Tagged: Books Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • gretchenrubin 11:00:23 on 2018/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , , relatonships,   

    Want to Be Happier in Romance? “Focus on What’s Going Right in the Relationship, Rather than Dwelling on What’s Going Wrong.” 

    Interview: Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski.

    Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski are the co-authors of a new book, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts

    They're both positive psychology experts, and they're also married to each other -- very fitting, given their subject! In their book, they use the principles of positive psychology to help people figure out how to create thriving romantic relationships.

    I was very interested to hear what they had to say about happiness, habits, and making more loving relationships.

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

    James: Reading together quietly or playing family games with our adorable seven-year-old son Liam.

    Suzie: Tackling -- or ideally completing -- the New York Times crossword puzzle.

    Gretchen: You’ve highlighted fascinating positive psychology research in your book Happy Together and your Romance & Research workshops you’ve conducted across the world. What has surprised or intrigued you the most?

    In most areas of our lives we understand that it takes hard work to achieve our goals. For example, we don’t just land a job and sit back coasting along thinking it’ll turn into our dream job without effort. Or we don’t buy a gym membership and only go once expecting to have a fitter and more toned body overnight. Instead, we work hard by taking training classes to excel in our career, and training at the gym to help strengthen our body. Yet when it comes to our romantic relationships we seem to think that after meeting our special someone and committing to him or her that “happily ever after” just happens. That’s not the case, except in fairy tales. It’s healthy habits that helps build love over the long term.

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

    Suzie: For optimal health, creativity and productivity having a daily routine that consists of exercise and spending time in nature is crucial for me.  It calms my nerves and helps me to focus better. While I can get by without them, I find that I don’t thrive without these two key habits.

    James: Having a regular sleep schedule and waking early and starting my day with meditation is what makes me feel focused, creative, and productive. These habits are life-fueling. They energize me and provide me with the clarity that I need throughout the day to make the best decisions at work and at home.

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

    One ongoing challenge we have is James’s teaching and speaking schedule. Every few weeks, he teaches weekend classes in the masters program he directs, and he travels frequently to give talks and attend conferences. In light of this schedule, we try to be flexible and plan in advance to figure out how we are going to maintain our healthy habits like regular exercise, reading time, and meditation. One thing we do is try to stay at hotels with gyms or access to outdoor running paths, and we optimize our air time by reading and meditating.

    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.?

    We discovered after getting together that we both had a very similar lightning bolt moment after reading Marty Seligman’s fascinating book Learned Optimism. The book talks about how we have the ability to teach ourselves to choose healthy thoughts, thereby enabling us to choose happiness. The book was what lead each of us on our own individual journey to delve into the science of positive psychology. And it’s what brought us together.

    Gretchen: What is one of the most important habits you recommend in your book to people on how to be “Happy Together?”

    We recommend couples focus on what is going right in the relationship, rather than dwelling on what’s going wrong.  One way to do that is to focus on our partner’s strengths and see your relationship through a lens of strengths. Positive psychology researchers have identified 24 strengths that have been valued across time and cultures that each of us possess to varying degrees. Things like: creativity, zest, love of learning, leadership, kindness, etc. It’s what make us unique. We invite readers to find out what their top five strengths are by taking the free Via Survey that is here on our website.

    Gretchen: How can people actively practice using their strengths every day?

    Once people have discovered their top 5 strengths, commonly referred to as one’s “signature strengths,” we recommend they practice using them in new ways. First, select one of your signature strengths. Next, brainstorm some ways you can use this strength more in your life, and write down a list of specific steps you could take for applying this strength in healthy ways. Use this strength in a new way every day for the next week. Each day, choose a different activity from your list or you could come up with a new idea. The point is to experiment with seven new ways you can use this strength over the course of the week.

    Gretchen: Can you suggest one healthy habit couples can do together to help practice using their strengths?

    We suggest couples go on a “strengths date.” A strengths date is where you pick a top strength of yours (say, zest) and one of your partner’s (say, love of learning). And you organize a date that will enable you each to use your strength. A personal example from our own lives is that we rented Segways to do a guided tour of the historical part of Philadelphia. At the end of the date Suzie’s sense of adventure, or strength of zest, was sated and James’s love of learning was fulfilled.  A mutually satisfying date for both of us! Remember to take turns arranging the dates (or plan them together) -- and the important thing is to have fun while connecting in new ways.

  • gretchenrubin 20:43:41 on 2018/01/11 Permalink
    Tags: Books, Greer Hendricks,   

    “When I Dread a Task, I Remind Myself, ‘The Only Way Past It Is Through It.’” 

    Interview: Greer Hendricks.

    Greer Hendricks is one of my favorite people, and someone who had a huge influence on my life as a writer: she was the first editor to buy one of my books. She and I worked together to publish Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide. What a joy it was to write that book -- and what a joy to work with Greer! We were both early in our careers, and it was such a happy experience.

    She had a long run as a highly successful and respected editor, with more than two decades at Simon & Schuster -- and now she has switched positions, and become the author.

    With her co-author Sarah Pekkanen, she wrote the new psychological thriller, The Wife Between Us. Even before it hit the shelves, this novel generated a huge amount of buzz and excitement, with starred reviews, a movie deal, and comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I just got my copy, and I can't wait to dive in!

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

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

    Greer: Exercise.  I work out first thing in the morning usually seven days a week -- a mixture of running, interval weight training and yoga (which I do with my husband on Sundays).  I find that no matter what curveballs are thrown at me during the day I am much better equipped to handle them if I’ve moved my body.

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

    Greer: I think most 18-year-olds probably think habits = boring, but I now believe that structure can set you free.  If you have habits or an infrastructure in place then you don’t have to spend time making decisions.  For example, my husband and I have coffee together outside the home every Saturday morning.  We devote this time to going over our calendars (with two working parents, two teenagers and two dogs scheduling can be tricky) and various other logistical details -- which ice hockey program seems best for our daughter, how much do want to donate to a particular charity, should we enroll our son in an innovative, but time-consuming allergy study.  I can’t say I look forward to these meetings, but they help our home run more smoothly.  And if we aren’t scrambling around at the last minute to sort out mismatched schedules we have more time for fun things like sneaking in a movie or a boozy brunch.

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

    Greer: Checking social media. After editing a lot of bestselling authors, I’ve now flipped roles: My first book, The Wife Between Us, co-authored with Sarah Pekkanen, one of my former authors, is about to be published, and I found that I was on Facebook and Instagram many times a day. I finally deleted the apps from my phone because they were becoming too distracting.  If I  need to check them I can go to my laptop (strategy of inconvenience).

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

    Greer: I am a firm believer in getting at least 7 hours of sleep, exercising daily and eating fairly healthily.  I think if you have these foundational elements in place it’s easier to be creative productive and happy. I also feel less guilty about the vices I do indulge in pretty regularly: a sweet treat during the day, and a glass of wine or two at the end of the night.

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

    Greer:I think I was actually one of the beta testers on your quiz.  In fact I remember a lunch with you where you asked me a bunch of questions and diagnosed me as an Upholder. I’ve since taken your quiz multiple times and indeed I am an Upholder  Although a part of me still wonders if I’m an Obliger who has just figured out how to uphold my commitments by being accountable to others. I have a writing partner, and we block out a huge chunk of the day to devote to our novels. I have a personal trainer and I plan most of my runs with friends.

    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.?

    Greer: Before I started writing I had been an editor at Simon & Schuster -- as you know since I edited your first book! When I landed my first job I remember asking a more seasoned editor how he got over losing books he wanted to acquire. I simply couldn't imagine that kind of devastation.  As I approached my 20 year anniversary I participated in a heated auction to acquire a new author and the author chose another editor. I was upset, but then I realized part of my dismay wasn’t for the right reasons. I was sad because the selection had bruised my ego, not simply because I felt distraught that I wouldn’t have a chance to edit and publish the book.  That’s when I realized that although I loved my colleagues and many of the authors I’d edited through the years, I needed a change. The joy I had felt for nearly two decades was no longer as vibrant and while I am sure there are many editors who can do their job without that kind of passion, I didn’t want to. I talked over the decision with my husband and gave notice a few weeks later.

    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?

    Greer: The only way past it is through it.  When I dread a task -- filling out tricky insurance forms, a challenging rewrite or a difficult conversation -- I remind myself of these words and forge forward.

    Also, one of my favorite mottos is one I learned from you: accept yourself, and expect more from yourself.  Over the years I have learned to accept that I don’t like to ski or that I am not great with numbers, but to also expect more - to work on making my relationships stronger, to try and conquer some of my fears (driving, for example), and to write a book, which has been a lifelong goal.

  • gretchenrubin 12:00:35 on 2017/12/28 Permalink
    Tags: Books, Courtney Carver, , , simplicity   

    “I Will Not Say ‘Yes’ When My Heart Says ‘No.’” 

    Interview: Courtney Carver.

    I love the subject of clutter-clearing. So, of course, I'm intrigued by the work of Courtney Carver -- her site declares: "Are you overwhelmed with clutter and busyness? It's time to create a life with more clarity, ease, and joy." Wonderful.

    Her new book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More is just hitting the shelves.

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

    Courtney: Sugar! I’m so much happier without it but I love it. When I’m in a sugar rut, I’m moodier. When I quit sugar for long periods of time, I'm much happier. Like you, Gretchen, I'm an Abstainer when it comes to sugary treats:  it's easier for me to have none than one. When I've intentionally quit sugar for a period of time, I don't crave it or think about it that much after the first day or two. I love that feeling of not having to decide how much is too much because when I am eating sugar, I don't want one cookie, or one bite of dessert. I want it all. Why do I go back? Just thinking about it makes me less happy.

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

    Courtney: My morning routine fuels better health, creativity, and productivity. It includes some combination of writing, meditation, reading, yoga and walking. Whether I practice my morning routine for 5 minutes or 3 hours, it always allows me to move through the day with more purpose and focus.

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

    Courtney: I created my morning routine through habit stacking, and it has stuck with me for more than 10 years. I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I stacked 5 minutes of writing. The next week I added 5 minutes of meditation. From there I raised the time of each activity by a minute each week. Once I had a 30-minute routine, I was able to easily swap in new activities or extend the time spent on certain activities.

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

    Courtney: At first I thought I was an Upholder but after taking the quiz, I discovered I’m a Questioner.

    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.?

    Courtney:  In 2006 after months of debilitating vertigo and fatigue I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. After learning how stress can cause MS exacerbations, I decided to quit stress and simplified my entire life. While the changes I made took many years, my decision to prioritize love and health was immediate. I share more about my lightning bolt moment, and the changes MS inspired in my life in my new book, Soulful Simplicity. From changing my diet to becoming debt-free, clutter-free, changing careers and downsizing from a big house to a small apartment, simplicity was at the heart of every change. Living with less has given me the opportunity to create more health and love in my life.

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

    Courtney: I will not say yes when my heart says no.

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

    Courtney: Writing down anything on my mind first thing in the morning makes me happier. It’s my way of clearing mental clutter before starting the day. I don’t share or read what I write so it’s more about the action than what ends up on the page

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

    Courtney: Consistency is more important than intensity. The all or nothing, weekend warrior approach to incorporating healthy habits usually results in burnout. Showing up regularly, even if it's only for a few minutes at a time contributes to creating long-lasting habits. I'm a big fan of habit stacking. For instance, when I created my morning routine, I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I added 5 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of writing. Then, I added a minute a week to each activity. It took me weeks to build up to a 30 minute routine, but the method worked. The slow build resulted in a meaningful morning routine that I've been practicing for more than 1o years.

  • gretchenrubin 17:54:54 on 2017/12/14 Permalink
    Tags: Books, , Robin Benway   

    “When Writing, I Procrastinate for Weeks, Then I Write a Huge Chunk in a Few Days.” 

    Interview: Robin Benway.

    I've written many times about how I'm a huge, raving fan of children's and young-adult literature. I read these books as a child, and I continue to read them as an adult. I'm in three (yes, three) book groups where we talk about kidlit. (If you want to see my list of my 81 favorite works of children's literature, it's here.)

    The other night, I attended the National Book Awards party, where Robin Benway won the 2017 prize for Young People's Literature for her book Far from the Tree. She's written several other popular, award-winning novels for young adults.

    I have my copy of Far from the Tree, and I'm saving for my most delicious holiday reading -- can't wait to dive in.

    Because I'm such a fan of YA literature, I wanted to hear what Robin had to say about happiness and good habits.

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

    Robin: Walking my dog in the morning and afternoon. I think I enjoy it more than he does! As a writer, it's easy to stay inside in front of the computer all day, but with Hudson, I get to go out and chat with my neighbors, see what's going on in the neighborhood, get the gossip, etc. I also talk to my mom most mornings, either via phone or text, and she always makes me laugh. I look to her as a model for being a happy person because she just wakes up ready to go each morning. It takes me about 90 minutes and two cups of coffee to get to that point.

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

    Robin: I was such a people-pleaser at 18 years old, and I cared so much about what people thought about me, which could be so exhausting! I turned 40 this year and I don't know if it's age or just getting sick of worrying about it, but I'm much more selfish now, in a good way!

    When I was working on the book that eventually became Far From the Tree, I kept missing deadlines because I just couldn't get the book to work. I finally called my editor and said, "I don't have any ideas, I need to start over." Missing a deadline (or two...or, ahem, three) would have been unfathomable to me 20 years ago, but it was the right thing for the book. It would have been so much worse to deliver a book that I knew wasn't working. I've learned to protect myself and my work almost like a mama bear, and I think we're both better for it.

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

    Robin: For health, water, sleep, sunscreen, and Vitamin D supplements. I also cook most of my meals at home. I'm a Type 1 diabetic, so knowing that I have healthy food waiting for me erases a lot of anxiety, so when I know I'm heading out for a few weeks of travel, I make a big batch of soup or turkey meatballs to freeze so I can walk in the door and have an actual meal. I also take a photo of the inside of my refrigerator before I leave so I can remember what to buy at the grocery store on the way home.

    For productivity, running to-do lists on my Gmail account. I make a draft email and constantly update it so I can access it from anywhere. It keeps me from waking up at 3 am worrying about all of the things I have to do. (Most nights, anyway.) I've tried so many organizational apps, but the email draft is the thing that works best for me.

    For creativity, I meet friends for writing dates in coffee shops around Los Angeles. It's like having a workout buddy, but instead we just sit and write. When I was working on Far From the Tree, those dates were crucial because I was doing everything in my power to not write the book given how much I was struggling with it early on. I knew friends were waiting for me to show up, though, and I would drag myself out of the house and end up writing a few thousand words with them.

    For leisure, I truly love making up stupid songs to sing to my dog. Again, this is something that I enjoy way more than he does.

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

    Robin: When I travel, I cut myself some slack for healthy habits. I once heard a great piece of advice that said there are three main aspects to health: diet, exercise, and sleep, and to try to maintain two of the three when traveling, so that's what I try to do. If I'm running on 4 hours of sleep, I'll get the salad and walk around in the airport. And then of course there are days when all three things go out the window!

    When I’m writing, I will procrastinate for weeks on end, and then I'll write a huge chunk within a few days. For Far From the Tree, I wrote the last two-thirds of the book in roughly two weeks, which obliterated any and all of my healthy habits. It didn't even feel like writing, it felt like I was channeling the characters, and I was afraid that if I stopped writing, their voices would be gone. So I just didn't stop!

    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.?

    Robin: At one point, I was working on a book idea that just wasn't going anywhere, and I truly thought my career was over. I couldn't make the idea work, no matter how many times I reworked it. I told my editor I needed to step back and figure out my next move. It's hard to look back now and think about how heartbreaking that time was. Writing has been my friend, my comfort, since I was eight years old, so to lose that connection AND feel like it might never come back was so painful. I felt like I was the biggest failure. I couldn't even talk about it with my friends, I felt so ashamed.

    Then a week or so after saying that I needed to step back for a while, I was in the car and heard the opening lyrics of a Florence + the Machine song. I instantly —I mean, INSTANTLY— knew that I wanted to write a book about three siblings who had been separated as babies and placed for adoption. I had such a clear vision of the middle sister, Grace, getting pregnant and putting her own daughter up for adoption, and how that loss leads her to look for her birth family. I knew all of the characters' names, their stories, everything. To this day, I have no idea how or why that happened. There's a very strange alchemy when it comes to creativity, and I think it was one of those moments that's truly inexplicable, especially given everything that's happened with the book and how well people have reacted to it. It recently won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, which is an honor beyond anything I could have imagined for my career. I feel very grateful that I get to keep writing books, and that people still want to read them.

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

    Robin: My driver's ed teacher gave me the best piece of I've ever heard. In the driving simulator, he used to say "Look there, get there." He meant, "Pay attention to the road so you don't mow down a pedestrian," but I think it's a great rule to live by. If you want something, aim in that direction and go for it. Take the class, take a chance, do the thing. No one gets what they want or achieves a goal by accident. Even Powerball winners have to buy the ticket.

  • gretchenrubin 20:25:46 on 2017/12/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , Books, , ,   

    Need Holiday Gift-Giving Ideas? Here are the 7 Books I Most Often Give as Gifts. 

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

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

    1. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes.

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

    2. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander.

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

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

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

    4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

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

    5. Selected Essays by George Orwell.

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

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

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

    7. Open by Andre Agassi.

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

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

    What books do you most often give as gifts?

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

  • gretchenrubin 22:06:09 on 2017/12/08 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, , ,   

    Looking for Holiday Gifts? Consider These Suggestions. (Warning: Blatant Self-Promotion!) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • gretchenrubin 21:19:32 on 2017/11/21 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, , , ,   

    What Do You Plan to Read Tomorrow?–Apparently It’s the Biggest Reading Day of the Year? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    --Scarlett Thomas, PopCo

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

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

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

  • gretchenrubin 22:17:07 on 2017/11/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , Books, , , , ,   

    Revealed! 7 Brilliant Books About the Nature of Creativity. 

    For sparking my own creativity, I find people’s descriptions of their own creative processes more useful (and certainly more interesting) than books that analyze creativity or suggest creativity exercises.

    I love many books on this subject, and here are just a few of my favorites.

    Each one of these books is fascinating and can be read with pleasure by anyone, whether or not you're interested specifically in creativity.

    Bob Dylan, Chronicles

    This a haunting, brilliant book, and I don't even listen to Bob Dylan's music (fact: I don't really listen to any music very much). For instance, I've read and re-read his description of his reaction to folk songs.

    Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters

    In the last few years, I've developed a new interest in reading books of letters, and this is my very favorite. O'Connor brilliantly describes her work and writing process -- in her own inimitable language.

    Edward Weston, The Flame of Recognition

    These journal entries are brief and marvelous. His description of his reaction to green peppers! Mind-blowing.

    Twyla Tharp: The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

    This book is a bit more prescriptive than the others. Crammed with insights, ideas, and illustrations from her own life about how to spark creativity.

    W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

    This is a perceptive, fascinating book about writing and observing.

    Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

    I've read this book countless times. Countless. I've practically memorized several passages.

    Mason Currey, Daily Rituals:How Artist Work

    This book is different from the others -- it summarizes the daily habits of writers, painters, scientists, choreographers, and other kinds of creative people. It demonstrates an important truth: there is no single "best way" to spark creativity. Different approaches work for different people. The most creative and productive people figure out what they need to do their best work, and make sure that they have the environment they need.

    What are some of your favorite books about creativity? I love this subject, so would love to add some suggestions to my To Be Read list.

  • gretchenrubin 13:00:04 on 2017/10/19 Permalink
    Tags: , Books, , , , Tim O'Reilly,   

    The Future and Why We Should “Work on Stuff that Matters.” 

    Interview: Tim O'Reilly.

    Tim O'Reilly is the founder and head of O'Reilly Media. Of all the people writing and speaking about the interrelated issues of emerging technology, media, work, and government, he is one of the most thoughtful and far-sighed.

    His new book just hit the shelves. WTF: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us is a combination of memoir, business strategy guide, and call to action related to the future of technology -- and the future of all of us.

    I was interested to hear his views on habits, happiness, productivity, and creativity.

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

    Tim: Every morning, before I plunge into work, checking my devices and getting pulled into the digital whirl, I do some yoga or go running, and do morning chores -- feeding my backyard chickens, emptying the dishwasher, hanging the laundry that I ran overnight, making tea for my wife and for myself. I treat morning chores as a kind of meditation. Hanging laundry on the line is especially like that for me. It's a wonderful practice that saves energy, makes clothes last longer, and gives me a chance to watch the sunrise over my back yard.

    The clothesline is also the subject of one of my favorite poems, Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" and one of my favorite thought pieces, Steve Baer's "The Clothesline Paradox." Back in 1970, Baer described how in our metrics-obsessed society, we ignore what we can't measure. When we put our clothes in the dryer, our collective electric bill goes a bit higher. When we put them on the line, we don't say "look, a win for renewable energy." It just disappears from our accounting.

    I've used this wonderful thought experiment over the years to talk about the economic value of open source software and internet enabled collaboration, and more recently, in my book WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, as a way of talking about how we might get to a "caring economy" in which machines do more of the routine work, and what humans do to care for each other becomes more deeply valued.

    Lots of folks are worried about robots and the "jobless" future. I'm worried that we won't use the fruits of machine productivity to give people more freedom to spend their time caring for each other, being creative, and yes, getting work done (though not necessarily through the limiting 19th century construct of the job, as something provided by someone else.)

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

    Tim: There are a lot of things you learn as you get older, most of them having to do with the interrelated values of discipline and moderation. Irving Yalom once wrote "First will what is necessary. Then love what you will." This is incredibly good life advice. Decide what you need to do, make a habit of it, and come to love it rather than resent it. That applies to the habits of householding, to exercise and diet, to work, and to taking the time to reach out to friends and family. It is so easy to be full of resentment against the things that we feel are keeping us from our joy. Finding joy in what needs doing is magical.

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

    Tim: Being tethered to a phone or the internet. When I am out of cell range, or leave my phone at home, I feel unaccountably freer. I don't realize how much the simple presence of the device pulls on me until it is out of reach.

    I have been thinking more and more about setting out big blocks of time when I put it deliberately out of reach.

    I remember vividly when I first had this experience, around 1984. I had my first internet-connected Unix workstation in my home office. Unlike a PC, which you tended to turn off when you were done. This was always on, always connected. My office was in a converted barn next to my house, and I could feel it calling to me. Everyone now lives with devices all the time, and they are changing us in ways we don't entirely understand.

    Clay Johnson gave some good advice years ago in a book called The Information Diet, which turned out to be quite prescient. He urged his readers to manage their information intake, and to take the time to produce thoughtful content, rather than just mindlessly sucking it in.

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

    Tim: In addition to my aforementioned morning routine, probably the most important habit is one that I had dropped for some time in favor of time with my phone, but which has now regained its place in my life, with great results: reading books. Sustained time with another mind rather than constant media snacking is so important!

    Poetry is one of the joys of my life. There are more tools for living in a good poem than most people realize. When I was going through a midlife crisis, I found enormous guidance in T. S. Eliot's "East Coker," which is a poem about the necessity for things to be torn down so that something new can be built.

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

    Tim: I ran in high school, and at a few times after that, but I'd lost it as a regular habit. What brought it back was doing it together with my fiancé (now my wife). Working together to maintain good habits is incredibly powerful. 

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

    Tim: When I took the test, I came out as a Questioner, but I find myself with so many elements of the others. In my personal life, I'm a strong Obliger. In my public life, definitely a Questioner. In my business, a mix of questioner and upholder. I even find streaks of Rebel, which mostly comes out when I find myself "bitten to death by ducks"--beleaguered by constant requests for attention from my over-extended network. [Yes, this response absolutely confirms that you are a Questioner.]

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

    Tim: Travel definitely makes it harder to avoid eating too much, especially when it's coupled with business meals. One "hack" that my wife and I have used to reduce this burden is to share a single meal whenever possible. Restaurant portions are so large!

    As to exercise, it's important to make time for it even when you travel. So I always bring exercise clothes with me. And if it's possible, I try to incorporate exercise - and not necessarily vigorous exercise, but just movement - into my daily routine. On my recent trip to New York City, I used Citibike (bike share) or walking to get to all of my appointments. I try to do that at home as well. And if I can do a "walking meeting" that is almost always preferable to sitting around a table.

    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.?

    Tim: Absolutely. Around 2010, I read a line in a novel, Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon, that set off a mid-life crisis, and led me to change my life in major ways. "Given that we can live only a small part of what there is in us, what happens to the rest?" This really struck a nerve. When I was a kid reading science fiction, I thought that I would one day write a book that involved a character who was able to live out the consequence of different life choices, different branching futures, rather than being stuck with the consequences of a single choice. Living in another country for a while can give you this kind of completely new experience, or changing your job. It's so easy to get into ruts, and forget how to let go. The year before I read that, I kept having a line from the Tao Te Ching keep going through my head, but I didn't know what it meant: "Keep stretching the bow, you repent of the pull." I didn't realize how stretched thin I was by the constant demands of work, and this odd new compulsion to feed a social media following on Twitter. That was the beginning of my wrestling with the social media sickness that has pervaded so much of our society.

    Don't get me wrong. I love social media for the ways it lets me keep in touch with people. But in the same way that abundance of calories and a lack of exercise can make us fat, an abundance of empty social calories and lack of vigorous mental exercise and true social contact can make our minds and our feelings flabby and lacking in lustre.

    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?

    Tim: There are so many. I am full of quotations that spring to mind on every occasion. But I want to share the goal that animates us at my company, O'Reilly Media: "Create more value than you capture."

    At a company management retreat around 2000, I remember telling the stories of several internet billionaires who'd told me they'd started their company with the aid of an O'Reilly technical book. We got $35, they got $Billions. That seemed like a wonderful thing -- that the work we did could have such an impact on other people's lives. Brian Erwin, then our VP of marketing, said our slogan ought to be "We create more value than we capture." We've been using it ever since, though as a call to action rather than a self-description.

    Another similar sentiment that I've use to shape my company has been widely posterized on the internet:  "Money in a business is like gas in your car. You don't want to run out, but your business is not a tour of gas stations." And of course that ties to another one of my mantras: "Work on stuff that matters."

    We really try to live by these principles in our business decision making at O'Reilly, and our economy would be better off if everyone did the same. In my book, WTF? What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us, I share lessons from the great technology platforms. There's a lot in there about how AI, and on demand networks, and other technologies are reshaping the business landscape, the economy, and the future of work, but there are also lessons about generosity that I've taken from watching the rise and fall of technology platforms. New waves of innovation that I've been part of -- the personal computer industry, open source software, the internet, the maker movement, even AI -- have been kicked off through a gift to the world. IBM published the specifications for their personal computer, and let anyone build one. Tim Berners-Lee put the web into the public domain. But then I've watched again and again as companies come along, gain control of the new technology, dry up the innovation, taking too much of the value for themselves and forcing entrepreneurs to go elsewhere. Right now, Google and Facebook and Apple are following in the footsteps of Microsoft, learning none of the lessons that brought Microsoft down from its peak of control over the industry.

    Those same lessons apply to our broader economy. Our financial markets have become extractive rather than a support for the real market of goods and services. "Investment" no longer means investing in people or factories. It means placing bets on stocks, and trying to manipulate them so they go higher, whether or not any value has been created. When Carl Icahn bought $3.6 billion in Apple stock, Apple didn't need his money. They had billions on hand. He was hoping to get them to do stock buybacks to artificially drive up the price, in fact extracting value from Apple rather than creating it.

    This is what's wrong with our economy writ large. "Investors" are not really investors. They are bettors in the financial market casino, while the world's great problems -- and the people who could be solving them -- are no longer seen as the proper focus for investment. We have told our companies to optimize for "the bottom line," while treating people as a cost to be eliminated. It doesn't have to be that way. We can build an economy that treats people as an asset to invest in.

    I think that we're in a wonderful teachable moment because of what is happening with Facebook. People can see that Facebook created newsfeed algorithms that didn't quite do what Mark Zuckerberg and his team expected. They thought that by showing people more of what they liked and re-shared with their friends, they'd create an engaging social platform that reinforced the connections between people. They didn't expect that it would increase hyper-partisanship, and that spammers and foreign governments would exploit the system. We can see that they need to fix their system. In a similar way, the economists whose theories shaped business and politics didn't mean to create an opioid epidemic, but they did. When, in 1970, Milton Friedman said that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, and when, a few years later, Michael Jensen began to preach the gospel of shareholder value maximization and the need to align executive compensation with rising stock prices, they didn’t mean to create the devastation they wreaked on the economy, but it’s time to recognize it.

    I believe that we can create an economy where people matter.

compose new post
next post/next comment
previous post/previous comment
show/hide comments
go to top
go to login
show/hide help