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  • feedwordpress 12:00:07 on 2018/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Ingrid Fetell Lee, , play   

    “I Have a Phrase That I Come Back to Again and Again: ‘Remember What You Love.’” 

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    Interview: Ingrid Fetell Lee

    Right now, I can't learn enough about color and scent -- I'm looking for anything I can read, see, touch, learn, or listen to on these fascinating subjects. Plus I'm always thinking about happiness and human nature.

    So when I got an advance copy of Ingrid Fetell Lee's new book, I couldn't wait to read it. Just the title was enough to spark my enthusiasm: Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.

    Ingrid  is a Brooklyn-based designer and writer whose work focuses on the way that design affects our health and happiness.

    She gave a terrific TED talk called "Where joy hides and how to find it" and writes an excellent blog called The Aesthetics of Joy.

    She has more than twelve years of experience in design and branding, most recently as Design Director of IDEO's New York office, having led design work for Target, Condé Nast, Eileen Fisher, American Express, Kate Spade, Diageo, Pepsico, and the U.S. government, among others.

    About herself, she notes, "loves pancakes, polka dots, and rainbow sprinkles, and has an extensive repertoire of happy dances for any occasion."

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

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

    Ingrid: Happy dances! My husband and I often do a happy dance on Friday evenings to mark the start of the weekend. We also do them when one of us has good news. It sounds silly, but there’s science to suggest it works. Research shows that celebrating good news with someone else can deepen relationships by increasing our confidence that they will be there for us in hard times, not just in good ones. And dancing with other people can bring about a state that scientists call synchrony, which elicits feelings of unity, generosity, and a desire to be helpful. Not to mention that happy dances are silly and fun!

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

    Ingrid: That true happiness is really a sum of many smaller moments of joy. When I was younger, I associated happiness with large milestones or goals in life: getting into the right school, finding a good job, getting married, having children. Reaching some of these milestones has brought me happiness, and some I haven't reached yet — but now I understand that you can have all the “right” things happen in life and be unhappy, and you can have big disappointments and still be extremely happy.

    My research on joy has shown me that the small daily joys matter a lot more than we think. A picnic in the park with a friend, a deep belly laugh, or taking time to stop and smell the proverbial roses: these simple moments of delight have powerful effects that linger long after the moment has passed. Small sparks of joy can mitigate the physical effects of stress, open our minds, and connect us to others. They can even make us more resilient, by sparking positive feedback loops that promote long-term wellbeing. Though the moments themselves seem small, they have ripple effects that do end up influencing our happiness on a broader scale.

    The reason this is important is that while the big elements of happiness are often out of our control (we don’t always get the dream job, and we don’t know when we’ll meet “the one”), joy is always accessible to us. Turning our attention to the joys of the moment absorbs us in the present, focusing us on the parts of our lives that are good, not the ones we’d like to change. We notice more moments of joy — in fact, research shows that people in a state of joy are actually more attuned to positive stimuli on the periphery of their visual field — and begin to include others in our joy. When we focus on joy, happiness finds us.

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

    Ingrid: I've found that people are often surprised to learn just how deeply our physical environment affects our emotions and wellbeing. The field of psychology has historically focused almost exclusively on the internal factors that shape our emotional experience, in the form of thoughts, behavioral patterns, and neural chemistry. Almost no attention has been paid to environmental factors. So, if we are feeling sad or anxious, we’re conditioned to believe this is due to either our genetics or our learned responses. We never look around us and think that there might be something in our surroundings that is making us uneasy.

    Yet when you look at the research, there are many well-documented links between environment and emotional wellbeing. One example that has gained visibility in recent years is Seasonal Affective Disorder, which highlights the link between light and mood. But light therapy has actually been shown to be effective in treating non-seasonal depression too, so effective that in some studies the results are comparable to those achieved by anti-depressants. (We rarely hear about this research, perhaps because it's more lucrative for pharmaceutical companies to fund studies about drugs than about light.) Other research shows that employees with sunnier desks sleep better and are more physically active in and out of the office than those without windows, and that just changing the lightbulbs in a nursing home can reduce both depression and cognitive decline among Alzheimer’s patients.

    These effects can come from very subtle aspects of the environment, ones we may not be conscious of, such as symmetry and shape. For example, researchers at the University of Chicago have found that showing people pictures of visually disordered, asymmetrical environments increases the likelihood that they will cheat on a test. And fMRI studies have shown that when people are shown pictures of sharp, angular objects, a structure in the brain called the amygdala, associated in part with fear and anxiety, lights up, but stays quiet when people look at curved versions of the same objects.

    I've found that many people have an intuitive understanding of these effects but have been taught to tune them out. Or worse, made to feel that their impulses toward color and light, symmetry and curves are frivolous. What has surprised me most about this work is how validated many people, especially women, feel to know that these sensations are a real, measurable contributor to their wellbeing. I even heard from one woman who told me she cried with relief after watching my TED talk, because she had so often been judged as childish for her vibrant home and whimsical outfits. My hope is that as awareness rises of the role that environment plays in emotional wellbeing, more people will feel permission to seek out joy in their surroundings, and as a society we will recognize that mental health is a function of both what’s in us, and what’s around us.

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

    Ingrid: It’s not a motto, exactly, but I do have a phrase that I come back to again and again: “Remember what you love.” When I get overwhelmed by everything I need to do, or feel anxious about what I’m trying to say or how people might receive it, this phrase helps remind me that everything I do at root stems from the love I feel for this beautiful, diverse world, for the people in it and the extraordinary joy that can be found in even its ordinary corners. I do what I do because I want to share that love with others. When there’s a task I really don’t want to do, “remembering what I love” helps me see the bigger picture. An email or errand that normally might feel like a chore becomes an extension of that love; it enables it and is connected to it .

    This phrase also helps me conquer some of the anxiety I feel about speaking in public. If I focus on the idea that I have to stand on a stage and talk about my work, I get nervous. But if I "remember what I love," that feeling cuts through the anxiety and helps me see getting on the stage as an opportunity to share my excitement and joy with others. I think this phrase is one of the things that kept me working on Joyful for ten years, even during times when I was really unsure if I’d be able to finish it. Every time I felt lost, “remembering what I love” brought me back to the fundamental reasons why I wanted to write the book, and reinvigorated my desire to see it through.

    “Remember what you love” is also really helpful in relationships. In the day-to-day of a marriage, a work partnership, or a friendship, it’s easy to let small disagreements or annoyances take over. When you remember what you love about the other person, it reconnects you to the reasons you chose to be in this relationship, and it becomes easy to let some of the small things go. I hadn’t thought about it until now, but this also applies to one’s relationship to oneself. As someone who can be quite hard on myself, I think it’s not a bad idea to occasionally balance out the critical voices by “remembering what you love” about yourself too.

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

    Ingrid: It’s not a habit exactly, but as a city dweller I’ve found that getting out into nature regularly is important to my sanity and wellbeing. When I’m in the city, this means taking a walk to Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, an old pier that was converted a few years ago into a meadow. I sometimes bring a notebook and spend an hour there working on an essay or a talk. But I also enjoy getting out of the city as often as possible, to the beach or for a hike, or to go snowshoeing in the winter!

    Having houseplants brings a little of that nature into the house, and creates a new habit by necessity: watering once or twice a week. I find I really enjoy this task — checking on them all, dusting their leaves and removing spent flowers, and seeing what new growth has appeared. Even if I have a million other things to do, the plants need me, and that brings me back into connection with the natural world.

    Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee

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

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

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    Interview: Pam Lobley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.") Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

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

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

  • gretchenrubin 07:00:57 on 2017/10/21 Permalink
    Tags: , play, , , ,   

    What Is Work, and What Is Play — for You? 

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    “But what is work and what is not work?  Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles?  All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody.  There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.”

    --George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

    What is work for you, and what is play for you? For me, as my play, I usually do something involving writing, which is my work -- I'm not a well-rounded person. I've tried hard to develop non-bookish hobbies, but they never progress very far.

    And sometimes my play becomes my work. I've been doing a tremendous amount of research and note-taking on the subject of my obsessive interest: color. At some point, perhaps I'll try to turn that material into an actual book -- I've even chosen a title, "My Color Pilgrimage." How delightful, but rare, when work and play converge.

    I do love the writing of George Orwell! I've read The Road to Wigan Pier three or four times, and I've re-read some of my favorite Orwell essays -- such as "Reflections on Gandhi," "Charles Dickens," and "Such, Such Were the Joys" -- even more often. Though, oddly, I haven't re-read any of his fiction since high school. (Should I?)

    What is work for you, that might be play to someone else? And what is play for you, that might be work for someone else?

    Of course, conditions matter tremendously. Work that might be enjoyable in some circumstances becomes hideous drudgery in other circumstances.

    And choice matters. It matters if you're doing what you choose to do, when and because you choose to do it. And if you feel that you could do something else, if you wanted to stop.

    And money matters. Getting paid for something influences whether we regard it as work or play. In fact, research suggests that if we reward people to do an activity that they'd otherwise do for play, they may begin to view that activity as work -- and may not want to do it voluntarily. At the same time, we might enjoy doing something for work that we wouldn't choose to do for play. And vice versa.

    What is work, and what is play?


  • feedwordpress 00:13:20 on 2016/11/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , economy, , , , , , play, Steven Johnson, , Wonderland   

    “I Try to Make a Regular Custom of Listening to Music for 20-30 Minutes Without Any Other Distractions.” 

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    Interview: Steven Johnson.

    Steven Johnson has written many fascinating books, such as How We Got to Now: Six Innovations that Made the Modern World. (which is also a PBS series). I absolutely love the title (and argument) of his book Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.

    His most recent book just hit the shelves: Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, for which there’s also a podcast. Wonderland is all about how playful aspects of life — like fashion, shopping, music, illusion, games, taverns, parks — have had a big impact on our history.

    I was eager to hear what Steven Johnson had to say about habits and happiness.

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

    Steven: I think the most interesting finding is really closely connected to what you’ve tried to wrestle with in The Happiness Project — that we are surprisingly creative and innovative when we’re having fun, when we’re in a playful state. There are probably a hundred different stories in Wonderland that showcase how an idea that came into the world originally in the form of a toy or a game or a new fashion ended up laying the groundwork for a “serious” revolution in science or technology or politics. The best example of that is the industrial revolution. When we were kids, we’d read accounts of why industrialization happened, and it would always be about these brilliant engineers and early capitalists building steam engines and designing the factory system. But if you go back and look at the sequence, what really started the whole process was the moment of delight that Londoners experienced (mostly women) encountering the soft, beautiful fabrics of calico and chintz for the first time. That obsession with imported cotton ended up triggering a huge backlash because it threatened the existing wool industry in Britain at the time, but eventually it lead to the inventions of the industrial age. You see that again and again in history: interests and passions that start out just as seemingly idle pursuits end up changing the course of history.

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

    Working on a book every day. Or even better, working on two books every day. I like to have one active book that I’m focused on writing, and then another one that’s in the background, that I know I am going to write eventually, that I’m researching and thinking about in the gaps between working on the main project. I try to write 500 words a day when I’m actively writing a book, which is really not very many words — it’s like three paragraphs. You can write them in an hour or two if you’re well prepared. So I rarely have that feeling of sitting down at the computer in the morning and thinking, oh my god, I have so much writing to do. But I’m pretty rigorous about hitting that target. And if you write 500 words a day for 4-5 months, you’ll have a book. Or at least enough words for a book.

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

    One of my rituals that is very important to me — that I have preserved from my teenage years — is that I try to make a regular custom of sitting and listening to music for twenty or thirty minutes without any other distractions. Not background music as I work, music that I am listening to without any distraction, no screens, no other people in the room with me. The only distraction, I suppose, is that I usually have a glass or two of wine while I do it. It is very soothing as an experience, even if the music is not, but it’s also a very creative time for me: my mind wanders over different ideas, digests the day’s work. I sometimes get a comparable experience going out for a long walk in Brooklyn, or a hike in California — sometimes with headphones on, sometimes without a soundtrack. Just giving yourself that continuous time to let your mind wander, with some kind of sensory accompaniment — either the scenery or the sonic landscape, or both — is incredibly valuable, I think.

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

    My wife and I have a wonderful shared quality in that we both are entirely happy to stay home every single night of the week. We have no compulsion to be social and always have something on the calendar. When we are out in California we often have stretches of 10-15 days with literally zero social events on the calendar — no dinner parties, no drinks, no lunches. And it’s always a terrifically productive time for us. When we are in NY the calendar fills up a lot more easily, but I’ve gotten very good at just saying no to things because I know that if I have a week with a ton of meetings and evening events, I’m not going to be happy. And it has a nice positive effect when we actually do go out: we’re both like, “oh it’s so fun to hang out with friends! we should do this more often!”

    Do you embrace habits or resist them?

    I was always a very habitual person, with very fixed tastes and attitudes about things — though not a particularly organized person, I should say. I would drink a certain kind of coffee, and only eat certain dishes, and could only write in certain environments. For like fifteen years, the only kind of alcohol I would drink was low-sugar red wines. But one of the strange things that happened to me becoming a middle-aged person (I’m 48) is that I started shaking things up. I’m still very habitual; I just keep changing my habits. We moved to California full-time for three years about six years ago for no other reason than it would be change of pace. I started drinking white wine almost exclusively like two years ago. I suddenly decided I like spicy food about six years ago. It’s a good antidote to getting old, I suppose: don’t let yourself get settled in your ways. Invent new ways!

    The post “I Try to Make a Regular Custom of Listening to Music for 20-30 Minutes Without Any Other Distractions.” appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

  • feedwordpress 16:26:09 on 2016/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , gratitutde, , play, proverb, , , , ,   

    Why Should the Bee Imitate the Beaver? Because Beavers Play at Their Work. 

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    “From beavers, bees should learn to mend their ways.

    A bee works; a beaver works and plays.”

    –American proverb (allegedly–I’ve never heard this proverb before!), Oxford Treasury of Sayings & Quotations

    One of the aspects of my life that makes me happiest is that I do the same thing for work that I do for play. My “job” is exactly what I do with my free time: reading, writing, taking notes, observing people.

    Not one day goes by when I don’t think about it, and feel thankful for it.

    How about you? Do you find ways to play at your work? There are many ways to accomplish this.

    The post Why Should the Bee Imitate the Beaver? Because Beavers Play at Their Work. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

  • feedwordpress 20:05:55 on 2016/04/23 Permalink
    Tags: Antony and Cleopatra, , play, , , , , Shakespeare,   

    In Honor of Shakespeare’s Birthday: My Favorite Shakespeare Passage. 

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    It’s Shakespeare’s birthday! (At least, according to tradition.)

    So, in honor of the day, here’s my favorite Shakespeare passage, from Antony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra is mourning the dead Antony:

    For his bounty,
    There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas
    That grew the more by reaping: his delights
    Were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above
    The element they lived in: in his livery
    Walk’d crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
    As plates dropp’d from his pocket. (V.2.79)


    In this three-minute podcast, A Little Happier, I talk about why I love this passage: Enthusiasm is the best teacher. Listen here.

    What’s your favorite line or passage from Shakespeare? There are so many.

    The post In Honor of Shakespeare’s Birthday: My Favorite Shakespeare Passage. appeared first on Gretchen Rubin.

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