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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    HAH recording 1

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

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

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

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

    HAH recording
    The engineer showed me how my voice looks.

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

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

    I could go on and on.

    Fun facts:

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

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

    HAH recording 2

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

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

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

    Want to know more about Happier at Home?

    You can read a description of the book here.

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

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

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

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

  • Crystal Ellefsen 12:00:30 on 2018/07/10 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, , , young adult books   

    A Selection of 9 Young-Adult Novels That I Read Over and Over 

    I love to read. And I love to read children's and young-adult novels. In fact, I'm in three (yes, three) book groups where we read only "kidlit."

    And I love to re-read. I'm sure I've read some of my favorite books at least twenty times.

    In case you're interested in reading some YA novels, here is a list of some of my favorites. I've read all of them at least twice, and some of them many more times than that.

    Now, I must add, this is a very haphazard list of my favorites. There are so many books that I've read and re-read. I wanted this list to include some very well-known books, and also some that are less well-known, for people who are looking for something they may not have known about.

    1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

    Buy from IndieBound; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    2. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

    Buy from IndieBoundBarnes & Noble; Amazon

    3. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

    Buy from WORDBarnes & Noble; Amazon

    4.  Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    5. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    6. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon.

    7. The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

    Buy from Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    8. Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

    (Wow, I really dislike the new cover; ignore that.)

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    9. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

    Buy from WORD; Barnes & Noble; Amazon

    What's the difference, you may ask, among a work of children's literature, a work of adult literature, and a work of young-adult literature? In my three children's literature reading groups, this question often comes up. And there's no clear answer.

    And the sorting of books changes over time. Catcher in the Rye and Jane Eyre are now often shelved with young-adult literature, though they started out as novels for adults.

    What books have you read over and over?

  • gretchenrubin 12:00:05 on 2018/06/26 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, cookbooks, Julian Barnes, , outer order,   

    Do You Like to Buy Cookbooks? Consider This List About How to Avoid Making Mistakes. 

    I'm not a cook myself, but I'm interested in the five senses, and I often choose library books very impulsively, so I recently picked up a little book by Julian Barnes, The Pedant in the Kitchen.

    In it, he writes a funny list about how to avoid making mistakes when buying cookbooks. Even though I myself don't have an issue with being tempted to buy cookbooks, I thought this was an amusing and helpful reminder of how we make mistakes in our purchases.

    He suggests:

    1. Never buy a cookbook because of its pictures. Nothing will look as good when you cook it.
    2. Never buy cookbooks with tricky layouts.
    3. Avoid cookbooks that are too general or too narrow. For instance, skip books like Great Dishes of the World or Waffle Wonderment.
    4. Never buy a cookbook written by the chef of a restaurant where you've just eaten. Barnes notes, "Remember, that's why you went to the restaurant in the first place—to eat their cooking, not your own feebler version of it."
    5. Never buy a cookbook focused on using a piece of equipment if you don't own that equipment.
    6. Resist anthologies of regional recipes bought as a souvenir.
    7. Resist books of famous historical recipes, especially in facsimile editions. (Gretchen: Always avoid facsimile editions! I've learned that the hard way.)
    8. Never replace a beloved old favorite with the new, updated, edition; you'll always use your original.
    9. Never buy a cookbook for a charity fundraiser. Give the cover price directly to the charity; they'll get more money, and you won't have to cull out the cookbook later.
    10. Remember that many cookbook writers have only one good cookbook in them.

    I'm working on my book Outer Order, Inner Calm, and one thing is clear—the best way to fight clutter is never to create it. If you're not going to make good use of a cookbook, it's easier to decide not to buy it than to figure out what to do with it once it's in your house!

    Do you love to buy cookbooks? My husband sure does. And they take up a lot of room.

    What further precautions would you add to this list?

  • feedwordpress 09:00:32 on 2018/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Books, Father's Day, ,   

    My Father’s Advice for Being Happier and Forming Habits 

    Here in the United States, Father’s Day is coming up on Sunday, June 17.

    I’m a big fan for using dates as milestones, as prompts for self-reflection or for action. People say Father’s and Mother’s Days are Hallmark-driven, consumerist holidays—but I think it’s nice to be reminded to think about my father, and to remember everything he’s done for me.

    Ditto with Valentine’s Day, January 1, spring cleaning. I find it very useful to be prompted to take a moment to celebrate the people I love, and to take stock of how my life could be made better.

    As I was thinking about my father, I reflected on all the good advice he’s given me over the years—both for helping me to be happier at home and at work, and helping me to develop good habits, especially the habit of exercise (which doesn’t come naturally to me at all).

    Some highlights:

    1. "If you’re willing to take the blame when you deserve it, people will give you the responsibility." This advice from my father is the best advice for the workplace I’ve ever received. I think about this all the time.
    2. "As a parent, at some point, you have to switch from being an advisor to cheerleader." (If you want to hear me talk about this advice, you can listen to this short episode of "A Little Happier.")
    3. "Alas, there are no wizards." My father reminded me that it can be tempting to believe that if I could just find the right helper, the right adviser, the right person to do a job, all my problems would magically be solved, and I wouldn’t have to be worried or involved with a project any more. But while there are smart and capable people, if something’s important to me, I have to stay involved. I can’t just delegate to some wizard.
    4. "Energy." My father always stresses the value of energy. In large part because of this, the first chapter of my book The Happiness Project is devoted to energy. (Here are nine tips for giving yourself an energy boost in the next ten minutes.)
    5. "Enjoy the process." My father always emphasizes that if we can enjoy the process, we’re less concerned about outcomes, and we’re less devastated if our efforts end in failure or frustration. That's a big help in the world. It also makes for a much happier, more mindful life.
    6. "All you have to do is put on your running shoes and let the front door shut behind you." Back in high school, when I was first trying to get myself in the habit of daily exercise, he gave me this advice. It’s an excellent mantra for all couch potatoes trying to pick up an exercise habit. Just put on your shoes and step outside! It’s one of my Secrets of Adulthood: It’s enough to begin.
    7. "Go to the library." When I was growing up, my father—and my mother, too—often suggested making a visit to the library. This family habit meant that I always had plenty of books to read, of whatever kinds of books I wanted at the time. Many of my happiest and most vivid childhood memories involve the Kansas City Plaza library. But more than giving me good advice to visit the library, my father also set a good example by reading books all the time, himself. Example is more persuasive than precept.

    Speaking of books, if a father in your life might enjoy a book for Father’s Day, might I suggest my short, unconventional biography, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill? Judging from the emails I receive in the weeks following Father’s Day each year, I’ve concluded that many people give it as a Father’s Day gift.

    Or if a father in your life is working on an important habit, consider my book Better Than Before, which explains the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits. It turns out that it’s not that hard to break a habit, when you do it in the way that’s right for you.

    Fun fact: in book publishing, Father’s Day is a major event, because so many people give books as Father’s Day gifts.

  • feedwordpress 10:00:02 on 2018/06/07 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, , , , Pam Lobley, , ,   

    “Let’s Take the Pressure Off, and Enjoy the Passage of Time.” 

    Interview: Pam Lobley.

    Pam Lobley has been a columnist and writer for many publications, including the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, BlogHer, and others.

    She's also the author of the book Why Can't We Just Play?: What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy.

    Pam Lobley's work reminds me of my one-minute video about "The days are long, but the years are short." You can watch it here.  It also reminds me of my resolution in my book Happier at Home, to "guard my children's free time."

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

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

    Pam: When I was 18, I figured happiness would be found in grand adventures, success, and accomplishments. But I have found that my deepest happiness has come not from the extraordinary days, but from the ordinary ones. Big accomplishments and milestones do bring happiness, but they can also bring stress, change and pressure. A new job or a book publishing deal are wonderful, but they also can mean taking on new and difficult tasks and pressures. A fancy vacation is delightful, but the expense, scheduling and unexpected disappointments can diminish the joyful feeling - like the time we took the kids to Disney and they weren’t that interested in the rides. They just kept asking when could we go back to the hotel and swim in the pool!

    Running into a good friend while I’m walking the dog or driving to the orthodontist with my son and talking about his day ... these regular moments bring me so much happiness, notably because they are built in to my life and occur naturally. Realizing that they make me happy leads me to another realization - my life is a happy one! This kind of appreciation of the present moment would not have been possible for me to understand at age 18.

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

    Pam: I hate to admit this, but I am not that organized. I think I am, and I always have a to-do list, but in reality everything takes longer than I think it will, I let stuff slide left and right, and then I end up late and rushing. Rushing kills my joy every time. That feeling of being behind and trying to finish a few things before time runs out is so distracting and defeating. The rushing itself makes me unhappy, then it compounds itself because I tend to make bad decisions or feel irritation when I am rushed - and that leads to further unhappiness.

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

    Pam: I need 7+ hours of sleep a night, I exercise several times a week, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I get outside for some time every day. Without these things I am super cranky and definitely not creative.

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

    Pam: Questioner! Questioning the conventional wisdom of raising children today is what led me to write my book Why Can't We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy. I asked myself, "Why is our family life so overscheduled, and when did parenting get to overwrought and frantic?" I answered it by removing all our activities for an entire summer, and letting my sons, ages 8 and 10 at that time, "just" play. Because we had NO scheduled activities, no camps, no classes - nothing but play and free time - I wryly referred to that summer as "a summer from the 1950s" and read and researched that era as the weeks went by. Adopting the 1950s mindset offered sharp perspective of current family values. Was that decade a better time to raise children? Well, it certainly was a simpler time. People did not check emails at midnight or enroll their 12 year olds in travel baseball leagues with 4 games a week.

    We think of the 1950s as a time when conformity reigned supreme, but there is plenty of conformity in this era as well. The pressure to control and improve your children, and to micromanage their days is true for the vast majority of middle class families. Once I got off that merry-go-round, I saw my kids more clearly. They needed tremendous amounts of down time, and they were growing up in a world which provided almost none. In addition, I became aware that the more we rushed around, the faster I felt they grew up, and the less time I had to enjoy simply being with them. Being a Questioner is the reason I had the idea, and then the stamina, to carry out that experiment.

    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?

    Pam: I love that line from the James Taylor song, "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time..." I’m somewhat obsessed with the passage of time. I am constantly aware of how precious our time on earth is, how quickly kids grow up, how life can change in an instant, of how memories we create are kept alive. Resisting the urge to do more, building free time our family’s schedule is something I strive for daily, though not always successfully. Savoring days when the kids are growing up is especially important to me, but every stage of life has its treasures and opportunities, and I don’t want to blur past them. A phone call with my sister, planning a party with my husband, shopping with my teen for his prom tux ... rather than pressing through those tasks, I remind myself to take my time. Let those moments be ones of happiness. Let things take longer. Let’s take the pressure off, and enjoy the passage of time.

    Why Can't We Just Play? by Pa m Lobley

  • feedwordpress 10:00:39 on 2018/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, , 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 10:00:33 on 2018/05/10 Permalink
    Tags: Alison Green, , Books, 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 13:30:27 on 2018/04/19 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , 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.

  • feedwordpress 09:30:26 on 2018/04/05 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , , , 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.

  • feedwordpress 09:00:20 on 2018/03/29 Permalink
    Tags: Books, Danielle Town, , , wealth   

    “Money Certainly Cannot Buy Happiness, But It Can Buy Comfort, Choices, and Freedom.” 

    Interview: Danielle Town.

    The relationship between money and happiness is one of the most complex and emotionally charged topics within the larger subject of happiness.

    Danielle Town has written a memoir that takes the reader through her efforts to gain greater control over money and investing -- and with it, a sense of greater control of her life. Over the course of a year (I do love any one-year project!) she teaches herself how to invest wisely.

    This memoir is just hitting the shelves: Invested: How Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger Taught Me to Master My Mind, My Emotions, and My Money (with a Little Help from My Dad).

    Many of us don't even like to think about money, but Danielle Town explains why we're happier if we confront our fears, anxieties, desires, and habits related to saving, spending, and investing.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Danielle about the relationships among happiness, habits, money, and relationships.

    Gretchen: You’ve written a wonderful memoir about learning investing that is, in many ways, really about happiness. For many people, money problems are huge obstacle to their happiness. Do you connect money and happiness? Do you think money can buy happiness?

    Danielle: Money certainly cannot buy happiness, but it can buy comfort, choices and freedom. Which, for a lot of us, would feel like a lot like happiness. It's funny how wealth is like health - when you don't have it, it's all you think about; when you do have it, life is just easier. Feeling free financially removes stress and creates the space to focus on the important things that actually do create real and lasting happiness: the choice to work part-time, the ability to support wonderful charities, the peace of knowing your student loans are paid off or your kids have college covered – whatever financial freedom looks like for each of us. And I was forced into learning about financial stuff, so I know it’s not a happy topic for many of us, but it turned into a source of happiness for me.

    Gretchen: You’ve gone through a fascinating journey and education. What has surprised or intrigued you – or other people -- most?

    Danielle: It surprised me how much old childhood emotions around money shaped how I think about my finances to this day. Every single person has a framework of money and wealth from their childhood; every one of us, regardless of how much or little we and our family had, had an experience with money growing up. However, we probably didn’t realize or notice it until we got older, because it’s only once we’re older and see how other people handle money that we have any perspective on our own experience. Once I was several months into learning investing, I just couldn’t quite fully imagine myself as a successful investor, and I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, I realized it was because I didn’t completely trust my dad. Which is, on its face, ridiculous: my dad is a well-respected investor who has been investing for thirty years. So I looked deeper, and it went back to when I was a kid. My parents divorced when I was eleven, and my experience was that my dad left and took the money with him, and it was awful. But he came back, and we repaired our relationship, and until I started learning investing from him I would have told you that the childhood trauma was all in the past. It wasn’t. It forced us to talk about it, and for the first time in my life, I heard his perspective on the situation and, as an adult, I could see his point of view and his choices in a way I couldn’t have when I was a kid. Working through it released me from some of its effects, while at the same time, that was my experience and I will always need to be aware of how it’s affecting me as an investor.

    Usually as soon as I start talking about childhood experiences with money with people, they flash back immediately and they know exactly what shaped them. It’s extraordinary how it’s right there, present, but we avoid it for years because it’s uncomfortable or painful – which is completely logical, actually, to avoid something that brings pain. However, by avoiding it, we’re compounding the pain by bringing money stress on ourselves, and I believe we have to think about it, transform it, and go forward with that information about ourselves to take our power back.

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

    Danielle: When I initially read Better than Before, I thought I was a Rebel because I absolutely love the feeling of not doing something I’m expected to do. It used to give me huge amounts of pleasure to, for example, cut class in school – but only when it was a class I knew was unnecessary and skipping it wouldn’t hurt. However, at the same time, I really care about the expectations of others and don’t want to let anyone down, right up until it gets to be too much and then I tend to shut down. So I wasn’t quite sure how I fit into the framework. But then, when I read The Four Tendencies, and discovered that you had identified a subset of Obliger that is also a Rebel, I felt seen. I distinctly remember reading your book on an airplane and, when I read that section, I flashed back to when I started looking into my Investing Practice – I think I was deep in Obliger-rebellion, overwhelmed at work, and trying to find a way out while still being able to pay my bills.

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

    Danielle: I didn’t know inflation was destroying my savings without me doing anything wrong! Finding that out changed everything, and pushed me towards building the habit of my Investing Practice, which has created so much happiness in my life. It probably sounds ridiculous to those who are aware of it, but did you know that inflation reduces the buying power of your savings? I didn’t know that, because I had never connected inflation to my own personal money like that. I thought savings were incredibly safe, but they’re not safe from inflation.

    Inflation on average is 3% per year. Which means that just to stay even, just to keep my money and not lose it, I have to get 3% per year on my money. No one had EVER told me that. It still blows me away. Why don’t they teach this stuff in school? And I have a father who is a long-term value investor, and I didn’t know. So when I found that out, I knew had to do something with my money simply to not lose it, and I still hemmed and hawed and tried to avoid learning how to invest. I’m such a reluctant investor. Investing is often scary, volatile, and emotional. Of course it is - we get virtually no financial education but live in an incredibly complex financial world. But now my practice of investing - which I treat as a practice, just like yoga or meditation – has, surprisingly, become such a wonderful part of my life because it’s not really about making money. Money is a nice byproduct. But the real reward is in the learning, studying, and appreciating knowing so much more about my world around me, and then getting to make a difference by voting for my values with my investing dollars.

    Gretchen: How does bringing your values into your Investing Practice make you happier?

    Danielle: It makes me feel like a joyful warrior – who knew investing could do that? My money is a vote, and if it’s in the market, it’s being voted – even if I didn’t choose the companies my money supports. That vote still counts. Which means that if I’m not choosing the companies my money supports because it’s in a fund or index, it probably is literally helping companies do things I hate – polluting, hurting animals, treating employees poorly, just to name a few things that are important to me to avoid. Once I took my power back and started voting my money myself in wonderful companies for the long-term, it made the process of learning about investing in the markets so much more interesting, because now it’s personal. We little investors control so much of the market that, if we all voted consciously with our money, we literally could change the entire market. If we took our money out of companies doing terrible things, those companies would change or die, quickly. They really would. Within a year, probably. We have so much power, and we have the skills, we just need a bit of knowledge about how to use it. It makes me happy to use it for good.

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

    Danielle: Meditating. I’ve practiced Transcendental Meditation since I was ten years old, and it consistently reduces my stress and gives me an experience of stillness that I draw on in many situations outside of meditation. Knowing that I have that experience inside me, no matter what, gives me the groundedness to be brave and take leaps like quitting my law firm job and moving to another country.

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

    Danielle: Staying up late is a terrible habit of mine. Lack of sleep really negatively affects me. After a string of days of little sleep, I get pessimistic and down and start feeling depressed. Someone called out that connection between sleep and getting pessimistic for me a few years ago, and it was really helpful to be made aware of it. Now, I try to notice those negative thoughts instead of being consumed by them, and review whether I’ve been sleeping enough, and I almost always haven’t been. It’s pretty amazing how much rosier the world looks in the morning after a night of great sleep.

    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.?

    Danielle: I am extremely introverted, which means that people pull energy from me instead of giving energy to me. Not a bad thing, just how it is. I had always felt uncomfortable about being introverted, but reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet was a life-changing lightning bolt that made me realize it was ok to be me – or, as you would put it, to Be Danielle. Her research proves it’s not only ok to be introverted, it’s beneficial in many ways. Our world is not particularly conducive to introversion, though. I remember being called ‘shy’ in a derogatory way when I was a kid and being constantly pushed to be around people. My respite after a long day at school was to come home and get to read alone in my room, and I remember one afternoon my mom asked me, “Why don’t you make plans to play with your friends after school?” All at once it occurred to me for the first time that that was something the other kids did, so I was different, and also, I didn’t want to do that at all. After all, I had just spent all day with those friends. But I tried to be “normal” and more social and carried that effort with me my whole life. So reading Quiet, as a 35-year-old attorney, taught me more about myself than I could have imagined. I understood why I went into law – because I loved getting to spend long hours thinking out an agreement or problem – and why I was miserable in my legal practice – because we didn’t have long hours to think; work had to be done quickly and while being constantly pulled away to answer emails within a few minutes of them arriving and juggle clients. I realized that’s probably why many lawyers are unhappy. We go into it for the intellectual challenge and deep thought, and come out of it into a peripatetic job managing the constant needs of others. The two don’t match up. I started thinking seriously about my future and how to structure my life so that it fit me, instead of me trying to fit it.

    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?

    Danielle: I remind myself to be thankful for my problems. I struggle with gratefulness practice because it feels a bit forced to me, and I don’t like that feeling. But noticing my problems and being thankful for them – that they’re not bigger, that there might be a silver lining to them, that they show me what’s important to me – is simply noticing reality and shifting perspective a little bit. There was an investor in Japan, Wahei Takeda, who was often called the Warren Buffett of Japan, and he actually required that the companies he invested in have thankfulness as an institutional practice. If they refused, he pulled his money out. I think it showed him whether the people running those companies shared his values or not, and he didn’t want to be supporting a company of people who didn’t share his values. And neither do I.

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