? (Probably not, right?)

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

    Karen: Yes, my tendency to be an Upholder (now I know!) sometimes puts obligations before personal health and happiness. But that said, I’m pretty good at pulling back to focus on what I want, even if it results in actually fulfilling that obligation. I make a habit of asking myself why I am doing something that I might at first resent or resist doing, only to realize that I’m doing it because I want to do it. I make the best decisions when I respect the tension between volition and duty, productivity and rest, and accept that none of it is binary.

    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.?

    Karen: Yes, there are three times specifically in my life when this happened. The first was when I was in my late twenties and struggling with my self-confidence, I was complaining to someone that so-and-so “made me feel stupid.” My friend’s response changed my life. He said, “Karen, no one can make you feel anything.” That one comment gave me agency in my responses to all kinds of things. It still does.

    The second time was when my son was struggling at school—he was eight years old at the time—and a father of one of his classmates said to him, “Rocco, it’s so great to suck at something.” Rocco’s eyes lit up and I think it helped him enormously. I had been five years into my efforts to surf (which I still suck at doing) and John’s comment became my mantra. It allowed me to keep failing but to embrace the joy of it anyway. Rocco became valedictorian of his high school class and I didn’t give up paddling out. That one aha-moment turned into a more than decade-long journey to this book and new way of living for me.

    The third time came with a diagnosis and year-long- everything-gone-wrong battle with breast cancer. I finally understood the age-old wisdom of how “Why me?” is only answered with, “Why not me?” These three experiences were lessons in freedom.

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

    Karen: From Samuel Beckett: “Every tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” That about sums it up for me. Anything is possible in that framework.

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

    Karen: I wouldn’t say that there is a single book that changed my life, but I couldn’t imagine my life without books. As a reader, editor, and writer, books—or, rather, the intimate communion between writer and reader—have helped me in absolutely every single aspect of my life. Books are like oxygen or water—completely essential.

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

    Karen: If my field is publishing and writing, I would say that, like anything else that looks simple from the outside (surfing, for one)—and all those books out there in the world would indicate otherwise—it’s harder than it looks!

     
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