Tag Archives: interview

A Little Happier: If Others Think I Can Do a Job, I Can Probably Do It.

I love it when people know just the right thing to say in a situation. Here’s one of my favorite examples — when a friend found the right thing to say to me, when I was nervous before a job interview with Justice O’Connor.

(Spoiler alert: I did get the job.)

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“Just Like It’s Not Easy to Lose Weight, It’s Not Easy for People to Let Go of Their Past.”

Interview: Felice Cohen.

I learned about Felice Cohen when I, like twelve million other people, watched a short video where she showed of her 90-square-foot Manhattan studio. (90 square feet is about the size of a Honda Accord, if that helps you visualize how small this space is.)

Several people emailed me about the video, both because it was about dealing with possessions and home, which is a subject that I love, and also because — you can see that she’s reading my book The Happiness Project! Which was so fun.

To see the cameo of The Happiness Project, go to minute 1:01.

Now Felice Cohen has a new book about living in a tiny space. In 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (or More), she talks about de-cluttering, organizing, and issues about how to live large in a small space.

I wanted to ask Felice for her thoughts on happiness, habits, and home.

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

Felice: Writing out a new To Do list. Seeing the tasks I’ve already crossed out makes me feel accomplished, while writing out new goals inspires me. A To Do list also adds structure to my day and frees up mental space I’d otherwise spend trying to remember all that I need to do. Best of all, these lists capture life’s moments. When I was the Chief of Staff to the president at Hunter College, I kept one large notebook and wrote down everything I had to do, often filling one or two entire pages a day. With each completed task, I would put one line through it and write the date. On occasion I would be asked days or weeks later if something ever got done. Looking back through pages to confirm, I would always be amazed by what I had succeeded at doing.

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

Healthy habits are cumulative. Eating right, exercising, working towards your goals and believing in yourself are investments for your long-term health and happiness. I now go into every situation with an open mind thinking it will have a positive outcome. And why not? Life is full of surprises and while things may not always go your way, having a positive attitude can at least reduce the sting when they don’t. Best of all, I know there’s always next time.

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

Exercise. While I also make sure to eat right and get enough sleep, exercise is crucial to my being able to write and organize a client’s home or office. I suffer from occasional bouts of lower back pain and when that happens I can barely stand up, let alone get anything done. As long as I exercise (cycle, walk, yoga, stand up paddle board) everyday, I’m okay. Plus, the endorphins are great and who doesn’t want to feel strong? It’s also part of my long-term goal to keep my body resilient to aging, so I can continue to do the things I love. Many people ask how I find the time. Simple. I don’t have a lot of stuff and I’m organized and efficient with my time. When you spend less time looking for stuff, cleaning stuff or working to pay off stuff, you’ll find you have a lot more time to do the things you love.

I also make my bed first thing every morning. It sets a productive intention to the day.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

When I lived in the 90-square-foot NYC studio, I didn’t have a kitchen and only a mini fridge. At first I went out to dinner or got take out every night. I was living on the Upper West Side where there are endless restaurants. I soon realized I was spending a lot of money, plus you don’t always know what’s going into the food. I had a toaster oven (where I made my Shrinky Dinks art), so I decided to put that to good use. I soon got really good at making meals in the toaster, plus got accustomed to making salads in the airplane-sized bathroom sink! I also gave myself an incentive. The money I saved from going out to eat, I put towards a new bicycle.

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

Upholder. All. Day. Long. I look at life as an endless road of possibilities. I grew up thinking I could achieve anything I wanted. (My mom was always taking me to the library and my favorite book was Girls Can Be Anything by Norma Klein. I was also a varsity athlete and was recruited to play two Division 1 sports. I loved competing, but more so, I loved the camaraderie of being part of a team. If we lost a game, I wouldn’t brood like some other teammates. Sure, winning was fun, but at that age, I knew that either outcome didn’t really matter. It was only a game. Life to me sometimes feels like a game. We can either enjoy it or be defensive all the time. I choose to be on the Enjoy It Team.

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

December. There’s a holiday craft fair in Manhattan that sells enormous gingerbread cookies from a farm upstate. Those cookies are my kryptonite. (Okay, that and Nutella.) The key I found to battling things that interfere with healthy habits is to give in to them once in a while. (In my case, a few weeks out of the year.) It’s something I look forward to and enjoy. I mean, what else am I going to live for? Kale? Be real.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Embrace. Habits to me signify change and change represents new possibilities. I’ve met many people whose first reaction is to resist change. “But I’ve always done it this way.”  I think they fear it will make their lives harder. Many of my clients have a hard time getting rid of stuff. “I might need that one day!” We get attached to things and don’t think we’ll be able to live without it. But there is not one person who I’ve helped get rid of bags and bags (and for many, more bags!) of stuff who didn’t feel happy and free when I was done. Just like it’s not easy to lose weight, it’s not easy for people to let go of their past. Once I explain getting rid of stuff does not mean they’re forgetting their past, but making room for their future with new experiences, they’re more able to part with things they no longer have use for but are keeping out of habit.

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

A boss at my alma mater: the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I helped run orientation for 4,500 new students every summer for seven years. My boss had many rules, but her most important – “Better 10 minutes early than one minute late,” was etched into our brains, ensuring that we’d be where we needed to be and on time. That maxim has benefited me numerous times ever since. Whether I was catching a flight, working with a client or even meeting a friend, being early not only keeps my stress level down, but I have also met new people and seen sights I would otherwise have missed.

Podcast 65: Enjoy Your Home’s Special Features, Arianna Huffington Talks About Sleep, and the Pleasure of Children’s Literature.

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

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. I talk to viewers about questions, comments, suggestions. Any episode; don’t worry if you’re not caught up. You can watch the most recent one here or my video with our producer Henry, look here. If you want to join the conversation live, I’m doing them on Tuesdays at 1:00 pm Eastern. Join in! It’s so fun to have a chance to talk to listeners and viewers.

MugObligerHappierUpdate: Elizabeth and I have our new mugs for sale, one for each of the Four Tendencies. Order here. I sent Elizabeth an Obliger mug for her birthday.

Try This at Home: Enjoy your home’s special features. I wrote about this issue in my book Happier at Home.

Interview: We talk to author and entrepreneur Arianna Huffington, who just wrote a terrific book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time.

 Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth had two friends who recently had health issues (fortunately, both are fine now), and she regrets that she didn’t do more to support them.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to my three — yes, three — children’s literature reading groups. They make me so happy! I wrote about starting these groups in The Happiness Project. If you’d like to get back into reading children’s literature, here’s a reading list to get you started.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out The Great Courses Plus for a wide variety of fascinating courses taught by top professors and experts in their fields. Special offer for our listeners: free access to one of their most popular courses, for free as part of a 30-day trial, when you sign up. Go to thegreatcoursesplus.com/happier

And check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, 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 4-week trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.
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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #65

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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.

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“I Was Drawn to the Notion of Freeing Up Time and Space and Energy for the Things that Matter Most.”

Interview: Joshua Becker.

Joshua Becker and I met during a conference in Portland, Oregon — I was very interested to meet him, because I’d read posts on his site, Becoming Minimalist.

Within the larger subject of happiness, one of the most complex, and emotionally charged, is the role of possessions and happiness.

I write a lot about this issue in The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. And in Better Than Before, I write about the distinction between simplicity-lovers and abundance-lovers. I think it’s safe to say that Joshua is a simplicity lover! (Now, some simplicity-lovers say that simplicity is the true abundance…but there’s a difference between simplicity-abundance and abundance-abundance.)

Joshua has a book that’s just about to hit the shelves. He describes  The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own as “a book about owning less, but it’s more than that. It’s a book about generosity and intentionality and learning to pursue happiness in more fulfilling places than the acquisition of money or possessions.”

I was intrigued to hear what he’d have to say on the subject of habits, happiness, and minimalism.

Gretchen: 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.?

Joshua: Absolutely! In fact, the work I do today is based on a lightning bolt moment. Eight years ago, while cleaning out my garage, I was introduced to the idea of intentionally owning fewer possessions during a short conversation with my neighbor. At the time, this was counter-intuitive to me. I’d spent most of my life pursuing and accumulating as many material possessions as I could afford. But when my neighbor introduced me to the idea of minimalism, I was immediately drawn to the notion of freeing up time and space and energy for the things that matter most. Ever since then, I’ve worked to keep my possessions at a minimum and help others discover there is more joy to be found in owning less than we can ever discover pursuing more.

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

It is important for me to clear distractions—both at work and at home. Distractions can come from any number of places, but I often find that removing physical distractions (clutter) from my environment provides me both calm and focus. For me, this means something simple: clearing my desk at the end of the workday and cleaning my kitchen at the end of the evening so each day begins fresh. Recently, somebody advised that I do the same with my computer (shutting browser tabs, saving and closing documents at the end of the day)—I have been enjoying that routine for the past few weeks.

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

I’m not sure I’d classify it as a habit—I usually think of it as more of a temptation that often gets the best of me. But internally, I’ve struggled with jealousy as long as I can remember. For example, I often find myself becoming envious of the skill and success of other writers or of those who are younger but have seemingly accomplished more. Sometimes I find motivation in this envy, but most of the time it is crippling and burdensome.

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

One important realization that I made recently in life is that my predisposition does not determine my future. For the longest time, I would excuse negative habits as “just the way I am.” Often times, with an almost defeatist attitude, we make excuses for our negative behaviors or unhealthy habits by appealing to an unchangeable, internal force that makes decisions for us. And while our specific personalities certainly do make some habits more difficult to implement, it is important to realize the opportunity to create new ones is always available to us.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Minimalism served as a catalyst to embrace greater intentionality in all areas of my life. Eight years ago, I would never have responded to this question by saying I embrace habits. But today, I do. In fact, I see them as essential to living my fullest life possible.

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

Leo Babauta’s writing on habit creation has been very influential in my life (Zen Habits). I recommend his work to everyone. His approach is practical, helpful, positive, and encouraging.

What’s a Critical Habit for Happiness? “Remembering the People We Miss Most.”

Interview: Allison Gilbert.

I don’t even remember when or how I met Allison Gilbert. We keep banging into each other in the world of New York area writers, and it’s always thought-provoking and fun to talk to her.

She has a new book that just hit the shelves. Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive is all about how to keep alive our memories of the people we love, after they’re gone — in a way that’s about happiness and remembering, not sadness and grieving. The book is crammed with specific, manageable, creative ideas for holding onto precious memories. (What a brilliant title for this subject, right?)

Given her subject, I was eager to talk to her about habits and happiness.

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

Allison: Being proactive about remembering loved ones I’ve lost.  Honoring past relationships has significant restorative power.  Celebrating what our family and friends still mean to us — even if they’ve been gone one year, fifteen years, or more — makes us happier.  This is because grief, especially when new, tends to make individuals feel out of control. Taking steps to remember leads to empowerment, and feeling empowered is what enables us regain our footing and charge forward.  Absence and presence can coexist.  Moving forward doesn’t have to mean leaving your loved ones behind.

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

Getting up early to write.  My alarm is set every day for 5:30am, before my husband and our two teenagers begin to stir.   I use this time to think and type without interruption.  Spending these concentrated moments on my writing puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.  I’ve focused on myself — the work I enjoy and need to do — and then I can be more giving to my family.  Getting up early to write it a lot like putting my oxygen mask on first.

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

Without hesitation, I am an Upholder.   I’m very good at setting deadlines for myself and meeting them.  I also LOVE to-do lists!

Have you ever changed a habit over a prolonged period of time, after years of struggle?

Yes, over a decade, after several family members died in rapid succession, including my parents. Immediately following each of their funerals, I never had to look far to share a story or hear one.  But a few months later, outside the holidays and other special occasions, I hesitated to bring them up in conversation.  Anecdotes I told my children seemed heavy or forced, and I didn’t want to make my friends uncomfortable. I also had so many questions most of my well-meaning friends couldn’t answer. What should I do with all their belongings— the random collections of loose papers, official documents, silverware, dishes, gardening tools, photo albums, VHS tapes, film reels, and 35mm slides? What should I keep? Where do I even start?  In some respects, because techniques for honoring and celebrating loved ones are seldom discussed, I felt lonelier at that later time than when my parents and other family members died.

Over time, I came to an important conclusion.  Nobody is responsible for keeping my family’s memory alive except me.  For my parents and other loved ones to continue enriching my life—and for my children to get to know their relatives—it would be up to me to develop the habit of integrating them into our already full and busy routines.  So the more I explored ways to celebrate their memory — cooking reminiscent foods, using technology and social media to frame their memory in a contemporary context — the happier I felt.  I embraced the idea that I could move forward, live and rich and joyful life, while keeping the memory of my loved ones alive.  This new habit has been a game changer.  It’s brought immeasurable joy and grace to my life.  In fact, as I was researching and writing Passed and Present I learned something quite astounding:  Taking steps to appropriately remember loved ones has been proven to be essential for healing.  Individuals who keep their loved one’s memory alive almost always fare better emotionally than those who don’t.  Who knew?! A critical habit for happiness is remembering the people we miss most.

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

My mother.   My mother was a top executive recruiter and was often interviewed for magazines and books.  She was an expert source in Dr. Joyce Brothers’ book, The Successful Woman: How You Can Have a Career, a Husband and a Family — and Not Feel Guilty About It.  The book wasn’t relevant to me when it was published (it came out when I was in high school), but now that my mom is gone, I cherish the perspective she offered on habits.  She often used small pockets of time for guilt-free pleasure.  The best such nugget is on Page 113.  In this passage, my mother was asked how she finds time to take care of herself, even go clothes shopping, when she was also running an international enterprise.  Here’s what she said:

“The only time I spend any time going shopping is when I’m traveling on business.  If I’m in Dallas and have an appointment at nine and the next one isn’t until three, there is nothing I can do in between.  I can’t talk with my daughter.  I can’t write a business proposal.  So I go shopping.  It’s the only time I can shop without guilt.”  

This reads a little dated, of course.  My mother offered her point of view before laptops and cell phones. But her thinking still rings very true for me.  And if I’m being honest, the Passed and Present Memory Bash Book Tour might provide just these kind of guilt-free shopping opportunities for me.  I can’t wait to get on the road — meet readers — and also find windows of time to buy some new clothes.  I’ll be enthusiastically celebrating my mother’s memory with every dress I find. (To learn more about the #MemoryBash Movement, read more here.)