Have You Ever Lost Your Love for Something–Like the Mountains? Did You Turn Elsewhere?

“I have to admit that, although I do not feel that I myself have changed, my love for the mountains is draining away from me like a wave running backwards down the sand. My thoughts are unchanged, but the mountains have taken leave of me. Their unchanging joys mean less and less to me, so long and so intently have I sought them out….When I climb, it is not among bracken and rock-face, but among the phantoms of my memories….

What attracts me now is the forest.”

Tristes Tropiques, Claude Levi-Strauss

This is a poignant reminder that sometimes we lose our passion for something that once gave us great joy. Perhaps we lose the physical stamina to play tennis, or we weary of needlepoint, or we move to place where gardening isn’t possible.

Or, as has happened to me, we spend enough time on a fascinating subject that we come to the end of it, for ourselves. I experienced this with Churchill. What a joy it was to write Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, my biography of Churchill! What a subject! And yet now, when I see a new Churchill biography in the bookstore, I have no desire to read it. I love to re-read the works that Churchill wrote himself, but I’ve come to the end of his life as a subject for study.

Have you ever left behind one activity or subject you loved? And like Levi-Strauss, were you able to find something else to turn to?

Podcast 40: Holiday Episode: Cornucopia of Try-This-at-Homes from Listeners, and Thoughts on Decorations.

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

Very Special Episode, Holiday edition! Don’t miss the bonus at the end of the episode, when Elizabeth’s son Jack recites a holiday poem.

Update: Elizabeth and I talk about how we divide up our holidays.

Listener Try This at Home: We asked everyone, “What’s your Try This at Home for staying happier, healthier, and more productive over the holidays? We got so many great answers.

One listener suggested reading my post about “8 tips for dealing with difficult relatives during holidays.

I mention being an under-buyer. Want to read about under-buyer vs. over-buyer?

Questioner for Listeners: We also asked, “What’s the thing that’s the essential element of the holiday for you?” For instance, for Elizabeth, the essential element of Thanksgiving is stuffing — and the hanging-out time.

Elizabeth’s Demerit:  Elizabeth has non-functioning twinkle lights dangling off her house.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I gave a gold star to our mother, who gave me a pre-assembled set of holiday decorations for Halloween. See photo! And note that although tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I still haven’t put away our Halloween decorations.

Call for comments, questions, observations!

In a few weeks, we’re going to do a round-up episode on the Four Tendencies. We’ve had so many great comments from listeners, so we want to highlight some responses — and we want more. In particular, we want to throw out a few questions.

How does your career align with your Tendency, for better or worse?

If you use the Four Tendencies at work — you’re a doctor, a teacher, a manager — how do use them?

How does your Tendency influence your relationship with your sweetheart?


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Five Very Big Things I’m Grateful for This Year.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: gratitude is a critical element to a happy life.

Research shows that people who cultivate gratitude get a boost in happiness and optimism, feel more connected to other people, are better-liked and have more friends, are more likely to help others—they even sleep better and have fewer headaches.

Nevertheless, I find it…challenging to cultivate a grateful frame of mind. I find it all too easy to fail to appreciate all the things I feel grateful for—from pervasive, basic things like democratic government and running water, to major, personal aspects of my life such as the fact that my two daughters rarely fight, to little passing joys, like a warm fall day. I get preoccupied with petty complaints and minor irritations, and forget just how much happiness I already have.

So for this Thanksgiving, I decided to take a moment to think about what’s happened in my life since last Thanksgiving, to set aside a moment for thankfulness.

And boy do I have a lot to be thankful for. So much!

1. My husband’s hepatitis C is cured!

First, and by far biggest: My husband’s hepatitis C is cured! I will never stop being thankful for that, I’ll never take it for granted. (Want to read about one of the happiest days of my life, and how he got it, and how he was cured? Read here.) This will be on my gratitude list for the rest of my life.

2. My new podcast with my sister

This undertaking has been so much fun. Working on Happier with Gretchen Rubin has given me a chance to spend more time with my sister, and to collaborate with her; it has given me a whole new way to connect with people on the subjects I find fascinating; I’ve made new friends and learned new skills.  That’s a lot of thankfulness birds with one stone.

3. Doing work I love

This year my latest book, Better Than Before, hit the shelves. I feel so, so lucky that I get to do the work I love, and explore the subjects that interest me, and talk to other people about them. And people seem interested! Every time I sit down at my laptop, which happens many times a day, I feel grateful for this.

4. Our new dog, Barnaby

Podcast listeners know that I really debated whether or not to get a dog. My two daughters wanted a dog desperately, but I wasn’t sure.  In the end, I decided to choose the bigger life, and get a dog. Now we’re all so happy that we have our puppy Barnaby.

5. You

Last but certainly not least, I’m thankful for you, my readers and listeners. I started writing books before the internet made it possible to be in touch with people so easily, and I constantly marvel at how wonderful it is — and how technology just keeps making it easier to connect, and in new and intriguing ways. My understanding of my subjects has been immeasurably deepened by the comments and questions I’ve received. Just on the Four Tendencies framework alone — I wouldn’t have nearly the grasp of it that I do (I think), if I couldn’t hear from various Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, about their experiences. I so appreciate your support and enthusiasm.

The nice thing about feeling grateful is that it drives away negative emotions like annoyance, resentment, or anger. I really find this to be true. I just spent some time reflecting on the vastness of what I have to be grateful for, and as a result, the usual, petty annoyances of my day have vanished.

How about you? Do you make a special effort at Thanksgiving actually to give thanks? Does it change your frame of mind?

The Answer to a Question People Keep Asking Me: What Do I Eat Every Day?

Assay: People keep emailing to ask me what I eat, so here’s the answer.

But before I respond, I want to say a few things.

First, I do indeed eat a very low-carb diet. If you want to know why and how I came to do that, I describe it in my book Better Than Before and in episode 33 of the podcast.  Nutshell version: more than three years ago, while on vacation with my family, I read Gary Taubes‘s book Why We Get Fat. I experienced a “Lightning Bolt,” and all my eating habits changed — overnight, effortlessly, and permanently.

Not everyone would want to eat this very-low-carb way, and even people who more or less eat this way (like my father) might not want to be as strict as I am. I prefer to be super-strict. Hey, everyone needs a hobby!

Second, I want to say that after thinking and learning about nutrition for several years, I’ve concluded this: what we don’t eat is more important than what we do eat. People can be healthy and vigorous eating wildly different things. We can argue about whether it’s a good idea to eat burgers or brown rice. But as far as I can tell, no one argues that a healthy diet features sugar or refined carbs. And if you don’t eat (or drink) sugar or refined carbs, you’re likely to get a big boost in health. So that’s a place to start.

For me, cutting out carbs all together has been enormously freeing. No more sweet tooth! No more inner debate–one, two, three? now, later? does this count? All that noise has gone away. I’m much less hungry, and much happier with the way that I eat.  But what works for me isn’t the best choice for everyone.

For one thing, I’m a hardcore Abstainer. For me, bright-line rules are easy to follow, while moderation is too demanding. Again, not true for everyone! Not everyone is an Abstainer! For more about Abstainers vs. Moderators, read here or listen here.

So I’m not saying that everyone should adopt my eating habits. But many people are curious, so here’s what I eat:

  • eggs — lots of eggs, often scrambled with butter, or in other forms, like frittatas
  • hamburger, bacon, turkey, tuna, salmon, chicken, steak, pepperoni (yes, I saw the article about processed meats causing cancer, but I’m not worried by that study, for reasons explained here)
  • cheese — I eat cheese as an ingredient (in a salad, on a burger if I’m very hungry) but I usually don’t eat a piece of cheese on its own
  • broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, lettuce
  • Greek yogurt — occasionally
  • almonds — great snack
  • Nick’s Sticks —  One reason that eating low-carb is healthy is that just about all processed foods are eliminated, and you’re stuck with the kind of food that needs to be cooked, eaten at a table with cutlery, and goes bad quickly.  Which is the healthiest kind of food. I do keep a few Nick’s Sticks in my backpack and in my suitcase when I travel, in case I get hungry.
  • coffee, tea, diet soda — I use almond milk, when I can get it, or cream when I can’t, or half-and-half when I can’t get cream
  • avocados — I keep meaning to eat more avocados. Also olives.

Also I eat items that are a mix of those things. For instance, I love  quiche (no crust) or a Cobb salad.

As you’ll notice, there’s not a lot of variety here. My whole life, I’ve tended to eat the same foods every day. Again, that’s not true for everyone, but it’s true for me.

There are items that I’ll eat in small amounts, if they’re served to me, say, at a restaurant. For instance, I might eat some berries, some peppers, etc., but I don’t generally go out of my way to eat them.

I’m  a huge zealot for this way of eating, because it has been such a happy change for me. My father, too. And it has been thrilling to hear from so many people, since Better Than Before was published, who have told me how much better off they are eating this way.

And I understand why people might disagree, and why they might make different choices. Absolutely. The way that we eat raises all kind of complex scientific issues, as well as ethically- and morally-charged choices — such as whether or not to eat meat.

Which brings us back to the importance of the Strategy of Clarity for changing habits. No matter what our beliefs might be, if we want to change our eating habits, the more clear we are about why we want to eat a certain way, and the habits that we want to adopt, the easier we’ll find it to follow through.

I have my reasons. Others will have their own reasons. But for most of us, it’s possible to do better than before, according to our own lights.

Have you ever made a major change to your eating habits that gave you a big happiness boost? What did you do?

Agree, Disagree? “Those Who Are Not Grateful Soon Begin to Complain of Everything.”

“Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything.” 

–Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

In the United States, we’re approaching the holiday of Thanksgiving — a great reminder to stop and take a moment to be thankful.

In my experience, gratitude does drive out resentment, anger, and annoyance.  And complaining! When I think about how grateful I am that I didn’t have to cook Thanksgiving dinner, I stop grumbling to myself about the fact that I don’t like asparagus.

Do you agree or disagree with Merton?