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

“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.

“I Wish My 18-Year-Old Self Had Realized That Incrementalism Is ‘OK.’”

Interview: Robb Wolf.

I often write about how I eat a low-carb, high-fat diet. As I describe in Better Than Before, I experienced the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt” after reading Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat, which convinced me of the health benefits of avoiding carbohydrates — I changed practically everything about the way I ate, overnight, after reading that book. (If you’d like to listen to the podcast interview with Gary Taubes, about his new book The Case Against Sugar, it’s here.)

Because of my interest in eating low carb, I got to know Robb Wolf. Robb comes at the issues of diet, eating, and nutrition from the Paleo perspective. It’s a different philosophy of eating, but in the end, we eat mostly the same way, so it’s interesting for me to hear about it.

Robb has a popular podcast, The Paleo Solution, and he has new book that just hit the shelves called Wired to Eat: Turn Off the Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite for Weight Loss, and Determine the Foods that Work for You.

Wired to Eat emphasizes that it’s important to figure out how to eat in the way that works for you. It also discusses the importance of things like sleep and movement in trying to eat more healthfully.

As I’ve written and spoken to people about their happiness and habits, the issue of “wanting to eat healthier” comes up again and again as a habit that people struggle with; they’d know they’d be happier and healthier if they ate healthier, but they find it tough. (Sound familiar?)

So I was curious to hear what Robb had to say.

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

Robb: This may seem a bit far afield to your readers but one of the best insights into habits and human behavior came to me when I started looking at this topic from the perspective of evolutionary biology. If we think about the environment that forged our genetics, we can get a sense of some important “hard wiring” that may seem to defy logic in the modern world. Let’s consider healthy eating as an example. It’s easy to vilify overeating, to make this tendency some kind of character flaw, but in our not so distant past it made good sense to eat anything one could find and then to REST. All organisms that move to eat follow a process called “Optimum Foraging Strategy” which is just a fancy way of looking at the energy accounting an organism must maintain to go on living. If a given critter (in this case let’s say us) consistently burns more energy than it finds in the environment…it dies. So, humans are literally wired to “eat more, move less.” This is a completely normal and even healthy state of affairs when living in an ancestral environment, but with modern culture and technology we can order a nearly infinite variety of foods to our door, and barely expend any energy at all. It is now incredibly easy to overeat and we experience a host of health problems as a consequence. This evolutionary biology perspective can help with habits in that if we are not starting a process from a perspective of guilt or shame (which is common when folks are contemplating diet and lifestyle changes) we stand a much better chance of making that process of change stick.

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

When I start feeling cranky and like life is working against me I have found that a few minutes of gratitude goes a long way towards making me feel better. I do this every night before bed and it is incredibly calming and also keeps me grounded in all the good things I have in my life.

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

Something I wish my 18-year-old self had been aware of is that incrementalism is “ok.” For much of my life I tackled things with a perfectionist attitude and what this did is set me up for failure in anything that I was not inherently good at. If I struggled a bit at something I’d get self-conscious and default back to those things I’m good at. Not a great way to add new habits and skills to one’s life!

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

I’m pretty strongly a Questioner. I love seeking out information from folks that are better versed in a topic than I am but I tend to run their advice or teaching through the following filter: Does it make sense? When I implement the recommendations, does the process work? I rarely, if ever, dismiss something out of hand, but I will stress-test the concept and see if it holds up to scrutiny. I’m also always looking for ways to improve upon the original teaching or advice.

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

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.

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As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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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!

A Little Happier: A Happiness Lesson from a Founding Father.

When I was still working as a lawyer, before I switched to writing, I worked at the Federal Communications Commission. My former boss, Chairman Reed Hundt, had a line he often quoted, and it made a big impression on me.

It’s from the Founding Father Benjamin Franklin:

“Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

Note: “Dear” is an old-fashioned term for “costly.”

Meaning: Experience is a costly way to learn, but sometimes it’s the only thing that can teach us. And I find that immensely comforting. Sometimes, the only way to learn is to learn the hard way!

As I mention, the reason that I know Kim Scott, one of the co-hosts of the terrific podcast Radical Candor, is that we worked at the FCC together.

Listen to this mini-podcast episode by clicking PLAY below.

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For the International Day of Happiness: The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Happiness.

Tomorrow (Monday, March 20), is the International Day of Happiness (there’s a day for just about everything, isn’t there?).

That got me thinking. I’ve been researching, thinking, and writing about it for a decade now: what’s the most important thing I’ve learned about happiness? How can we help ourselves to become happier?

And I realize that my crucial insight is that the answer is…It depends.

It depends on the kind of person we are — our interests, our values, our temperament, our circumstances.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking there’s a “best” way, or the “right” way — but it just depends.

For instance, maybe you know you’d be happier if you exercised regularly, or if you spent less time on your phone, or if you finished your Ph.D. thesis, or if you yelled at your kids less, or if your house were less cluttered.

How do you do that? It depends…

 

And so many other factors.

Very often, though, we’re told we “should” be able to do something, or that something “should” make us happy.

We should be made happier by …

  • travel
  • wine
  • shopping
  • spontaneity
  • music

 

Those aren’t major sources of happiness for me.  I see their value, they do bring me some happiness, I understand that they’re very important to other people, but for me, meh.

If pressed for a universal answer about how to become happier, I do think there are some aspects of happiness that are true for just about everyone.

We need self-knowledge.

This is what I’m talking about above. When we know ourselves, we can shape our lives to suit what’s true for us.

We need relationships.

To be happy, we have to have enduring, intimate bonds with others; we have to feel like we belong; we have to be able to give and get support.

 

If someone asked you, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about happiness?” what would you answer?