Do You Do Your Best Thinking in the Bathtub?

Interview: Elisabeth Egan.

I got to know Liz Egan because so many people told me, “You’ve got to meet Liz Egan! ” We knew so many people in common that finally we just had lunch — which was a ton of fun.  She’s the books editor at Glamour and has written for numerous publications, and we have writerly friends in common.

Now she’s also a novelist.  A Window Opens is funny and perceptive novel about a woman who makes a big career change and has to manage that — as well as her family.  Think Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I was interested to hear what she had to say about happiness, habits, and productivity.

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

Liz: I take a bath every night. I get my best thinking done in the tub, and most of my books have wavy pages from getting dripped on by our leaky shower-head. I don’t have any fancy bathing rituals—I use strawberry Suave in lieu of real bubbles. But closing the door and sitting in one place for a half hour is ritual enough. My kids are constantly shouting questions at me over the sound of the water: More ice cream? New sneakers? Permission to watch a movie? When I’m in the tub, the answer is almost always yes.

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

Habits don’t just happen, you have to make a decision about what you want to do and commit to it. For instance, I used to be a serial loser of wallets. Every few months, one would disappear into the ether and I’d begin again. This was back in high school, when you’d collect wallet-sized pictures of your friends in little clear pockets, and the thickness of your wallet indicated your position in the social food chain. I wasn’t so concerned about losing my membership card from the Boris Becker Fan Club or ten dollars of babysitting money, but it killed me to have to collect a whole new batch of pictures. I finally committed to a simple habit: glancing over my shoulder every time I left a room, just to make sure I wasn’t leaving a wallet in my wake. You’d be surprised how often I was! I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that wallet retention requires responsibility; it’s not just a matter of luck.

Which habits are most important to you?

I’m committed to habits that give me the illusion of organization. This is why I write everything down, on real paper with an actual pen. I never leave home without two Moleskine notebooks. The black one is my calendar, which shows one week per two-page spread, with space at the bottom for my weekly to-do list. This is command central for everything from high school orientation to work deadlines to my mother-in-law’s birthday. The yellow notebook contains my daily to-do lists, with Glamour things on the right hand side of the page and personal items and notes on the left. I’d be lost without either one of my Moleskines, but the yellow one is the one I’d be embarrassed for someone else to see, since it contains loony ramblings unfit for public consumption.

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

My husband’s fitness and nutrition habits are a big influence, mostly in aspirational ways. He’s incredibly disciplined about exercise and is naturally inclined to eat an apple when I’m digging into my second piece of apple pie. His habits are so ingrained, they’re actual facts: he’ll always make time to ride his bike or cook a healthy meal. I intend to do these things but inevitably run out of time because I’d rather call my sister.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

These questions are my lightning bolt. I’m giving up Diet Coke! I’ve had at least one can every day since I was a teenager and it’s a bad habit—and also an expensive one that screams, “I’m an old lady!” Check in with me at 3 o’clock this afternoon and we’ll see how I fare.

Podcast 27: Choose the Bigger Life, Identify Your “Tell”–and I Reveal Whether I’ll Get a Dog.

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

I’m just back from vacation, this minute! But before I unpack, I want to post about the latest episode.

Update: In episode 24, Elizabeth talked about her beloved “Blankey,” her childhood blanket that she still sleeps with every night. We loved hearing about other people’s childhood “comfort objects” (such a bad phrase for such precious items). The books I mention are Rebecca Caudill’s The Best-Loved Doll and Dare Wright’s Make Me Real and The Lonely Doll. Oh, how I love the uncanny work of Dare Wright…I’ve collected all her books, including the ones that are out of print.

Try This at Home: Have trouble deciding whether or not to choose a course of action? Like — whether or not to get a dog? Try this: Choose the bigger life. 

In this discussion, I reveal the answer to the question first posed in episode 24: Should Gretchen and her family get a dog?  See if you can guess the answer.

We heard from so many people — it has been fascinating, and so helpful. You can listen to what people had to say in a montage of opinions. Also check out happierpodcastdogs.tumblr.com, to read people’s comments and see the photos of people’s adorable dogs.

In this answer, I mention that I’m an Upholder, which is one of the Tendencies in my Four Tendencies framework. To learn more about that, and to take the Quiz to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, read here.

Know Yourself Better: What’s your “tell?”

Listener Questioner: “I can’t answer the question, ‘How are you?’ in a light, positive manner…I always throw in a complaint….I genuinely love what I do, but I seem incapable of just saying, ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ I’m either a complainer or rude. Can you help?”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I don’t really have a summer. Yes, we have family vacation, but I don’t really have a “summer.”

Here’s the quotation I read:  “Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer.”
— Robertson Davies, “Three Worlds, Three Summers,” The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the extremely polite stranger who held the door open, even though he was in a tremendous rush.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors.

Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and a free in-home consultation. Limited time.

Also, check out BlueApron.comWish you cooked more? Get all the delicious, fresh ingredients you need to make great meals, delivered to your front door. Check out BlueApron.com/happier to get your first two meals free.

We love hearing from listeners. Tell us — have you ever made the decision to “choose the bigger life,” and if so, what was it? Or if you’re struggling with a decision, does that question help?

Also, please send dog advice!

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or sign up here.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier 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!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

And if you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

HAPPIER listening!

Podcast 26: Pick a One-Word Theme for the Year, Take the First Step–and Paper or Digital Calendar?

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

I’m actually on vacation, but am making a brief appearance to post about this episode.

Update: Elizabeth records live from her treadmill desk Which we’ve discussed many times, including in the very first episode. Can you hear it whirring softly in the background?

In episode 24, I asked people to weigh in about a huge, life-changing decision I have to make: Should my family get a dog? We heard from so many people — it has been fascinating, and so helpful. You can listen to what people had to say in a montage of opinions. Also check  happierpodcastdogs.tumblr.com, to read people’s comments and see the photos of people’s adorable dogs. Thanks, listeners — and keep those insights coming.

Try This at Home: Pick a one-word theme for the year — the school year, that is. For Elizabeth and me, September is the other New Year. If you’re interested in this subject, I write more about it in Happier at Home.

Call us to let us know what one-word theme (or short phrase) you choose. It’s so interesting to hear what people pick.

Better Than Before Habits Strategy: The Strategy of First Steps. Practically always, the best time to begin is now. We need to resist “tomorrow logic,” which is the fantasy that everything will be easier–tomorrow.

Important note, in this episode, I misspoke, because I casually said that it would be tough to start a new habit when you were in the middle of moving — actually, that’s a great time to start a new habit, because of the Strategy of the Clean Slate. Stay tuned to hear more about that!

Listener Questioner: “I’m an anxious procrastinator…how do you get started when you’re terrified?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth isn’t doing the very simple steps that would clear up her blepharitis.

filofaxgretchensarchivesGretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to my mother, for giving me my beloved Filofax. Here it is — plus my binders of archived calendar page stretching back many, many years.

Very fun to have this record.

filofaxmineHow about you? Paper calendar — or digital? Weigh in!

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors.

Want to avoid post-office pain, 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 no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Also, check out Smith and Noble, a solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and a free in-home consultation. Limited time.

We’d love to hear from you. Did you pick a one-word theme for the year? Call us and tell us what you chose. And weigh in on the great paper vs. digital calendar debate.

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or sign up here.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier 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!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

And if you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

HAPPIER listening!

Happiness Is…Taking a Vacation.

Farewell — I’m off on a family vacation.

It’s time for an “island of leisure,” as William Edward Hartpole Lecky put it:

“Pleasure is a jewel which will only retain its luster when it is in a setting of work, and a vacant life is one of the worst of pains, though the islands of leisure that stud a crowded, well-occupied life may be among the things to which we look back with the greatest delight.”

“But Gretchen,” you may be thinking, “how can I possibly get along without your daily musings about good habits and happiness?” Ah, all you need to do is to pick up a copy of Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, or Happier at Home. I can’t resist adding that these books were instant New York Times bestsellers, and The Happiness Project was on the bestseller list for two years. Yes, two years. Zoikes.

Or if you’re in the mood to listen, you can listen to Happier with Gretchen Rubin, the podcast I do with my sister Elizabeth Craft. We’re getting close to three million downloads, in just several months! Thank you, listeners. Not sure how to listen to a podcast? Very easy instructions here.

To learn more about Better Than Before, you can…

 

To learn more about Happier at Home, you can…

 

To learn more about The Happiness Project, you can…

  • -Read sample chapters
  • -Watch the one-minute book video
  • -Request the one-page discussion guide or spiritual discussion guide
  • -Listen to a sample of the audiobook (that’s me, reading from the Introduction)

 

I love vacation reading. I loaded up at the library and bookstore, so I’m all set. I still love print, but boy, it’s heavy.

Off I go. How about you? Have you taken a vacation recently?

Podcast 25: Hilarious Tips from A. J. Jacobs: Posture, Brainstorming, and Eat from the Fridge, Not the Pantry.

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

Update: In episode 21,we discussed the try-this-at-home tip, “Join or start a group.” We heard about many interesting, productive groups. Remember, you can request the starter kit for starting a Better Than Before Habits group, or a Happiness Project group. Or you can just email me a request.

Try This at Home-a-Palooza: Our terrific guest, the hilarious writer A. J. Jacobs, suggests a bunch of try-this-at-home tips: stand up straight, brainstorm for fifteen minutes a day, use sustainable honesty, and eat from the fridge, not the pantry. If you want more of A.J.’s humor and insights, read The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, Drop Dead Healthy, and The Guinea Pig Diaries.

Gretchen’s Demerit: I allow my ten-year-old to watch the TV show Friends. Appropriate — or not? Bonus: we include a clip from my favorite episode.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Rain! Drought-plagued Los Angeles got a day of rain.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors.  Want to avoid post-office pain, 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 no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Also, check out The Great Courses for a wide variety of fascinating courses. Special offer for our listeners: go to thegreatcourses.com/happier to order from eight of their bestselling courses, including Behavioral Economics: When Psychology and Economics Collide, and get up to 80% off. Limited time.

We’d love to hear from you. Did you try any of the tips suggested by A. J.?

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier 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!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

And if you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

HAPPIER listening!