Secret of Adulthood: Sometimes, You Can Minister to Your Spirit Through Your Body.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


In Happier at Home, I spend a chapter focused on the “Body” — because our physical experience always colors our emotional experience.

Continuing in this line of thought, in my forthcoming book on habits, I return to the subject with the Strategy of Foundation. I argue that in order to have the self-command that we need to foster good habits, we need to pay a lot of attention to our Foundation, and therefore we tackle habits that help us to:

1. Sleep

2. Move

3. Eat and drink right

4. Unclutter (because for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm)

Three of the four Foundation habits relate directly to the body.

When it comes to ministering to the spirit through the body, in my own life, I often turn to one of my favorite happiness habits: To cultivate my sense of smell. I have a big shelf crammed with beautiful or interesting scents, and whenever I need a lift, I go there. Plus I have a lucky perfume.

How about you? Do you have ways to minister to your spirit through your body? Through your eyes (looking at art or nature), through the sense of taste (comfort foods, new cuisines), through the sense of hearing (listening to your favorite upbeat music is one of the quickest ways to intervene in mood), or through the sense of touch (getting a massage, fur therapy by petting your dog?)

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  • Penelope Schmitt

    Gretchen you seem to be having a week of mind-bending posts!
    Once you get past the realization that everything you do to minister to your spirit has to come through your body, there’s a lot to be pondered here.
    I’ve been contemplating a lot the ‘who I am’ of my body and how that changes as I age, but also as I treat myself better and move toward a healthier weight. I had been telling myself that I was old, but much of that was about being so heavy. It seems right to be feeding myself more appropriately, I have a reduced need for medications, and I certainly can move about my world more easily, and I DO appreciate my world more because I am outdoors in it every day. There is nothing ‘ascetic’ about this, but there’s a lot of conscious effort involved.
    I like that you bring up aromas. Music, rather than fragrance, is the sensual pleasure that means the most to me. I have been working on making sure that I hear some music I enjoy every day, even though I no longer can indulge in all day ‘surround sound,’ as I did before my Mom moved in.
    I have installed a pretty strong habit in recent months of ‘flossing my teeth’ — one of those things you always mean to do, but never get to. I decided that I could choose to do this and see if thereby I could delay age-related gum and tooth problems that were beginning to hint they might be just around the corner.
    That whole business of the body being a ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’ is truer in the sense of appreciating and caring for the gift of life more than in the sense of ‘maintaining purity’ I think.

  • Sue

    On my desk, to energize me, and to keep me from wandering away from my work to eat something, is the “Hot Chocolate 12-hour Daylight Candle” made by Kringle Candle Company. For less than $5, I fee energized and happy.

  • Gretchen, I’m baaack with my favorite suggestion. (Sorry to keep repeating myself)
    I find that if my body is blissful, the emotions and mind toddle along after it like happy puppies. Every day I devote myself to a type of breathing I call ‘tracheal resonance,’ and you felines friends might think is purring. Ten good purrs a few times a day keeps me tingling from head to toe. 3-min Sample PURRING TO NIRVANA
    and a technical explanation behind purring here:

  • Sophie

    I find a walk beside my local creek does wonders (exercise and the therapeutic sound of water all in one), so good for my mindset. I feel like the spirit comes from the body (I don’t believe they are separate – our thoughts/feelings come from our brain) so it makes perfect sense to me. Love your work Gretchen! The Happiness Project was great.

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much!

  • becky

    I’ll go along with good smells and walks in the woods – I also love long, hot showers (weather permitting) and soft clothes.

  • Wendy

    I go for a walk or run by the beach. The water always makes me feel better and salt water is the best!

  • Curling up on the couch with a hot water bottle pressed against my lower back can be so comforting.

  • Katie

    I have a great Eucalyptus Spearmint hand sanitizer that on my desk. It serves multiple functions in making me feel fresh, but the smell sends my mind right to the aromatherapy baths I take with a similar scent.

  • PolarSamovar

    I think that denigrating the body as less important/spiritual than the mind is one of the biggest mistakes we make as a culture. It leads to considering ‘mortification of the flesh’ a virtue in itself; and that causes so much misery; from disordered eating to ignoring health problems, to not exercising, or over-exercising, etc.

    “If it hurts, it’s good for you” is just not true! Sometimes good things hurt – like needed surgery, or exercising again after a long hiatus. Sometimes good things feel wonderful, like truly health-giving food (as opposed to the grim, ascetic diet food that too many people consider healthy), massage, exercise that suits us, affectionate touch, relationships based on mutual respect.

    This seems to me part & parcel of the truth that positive training is more effective in the long run. (Article that changed my life –

    Whether we’re training ourselves, our spouses, or orcas, doing desired behaviors for motivating rewards not only makes life more fun – it keeps us energized and healthier compared to doing desired behaviors from fear of punishment.

    Fear and pain have their place in the learning process, no doubt. But the world gives us plenty of those, regardless of our choices. We don’t have to seek them out in order to learn what they have to teach us.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      All EXCELLENT points, thank you very much!

    • ejr

      I agree with your views – that we sometimes forget how closely our physical and mental states correlate and that positive reinforcement is a better motivator toward good behavior than punishment is a deterrent to bad. And thank you for linking to the 2006 NYT article describing how effectively animal-training techniques can be used for humans! Terrific insights and strategies there.

  • Gillian

    The body and mind/spirit do exist in a symbiotic relationship; each affects the other.

    What works to make me feel better in both body and spirit are massage, a few yoga-type stretches, a brisk walk, up-beat music, the scent of the lavender in my garden or a glorious sunset or rainbow. These all relax and energize me and, when needed, help me cope with a problem. The scent of lavender seems to permeate my whole body, entering and healing every cell.

    I differentiate between the spirit and the soul. The spirit is the of-the-moment mood or state-of-mind. It can be affected, positively or negatively, by day-to-day conditions or events and can be improved by walking, music, etc.

    The soul, on the other hand, is permanent and is the foundation of who I am. It does, however, also need soothing and nourishing. Music works well here too but rather than something upbeat, my soul requires a slow movement in classical music. I think it was Deepak Chopra who said that the soul exists in the space between the thoughts. A wonderful description! In a similar way, for me the music in a slow movement exists partially in the space between the notes. Nature also nourishes the soul – the sound of a stream or waterfall or waves lapping onto a beach. Or the intense silence of a forest, perhaps interrupted by the rustle of a breeze. These all nurture the soul and connect me to my soul and my soul to the universe. They also cheer the spirit and relax the body.

    Of course, there is always chocolate for a great pick-me-up! Unfortunately that usually comes with attendant pangs of guilt unless I am in one of the rare and brief periods when my weight is where I want it to be.

  • HEHink

    Odd as it may sound, for much of my life I’ve felt a sort of disconnect, for lack of a better word, between my body and the rest of me (mind, emotions, spirit). It has only been in recent years that I have paid more attention to how the rest of me feels and functions when I do things that are good for my body (sleep, nutrition, exercise). Generally, I feel so much better as a whole that I’m more motivated to make better choices. Haven’t developed all the good habits I want to, yet, but have more desire to do so, and am thinking more about how to develop them and make them stick.

    On another note, as a teacher of young children, I have learned that physical needs take priority over anything else that needs to be done. If a child is tired, hungry, or uncomfortable for any reason, he or she will be less able to focus on learning. Adults experience this too; I have heard speakers at conferences mention that our focus only lasts as long as our backside. When that gets uncomfortable, our attention is lost, and it usually only takes about an hour of sitting to get to that point. (Much less for young children!) I have also witnessed how unusual smells, sounds, temperature, or lighting can contribute to the type of discomfort that inhibits focus. So, it makes sense that the opposite would also be true… that other sensory input can help us be calmer or more focused.

  • One of the main ways I “minister to my spirit” is through music. Ironically, one of the songs that I’ve listened to quite often in the past few months is Pharrell’s “Happy”. I’ve had some not-so-great moments these past few weeks that had me feeling a little down. I knew that sitting around and moping wouldn’t solve the issue, so I instantly turned on “Happy” on my phone, connected it to my speakers and danced the entire time it was playing! At times, I’d play it 2-3 times in a row.

    And no surprise here, it lifted my mood. And the bonus – it was free exercise. 🙂

    Other than listening to positive, uplifting songs at home — I love to occasionally go for a drive with no destination in mind (especially at night, or on days/times when there’s not a lot of traffic) and turn up the music really loud and just go. I don’t know what it is about spontaneous driving with music that lifts my spirits, but it does.

    Lastly, sometimes a good cup of tea or a cappuccino (with lots of whipped cream!) does the trick. And when that isn’t enough — some frozen peanut M&Ms help. (Hey, I’m a girl! lol)

    P.S. – I’m a new follower of your site. I wish I discovered you sooner! 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that my work resonates with you.

  • Penny Behm

    If you are not in touch with God and His Spirit, then you are leading the world astray. The power of the Holy Spirit gives you the zeal you need to accomplish all of the things that you have set out to do. Without it, you will end up starting more and more happiness projects to accomplish the one thing that you yearn for so much: true lasting happiness. Without the Spirit of Christ, this source of deep, eternal joy will elude you for as long as you live.
    Believe in the miracle (the magic) of suddenly finding yourself on “Cloud 9” with a much better perspective on life, a much deeper understanding of what motivates us and what doesn’t, and much greater freedom to truly be the person that you were designed to be. Write to inspire others, but not to keep them in the same old rat race, running around in circles. Write to inspire others to reach up and away from all of the things that once kept them bound here on earth and give the precious gift of FREEDOM.

  • Penny Behm

    …And by the way, I loved your books before I was born again into the Spirit of God. I believed and agreed with every word, but now I know there is a better way. Believe!

  • Ann

    Children’s programming on television. I highly recommend Arthur; it shows a lot about successful human interaction and how to deal with and accept many types of people. And it’s so cute!

  • Denise Alden

    It’s so nice to read about your love of scent. I think our ability to smell is highly underrated. That being said, I love many, many scents, and many (sadly, expensive) perfumes. I also think I minister to my spirit through laughing. When I want to lift myself, I watch Key and Peele’s brilliant “Obama’s Anger Translator, Luther” sketches. Warning: terribly profane, but terribly funny. And suddenly, I feel so much lighter!

  • Jamie

    Argh the foundation reminder is a good one. I had a New Year’s Resolution walking habit that I was doing such a good job of keeping. But now I’m staying up later and waking up tired and driving the kids to school instead of walking…

  • John

    The greatest way to fill your soul might be to consistently act like an anti-narcissist. Things like: helping others, turning the other cheek, or denying yourself. There are covert and overt narcissists. Learn about them and strive to not be like them.

  • Joe Wong

    I agree with you that your body and spirit are connected. Sometimes I might feel bad in my spirit. Going for a run / bike ride / hard workout are great improvements to my spirit. I feel much better afterwards.

  • I love the concept of ministering to our spirit through our body! Great blog. I minister to my spirit through yoga. I also have a lavender based perfume that I can put b

  • Kat Schwanz

    When I need a boost, I open my spice cupboard and it’s guaranteed to perk me up. I walk away feeling better.

  • Jodi

    I think this is why yoga has been so popular in our society. People go to a gym or a studio for yoga usually because they want to get in shape and minister to the body, which in our society is the closest thing we have to a supreme temple. If they stick with it long enough, they may begin to realize that the whole time they’ve been toning their thighs, abs, and arms, they’ve also been toning their souls. Yoga has a funny habit of working that way – surreptitiously, subtly, through the body. Even if you don’t want it to, even if you really only want great arms, yoga can get to the spirit.

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  • Yes indeed – everything is connected.