Tag Archives: interview

“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.)

Podcast 60: Very Special Episode! Live from the TV Sound Stage Where Elizabeth Is Working.

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

Episode 60 — that means it’s a Very Special Episode! Our producer Henry and I traveled to the famed Silvercup Studios in Queens, New York, to visit Elizabeth on the sound stage of the show she’s working on. Super-glamorous, I must say. In the photo, in the directors’ chairs in “Video Village,” you can see Elizabeth (near chair), Helen Childress (middle), Sarah Fain (far chair), and Henry (half-hidden in the back row).

Try This at Home: Let people do their job. This relates to the problem of shared work, which we discussed in episode 28.

craftservicesSilvercupInterlude: a trip to craft services. So many tempting treats, all for free, and right at hand! Elizabeth calls it “the bane of her  existence.”

Interview: Helen Childress. Helen is the creator of the terrific-yet-still-unnamed TV show that Elizabeth is working on. She also wrote the iconic 90’s movie Reality Bites. In her interview, she gives many great insights on the nature of writing, creativity, and habits.

 Gretchen’s Demerit: I’ve acquired a Pile o’Papers related to tasks that I need to do — and it just keeps growing. I’ll use Elizabeth’s suggestion of using Power Hour.

ElizabethSarahHenryRecordingSarah Fain’s Gold Star
: We’ve talked about Elizabeth’s writing partner Sarah Fain so many times — it was great to have her on the show. She gives a gold star to her three-year-old daughter Violet, for being such a good sport for moving to New York City for several weeks.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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1pixHappier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin #60

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.

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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“It’s Not Marriage or Divorce that Matters So Much, But How We Attend to Our Relationships.”

Interview: Wendy Paris.

I met Wendy Paris because we’re in a non-fiction writers’ group together. This group, by the way, has the best name of all time: the Invisible Institute.

Wendy writes about all sorts of interesting subjects  in all sorts of impressive places, and her new book, Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well, is just about to hit the shelves. It’s a fascinating book that’s a memoir of her own divorce experience, an analysis of divorce in society, and a consideration of how the divorce process could be made more amicable.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask her about habits and happiness.

Q: (Gretchen) You’ve done fascinating research about divorce. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

A: (Wendy) We’re so worried about divorce—that it will damage our children forever, or destroy our lives. But what I’ve seen again and again during these past three years of research is that our actions and attitudes have a huge influence on how well our children do, how quickly we recuperate and the kind of relationship with our ex, our friends, and others, on the other side.  We have far more control over our lives than we may think. We can have a great life filled with love, thriving children, and even a decent relationship with the person we married, after divorce.  It’s not marriage or divorce that matters so much, but how we attend to our relationships and ourselves.

For so many people, divorce is like a tsunami, it enters their lives and turns everything upside down, unbidden. So we have this idea that divorce is necessarily devastating. And it can be. But it can also be a difficult but ultimately beneficial transition into a much better life. This is one way in which I think my work and yours really touch on some of the same things, in this realm of paying attention to our daily actions and how they affect us, and taking charge of our habits. In divorce this can be habits of communication, habits of self-talk, habits of relating to our children.

When we’re divorcing, we can choose behaviors that absolutely improve our sense of self and our interactions—such as NOT sending that aggressive text to our almost-ex when we’re angry.  We can adopt an attitude of, “How can this new challenge benefit me?” I write about this mindset shift in my Seven Principles of Parting. Divorce can also be a great time to start new habits since it upends many of the routines we have in place. [Yes! This is the Strategy of the Clean Slate.]

This is true even with the legal process, which can sound terrifying and like an objectively awful thing. But new legal processes such as mediation and collaborative divorce can actually help people learn to communicate and cooperate better, and arrange a shared parenting plan, if they have kids, that actually works for both people. I get along a lot better with my once-husband, now that we’re divorced, and I feel far better about my behavior toward him. My ability to be nice, and calm, and respond a bit more objectively, rather than getting triggered, feels like a personal strength.

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

A: I’m much better at trying to form habits that are in-line with my personality and physiology.  I’m less likely to be mad at myself for not doing something, like cleaning the house at night, when I have the time, ostensibly, but really low energy.

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

A: Having a regular writing time is really critical to me, and the best way for me to get writing done. When I’m working on a book or articles, I like to have a regular time and place to do it five days a week. Saturdays, I’m with my son. And then Sundays, I try to catch up on things at home, and to apply for things—to look up from the work immediately in front of me and investigate longer-range projects or fellowships or programs I might be interested in down the line.  Whenever people tell me that they wish they could write more, I always advise them to find a specific time of day, a specific place to sit, and a consistent routine. Don’t beat yourself up about not writing, or decide it’s a psychological block. I truly believe this about writing: get your body there regularly, and your mind will follow.

I’m also a happier parent when I set up little routines or habits with my son. It’s hard for me to think of things to do on the spur of the moment, and it seems really reassuring and “homey” to both of us to have things we always do. We always go to synagogue on Saturday morning, for example, and usually stay through lunch. It’s so nice to have that standard routine. I have a very clear and consistent co-parenting schedule with his dad. I tried an eating/good-mood-in-the-morning routine, making Mondays Pancake Monday, followed by Terrific Tuesday (biscuits and eggs), followed by Wonderful Wednesday (yogurt and fruit and granola). This habit didn’t totally stick.

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

A: I am currently going to an hour-long, sweat-drenching, athletic yoga class five mornings a week, every single week, at a place called YogaHop. I always list in and out of feeling fit and like I’m moving around enough to feel good. But now, I just go to this class, and then I feel basically good all day. Why can I do this? It’s on my corner, so I can leave at 10:28 and walk there in time for a 10:30 class, and the ease of that makes a huge difference to me. I don’t have to put on tennis shoes, which is another easy thing. The guy who runs the class always comes over and puts his hand on my back and says encouraging things, like, “It’s so great to see you here,” or “You’re really making great progress!”  He does this with everyone, but still, it feels totally personal, and it’s uplifting, and I really think that little moment of positive interaction motivates me to get to class. I feel like he should teach that to all fitness instructors. He also plays super high energy music, or super soulful music, so it gives me a bit of the feeling of being in a dance class. It’s only an hour; I sometimes balk at the 90-minute commitment of more traditional yoga classes. And also, I like to write in the morning, but the 10:30 time slot is a good break for me.

Also, I needed a new routine. I think this is important in terms of adopting the positive mindset of, “How can this challenge benefit me?” I used to spend every single morning working on my book at a restaurant on my street that opened in the mornings for people in the community to drink coffee and eat scones and write or chat. I had a habit of going to this place, R+D, every single day after dropping off my son at school, and writing from 8:40 – 11:30, when the restaurant crowd arrived, and not ever taking phone calls or making appointments or doing errands at that time. I could always rely on the coffee, and the music and the mood of the place to get me into a writing zone. I did this for almost two years.

Right around the time that I turned in the absolute last edit on my book, the restaurant stopped their morning coffee service. They just stopped being open in the morning. There are other coffee shops, but they’re too loud or crowded or not as ideal. I felt like my working life had ended; where was I going to write now?! Should I just give up and try to get a job? I really relied on that routine!

But what happened is that now I go to this yoga class at 10:30. The late morning is a good time for me to work out. Because I don’t have that three-hour, inviolate window of writing, I now can go to this yoga class every morning without feeling like I’m cutting into my writing time. I usually work before the class, and then after.

Q: Do you embrace habits or resist them?

A: I think I embrace habits that I set, but resist habits others want to force upon me!

Podcast 52: Ask, “What Happens If I Ignore This?” a Conversation with Whole30’s Melissa Hartwig, and Elizabeth Talks Reality TV.

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

Update: In episode 14 and elsewhere, Elizabeth has spoken about her love of mugs, and for that reason, we decided to do a Happier mug! If you want to order one for yourself, order one here (scroll down). We’re very excited about these!

Try This at Home: Ask yourself, “What would happen if I ignore this?” I give credit for this terrific question to my friend, the brilliant Michael Melcher (I can’t resist giving a plug for his book, The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction, which is an invaluable resource about achieving career happiness as a lawyer.) If you want to read about our group MGM, I talk about it in The Happiness Project.
Melissa Hartwig on Happier PodcastInterview: Melissa Hartwig. Melissa is co-creator of the Whole30 program, which, for many people, is a super-powerful tool for changing eating habits. Melissa describes the program as “pushing the re-set button with your health, your habits, and your relationship with food” — for 30 days, you eliminate foods that many people have trouble with.  We talk about the difference between Abstainers and Moderators here and in episode 2; we also talk about the Four Tendencies here and in episode 43.

Gretchen’s Demerit: Let’s just say I didn’t deal well with Jamie’s desire to get a new duvet cover for our bed. I mention being an under-buyer.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives gold stars to her favorite reality-TV-related podcasts: Emma Gray and Claire Fallon’s Here to Make Friends: A Bachelor Recap Show; Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider’s Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown; and Heather Dubrow’s World.

1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Guest: Melissa Hartwig of the Whole30

 

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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We love hearing from listeners

 

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

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

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.)

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.

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!

HAPPIER listening!