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  • feedwordpress 10:00:09 on 2019/02/21 Permalink
    Tags: Ashley Whillans, , , Harvard Business Review, Interview, , , Time for Happiness,   

    “If Time is Money, Money Can Also Buy Happier Time.” 


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    Interview: Ashley Whillans

    Ashley Whillans is a Harvard Business School professor and behavioral scientist whose research explores the connection between how we spend time to how we experience happiness. Her recent Harvard Business Review series "Time Poor and Unhappy" looks at why we feel so starved for time today when, in fact, we have more discretionary hours than ever before.

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

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

    Ashley: My colleagues and I have conducted survey and experimental research with nearly 100,000 working adults from around the world. Across studies, we find that the happiest people prioritize time over money. People who are willing to give up money to gain more free time—such as by working fewer hours or paying to outsource disliked tasks—experience more fulfilling social relationships, more satisfying careers, and more joy. Overall, people who prioritize time over money live happier lives. Importantly, the benefits of choosing time over money emerge for the wealthy and less wealthy alike. Even spending as little as $40 to save time can significantly boost happiness and reduce stress. Our research suggests that even small actions—like savoring our meals, engaging in 30 minutes of exercise, or having a 5-minute conversation with a colleague (vs. focusing on work) can significantly shape happiness, more than most of us predict.

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

    Ashley: Over and over, I find that prioritizing time over money increases happiness. Despite this, most people continue striving to make more money. For example, in one survey, only 48 percent of respondents reported that they would rather have more time than more money. Even the majority of people who were most pressed for time—parents with full-time jobs and young children at home—shared this preference for money over time. In another study, the very wealthy (i.e., individuals with over 3 million dollars of liquid wealth sitting in the bank) did not always prioritize time over money either. These data suggest that a key challenge to reducing feelings of time stress and increasing happiness for a broad range of the population is psychological: most people erroneously believe that wealth will make our lives better. Research shows that once people make more than enough to meet their basic needs, additional money does not reliably promote greater happiness. Yet over and over, our choices do not reflect this reality.

    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.?

    Ashley: As a happiness researcher, I should know better than to choose money over time. Yet, admittedly, like most people, I make these trade-offs suboptimally. I worked for an hour during my wedding reception and I can often be found typing on my laptop or taking work meetings in spa locker rooms. However, a recent experience solidified for me the importance of focusing on time over money. Two weeks ago, one of my closest friends from graduate school shared some devastating news: Her 32-year-old, fit, healthy partner was dying. Out of nowhere, her partner was diagnosed with terminal metastatic cancer. He was given three months to live. In her fundraising page my friend wrote, “We thought we had all the time in the world.” Today, my friend and her boyfriend ‘immediately-turned-husband’ are trying to savor every second of their time together before the inevitable. As a 30-year old myself, who has focused most of the last 10 years on my career (often at the expense of my sleep, my health, and my personal relationships), this experience was a wake-up call. None of us know how much time we have left, and we cannot take money with us. I have studied the importance of prioritizing time for years. And now, I have started truly trying to live this priority.

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

    Ashley: Benjamin Franklin wrote “Time is Money.” My personal mantra is a play on this familiar quote: “If Time is Money, Money Can Also Buy Happier Time."

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

    Ashley: The book that changed my life is Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. This book introduced me to the scientific study of well-being. Dan Gilbert argues that we often mispredict what will make us happy. His persuasive arguments and energetic, insightful and witty writing inspired me to become a social scientist. Specifically, this book solidified my interest in conducting research to learn how to successfully nudge all of us to spend our time and money in ways that are most likely to promote happiness.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:27 on 2019/02/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World, , Interview, Isabel Gillies, ,   

    “Making One’s Bed In My Mind Is the Most Direct Road to a Happier Life.” 


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    Interview: Isabel Gillies

    Now, how do I know Isabel Gillies? The answer is lost in the sands of time. We have several mutual friends, perhaps that's how.

    She has had a very interesting, varied career. She is an actor who appeared, among other places, on the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and in the movie Metropolitan.

    She's also a highly successful writer. Her bestselling memoir Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story recounts the story of how her first marriage broke up, while A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story is about the challenge of getting on with her life after the divorce; her young-adult novel Starry Night is about the passion of first love.

    Now in her latest book, she's tackled a different kind of subject: Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World.

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

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

    Isabel: Making one's bed in my mind is the most direct road to a happier life. It's manageable, satisfying and cozy.

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

    As I edge closer to 50, I find that happiness comes from trying the best you can to stay right in the very moment you are in. Don't worry about the past or future, just be in the moment. Noticing the light, or a smell, or the sound of the dog breathing will help you just be right where you are.

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

    I did a lot of research for Cozy, and what tickled me the most was that when I asked people what makes them cozy, everyone smiled.

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

    YES! I quit smoking. I used a nicotine patch. Right before I turned 25 I thought, "It's kind of sexy to see a young woman smoking, it's really not sexy to see an older woman smoking." I marched to the drug store, got the patch and never smoked again. It was about making up my mind, and committing.

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

    Upholder (just took the quiz).

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

    TEENAGERS! No, it's not them per se, it's my inability to stay in the moment, and put everything in its right place. Someone once told me that teenagers are on a roller coaster and as a parent your job is NOT to get on the roller coaster with them—just stand on the side. Sometimes I get on.

    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.?

    Even though I'm healthy (knock on wood), recently my doctor told me I had gained 12 pounds in 2 years. I have always eaten anything I wanted, whenever I wanted—but I guess when I hit menopause that all got turned on its ear. I walked out of his office and decided I would think more about calories in, calories out, and act on it daily—I got an app! I'm having radical acceptance about it. We change—what is there to do but deal with it?

    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?

    "Radical Acceptance."

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

    Stephen King's On Writing. When I decided to become a writer, I read his book and followed his lead. I'm dyslexic and was an actress. I never had any expectation of becoming a writer so I never took a class or workshop. King was my teacher.

    In the area you’re writing about, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    I'm writing about being cozy. I think people believe coziness is about fires, hot chocolate and cashmere sweaters. I'm making the case that coziness comes from the truth of who you are. You can be cozy on the subway; I always am. If you know what you like, your beat, your point of view, you can carry that anywhere you find yourself and call upon it to find coziness, even challenging circumstances like a hospital.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:19 on 2019/02/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Brave Not Perfect, Girls Who Code, Interview, Reshma Saujani   

    “Sometimes I Have to Remind Myself that Being the Best Me Doesn’t Mean Saying ‘Yes’ to Every Meeting.” 


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    Interview: Reshma Saujani

    Reshma Saujani founded a tech organization called Girls Who Code, and she served as the Deputy Public Advocate in the Office of the Public Advocate here in New York City.

    In addition to that, she's just written a new book: Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder.

    So many of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood are observations along these lines. Don't get it perfect, get it started. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If I'm not failing, I'm not trying hard enough. Enjoy the fun of failure. The best time to start is now. Wherever I am, and whenever it is, I'm in the right place to begin. Etc.

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

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

    Reshma: Getting in my morning workout! I know that I feel my best and I do my best when I’ve spent an hour sweating it out and showering before sitting down at my desk in the morning. And my favorite part? I schedule it to be inconvenient to others! Sure, my dog Stan needs to go for a walk and my son Shaan wants to play Rescue Bots with me, but I take that hour for me—and I’m a better mom, a better thinker, and a better boss for it.

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

    Reshma: When I was 18, I thought I had it all figured out—I was going to change the world, and that meant hitting every checkpoint along the way perfectly. I had to be the perfect immigrant daughter—I was going to go to Yale Law School like so many other politicians and I was going to get 100% in every class and do everything just right. And even though it took a few tries, I did that. I got into Yale and graduated with a law degree, but I still wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until I did something that totally terrified me—quitting my cushy job and running for office—that I realized that bravery (and sometimes failing!) really was the secret to living my best life.

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

    Reshma: I did a ton of research when writing Brave, Not Perfect, and one story that I can’t get out of my head right now is how deeply ingrained that impulse to please really is. One study from ABC News, with the help of psychologist Campbell Leaper from the University of California, is especially powerful—and the video is even better! The researchers gave groups of boys and girls a glass of lemonade that was objectively awful (they added salt instead of sugar) and asked how they liked it. The boys immediately said, “Eeech . . . this tastes disgusting!” All the girls, however, politely drank it, even choked it down. Only when the researchers pushed and asked the girls why they hadn’t told them the lemonade was terrible did the girls admit that they hadn’t wanted to make the researchers feel bad.

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

    Reshma: I think I’m an Obliger! [Gretchen: Yes, that certainly seems correct.] I’ve always struggled with perfectionism, and trying to do everything that was expected of me, but a lot of the times, I’ll give up on listening to myself. I’ve definitely been working on that, and I’m a lot better at doing things for me than I used to be.

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

    Reshma: If anything, I’m usually the one standing in the way of my own happiness! I’m a notorious vacation email-checker, and sometimes I have to remind myself that being the best me doesn’t mean saying yes to every meeting. There are definitely times where I’ve taken a look at my calendar and had to put on my brave face and email people to change my RSVP to no! It’s always a balance—and I’m still working on getting that right.

    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.?

    Reshma: My lightning bulb moment came in 2008. I was in a job that I hated, miles away from the life I thought I would be living and definitely not changing the world. I’d done everything “right”—gone to the “right” schools, met the “right” people, and taken the “right” jobs. But I was crying myself to sleep every night and dreading work every morning. When I heard Hillary Clinton giving her concession speech after the losing the primary, something she said struck me: that just because she failed doesn’t mean that the rest of us should give up on our goals and dreams. And I realized that there was no reason not to do exactly what I had always wanted to do: run for office! I called my dad, and I was so afraid to disappoint him, since there’s such a big pressure as a child of immigrant parents to have this perfect life. And what did he say when I said I was quitting my job? “It’s about time!” We’re our own harshest critics and so much of our perfectionism is actually self-imposed. The people in our lives, we think we are doing it all for them—but really they just want us to be happy.

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

    Reshma: One small thing that has totally been a game-changer for me is the word “yet.” Sometimes I get stuck in a rut of negativity, thinking “I’m not good at building my son’s toys,” “I can’t fix the broken setting on my computer,” or even “I’m just not good at saying no.” Tack on the word yet—and it’s a whole new mindset. Psychologist and motivational pioneer Carol Dweck referred to this as embracing the “power of yet” as opposed to “the tyranny of now.” It’s one of my favorite strategies for getting a little braver in my everyday life—I might not be there yet, but I will be one day.

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

    Reshma: First: I think we mistake perfection for excellence—and they are two different things. Excellence is a way of being, not a target you hit or miss. It allows you to take pride in the effort, regardless of the outcome. The irony is that perfectionism can actually impede excellence because the anxiety about screwing up that comes with perfectionism can actually be crippling.

    Second: there’s also a difference between striving for success and striving for perfection. So many women today are ambitious. But being a go-getter doesn’t make you gutsy. Perfectionism leads us to following the “expected path” without questioning if it’s genuinely right for us.

    brave not perfect

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 21:15:39 on 2019/01/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Interview, Mollie West Duffy, No Hard Feelings,   

    “Caring Too Much About a Job Is Unhelpful and Unhealthy.” 


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    What is the role of emotions in the workplace? How do you stay happy when other people are grouchy or stressed out? How do you unplug from work concerns to enjoy true leisure?

    I think about questions like these all the time, so I was very interested to hear about a new book, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work.

    Liz Fosslien is a strategy and design consultant who has worked with companies including Salesforce, Ernst & Young, and the Stanford d.School.

    Mollie West Duffy is an organizational designer at IDEO New York. She has helped companies and start-ups such as Casper develop good workplace culture.

    If you love a great self-assessment quiz, you can take their quiz about "Emotions and You" to help you understand yourself, your team, and your organization better. Also, if you preorder their book, they have a special bonus for you here.

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

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

    Liz: I take photos of any design that I find interesting. I recently photographed: lotion packaging at Trader Joe’s, a tiny neon snail graffiti, some vibrant bricks, a sparkly Peet’s coffee cup, tangled white and gray wires, and a patch of floor dust. When I feel stuck in a creative rut, I scroll through my weird photos for inspiration.

    Mollie: Exercising first thing in the morning. It can be a run, barre class, or even reading my email and the news on my ipad while walking on the treadmill. Even if I only do it for 20 minutes, it gives me energy for the day, and no matter what else happens the rest of the day, at least I’ve accomplished that.

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

    Liz: I wish I knew that happiness doesn’t mean always being happy. I used to fall into I’m-going-feel-like-this-forever spirals, which only made my bad feelings feel worse (e.g. I would get anxious about feeling anxious). Now when I have a blue moment, I realize it’s ok, and that I’ll feel better again soon.

    Mollie: That we have control over our own thoughts and thought patterns. I love the quote by Deepak Chopra: “There are only two things we can put our imagination to: one is anxiety, which is a form of imagination, and one is creativity. And we have to choose creativity in order to transform the world.”

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

    Liz: I knew that interviews aren’t the best way of assessing job applicants, but I was still surprised by this study: Yale Professor Jason Dana and his colleagues asked two groups of students to predict their classmates’ GPAs. One group only had access to past grades and current course enrollment, while the other was also allowed to conduct interviews. The students who interviewed their classmates were significantly worse at predicting future GPA. Even scarier, most didn’t notice that some interviewees had been instructed to give random and sometimes nonsensical responses.

    Mollie: Our readers are surprised to learn that emotions can also go viral. Researchers at Baylor University found a nasty coworker not only makes you and your family grumpy but may have a ripple effect that extends as far as your partner’s workplace. It happens like this: I come home irritated because of my crabby colleague and snap at my husband. He catches my bad mood and goes to work the next day equally irritable. My colleague’s sour attitude might then spread to my husband’s coworkers.

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

    Mollie: I’m constantly working at being a better sleeper. I often have a hard time falling asleep, even though I go to bed early. I have created an elaborate bedtime ritual that usually helps. I watch 10-15 minutes of a slow British TV show (I highly recommend Escape to the Country on Netflix) in bed to unwind, and then listen to a boring audiobook on a 30-minute sleep timer. I also sleep with an eye mask, earplugs, and a white noise machine. My husband is a comedian, and he has worked this ritual into a joke he tells on stage.

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

    Liz: I am a Questioner—I find it hard to work on something when there isn't a clear goal. The upside is that I can use specific and sometimes overly ambitious goals to motivate myself. When I wanted to learn HTML, I sketched out a complicated website design, and with that vision in mind, was able to slog through a bunch of tutorials and documentation and actually build it.

    Mollie: I am definitely an Upholder. My mom has been telling me to “do less” since I was a small child. I am such a creature of habit, so the Upholder “discipline is my freedom” motto really resonates with me. Liz and I worked well together with this tendency combination. With the help of many Google Drive folders and documents, I made sure that we met all our deadlines (our editors were shocked when we handed our manuscript in ahead of schedule!), and Liz saw that our finished product was pithy and punchy by questioning until each section was necessary and helpful.

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

    Mollie: As an Upholder and an introvert, I can take on too much. There are daily habits like exercise, reading, and meditation, that I need to do for myself. But I also like to meet work, social, and book obligations. When I get overscheduled, I get overwhelmed.

    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?

    Liz: I’ve always loved this line by Toni Morrison: “You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.” It’s a good reminder to say no sometimes and to stop listening to the “you can’t do this” monster that lives in your brain.

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

    Liz: I started drawing comics because of Calvin & Hobbes. There is a storyline where Calvin finds an injured raccoon and tries to nurse it back to health, but the raccoon doesn’t make it. Calvin and Hobbes mourn the raccoon and confront what it means to die. The entire story is told in black-and-white drawings, but it made me cry. To me, Calvin & Hobbes is such a shining example that you don’t need anything fancy to create a thing that will stick in someone’s heart forever.

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

    Liz and Mollie: We’re so often told to “pursue our passion.” It’s easy to assume that means we have to love every aspect of our job, and that work should consume us. But caring too much about a job is unhelpful and unhealthy. It makes small problems seem exceptional and throwaway remarks feel appalling. One of our new rules of emotion at work is to be less passionate about your job. This doesn’t mean don’t care, it just means keep a little more emotional distance between your identity and your work. This offers a solution to a lot of anguish! You won’t hyperventilate before a big presentation. You won’t be frustrated to tears by incompetent teammates. You will actually put your phone away on date night and you won’t be haunted by work FOMO as you backpack through Machu Picchu.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:32 on 2019/01/17 Permalink
    Tags: Aristotle, , , Edith Hall, Greek and Roman philosophy, Interview,   

    “People Need to Find When Their Brains Work Best and Fit Their Schedules Around That.” 


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    Interview: Edith Hall

    I love Edith Hall's short biography: "Edith Hall is a London University Academic who specialises in putting pleasure into the history, literature, theatre, myth and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome and their continuing impact in the modern world."

    It manages to convey not only her expertise but also her enthusiasm for her subject, and her passion for teaching others to appreciate the ideas and history that absorb her. (Also, from the spellings we know she's British.)

    Given her biography, it's very fitting that Edith Hall's new book is Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life

    "Read Aristotle" was one of the elements in the extremely long subtitle for my book The Happiness Project, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. (I love long subtitles, plus, ever since childhood I'd wanted to write a book with an "Or" title.)

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

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

    Edith: Daily switching off all social media and walking my dog in the local woods for an hour. Weekly cooking a full roast dinner with lots of interesting vegetables on Sunday for family and friends. Insisting everybody switches off all social media while we eat together.

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

    Being very judicious about whose opinion I care about. Women are trained culturally to want to be liked by everyone. But that is impossible because sibling rivalry, transferred out to our entire peer group in the world, makes envy such a motor in human life.

    There are some people whose opinion of you really, really matters. Building good long-term relationships is central to happiness, and it is essential to listen attentively to any complaints or criticisms from those whom I respect and want to live my life closely with. But there is a very large problem of envy and malice out there, which has become worse in the age of social media, and I, like many other people who try to do something creative with their lives, have suffered from a good deal of (what seem to me) unjustifiable attacks.

    But Aristotle says that if you are seriously trying to be the best version of yourself, and never damage people knowingly, then people who criticise you are inevitably motivated by envy, so their opinion really doesn’t matter at all. This realisation is incredibly liberating!

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

    I was amazed when I first started reading ancient Greek and Roman philosophy when I was an undergraduate to discover that between about 400 BC and 300 AD there was a whole tradition of non-religious discussion of the right way to live, morality, and the best routes to contentment. The ideas not only of Aristotle but of Socrates and Plato, the Stoics and other philosophers, can be adopted by anybody today, regardless of their religious or cultural or ethnic background. What’s more, they really work!

    When I talk to people of all ages about Aristotle’s recipe for deciding to live a happy life, they often write to me to say they can’t believe how modern and fresh and in tune with their own instinctive beliefs his method is.

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

    Fronting any problems with my family and close friends very swiftly and not stopping until they are resolved. I can’t work at all when emotionally disturbed or worried about those I love.

    Having a flight booked to go somewhere sunny soon when the dark November days draw in.

    I am an early riser and get twice as much work done, of any kind, between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. than at any other time of day. This does mean not going out late on weekday evenings, but it pays off tremendously. People need to find when their brains work best and then fit their daily schedules around that.

    I have always kept a cat and write best with one purring beside me. I love the way animals don’t judge you and just provide perfect, uncomplicated companionship.

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

    I struggled with my weight from childhood, as did my mother and sister. There was far too much instantly edible food in the fridge. After my pregnancies, when I ended up far heavier than I had ever been, I ditched all diets and just moved to only two meals a day, one of them light, and if I’m not hungry I don’t even eat those. But I don’t then obsess at all about what’s on the menu. I’ve been the same OK weight for years.

    I like cooking meals from scratch and make big pans of vegetable soup with. I gave up snacking completely, and, just as Aristotle says about habits, what seemed like hard work at first just became an unconscious reflex. Even on autopilot I genuinely don’t like sweet things now, and find I think and write better on a fairly empty stomach.

    The other habit was choosing hopelessly inappropriate men. In my late teens and twenties I dated people because they were handsome and exciting. This was not compatible with looking for a co-parent to raise the children I so badly wanted with! In the end I got lucky (or rather, more discerning) and found someone who is both stimulating and a great dad. But it took some very tough self-analysis to get there!

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

    Very definitely a Questioner. I did the quiz! But I think I am a reformed Rebel. As a young person I often did just do the opposite thing from what authority figures of the rules of systems dictated. I do think that personal autonomy is an important part of happiness: there are terrible figures about the depression that results from having a bad boss.

    But I now don’t just rebel for the sake of it. I think hard about every rule and system, and often they are the way they are for extremely good reasons, like wearing a seat-belt in a car. As an Aristotelian, I am a ‘moral particularist’, which means that every single circumstance and every single situation will be different, and you have to exercise your judgement in every single case. Blanket acceptance of rules is not the most constructive approach.

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

    Travel is extremely disrupting to healthy eating. This is partly why I only eat two times a day and avoid the snacks. You can often buy better food at an airport/train station than what you are given on the plane/train. Bad weather and the mud it causes in winter is also really discouraging, as my main exercise is striding around in our lovely countryside, and I just don’t take well to indoor gyms etc.

    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.?

    Several times! At 13 years old, when a priest was blaming the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus of Nazareth at Easter, I lost my faith altogether. The priest seemed so unsympathetic to these ordinary men in an army to which they had probably been conscripted, having to do what their superior officers commanded and terrified of punishment themselves. It made me realise that life was incredibly complicated, morally speaking, and that religion wasn’t helping me, personally, to find the answers to the big questions.

    The second was my 30th birthday in 1989 when I looked in the mirror and had to admit to myself that my first marriage wasn’t working since my then husband didn’t want a family. It took me a few months to pluck up the courage to go, but I did the night the Berlin Wall came down later that year. I suspect many other people took important decisions that night. The example of those brave East Germans scaling the concrete was so inspiring!

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

    “Onwards and upwards.” [Gretchen: How great! That's the signature sign-off line for my podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.] There is also a modern Greek proverb I like, “You help me and I’ll help you and together we’ll climb the mountain.” But it sounds better in Greek, like a line from a song.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:23 on 2019/01/15 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , Interview, Joy Enough, , Sarah McColl   

    “A Life of Contentment and Joy Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Experiences with Loss and Pain.” 


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    Interview: Sarah McColl

    Sarah McColl is a writer who has been published by a wide range of publications, and she also was founding editor-in-chief of Yahoo Foods.

    Her first book just hit the shelves, a memoir called Joy Enough.

    In it, she tackles her experience of simultaneously going through a divorce and losing her mother to cancer—a double blow.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Sarah about happiness, habits, and self-knowledge.

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

    Sarah: When I moved to Los Angeles a little less than a year ago, I started attending a boot camp at the nearby recreation center three mornings a week. There’s a core group of the same women every day. We don’t know the details of one another’s lives, and many of us don’t speak the same language, but I love our sense of community. I know that every morning, rain or shine, we’re going to groan together during glute work and then high-five when it’s over.

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

    Sarah: In my first job after college as an editorial assistant, my boss would walk into my cubicle in her low-heeled Ferragamos, drop off a manuscript, and offer some unsolicited advice. There are many I still rely on, but one that’s come up time and again is: People think relationships will make them happy, but you have to bring happiness to the relationship.

    I knew intellectually what she meant, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I really got it. To have a sense of wholeness on your own—to have passions and friendships and desires and curiosities and ambitions that are all your own, that belong solely to you, and then to choose to be in relationship with someone, someone who you don’t need for those feelings of aliveness in your life, but who brings them all the same—not to mention support, affection, companionship, all the good stuff of loving—that brings so much life and air and, yes, happiness to the dynamic between two people.

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

    Sarah: A life of contentment and joy doesn’t mean avoiding experiences with loss and pain. Experiences with death, in fact, can heighten our awareness of and gratitude for living.

    In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky reports on a study in which 70 to 80 percent of people who had lost someone they love reported finding “benefit” to the experience. I don’t think we want a happy life so much as a meaningful one, and the meaning comes from the experience of feeling fully alive.

    Joseph Campbell said this pretty well: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

    I think death, loss, grief, and pain bring us in touch with the rapture of being alive as much as ecstatic happiness and joy.

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

    Sarah: Well, apparently I’m an Upholder! These results are interesting to me, and also a bit surprising. Sometimes my self-imposed deadlines and goals get in the way of doing what others want or expect from me, and I have a fear that I let people down as a result. But if something is important to me—like writing time, or alone time—I don’t have a problem creating those boundaries for myself.

    If I took this quiz and thought solely of health and exercise, I might turn out as an Obliger or a Rebel. If I say I will meet you for a 6 a.m. spin class, I’ll be there, but if the promise of an early morning exercise class is just to myself, I will hit snooze. Three times. The idea of a diet that tells me what to eat when makes me want to totally rebel. I definitely have a contrarian streak.

    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.?

    Sarah: My mother lived with Stage IV cancer for more than a year. It’s very clarifying when the stakes are life and death for someone you love. I moved home to be with her, to tend her garden and cook dinner, to talk about her fear of death and what I was going to do with my life. Everything became urgent, and if there was something I wanted to do, what was I waiting for? With her encouragement, I applied to graduate school to study writing, and quit my job as an editor-in-chief to attend school time full-time. This decision divided the people in my life into two categories: the people who thought this was brave, exciting, and wonderful and the people who thought I was crazy. But I knew I had to devote myself to what I had most wanted to do since I was a child, which was to write, and that I had to do it now.

    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?

    Sarah: You got this is one I turn to in times of trouble, large and small. Driving in scary rush hour traffic? You got this. Pitching a big magazine? You got this. Pushing out those last reps? You got this. (Actually, I say, “Light weight, baby. Light weight,” which I stole from a weight lifter friend.)

    But someone told me something recently that really struck me with its beauty: Feelings are powerful, and they pass.

    My mother used to say, “Feeling is living to me,” and that’s my experience, too. The world of my mind and my heart is the world to me. Everyone’s experience is filtered through consciousness, of course, but what I mean is that I trust my feelings. I’m invested in them. The guy next to me on the bus doesn’t and needn’t care about my inner life—he’s got his own—but I care a lot.

    There are obvious downfalls to this, one of which is that’s a lot of emotional labor to be doing all of the time. So learning how to navigate that intense emotional world is really part of my work as an adult. How do I live and experience and love deeply in ways that make me braver, more powerful, more resilient?

    Writing is a huge part of this for me. If I can investigate on the page why I feel the way I feel and what it means, whether in a poem or a story or an essay, then I’ve created something artful and made a discovery about what it means to be alive. Boom! Net positive. I think the very practice of being vulnerable to our emotional lives—allowing and experiencing our feelings, and knowing we have the strength to feel things deeply and still survive—that’s the practice. That’s the work I’m up to. (You got this.)

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

    Sarah: Every book I love changes me. Reading is so intimate. We take someone else’s words inside our body. So reading something that fills me with awe and wonder, that opens my eyes to something I’ve never considered, or puts its finger on a thing I have always felt but have never articulated—I live for that! The poem “What the Living Do,” by Marie Howe; Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner; the poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass; the poem "We Are Both Sure to Die" by Wendy Xu; the recently-released second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters; Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am I Am I Am; Sheila Heti’s Motherhood; I Love Dick by Chris Kraus; The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. All I ever want to read about is what it all means, what other people are making of life. Or, as Miranda July writes in the also changed-me It Chooses You, “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.”

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

    Sarah: Aside from marketing and sales reasons, I don’t understand a commitment to genre in writing or in reading. “I only read nonfiction,” I heard someone say recently. Or, “I expect more from novels than I do from memoirs.” Wait, what? Why, I wondered? I love when writers blur the lines or ignore them or invent something new: autobiographical fiction, lyric prose, prose poems. I love surprising structures and forms, like an essay in the form of Trivial Pursuit answers. Maybe it’s because I like variety or because I’m greedy, but I want all the beauty, all the insight, all the awe. Who cares what it’s called. So maybe I am a Rebel after all.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:35 on 2019/01/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Interview, naturopathic medicine, Overcoming Overwhelm, Samantha Brody,   

    “I Realized I Was Expecting More from Myself Than the People I Treat and Counsel.” 


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    Interview: Samantha Brody

    Samantha Brody has spent more than twenty years in her practice addressing the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of her patients’ health, to help them effectively address and achieve their health goals. Her new book Overcoming Overwhelm: Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out just hit the shelves.

    I couldn't wait to talk to her about happiness, habits, and productivity. For many people, stress is a big happiness stumbling block as they try to make their lives happier.

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

    Samantha: The thing that keeps me consistently making choices that make me feel my best is something I also recommend to each and every person I work with: to get clear about what is most important. Every month or quarter I revisit what my top 5 values are (using this values discovery exercise that I developed), as well as how I want to feel both emotionally and physically. Some of these things are static year over year, and some change as I evolve (and as my family and work life evolve!)

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

    Samantha: I was always very good at goal setting and habit building, even when I was a teenager. The problem was that I was choosing the wrong goals and habits. I thought happiness would come with succeeding in the ways that our culture so often dictates: being thin, popular, accomplished, degreed, and so on. The truth, though, was that even though I managed all of those things, they didn’t actually bring me happiness.

    What I know now is that in order to be truly happy I need to cozy up with the fact that I’m me. (Like your commandment to “Be Gretchen.”) I’m awkward and goofy, and sometimes say inappropriate things. I’m incredibly empathetic but sometimes not as sympathetic as I want to be. I’m a work in progress and there is no end-goal that is going to bring me happiness. It’s being clear about what is most important and how I want to feel so I can make choices every day that allow me to be in alignment with who I am and what I want my life to look like.

    Gretchen: Which habits do you think are most important for people to feel their best?

    Samantha: I wish there were one answer to this. In my book I help people identify specifically which things will have the biggest impact for them individually. What makes every person feel their best varies, but without a doubt, there are some areas that will have universal benefit.

    1. Sleep. 8 hours if possible, 7.5 at a bare minimum (this is for adults, kids need even more!). To feel our best without adequate, good quality sleep is an uphill battle. If people have trouble with sleep, it’s important to address that and get the help they need to fix it (ideally without medications if possible).
    2. Nature. Studies show that getting out into nature helps our mood, energy, focus, and health. This doesn’t necessarily mean camping (I thank my lucky stars for that…) but at least getting your “face in nature” as my old yoga teacher used to say. Breathe fresh air. Touch a tree. Even just sit on the ground for a few minutes.
    3. Strength Training. The more we learn about health, metabolism, aging, and energy, the more we are seeing that strength training for exercise is what helps our bodies the most. Sure, walking is good, and being able to run away from a wild pig is a plus, but the more muscle mass you have the better your hormones will work, the better your metabolism will function and the healthier your bones will be. You’ll be more sturdy, less susceptible to injury, and more likely to feel your best.

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

    Samantha: Questioner, hands down. Knowing this and using the advice from your books and blog around this has helped me so much with the work I do with clients and patients! Thank you!

    Gretchen: In your book Overcoming Overwhelm: Dismantle Your Stress from the Inside Out you talk about why you think stress management is just a Band-aid.

    Samantha: Stress management is important, but it’s not a solution. So often, even when we choose things to manage stress that are good for us—meditation, exercise, anything really—they are ultimately going to cause more stress because we are trying to add yet another thing to our ever-growing to-do lists.

    In order to really get out from under stress, we need to think about dismantling it rather than managing it. And in order to think about dismantling it we need to think about stress differently than we are used to doing. Not as just the big things, but as the accumulation of all of the things that pile up to overwhelm us on all levels, the good and the bad, the obvious and the next-to-invisible.

    Once we do that, we are able to identify countless small changes we can make to decrease our overall load, making room for the inevitable stresses that come up—because if there is one thing that is certain, it’s that there will always be challenges in life.

    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.?

    Samantha: I call these ‘pinnacle moments.’ The places in life where things pivot—for the better or for the worse, sometimes with awareness, but most often with a retrospective understanding.

    I experienced one of these as I was getting ready for the launch of Overcoming Overwhelm. It had been a rough few months. I had a family member who was having health problems. My book launch plan wasn’t following the map I had intended (when things don’t go as anticipated it’s hard emotional work for me). We had just moved home after living in an AirBnB for 3 weeks because we had rats in our home due to a neighborhood infestation I didn’t know about. Just as we were settling back in I started to get some back pain. Except there was nothing wrong with my back. It was shingles.

    My expertise as a naturopathic physician is in the areas of physical and emotional stress and overwhelm. And I walk my own talk in those areas. I’m conscious. I’m attentive. Yet, I still came down with a health condition that is literally triggered by stress.

    I was embarrassed and upset. I started questioning myself. It was almost impossible to sleep, or work. I sat with the crazy pain, and relentless itching. I had to stay in bed in one position because rolling over was excruciating. It hurt to talk. I cancelled a trip that I was really excited about. And as I curled up, trying to make sense of it all, I surrendered to the pain, and cried. Of course my body was stressed. I put three long years of my life into this book. The expenses to fix the rat situation were climbing and climbing. My kid had just started middle school. I did all the right things, and I still got sick.

    In that moment I realized I was expecting more from myself than the people I treat and counsel. I teach that we can only do our best. That sometimes life is hard and often there are things we can’t control. I was doing my best. Did I need to reassess and switch gears? Yes, obviously. But the big lesson was accepting that I, too, am human, and fallible, and vulnerable to getting a little off track.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:56 on 2019/01/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , Interview, Julie Morgenstern, , , ,   

    “Humans (Including Children) Thrive on Short Bursts of Focused Attention—Literally 5 to 20 Minutes at a Time—Delivered Consistently.” 


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    I got to know Julie Morgenstern's terrific work from her many bestselling books on order, productivity, time management, and organization. In particular, I'm a big fan of Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life. At the end of Outer Order, Inner Calm, I suggest just a few books for further reading, and this book is one of them. It's concrete, practical, and realistic. I also love Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Your Lifereally, I like all her books.
    Now Julie Morgenstern has tackled an order/organization/productivity subject that bedevils many of us, in her new book Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You.  

    How do we manage the family schedule? How do we use smartphones wisely? How do we give kids a lot our care and attention, but also take care of ourselves? Julie tackles issues like these and puts these issues into perspective.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, habits, and productivity.
    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Julie: Every morning I do a 5 to 7-minute exercise routine. It’s a combination of sit-ups, push-ups, Pilates moves, and aerobics that I’ve been doing, religiously, since I was 13 years old. I do it no matter where I am—on a trip, at home, overnight at a friend’s house—all it requires is enough floor space for the length of my body, some width to kick and that’s it. This little routine is as natural to me as brushing my teeth or making my bed: my day doesn’t feel complete (or off on the right foot) without having done it. For me, it ensures that I’ve started the day by doing something for myself; strengthening my body and getting centered. I pull on that well of strength all day long, no matter what I’m doing.

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

    Julie: How much having a balanced life leads to happiness. At 18, I was intensely, some may say myopically, focused on work accomplishments. I haven’t necessarily lost that ability to hyper-focus, but for a long time—probably well into my thirties—I felt most invigorated by what I was able to get done. I thought fun was frivolous, a waste of time. My dad, who was quite committed to fun, used to ask me all the time, “Jul, what are you doing for fun?” And I’d say, “Dad, are you kidding me? I’ve got things to do! No time to waste!” Eventually, I  realized that to really be happy and fulfilled, I couldn’t possibly put all my eggs in one basket  (in my case, work; but for other people it might be a relationship or a role as a parent).

    When it comes to happiness, I’ve learned it’s good to diversify your sources. Balancing your time and energy across a bunch of different things that bring you fulfillment—work, friendships, family,  self care-creates a strong foundation, a safety net for joy at any given moment. If one category is under-delivering, you can turn to another reliable source for happiness, and stay resilient as each department of your life goes through natural ups and downs. I know my dad would approve.

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

    Julie: When I set out to write my latest book Time to Parent, the instruction manual on how to organize and manage our time during the child-rearing years, my burning question was this: How much time and attention do kids need to feel loved and secure? While I had 30 years of extensive experience coaching and organizing parents around the world, I wasn’t a parenting expert, so I had to turn to the experts on human development and the science to see what the research had to say.  I got lost in the stacks—for about eight years! I read hundreds of studies, volumes of books and interviewed leading  experts in every field from pediatrics to psychology to sociology and education.

    The research was astonishing—science is exploding with discoveries about the power of time and attention to human development—and it helped me land on two central lessons of the book. The first is that quality connections between a kid and a caregiver are as essential a nutrient for a child’s development as food and sunshine. Quality, connected time contributes to a child’s self esteem, social competence, academic and career success, executive function and resilience. It even inoculates us against the onset of chronic disease as adults. (This last one really blew me away!) The second lesson is that humans thrive on short bursts of focused attention—literally 5 to 20 minutes at a time—delivered consistently. The book helps parents build space for those bursts in the chaos of every day life. It’s easily the most surprising and liberating thing for parents to understand, because with intention, everyone can make sure kids are getting what they need to thrive and be 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?

    Julie: I started smoking as a teenager and by the time I finally got around to quitting, I was up to two packs a day. Besides the fact that I smelled like a walking ashtray, my entire day was organized around when I could have a cigarette. At some point in my early twenties, I got scared when I noticed how out of breath I got while walking up a set of stairs. What would become of middle-aged me if 20-something me could barely make it up two flights of stairs? After a few false starts, I finally tried hypnosis. The hypnotherapist asked me two simple questions: When do you smoke? What do you get out of smoking? I loved that second question because it helped me realize that every bad behavior has a positive intention. I used smoking as a shot of courage before I had to do something that made me nervous—write a paper, schmooze at a cocktail party, speak in front of a crowd. Once I understood what smoking did for me without judgement, the hypnotherapist asked me to come up with something else. Getting a hug from my parents before school had always done the trick, so she hypnotized me to feel that hug--by just squeezing my fist every time I needed that shot of courage. It worked! And I never smoked again.

    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.?

    Julie: I was having dinner maybe 12 or 15 years ago with my client and friend, Harriet. We were in a restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, when an elderly woman, who was a friend of Harriet’s, happened to pass by. Harriet called out to the older woman, Mary, to come in say hello. Mary must have been 93 years old, but she was full of zip and smarts. Harriett, who delighted in people, said, “Mary, you’re 93, what wisdom have you learned in your life?” Mary said “Don’t pay good money for expert advice and not take it.” I instantly internalized that nugget of wisdom and from that day forward have never wasted time paying for good advice and not taking it. I just take it. It saves an enormous energy, second-guessing and worry—all time that can be put to much better use.

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

    Julie: Like everybody else on the planet, I struggle with the lure of distraction; especially when I’m working on a particularly challenging or daunting project. It’s easy to give into shiny objects in close proximity—my email, the Internet, anything else. When I feel myself gravitating away from a given task to my cell phone, I have a simple phrase that pulls me back into the moment: “Is that the highest and best use of my time?” The minute I ask myself that, I’m able to halt the gravitational pull from my iPhone (or my inbox) and be more engaged with the person or project at hand.

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

    Julie: Oh, yes! Two big things. First, people think organizing is about getting rid of things. That’s wrong. Decluttering is about getting rid of things. Organizing is about designing systems that give you access to what you use and love. It’s about designing systems that help you pursue your goals and live your life by making you more efficient in everything you need and want to do—whether it’s cooking a meal, getting dressed, running a business, getting your kids to soccer practice on time.

    The second misperception is that running the logistics for a family should be manageable for one person. Not so! Organizing for one person is hard enough. Setting up multi-user family systems—for people with different personalities, changing abilities and skills, goals—is incredibly hard for anybody, let alone mere mortals. The solution is to make systems that are simple, automated (when possible) and maintainable by a five-year old. And to share the workload of creating and maintaining a family’s systems—that’s one of the best ways for family members to take care of each other.

    timetoparent

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:56 on 2019/01/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , Interview, Julie Morgenstern, , , ,   

    “Humans (Including Children) Thrive on Short Bursts of Focused Attention—Literally 5 to 20 Minutes at a Time—Delivered Consistently.” 


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    I got to know Julie Morgenstern's terrific work from her many bestselling books on order, productivity, time management, and organization. In particular, I'm a big fan of Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life. At the end of Outer Order, Inner Calm, I suggest just a few books for further reading, and this book is one of them. It's concrete, practical, and realistic. I also love Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Your Lifereally, I like all her books.
    Now Julie Morgenstern has tackled an order/organization/productivity subject that bedevils many of us, in her new book Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You.  

    How do we manage the family schedule? How do we use smartphones wisely? How do we give kids a lot our care and attention, but also take care of ourselves? Julie tackles issues like these and puts these issues into perspective.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, habits, and productivity.
    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Julie: Every morning I do a 5 to 7-minute exercise routine. It’s a combination of sit-ups, push-ups, Pilates moves, and aerobics that I’ve been doing, religiously, since I was 13 years old. I do it no matter where I am—on a trip, at home, overnight at a friend’s house—all it requires is enough floor space for the length of my body, some width to kick and that’s it. This little routine is as natural to me as brushing my teeth or making my bed: my day doesn’t feel complete (or off on the right foot) without having done it. For me, it ensures that I’ve started the day by doing something for myself; strengthening my body and getting centered. I pull on that well of strength all day long, no matter what I’m doing.

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

    Julie: How much having a balanced life leads to happiness. At 18, I was intensely, some may say myopically, focused on work accomplishments. I haven’t necessarily lost that ability to hyper-focus, but for a long time—probably well into my thirties—I felt most invigorated by what I was able to get done. I thought fun was frivolous, a waste of time. My dad, who was quite committed to fun, used to ask me all the time, “Jul, what are you doing for fun?” And I’d say, “Dad, are you kidding me? I’ve got things to do! No time to waste!” Eventually, I  realized that to really be happy and fulfilled, I couldn’t possibly put all my eggs in one basket  (in my case, work; but for other people it might be a relationship or a role as a parent).

    When it comes to happiness, I’ve learned it’s good to diversify your sources. Balancing your time and energy across a bunch of different things that bring you fulfillment—work, friendships, family,  self care-creates a strong foundation, a safety net for joy at any given moment. If one category is under-delivering, you can turn to another reliable source for happiness, and stay resilient as each department of your life goes through natural ups and downs. I know my dad would approve.

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

    Julie: When I set out to write my latest book Time to Parent, the instruction manual on how to organize and manage our time during the child-rearing years, my burning question was this: How much time and attention do kids need to feel loved and secure? While I had 30 years of extensive experience coaching and organizing parents around the world, I wasn’t a parenting expert, so I had to turn to the experts on human development and the science to see what the research had to say.  I got lost in the stacks—for about eight years! I read hundreds of studies, volumes of books and interviewed leading  experts in every field from pediatrics to psychology to sociology and education.

    The research was astonishing—science is exploding with discoveries about the power of time and attention to human development—and it helped me land on two central lessons of the book. The first is that quality connections between a kid and a caregiver are as essential a nutrient for a child’s development as food and sunshine. Quality, connected time contributes to a child’s self esteem, social competence, academic and career success, executive function and resilience. It even inoculates us against the onset of chronic disease as adults. (This last one really blew me away!) The second lesson is that humans thrive on short bursts of focused attention—literally 5 to 20 minutes at a time—delivered consistently. The book helps parents build space for those bursts in the chaos of every day life. It’s easily the most surprising and liberating thing for parents to understand, because with intention, everyone can make sure kids are getting what they need to thrive and be 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?

    Julie: I started smoking as a teenager and by the time I finally got around to quitting, I was up to two packs a day. Besides the fact that I smelled like a walking ashtray, my entire day was organized around when I could have a cigarette. At some point in my early twenties, I got scared when I noticed how out of breath I got while walking up a set of stairs. What would become of middle-aged me if 20-something me could barely make it up two flights of stairs? After a few false starts, I finally tried hypnosis. The hypnotherapist asked me two simple questions: When do you smoke? What do you get out of smoking? I loved that second question because it helped me realize that every bad behavior has a positive intention. I used smoking as a shot of courage before I had to do something that made me nervous—write a paper, schmooze at a cocktail party, speak in front of a crowd. Once I understood what smoking did for me without judgement, the hypnotherapist asked me to come up with something else. Getting a hug from my parents before school had always done the trick, so she hypnotized me to feel that hug--by just squeezing my fist every time I needed that shot of courage. It worked! And I never smoked again.

    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.?

    Julie: I was having dinner maybe 12 or 15 years ago with my client and friend, Harriet. We were in a restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, when an elderly woman, who was a friend of Harriet’s, happened to pass by. Harriet called out to the older woman, Mary, to come in say hello. Mary must have been 93 years old, but she was full of zip and smarts. Harriett, who delighted in people, said, “Mary, you’re 93, what wisdom have you learned in your life?” Mary said “Don’t pay good money for expert advice and not take it.” I instantly internalized that nugget of wisdom and from that day forward have never wasted time paying for good advice and not taking it. I just take it. It saves an enormous energy, second-guessing and worry—all time that can be put to much better use.

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

    Julie: Like everybody else on the planet, I struggle with the lure of distraction; especially when I’m working on a particularly challenging or daunting project. It’s easy to give into shiny objects in close proximity—my email, the Internet, anything else. When I feel myself gravitating away from a given task to my cell phone, I have a simple phrase that pulls me back into the moment: “Is that the highest and best use of my time?” The minute I ask myself that, I’m able to halt the gravitational pull from my iPhone (or my inbox) and be more engaged with the person or project at hand.

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

    Julie: Oh, yes! Two big things. First, people think organizing is about getting rid of things. That’s wrong. Decluttering is about getting rid of things. Organizing is about designing systems that give you access to what you use and love. It’s about designing systems that help you pursue your goals and live your life by making you more efficient in everything you need and want to do—whether it’s cooking a meal, getting dressed, running a business, getting your kids to soccer practice on time.

    The second misperception is that running the logistics for a family should be manageable for one person. Not so! Organizing for one person is hard enough. Setting up multi-user family systems—for people with different personalities, changing abilities and skills, goals—is incredibly hard for anybody, let alone mere mortals. The solution is to make systems that are simple, automated (when possible) and maintainable by a five-year old. And to share the workload of creating and maintaining a family’s systems—that’s one of the best ways for family members to take care of each other.

    timetoparent

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:45 on 2018/12/20 Permalink
    Tags: Atlas of Happiness, , Denmark, , Helen Russell, Interview,   

    “I Use Everything in My Resilience Toolkit to Keep My Mental and Physical Health Intact.” 


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    Interview: Helen Russell.

    Helen Russell is the bestselling author of The Year of Living Danishly. Formerly the editor of MarieClaire.co.uk, she now lives in Denmark and works as a Scandinavia correspondent for the Guardian. For a long time, she wrote a column on Denmark for the Telegraph and has written features for the Times, the Observer, Grazia, the Wall Street Journal and the Independent.

    Now she has a new book, The Atlas of Happiness. It's an illustrated, full-color, around-the-world look at the happiness secrets of different countries. The book covers 33 international happiness concepts, and explores places like Australia, Wales,  Bhutan, Ireland, Finland, Turkey, Syria, Japan, and many more.

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

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

    Helen: Being open to new experiences and talking to strangers. Both are outside of my comfort zone but I’ve found that the more I reach out and engage—interacting with the world around me—the more fulfilled I feel in every aspect of my life. And this habit has helped me meet some amazing people and write for a living—a huge privilege.

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

    Helen: That the lows are all part of it and that we also need fallow periods to just be. I grew up in the 1980s and 90s where the pace of life was fast and if you weren’t aiming for the top (of everything) you weren’t aiming high enough. But life is filled with sadness as well as joy and not every day will be unicorns skipping with rainbows. This is something I’ve learned with age and through my research into happiness and the cultural differences in what ‘a good life’ means around the world.

    In Sweden and Brazil, for example, a degree of melancholy in life is considered inevitable—desirable, even—and something to be savoured rather than ignored. No one can be "jazz hands" happy all the time. I’ve also been inspired by my recent research into the Italian concept: Dolce far niente or "the sweetness of doing nothing." Stillness isn’t something that comes naturally to me but as one of my best friends puts it, "We all need some sitting down and staring into space time once in a while."

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

    Helen: I’ve become very interested in work culture around the world and how in many prosperous nations, the daily grind is actively damaging our mental well-being as well as impacting negatively on productivity. When I swapped a big, shiny job in London for life in rural Denmark, I was staggered by Danish working culture—with the average Dane only working 33 hours a week and prioritising family and leisure time. Happiness at work is prized and Denmark also comes top in terms of worker motivation, according to The World Competitiveness Yearbook.

    At first I presumed that this made Danes massive slackers, but then I found out that workers are 12 per cent more productive when they’re in a positive state of mind, according to research from the University of Warwick—and Denmark is the fourth most productive country in the world, according to Expert Market data. It’s staggering that a culture of presenteeism still pervades in much of the world when we know now from the data that this is bad for workers and bad for the bottom line. Now, I try to log off, power down and stop work on time.

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

    Helen: Living by the sea means I can get out on my beloved paddle board a few times a week to broaden my horizons, focusing on nothing but a wide open expanse of blue for an hour. For my new book, I’ve been writing about Hawaii, where water is sacred and there’s an ancient proverb, ola alla wai, or “water is life.” I’m beginning to agree with this.

    Music is important, too—I listen to different playlists depending on the task at hand or how I’m feeling. Numerous studies have shown how music can alter our mood and I am a big fan of a psychological tool called "emotional arousal," whereby you listen to music that makes you feel fired up and charged with energy to help you to tackle whatever lies ahead. So far today, it’s been a "This is Me" from The Greatest Showman on repeat kind of morning...!

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

    Helen: I came to exercise late and only realised relatively recently that it was something I could do to make me feel better. At school, I was always told I wasn't sporty. I got picked last for all team sports and then I did no exercise at all until my mid 20s when I approached it with self-loathing. My body was a human pincushion for years, with various failed fertility treatments, then it miraculously grew three people and my body became theirs for a while. But now it finally feels like it’s mine and so I'm taking care of it -- exercising to feel strong and stay sane and just for me. And I love it.

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

    Helen: I’m a terrible Obliger (thank you for pointing this out!) and as a freelancer I now make sure I litter my life with people who make me do the things I know I ought to (eating well, socializing, self-care or what Danes call "putting your own oxygen mask on first" and the brave new world of "relaxing").

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

    Helen: Travel is tricky, because I tend not to eat well or exercise and it’s tough being away from my family. For the first few hours, I feel wonderfully free and giddy about the fact that I can go to the bathroom without toddlers following me in there—but then I miss them terribly. Yet as soon as I get home, the house is so chaotic, I’ll often long for the solitude of a single occupancy hotel bedroom again.

    There’s still a lot of guilt tied up with being a working parent that no amount of research and logical thinking can totally assuage. My kids are small and still wake up, on average, every other night, requiring something or other. So with three of them, statistically, I’m woken up at least once a night, every night. I know that if I don’t get eight hours of sleep, I have a tendency towards depression—but I haven’t had eight hours of sleep in four years. As a result, I use everything in my resilience toolkit to keep my mental and physical health intact.

    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?

    Helen: There’s a phrase in Icelandic that has become the unofficial motto for Icelanders and wannabe Vikings everywhere: Þetta reddast. This roughly translates as "it will be all right," but has come to represent the unwavering belief that everything will work out in the end. There’s a sense that since Icelanders have made their home in such an inhospitable landscape that they can handle anything and all the Icelanders I know have an easy-going manner with a core of grit—an unusual but powerful combination. Studies show that resilience is key to happiness and the idea of taking the long view that "no matter how big a problem, we’ll find a way" really appeals to me. So now I have the phrase pinned up above my desk to remind myself to be more Viking, wherever possible.

    The Atlas of Happiness by Helen Russell

     
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