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  • feedwordpress 10:00:39 on 2018/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Laura Vanderkam, , ,   

    “Small Things, Done Consistently, Add Up to Big Things in the Long Run.” 

    Interview: Laura Vanderkam.

    Laura Vanderkam and I have been friends for many years. We first got to know each other through our related subjects -- I love her work on understanding how we use time, and how to get more happiness from our time. As she always says, "Spend more time on things that matter, and less on the things that don't."

    Reading her work always reminds me of one of my most important Secrets of Adulthood: I have plenty of time for the things that are important to me.

    I'm a huge of her books 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think; What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast; and I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.

    Because she's so good at making the most of her time, she also has a terrific podcast, Best of Both Worlds, with co-host Sarah Hart-Unger. It's all about managing work life, family life, and personal life (Laura has four children, so she has thought a lot about this).

    Once I came up with my Four Tendencies framework, I realized that Laura is a fellow Upholder. She's a textbook Upholder. In fact, if you read my book The Four Tendencies, one of my funniest Upholder stories came from her (see below).

    Now she's written a new book: Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. It's full of insights, practical tips, current research, and funny stories about how to make the most of our days.

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

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

    Laura: There’s a great phrase from Ovid that "dripping water hollows the stone." Small things, done consistently, add up to big things in the long run.

    I write about this mindset a lot in my books, and I try to adopt it in my own life as well. One example: In January of this year, I decided to start writing 500 words of fiction every work day. That’s really not much. Most of us have written that many words in emails by 10 a.m.! And so I don’t feel any resistance to cranking those words out. Sometimes I’m writing a real scene, sometimes I’m just sketching ideas that might become something. I can often get those 500 words done in 15-20 minutes. But all these little spurts add up. As of May, I’ve got about 50,000 words of material to work with, and I’ve figured out aspects of a novel I’m writing that never would have come to me if I hadn’t committed to doing the work.

    Despite making my living as a writer, I’m continually amazed how many other professional obligations can get in the way of writing! Doing my 500 words a day helps me feel more creative. I’m not just sending emails about contracts. I’m still practicing my craft too!

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

    Laura: I write most often about time management and productivity, so I’ve had thousands of people track their time for me over the years. I love seeing where the time really goes. Indeed, I’ve tracked my own time for 3 years straight! No one else has to do that, but it has been enlightening for me.

    One of my most surprising findings has been that most people — including very successful people — get enough sleep. There’s this story out there that in our busy, busy world, people are increasingly sleep-deprived. There’s also a story that for women, in particular, attempting to build a career while raising a family will turn you into a sleep-starved mess. None of this is true. I once did a time diary project that looked at 1001 days in the lives of women with big jobs and kids at home. I found that these busy women averaged 54 hours of sleep per week, or about 7.7 hours per day. Sure, there were some bad nights. But there were plenty of good nights too!

    There are 168 hours in a week, so it turns out it is quite possible to work full-time, spend plenty of time with loved ones, and get enough sleep as well.

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

    Laura: I am definitely an Upholder. Who else would set a goal — in January — to write 500 words a day? I’m pretty sure the Upholder tribe includes anyone who writes about productivity and habits. Any meeting of such writers scheduled at 10:00 a.m. may as well start at 9:50 a.m. My podcast co-host for Best of Both Worlds,/// Sarah Hart-Unger, is also an Upholder. We schedule a recording at 1 p.m. and we are inevitably both on by 12:55 p.m.

    I am the sort of person who, while in the throes of labor with my fourth child, told my husband not to speed on the way to the hospital, and insisted he park in the correct lot. Fortunately, we made it (barely). [Gretchen: this is a story that I love, and I included it in The Four Tendencies.]

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

    Laura: I travel a lot for speaking engagements, so I’ve decided to view travel more as a challenging logistical puzzle I need to solve, rather than an excuse to drop my habits. I run every day (at least a mile — sometimes only a mile! — but at least a mile), so when I’m traveling it’s really just a matter of looking at the schedule and figuring out where that mile goes. Sometimes that means waking up at 4:30 a.m. and running in a hotel gym. I don’t enjoy waking up at 4:30 a.m. and running in a hotel gym, but that’s when the Upholder tendencies kick in.

    I will admit, though, that I wish my Upholder tendencies kicked in a bit more with healthy eating. I love food. It’s not so much parties that are the problem, but if someone decides to offer me a chocolate chip cookie...the whole thing is getting eaten. I stopped shopping at Trader Joe’s because the dark chocolate covered caramels were becoming a bigger part of my life than I wished them to be.

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

    Laura: In Off the Clock, I talk about the importance of this mantra: Plan it in, do it anyway.

    As we think about time, it’s important to remember that the "self" is really three selves: the anticipating self (who looks forward to things on the calendar), the experiencing self (who is here in the present), and the remembering self (who thinks back on the past). Philosopher Robert Grudin once wrote that we "pamper the present like a spoiled child," and I think there’s something to this. The anticipating self thought it would be fun to go to the art museum on Friday night, when there’s live music and a bar, and the remembering self will look back fondly on the experience, but the experiencing self just got home from work. She is the one who has to brave the rain and the Friday night traffic. So she throws a tantrum, and we wind up indulging her whim to spend hours scrolling through Facebook posts from people we didn’t like in high school anyway.

    The way to combat her tyrannies? Plan it in, do it anyway. The experiencing self is trying to deliver a monologue in what should be a three-actor play. In most cases, if your anticipating self wanted to do it, you’ll be happy you went, and probably the experiencing self will enjoy it too once she gets over the initial resistance. We draw energy from meaningful things. So I repeat this mantra to myself a lot!

    Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam

     
  • feedwordpress 16:33:10 on 2018/05/22 Permalink
    Tags: , choices, , , , , know yourself better, ,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: “How Do I Make This Tough Decision?” 

    One common happiness stumbling block is the need to make a tough decision. To decide between apples and oranges, to weigh pros and cons, to think about what we will need and want in the future, to understand our real values...it’s tough.

    People often write me emails to explain their situations and ask for my thoughts. I can’t give advice to a particular person, but here are some mantras and questions I use when I’m facing a difficult decision in my own life.

    When I’m trying to make a tough choice, I say to myself, "Choose the bigger life." In a particular situation, people would make different decisions about what the "bigger life" would be, but when I ask myself that question, it always helps me see the right answer, for myself.

    For instance, as a family, we were trying to decide whether to get a dog. My daughters desperately wanted a dog, but I kept thinking about the commitment, inconvenience, errands, and all the downsides. The pros and cons list felt equally balanced. But when I thought, "Choose the bigger life," I realized that the bigger life for my family was to get a dog. That wouldn’t be true for everyone, certainly. But it was true for us. And we’re so happy we have our dog Barnaby!

    If you’d like to listen to a discussion of this, I talk about it in episode 27 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

    Another question to consider: Is this decision likely to strengthen my relationships with other people? Strong relationships with other people are a key—maybe the key—to happiness, so decisions that help build or strengthen ties are likely to boost happiness.

    Of course, sometimes we make decisions, such as to move to a new city or switch to a new profession, that put us in a place where we have few relationships. That can be worthwhile, absolutely, but it’s worth considering the time, effort, and energy needed to create new relationships.

    I also ask myself, "Does this decision help me to follow my personal commandment to Be Gretchen?" (Of course, everyone should substitute their own names!) I want to shape my life to reflect my temperament, interests, and values. I ask myself: Am I making this decision to "Be Gretchen," or because I want to impress other people, please someone else, pretend that I’m different from the person I actually am, or deny a truth about myself?

    Another way to think about "Being Gretchen" is to remind myself, "I want to accept myself, and expect more from myself." Is a particular course of action allowing me to expect more from myself—meaning it’s scary in a positive way, that will allow me to grow? Or does this course of action mean I’m not accepting myself—meaning it feels wrong for me in a way that I should respect?

    It can also be helpful to consider whether, when I contemplate a particular course of action, do I feel energized or drained? Sometimes it’s great to push ourselves to do something novel, challenging, or scary. But sometimes, a bad feeling is an indication that a decision doesn’t sit right with us. Unfortunately, it’s often very hard to tell the difference between those two feelings. This takes a lot of deliberation.

    I try to avoid false choices. Often, we try to make difficult decisions seem easier by boiling down our choices to two clear paths, when in fact, there may be many paths from which to choose. If you’re thinking of giving yourself a choice between two options—"Should I stay in my current job full time, or should I quit to write the novel I’ve always to write?"—ask, are those the only two options? Are there other options that I haven’t considered?

    Relatedly, when appropriate, I reassure myself, "There’s no wrong choice here." When I’m facing two good options, I remind myself that a choice becomes the right choice as we live it—as we have good experiences, make new relationships, go down a particular path.

    And here’s one last strategy.

    As I mentioned, I often get emails from people saying, "Here’s my situation, here are my choices, what should I do, how do I choose?" And it’s quite clear to me, from reading what they’ve written, that they know what choice they want to make. So I write back, "I can’t give advice, but it sounds to me as though you already know what you want to do."

    The way they explain the situation and the decision absolutely tips their hand. And that’s fine.

    So if you’re not sure what you want to do, try drafting an email to explain the situation, send the email to yourself, wait a week, then read it. Maybe you know what you want, more than you’ve admitted to yourself.

    Several fascinating books explore the question of making better decisions.

    1. Chip and Dan Heath’s Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. The title and subtitle say it all—why it’s hard to make decisions, how to test your assumptions, how to figure out what’s most important to you, how to make a better decision.
    2. Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. This book includes many interesting ideas, but one stands out: one very effective way to judge whether a particular course of action will make you happy in the future is to ask people who are following that course of action right now if they’re happy, and assume that you’ll feel the same way. Going on a family trip to Disneyworld. Living near your family. Getting a hamster. Learning to use Instagram. Working as a paralegal. Volunteering. Moving to a place that lengthens your commute. In evaluating the likely consequences of a decision, other people’s experiences of happiness—or lack thereof—can be very instructive for me.
    3. Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Schwartz explains why we find decision-making so taxing, and why having more choices can actually make us more stressed and less satisfied with our decisions.

    What do you do when you need to make a tough choice?

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:33 on 2018/05/10 Permalink
    Tags: Alison Green, , , careeer, , ,   

    “You Can Be Direct Without Being Rude and You Can Be Assertive Without Being Disagreeable.” 

    Interview: Alison Green.

    Alison Green runs the very popular site Ask a Manager, where she answers questions from readers about office and management issue, and she also writes "Ask a Boss" on the site The Cut. She's been called "the Dear Abby of the work world."

    If you want to get a quick sense of her advice, here are some of her favorite posts on various workplace issues. Fascinating!

    She just published a new book called Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work. Her advice and observations are insightful, funny, grounded in real experience, and highly practical. (And what a great subtitle, right?)

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

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

    Alison: Taking time to be very deliberate about gratitude. I try to regularly reflect on the things I have to be grateful for, and it really does make me more appreciative and happier. I especially try to do it when something less-than-ideal has happened. If I make a conscious effort to think about all the ways in which things are still okay (or could be much worse), it really changes my mindset.

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

    Alison: It took me a while to learn that one secret to a happy life is being really honest with yourself about what makes you happy and what doesn’t. Sometimes the things that make us happy aren’t the things that we wish made us happy – whether it’s a particular romantic partner or the books we like to read or a specific career track. And other times we just don’t pay close enough attention to realize what does and doesn’t bring us joy. I’ve tried to really prioritize figuring out what brings me happiness – even if they’re things that aren’t entirely aligned with the self-image I want to have -- and then try to arrange my life accordingly. It’s worked well so far! I’m pretty happy.

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

    Alison: I’m a worst-case-scenario thinker. If something could go wrong, chances are high that I’ve thought of it and I’m worried it’s coming. At some level, I figure that by thinking through what I’d do in the event of worst-case scenarios, I’m prepared should any come around, and I’ll never be blindsided by them! But in reality, staying mired in worst-case thinking is probably too high a price to pay just to avoid the small chance that one day I’ll be blindsided by something. So it’s a bad habit, and I’d like to get out of it.

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

    Alison: I wish my answer here was “jogging” or “knitting beanies for neighborhood children,” but the reality is that I adore doing nothing. I suppose “nothing” isn’t quite accurate – but lolling about with no responsibilities when I can just read or go down internet rabbit holes or otherwise do things that aren’t terribly productive. My work schedule tends to be too crowded on most days, and so when I get blocks of time where there’s nothing I need to be doing, I take full advantage of that. There’s something about getting to have brief periods of laziness that is incredibly refreshing and leaves me feeling much more centered and happy.

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

    I do a lot of writing, and I used to procrastinate horribly when I didn’t feel like writing something. I finally realized that when I procrastinated on a project, I was introducing an outsized amount of negative emotions into my life – days and days of feeling the thing hanging over me and knowing that I should be doing it and feeling guilty that I hadn’t, plus knowing that I’d need to sit down and start it at some point. But if I just did whatever it was and got it out the way, I didn’t have all those days of vague dread, and I also got the relief and triumph of having it done. And truly, I think there is no better feeling than “done” for writers! So I started focusing on that feeling as a way to motivate myself to get things finished – and it’s actually completely cured me of procrastination. Similar to the way other people tell themselves they’ll have some chocolate or a beer after they finish something they’re putting off, I tell myself I’ll get to have that great feeling of having the damn thing finished – and I won’t have it hanging over me. And that’s enough to motivate me to do it.

    That’s led me to a place where now I’m really disciplined about work. I have a written schedule for what I need to get done each day, and I stick to it. Doing that feels so great that it’s been very self-reinforcing, and at this point, I don’t know how I’d get things done any other way.

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

    Alison: I’m a Questioner through and through.

    Gretchen: What made you want to write your new book?

    I wrote my new book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Workbecause in eleven years of writing Ask a Manager, one theme that I’ve seen over and over again is that people end up less happy – both at work and in the rest of life – because they hesitate to speak up about what’s important to them. They worry that they’ll cause drama, or they’ll say the wrong thing, or that they’ll cause tension or awkwardness with people they have to see regularly. And so as a result, they stay quiet about things that often have significant impacts on their day to day quality of life, and sometimes even on their paychecks.

    As a work advice columnist, I’m always trying to show people that most of the time, you actually can speak up about things that are bothering you at work – whether it’s as small as a co-worker who annoys you by playing her music too loudly or as big as a hyper-critical, micromanaging boss. And if you do, you can significantly improve your happiness level at work.

    What I’ve tried to do in the new book is to walk people through exactly what those conversations can look like, to show that you can be direct without being rude and that you can be assertive without being disagreeable. It’s a book about work, but I think a willingness to jump in and have hard conversations will usually increase your happiness in all realms of life.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:01 on 2018/05/03 Permalink
    Tags: , Ben Feder, , ,   

    “It’s Not True that We Can’t Change Our Outlook or that We’re Stuck Being Whomever We Think We Are.” 

    Interview: Ben Feder.

    At a time in his life when he was playing leading roles in big business, Ben Feder realized that he was losing touch with everything that had sustained him during his career. He became determined to re-order his priorities and spend time on the people and activities that meant the most to him -- so, with his wife and four kids, Ben Feder set off for Bali on a "sabbatical year" to focus on everything that was most important. This is the kind of adventure that many people fantasize about, but few people actually do.

    He's written a book about his experience, and it's just hitting the shelves: Take Off Your Shoes: One Man's Journey From the Boardroom to Bali and Back.

    Having written The Happiness Project, about my year-long experiment of happiness with myself as guinea pig, I love reading any book of self-experiment, especially one that's in the form of a "year of ___"

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

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

    Ben: I have three: meditation, yoga, and painting. Meditation centers my mind. Yoga does the same and adds body movement to the dialogue. Painting allows me to express creativity and appreciate beauty. And it brings me unimagined joy.

    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.?

    Ben: One day, a few years ago, I arrived home from work to discover my oldest son, Sam, then in 8th grade, barricaded in his room doing homework. I noted that lately his conversations with me had morphed to monosyllabic grunts as he sequestered himself ever more deeply. Suddenly, I realized that between his going off to a highly competitive high school and my travel schedule (I was CEO of a company with global operations), I was about to miss out on an important relationship. In a flash, I realized that this is where it happens. This is where men turn into the husbands and fathers they never intended to be. If I didn’t make a radical choice, my son would enter high school and then college and the time to connect more deeply would be lost forever. I couldn’t put off any longer what I had long dreamed about; to take an extended time off with my young family. So, I decided to take myself out of the game temporarily in order to explore, renew, and deepen the relationships with the people that mattered most to me. My wife, Victoria, and I pulled our four kids out of school and decamped to Bali, Indonesia, for a sabbatical. It was during this sabbatical that I began to gain a challenging healthy habit—learning to be still. And I learned to break an unhealthy habit—the mindset that I needed to continually notch up another achievement to find happiness. While it is nice to record another success on life’s imaginary scoreboard, I find it doesn’t on its own lead to growth and well-being.

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

    Ben: It turns out that happiness is a learnable skill. It’s not true that we can’t change our outlook or that we are stuck being whomever we think we are. Scientists have learned that the brain is vastly more plastic than long had been thought. By being mindful of our thoughts and deliberately turning them around to be more positive and optimistic, we can, over time, create new neural pathways so that our overall disposition is happier. In short, happiness is an inside job. Once you realize that happiness is a trainable skill, it becomes obvious that it is also a choice we make to be more happy or less. I definitely wish I knew this when I was 18, but it probably requires a little more self-awareness than most 18-year-olds are wired for.

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

    Ben: International travel is necessary to fulfill my ambitions and career goals, and in many ways I enjoy the cultural and commercial adventure that comes with international business travel. That said, if it’s too frequent, it does tend to get in the way of healthy living. With rare exceptions, none of us can live some ideal life. We are all human. We all have obligations and responsibilities, and some of us are deeply ambitious. So, I try to strike a healthy balance.

    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?

    Ben: There is a quote I once heard that was attributed to the Dalai Lama, though I have not been able to find it online. Nonetheless, it’s a good one: “If you are unhappy with your life situation...change your mind.”

     
  • feedwordpress 12:00:14 on 2018/04/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , book recomendations, , , , favorite books,   

    My Favorite Books About Parenting. 

    Mother’s Day is coming up, so in honor of the holiday I decided to make a list of my favorite parenting books. I’ve read many parenting books, but there are a few that really stand out to me – in many cases, I’ve read these books several times.

    One thing I've discovered is that when a parenting book is truly excellent, its advice is just as helpful for dealing with adults as with children. Children and adults are more alike than we sometimes assume. For instance, when I was researching habits for Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I did a fair amount of research on the design of pre-school and kindergarten routines.

    So after reading these books about parenthood, I’ve applied most of what I learned to my adult relationships, with equal success:

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

    How I love this book! It has helped me tremendously as a parent – and in every other aspect of my life. In fact, I probably think more about its lessons in the context of adult interactions that I do of child interactions. I've read it at least five times. It’s very wise, and it’s also a very fun read.

    One of the most important lessons I learned from this book? Make people feel happier by acknowledging that they’re not feeling happy. When we acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings, they know they’re being heard. Instead of denying feelings like anger, irritation, fear, or reluctance, we do better to articulate the other person’s point of view. It turns out that when people’s bad feelings are acknowledged, those feelings dissipate more easily.

    This was a giant revelation to me. It really, really works. If you’d like to read a post I wrote on this subject, it’s here.

    2. I also love Faber & Mazlish’s book Siblings Without Rivalry.

    3. Practical Wisdom for Parents: Raising Self-Confident Children in the Preschool Years by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum.

    I love this book, in part because it’s a terrific book and in part because it was written by two people whom I really like and respect. In fact, as I describe in my book The Happiness Project, I played a small role in the book’s inception. (You can also read that story here.)

    If you want to listen to a two-minute episode of "A Little Happier" where I describe one of the many wise things that Nancy Schulman said to me, it’s here.

    4. Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson.

    I’m a giant raving fan of Michael Thompson’s work. It’s practical, realistic, and insightful, plus it’s written in a very engaging way.

    Here’s a post I wrote about a passage from the book about why it’s a bad idea to "interview for pain." Again, this principle is just as true for adults as for kids.

    5. I also love Thompson’s book Mom, They're Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems. If you want to hear "A Little Happier" episode where I talk about one of the most important lessons I gleaned from that book, it’s here.

    6. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.

    This is a very useful book that emphasizes why it’s important to let children make mistakes, suffer consequences, handle disappointment, and deal with boredom as part of their growing up.

    What are your favorite books about parenthood? I’d be especially interested in any recommendations aimed at parents of twenty-something children. My older daughter isn’t twenty yet, but she will be, before I know it. The days are long, but the years are short.

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 20:20:52 on 2018/04/22 Permalink
    Tags: , reader stories, testimonials,   

    Do You Want to Share the Story of Your Happiness Project? I’d Love to Hear About It. 

    I love any before-and-after story. Whether it’s in a book, magazine, TV show, movie, play, or wherever I might come across it, once I hear the “before,” I’m hooked; I have to see the “after.”

    In fact, the working title of my book Better Than Before was Before and After.

    Because of my love for these stories of transformation, it has been thrilling for me to hear reports about how my book The Happiness Project has helped people go from before to after. Ever since The Happiness Project hit the shelves, people have told me stories of how they’ve done their own happiness projects, in their own ways, and how these projects have changed their lives.

    If this has been your experience, I’d love to hear about it – whether you’ve been in touch with me before, or whether this is your first time telling me about your before-and-after.

    The tenth anniversary of The Happiness Project is coming up (how is it possible ten years have passed?), and I’m working on material for the Tenth Anniversary edition. I’d love to include some stories from readers or listeners about their own happiness projects. These stories might be included in the book, discussed on the Happier podcast, or featured on my site.

    It’s fascinating to hear what people tried, what worked for them, and with what result. We can all learn from each other.

    So if you have a story to share, please let me know! Email me and tell me about your happiness project.

    If you have already written your story on your blog or somewhere else, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

    (Featured image photo credit: Kennedy from Elanest.com)

     
  • feedwordpress 13:30:27 on 2018/04/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , Joanna Coles, ,   

    “Love Is the Food of Life. And We All Deserve to Eat and Love Well.” 

    Interview: Joanna Coles.

    Joanna Coles has had a very interesting career. Before her current position as the first Chief Content Office for Hearst Magazines, she was editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. Plus, in addition to her significant positions in the magazine world, she's also very involved in the world of TV, in shows like So Cosmo, The Bold Type (a scripted series based on her life), Running in Heels, and Project Runway.

    As if that's not enough, she's just published a book: Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World. (I love the double meaning of this title.) It's all about how to find meaningful love in a world full of meaningless encounters. She gives fifteen rules or "love hacks" -- I always love a hack or a true rule! She uses the metaphor of the diet, of eating more healthfully, as a way to look at finding the right sweetheart.

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

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

    Joanna: Whenever I take the subway or a cab in New York City, I try not to go on my phone and instead look around. I find it helps me notice things which leads to ideas. And sometimes when you are thinking about nothing in particular and you let your mind wander it's exciting where it will end up. And if I see someone standing alone at a party or looking awkward on their own, I will try and go up and say "Hi" because walking into a room on your own can feel terrifying, and it makes you feel good to make someone else feel welcome.

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

    Joanna: That friends and partners should always be treated with respect, even when you least feel like it! And that its always better to have a conversation about whatever is going wrong with them, than to ignore it or pretend you don’t care. Good communication is the key to everything. It’s hard but it’s almost always worth it. At work, at home, at play.

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

    Joanna: Harvard began a longitudinal study in 1938, during the Great Depression, that tracked 268 sophomores to study what made people happy. Now 80 years later, what they found is that good relationships were essential. Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, said in a recent press release, "The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too." This is why finding finding someone to love who loves you back is so vitally important—your health and happiness depend on it.

    The other research I found fascinating, and grim, is the negative impact of binge drinking on women, and how closely it is tied to sexual assault in this country. Getting drunk is an accepted part of our culture today, for women and men, but the ramifications of getting black out drunk are so costly for women. It is the one area where women should not want equality—our bodies have more fat which means we process alcohol more quickly then men. The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking for women as four drinks in two hours, where for men it is five. And yet, binge drinking has risen 17% for women between 2005 and 2012 versus 4.9% for men. The other stat that ties in to this, also by the NIAA is that half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol. This is why Rule #8 is, Know Your Limits.

    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?

    Joanna: I end Love Rules with a snippet from a story Ian McEwan wrote for The Guardian following 9-11. It still brings me to tears. In the piece, McEwan writes about about a husband who misses the last panicked call from his wife who is in the Twin Towers that day. She was calling to say goodbye. He wrote, "There was really only one thing for her to say. Those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. I love you. She said it over and over again before the line went dead."

    Love is the food of life. And we all deserve to eat and love well. That is why I wrote Love Rules--I felt there was no guide book out there as to how to find it. It nourishes and feeds us, it is the key to happiness. It makes us feel we are alive and without it, little else matters.

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

    Joanna: I have a scalding hot bath every night. I still have the apartment’s original porcelain bath from 1908, it’s very deep and very long and I sink up to my neck and exhale. I love Epsom salts, oils, bubbles, and I lie there in silence and inhale the steam and think through the day. Heaven.

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

    Joanna: Of course! Late nights with friends mean I cancel too many early morning yoga lessons, always set up with the best intentions and promise that this time I won’t cancel. But as much as I love yoga, nothing is better for your long-term health -- not even a restorative headstand -- than a good evening with family and friends.

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 21:30:58 on 2018/04/13 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    Announcing: The Four Tendencies Course. 

    Big news! I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m launching an online learning class called "The Four Tendencies Course," and the enrollment window opens Monday, April 30th for a limited timeClick here to join the waitlist.

    Last year, my book The Four Tendencies hit the shelves. In it, I describe the “Four Tendencies”—Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel—and how this personality distinction shapes every area of our lives.

    Since introducing this framework, I’ve been deluged with responses from readers and podcast listeners. It’s thrilling to hear how people are using the Four Tendencies to transform their health, work life, and relationships. Because the interest has been so intense, I decided to create an online course and community for people who want to dive deeper.

    I’m very excited about this course—and I had so much fun creating it. I hope you’ll join me when registration opens in a few weeks.

    In this course, you’ll identify your Tendency, and then learn how to use that knowledge to gain the self-insight that will clarify the practical changes you can make to create the life you want. And you’ll also learn how to appreciate other people’s Tendencies, and how to support them effectively, to cut down on stress, burn-out, conflict, frustration, and procrastination.

    If you’ve ever asked any of the following questions, this course is for you:

    • Why do others seem to be able to do things for themselves, but I can’t?
    • Why do I resist doing things that I actually want to do?
    • Why can’t people accept that I find comfort and freedom in my routine?
    • Why doesn’t everyone do the things they say they are going to do?
    • Why do I struggle with or become overwhelmed by making decisions?

    The Four Tendencies Course will include 5 weeks of instruction, 12 video lessons, reflection questions and exercises, exclusive live "Ask Gretchen Anything" calls, an online community built around the course, plus bonus materials including 10+ bonus videos and interviews, all for less than $100.

    If you’re interested in joining me to explore ways to create a happier, more fulfilled life, click here to join the waitlist. Once you join the waitlist, you'll get the opportunity to get an early-bird discount. Remember, registration opens April 30th for a limited time.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:35 on 2018/04/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , Dolly Parton, , interests, , Oprah   

    Assay: Dolly Parton and Oprah Winfrey Discuss…Hubris. 

    Assay: One of my favorite things about myself is that I often get hit by epiphanies or obsessions. Discovering a new obsessive interest is one of my great joys in life.

    I just got struck by a new obsession, and what a joy it is to explore this subject. Dolly Parton. All of a sudden, I just can’t learn enough about Dolly Parton. And I’m not even a huge fan of music – her music or anyone’s music. I’m fascinated by her life and character.

    For that reason, I spent quite a bit of time the other day watching her old TV interviews on YouTube.

    In my writing (and thinking and reading), my subject is human nature. Why do we do what we do? How can we change? How are people alike, and different, from each other?

    One question I often ponder is: Why do some people who achieve stardom bend under that pressure, and succumb to its pressures and temptations in destructive ways? And why do other people seem to be able to withstand that pressure?

    One answer is "character."

    But that just raises the question – what aspect of character? Inborn qualities, beliefs, habits, relationships, experiences, what combination protects certain people?

    Because I’ve thought a lot about this question, I was particularly interested in this exchange between Dolly Parton and Oprah Winfrey, on The Oprah Winfrey Show in April 1992. (Wow, that’s 26 years ago.)

    Dolly Parton: I feel so lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to make a good living at what I love to do. I always wanted to sing, I always wanted to be a star, I always wanted to be out with the people, and I’m getting to do that. And I’m getting to enjoy doing that. I think we’re all born, we wonder who we are, what we’re doing here, it’s the same old thing, all through history, who are we, who am I...

    Oprah Winfrey: Same old thing! You’re wondering who you are.

    ...

    Oprah Winfrey: [Don’t you think] that one of the reasons that you are where you are, and I am where I am, those of you [pointing to audience] are where you are, is because you believed you could be here?

    Dolly Parton: It’s faith. I think you have to work very hard...There’s a certain amount of luck, too...I used to not realize how lucky I had been. I was always grateful and humble, but I always have worked very hard, too. But I see so many people that have twice the talent that I have, that maybe came to Nashville at the same time I did, they write better songs, they sing better, but there’s just something—where the timing’s not right—so I think there’s a certain element of luck in that. But I think that people can do a lot with what they’ve got, if they just had the faith. I mean, so much of it is faith and belief. I think one has to be careful not to get arrogant with that faith, because I think, you know, if you don’t humble yourself, God will do it for you.

    Oprah Winfrey: Absolutely. And when God does it, it will bring you to your knees.

    I found this fascinating. Hubris! I wish that these two mega-starts had spent much more time exploring their thoughts and their experiences on this subject. I wish that Oprah Winfrey had asked, "Dolly, what do you mean by ‘humble?’"

    A few minutes later in the interview Dolly Parton talks about being "a servant to the people." Is that what she means? She certainly has done many things to be a servant to the people, generally in her performances, and particularly to improve the lives of the people in the Great Smoky Mountains where she grew up. Or does she mean something else?

    Well, maybe I’ll learn more as my obsession continues.

    If you’d like to watch this interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show yourself, here’s the interview. This discussion happens around 16:50.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:30:26 on 2018/04/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Tara Westover   

    “I Feel Like I’m Never Alone…I Am with My Phone, and Because of That, I Am with Everyone.” 

    Interview: Tara Westover.

    You've probably either read this book, or read about it, because it has sparked a giant amount of buzz and favorable attention. Tara Westover's memoir Educated is a#1 New York Times bestseller that has received rave reviews -- for instance, it was called the "best-in-years memoir about striding beyond limitations of birth and environment" by USA Today.

    Tara Westover was born in Idaho, and because her father opposed public education, she never attended school, but spent her days working in her father's junkyard or helping her mother, a self-taught herbalist. It wasn't until she was 17 years old that she first got to a classroom -- and from there, she excelled brilliantly at BYU, Cambridge, and Harvard.

    Her story reminds me of a passage that I love from one of my favorite writers, Samuel Johnson. He remarked:

    “A desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge.” Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

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

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

    Tara: Being alone. Increasingly, I feel like I'm never alone, not really. I am with my phone, and because of that, I am with everyone. Left to wait for a few minutes in a waiting room, I used to observe more, think about a strange accent I'd heard, or analyze the interactions between the couple opposite me. Now I type messages. And receive messages. None of which add up to much. I'm trying to break that habit and go back to a time when the person I spent the most time with was myself. That's when thinking happens. I know I sound very old-fashioned and analog, but it's what I need to live!

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

    Tara: Working intensely for shorter bursts is more effective in the-long run than pushing yourself to the limit. Cognitive capacity is like sobriety. It declines, but because of it's decline, you lose the ability to perceive it. You think you're still working at 100%. My advice: don't work drunk, and don't work tired.

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

    Tara: My relationship with my phone. Sometimes I feel like Doc Octopus: I look down and there is this mechanical thing seemingly built into my arm. I've no idea how it got there. I put it down and walk away, then a minute later, there it is again.

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

    Tara: Sleep, food, journaling, walks, and friends.

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

    Tara: I'm a believer in thinking through what your behavior is, and trying to understand what's causing it. I've talked a lot about wanting to break the unconscious link between me and my phone, and inasmuch as I've succeeded in doing that, I think it was by asking myself what was causing me to reach for it so often, then taking steps to counter that. Here are a few things I did.

    1)I realized that I often look at my phone to check the time, but then I get distracted by emails or other notifications. The solution to this was easy. Wear a watch, and buy clocks for all my rooms.

    2) I often check my phone to see if I have notifications of any sort, rather than checking anything in particular. Then I toggle back and forth between them seeing if anything new came in while I was checking the other. The solution for me was to centralize all my communication in my email (tell people I would not be responding to messages on Facebook). I also disabled all my notifications. Now, barring texts (which I rarely send or receive), my phone only shows me whether I've missed any calls. As a phone should.

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

    Tara: Seemingly everything is always trying to. Whether any particular thing succeeds is a question of whether I let it.

    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.?

    Tara: I don't think so. My ideas tend to start as germs, then grow into tiny slugs, then worms....you get the idea. It's always gradual.

    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?

    Tara: I don't normally like slogans, but I do find myself sometimes muttering the phrase "Live boldly." Maybe because I am always trying to get myself to do things I feel slightly unable to do, and I need to convince myself to do them anyway.

     
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