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  • feedwordpress 09:00:54 on 2019/05/02 Permalink
    Tags: A Way to Garden, , , , gardening, , Margaret Roach, nature, ,   

    “I Garden Because I Cannot Help Myself—But It’s the Best Kind of Compulsion.” 


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    Interview: Margaret Roach

    Margaret Roach worked in publishing for many years, at places like the New York TimesNewsday, and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Then at the end of 2007, she left the city and "success" for a life lived much more quietly and closer to nature.

    She's a passionate gardener; has published a popular garden website since 2008; opens her garden for tours a few times a season; writes books; and lectures frequently to help foster an interest in gardening.

    Not only that, she has a highly praised, weekly gardening radio show and podcast called "A Way to Garden," produced at “the smallest NPR station in the nation” in nearby Sharon, Connecticut.

    Her new book A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season was described this way by Publishers Weekly: "Filled with expert information, this book is less a 'how to' for novices than a meditation on 'why to' for veterans. Those with dirt already under their fingernails will treasure Roach’s in-depth knowledge, wry humor, and reflective look at how seasons in gardening mirror the passage of time."

    I myself love reading gardening books, though I have no interest in gardening, just the way I love reading cooking books, though I have no interest in cooking. A great writer makes these subjects compelling.

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

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

    Margaret: I always say that I garden because I cannot help myself—but it’s the best kind of compulsion. With the garden as my lens on life, I have opened to matters of both science and the spirit, gaining a tiny glimpse of how all the pieces fit in each realm.

    I have written that by becoming a gardener, I accidentally—blessedly—landed myself in a fusion of science lab and Buddhist retreat, a place of nonstop learning and of contemplation, where there is life buzzing to the max and also the deepest stillness. It is from this combined chemistry that I derived the motto of my website and book: “horticultural how-to and ‘woo-woo.’”

    I discovered a connection to plants—and in turn, to nature’s complex interconnections—in my mid-20s, during a time that was anything but happy. I found myself suddenly back at my childhood home, managing the care of my widowed mother, who was barely 50 years old but had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. One can only sit inside and watch so much daytime TV. Miraculously someone gifted me a garden book, and I started ordering plant catalogs and then plants, gradually conducting horticultural therapy on myself in the front yard. Daily contact with the world outdoors has been my life practice since.

    Just go outside, already. Not willing or able to make a garden? Get a pair of binoculars and the eBird.org app, and go chat up some local birds.

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

    That solitude, and stillness, are not to be feared, but rather to be cultivated, because each of us requires the nourishment they provide.

    My impression, perhaps like many other young women of my generation, was that key to fulfillment was finding Mr. Right, like the spirit of that “Jerry McGuire” quote, “You complete me.” (This was decades before that movie, of course.) I chased a lot of boys before it dawned on me: It turns out the “you” in that kind of equation alludes to “yourself,” not another (though loved ones are immense treasures, too).

    Learning to kindle joy in regular doses of solitude, rather than rushing to cram every moment with something or someone, was my best life lesson ever. As a complement to that, I make time to really focus my emotional energies on a few key, years-long and devoted relationships (and yes, I suppose the garden is one of those).

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

    I got a first insight into how my own habit-modification inner thing works at the onset of severe asthma in my 20s, when I became a vegetarian, after being advised to “reduce” intake of animal foods that might contain drugs like antibiotics or hormones. A vegetarian diet evolved and has stuck, but first—after considerable struggling—came the revelation that I am a very black-or-white, on-or-off person when it comes to changing habits. It was simpler for me to give up meat, poultry, fish than to “reduce,” and eat it once in a while. (And yes, I still miss bacon.)

    That it’s easier for me to flip the switch to “off”—to stop something completely rather than limit it—was an important trait to come to recognize and accept, rather than continuing to bang my head against the wall of attempted moderation, and “failures.”

    One other trick I have learned around exercise, which I loathe: I am more likely to show up if I set an appointment involving another person. Though I am happy to do garden chores anytime the weather permits, no urging required, I am highly resistant to formal “exercise”—aerobic workouts or classes at a gym. Making a date, which my brain regards as a contract, means I show up. I won’t let another person down (but I will wriggle out of a workout, endlessly excusing myself, if it’s “just me” scheduled to attend).

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

    The quiz says I am a Questioner. As a career journalist, I suppose that makes sense, but the so-called 5 W’s that used to be taught—of who, what, when, where and why—are at this age mostly centered on the why’s. I’ll admit I can be a bit pesky on this score, but what is life without incessant curiosity? I question, therefore I am. [Gretchen: Hmmm....your answers to some of these questions make me wonder if you're actually an Obliger.]

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

    Though friends long said I was “not Type A but Type AAA,” a being can throttle it up only just so long.

    A decade or so ago, I made a complicated decision to leave the city and my career for my former weekend home and garden, in a rural small town. The incessant stress and skyscraper existence—total disconnection from nature five days a week—just did not nurture me, I had to finally admit. Though I was described as “successful,” I had to acknowledge that the relentlessness back there also eroded my happiness and wellness, because I was fighting my natural rhythm and inclinations.

    The change required that I give up many things, from a salary and benefits to the proximity of some people I love and the city’s amazingness. I wrote a memoir about the transition, called And I Shall Have Some Peace There (a line from a Yeats poem, written about a place in nature that sustained him, as the place I have chosen does for me).

    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.?

    All of the above, or so it seemed that some key decisions were sudden at the time, as if the next step has just occurred to me in that instant. Looking back at most of them from a bit more distance, though, I can see that they were not sudden at all but that I had simply reached an “enough is enough” moment. (No wonder we have multiple expressions for such thresholds, like “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and lately “the tipping point.”)

    The book or conversation or birthday was catalytic, maybe, but I’d been brewing the change beneath the surface for some time. The decision to drop out of my career, and the city, was like that—sudden, and not so sudden at all.

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

    Various ones, but among them is “Keep weeding,” as in: working my way through the tangles that life (and a garden) can present, hoping to stay ahead of becoming engulfed or overwhelmed.

    I guess in the same spirit, I often find myself ending emails or letters with the one-word sentence: “Onward.”

    There is a line from a Wendell Berry poem, too: “All we need is here.” That is what I think of gratefully as I look out the window each day.

    A corollary to that (probably watering down a tenet of Buddhism once stated far more gracefully): “Want what you have, and don’t want what you don’t have.” Simpler said than done, but sound advice worth remembering.

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

    Jack Kornfield’s 1993 A Path With Heart, the title of which hints at which fork in the road to choose. I think the core lesson I took away was that struggling to make change—trying through some act of will to change—just reinforces patterns of self-judgment, and isn’t helpful (nor does it achieve any transformation, typically).

    Lots of lessons in Kornfield’s teachings are about compassion—including compassion directed at ourselves, which even many of the kindest people I know often forget to cultivate.

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

    I know that a big barrier to trying gardening is the impression that it is too hard, time-consuming, or expensive. But I also know (because hundreds of people tell me so each year) that those who succeed with even one houseplant can experience unexpected, inexplicable elation. Go ahead.

    It should not be a barrier, either, that we are powerless over a lot of what gardening places you face-to-face with—like the weather, or that your subjects are living things (meaning: they may die). In this world of 24/7 connectivity and instant answers from Google and all of it, finding ourselves humbled by forces bigger than ourselves through an undertaking like gardening is a good thing, a reality check, an antidote for hubris. The word humble comes from the Latin humus, for earth or ground. Ready to surrender?

    a way to garden cover

     
  • gretchenrubin 14:00:13 on 2017/11/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , nature, , , , William Wordsworth   

    Fill in the Blank: “The Best Portion of a Good Man’s Life” Is His _______. 


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    Wordsworth describes his response to remembering beautiful country landscapes when he's in towns and cities:
    ...[O]ft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
    Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
    In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
    Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
    And passing even into my purer mind
    With tranquil restoration:--feelings too
    Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
    As have no slight or trivial influence
    On that best portion of a good man's life,
    His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
    Of kindness and love."
    --William Wordsworth, "Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798"
    Funny, it's only now that I'm realizing the aptness of "Wordworth's" name. His words are truly worthy! How have I never noticed that before?
    Wordsworth's reflections on this landscape remind me of my resolution to "Find an area of refuge" -- that is, to find a few phrases or memories or scenes that fill me with peace, or exaltation, or good humor. That way, when I find myself spiraling down into boredom, anger, or sorrow, I have an area of refuge. And by doing so, I may make it easier to perform little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.
    Do you have a memory like this?
     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:16 on 2017/10/29 Permalink
    Tags: , nature, , ,   

    Agree? “That is Happiness; to Be Dissolved into Something Complete and Great.” 


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    I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass. . . . I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.

    -- Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

    I love the work of Willa Cather, and I love O Pioneers! (Though I've never quite made up my mind about how I feel about the exclamation point. Interesting choice.)

    Almost a year ago, I read a different excerpt from O Pioneers! for that week's episode of "A Little Happier" -- another one of my favorite passages from the novel, about a wild duck. Actually, it may be one of my favorite passages ever. You can listen here.

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:04 on 2017/10/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , nature, ,   

    Odd Question: In Your Life, Has Any Tree Ever Been Especially Beautiful or Beloved? 


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    "And there was the oak tree in front of the house, much older than the neighborhood or the town, which made rubble of the pavement at its foot and flung its imponderable branches out over the road and across the yard, branches whose girths were greater than the trunk of any ordinary tree. There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa."

    -- Marilynne Robinson, Home

    Of all the novelists writing now, I may admire Marilynne Robinson's work the most. Beautiful, thought-provoking, grave, transcendent.

    How I love this image of a tree joyfully flinging its branches in the sun.

    In your life, has there been a tree that was particularly beautiful or beloved? In the house where I lived from fourth grade until college, I loved to gaze at the big tree in our front yard. It looked exactly the way a tree should look.

     

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:35 on 2017/05/20 Permalink
    Tags: , Heraclitus, nature, , ,   

    Agree, Disagree? “Nature Loves to Hide.” 


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    “Nature loves to hide.”

    –Heraclitus, Fragments

    I’m not exactly sure what this line means, but I love it. It’s an elegant, thought-provoking, enigmatic observation.

    When I think about it in terms of “human nature,” I do agree.  I think it’s hard to see ourselves clearly; many of the most important aspects of our nature is obscured from us.

    What do you think it means? Do you agree?

    The post Agree, Disagree? “Nature Loves to Hide.” appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 14:18:40 on 2017/03/25 Permalink
    Tags: , , nature, , , , ,   

    “All That I Ever Hope to Say Is that I Love the World.” What Do You Hope to Say? 


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    “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”

    –E. B. White

    He wrote this to a reader of his masterpiece of children’s literature, Charlotte’s Web.

    If you were to fill in the blank, “All that I ever hope to say is that I _____,” how would you answer?

    Ah, Charlotte’s Web. An extraordinary, beautiful book. If you haven’t read it since you were a child, re-read it now. It’s a book that immediately made it onto my list of my 81 Favorite Works of Children’s and Young-Adult Literature.

    The post “All That I Ever Hope to Say Is that I Love the World.” What Do You Hope to Say? appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:52:43 on 2017/03/22 Permalink
    Tags: April Fool's, , , , , , , , nature, , , , , , talking, , , , , weather   

    Podcast 109: Pay Attention to the Light, a Fun April Fool’s Tradition, and a Demerit for Talking Too Much. 


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    It’s time for the next installment of Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

    Update: My daughter Eliza turns 18 years old! Unbelievable. If you want to listen to Eliza Starting at 16, it’s here; if you want to watch my one-minute video “The Years Are Short,” it’s here. I know now, even better than when I created that video, how truly short the years are.

    Try This at Home: Pay attention to the light.

    I mention the very interesting book Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation by Alan Burdick; you can read my interview with Alan Burdick here.

    And here’s the beautiful quotation I read: “Light, that first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.” –Johannes Itten

    Happiness Hack: Our listener Kim suggests celebrating April Fool’s Day with a “Junk Dinner” of junk food.

    Know Yourself Better: Do you like seasons, or do you like constant good weather?

    Listener Question: Our listener Trish asks: “what is happiness anyway? How do we measure it?”

    If you want to read more about this question, I discuss it at greater length in The Happiness Project.

    Demerit: In a conversation with a friend going through a difficult time, I talked too much.

    Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the notion of changing doctors.

    If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

    I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

    As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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    Also check out Texture. Get access to all your favorite magazines — including back issues and bonus video content — in one super-convenient place. Try the app Texture for free by going to Texture.com/happier.

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    Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

    Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that.

    HAPPIER listening!

    The post Podcast 109: Pay Attention to the Light, a Fun April Fool’s Tradition, and a Demerit for Talking Too Much. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • feedwordpress 20:02:49 on 2017/02/10 Permalink
    Tags: , Florence Williams, , , , , nature, , The Nature Fix   

    “Humans Are Primed to Love the Natural World, But We Still Have to Cultivate It.” 


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    Interview: Florence Williams.

    One of my happiness-project resolutions is toGo outside.” I get energy and mood boost from the light, the fresh air, the exercise –and from being around nature.

    I’m very lucky, as a New Yorker, because I live near Central Park, which is a beautiful, beautiful place.

    A new book by Florence Williams makes me all the more certain that my resolution to “go outside” is a good idea. Her fascinating new book is The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier and More Creative.

    In addition to writing The Nature Fix, Florence is also a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and a freelance writer for the New York TimesNew York Times MagazineNational Geographic, among other places, and she’s a fellow podcaster — she’s the writer and host of the Audible Original series, Breasts Unbound. A fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University, her work focuses on the environment, health and science.

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

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded? 

    Florence: The big takeaway is that spending time is a necessity, and not just a luxury, in order for humans to be our best selves. We’ve become disconnected from the natural world by accident – we’re busy, we need to live in cities, we’re increasingly tempted by fun and addicting technology. Now we need to put some intention into regaining the connection, for ourselves and our families, because it will help us be happier, healthier and sharper, and it will, ironically, help us build stronger bonds with each other.

    What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

    I make it a priority to walk outside at least 30 minutes a day. If it has to be on a street, I try to pick the route with the most trees. And while I’m out there, I remind myself to notice the beauty around me – to hear the birds, look at the pattern of branches against the sky, watch the buds coming in. This boosts my mood and helps my attention span for the whole day.

    You say that short walks in nature cause measurable changes in our physiology. Have you found that different natural environments yield different benefits?

    Definitely. Humans are primed to love the natural world, but we still have to cultivate it, and cultivate it early. Because of how and where we do this, I think there’s a lot of variation in what people respond to emotionally. For some, it’s the ocean. For others, the ocean freaks them out and it’s a sunset over a city skyline. Because I grew up in New York City, my heart starts to sing when I enter Central Park. I also love the desert and a big river rolling through it. Think about where you were happiest outside as a child, and chances are you will feel joy in landscapes that are similar.

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

    In addition to the 30 minutes minimum of walking, I have another one that I’ve become very attached to, and that’s walking again,  a little bit, with the dog, in the dark before bedtime. It’s quiet and dark, and I look for the moon and say hello. I’m convinced this helps me sleep better (recent studies suggest darkness before bed resets your circadian rhythm and titrates the proper release of melatonin from your brain), and it certainly makes my dog happy.

    Do you embrace habits or resist them?

    Ah, I have to admit, I’m a bit of resister. I embrace intuition rather than proscription, and then feel a bit smug about it, but that’s probably self-delusion. Fortunately, my intuition is to take good care of myself, and that means embracing healthy habits. But I allow myself wiggle room and I’m not hard on myself for messing up. Sometimes I think there’s a reason for not keeping a promise, and it’s worthwhile to dig around for that.

    Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

    Yes, My dear sister-in-law, Lisa Jones, who lives in bucolic Boulder, Colorado and who hikes literally hours every day when she’s not writing brilliant books. Lisa inspires me to take bigger, longer, more bad-ass hikes, and she convinces me this will help my creativity and problem-solving in the long run. Plus she passes along cool dietary advice, like: Eat Rye!

    America has a long tradition of people writing about walking in nature, from Thoreau to Bill Bryson. Where do you see yourself within this spectrum of American nature writing?

    I don’t really consider my work nature writing, which can lean a bit too romantic for my taste. I have a journalist’s eye, and I like finding connections that are sometimes obscure. I’ve always been interested in the intersection of humans and the environment. I like putting people into the equation, and I like to think I bring a balance of humor and serious science and social questions about why we feel and think the way we do.

    The post “Humans Are Primed to Love the Natural World, But We Still Have to Cultivate It.” appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • feedwordpress 21:01:03 on 2017/02/05 Permalink
    Tags: , morning, nature, , , , , sensation   

    “To Cease for a Bright Hour to Be a Prisoner of This Sickly Body & to Become as Large as the World.” 


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    “Every man that goes into the wood seems to be the first man that ever went into a wood….I feel a pain of an alien world or I am cheered with the moist, warm, glittering, budding, and melodious hour that takes down the narrow walls of my soul and extends its life and pulsation to the very horizon. That is Morning. To cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World.”

    –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, March 27, 1838

    The post “To Cease for a Bright Hour to Be a Prisoner of This Sickly Body & to Become as Large as the World.” appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
  • feedwordpress 23:40:34 on 2016/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , nature, , ,   

    Podcast 93: Find Something to Admire, Consider Your Activity Level, and Getting Over a Break-Up. 


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    monicaandrichard

    It’s time for the next installment of  Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

    Quick note: If you’re going to give one of my books as a holiday gift, and you’d like to request a personalized, signed bookplate or signature card to make the present more special, request it here — U.S. and Canada only, sorry, mailing costs. But hurry! Time is short!

    Listener Question: Andrea Silenzi, host of the great podcast about relationships called Why Oh Why, asks “I just broke up with my boyfriend. Any advice about how to be happier?” (If you know your Friends plot-lines, please note my extremely apt choice of image for Andrea’s question.)

    Try This at Home: When you’re feeling blue, find something to admire — an idea we lifted from my daughter Eliza’s podcast, Eliza Starting at 16.

    Here’s the Boethius quotation I mention: “Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last cease to admire worthless things.”

    If you’d like to sign up for my daily “Moment of Happiness” newsletter, where I send out a quote about happiness or human nature, sign up here.

    Happiness Hack: “Wash your face as soon as you put your kids to bed.”

    Know Yourself Better: What’s your activity level? Some people like a faster pace, some people like a slower pace.

    Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth hasn’t been able to get rid of a cold, because she’s been pushing herself too hard.

    Gretchen’s Gold Star: Project Cicero is a terrific organization that collects new and gently used children’s books and distributes them to under-resourced New York City public schools.

    Announcement! I’ve launched an app, the Better app, to help people learn about the Four Tendencies — and also to help people form Accountability Groups (Obligers, I’m thinking about you!). Learn all about it here. Don’t know about the Four Tendencies — about whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Learn about the framework and take the quiz here.

    Here’s the link to the Happier 911 playlist on Spotify.

    If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here.

    Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

    As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

    Check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

    And check out Olive and Cocoa. Surprise someone you love with a meaningful gift today. Go to OliveandCocoa.com/happier to see gift options specifically chosen for our listeners — and for a limited time, you’ll get 10% off your purchase.

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    The post Podcast 93: Find Something to Admire, Consider Your Activity Level, and Getting Over a Break-Up. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

     
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