Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

Revealed! February Book Club: Keys to Good Design, a Personality Quiz, and High Fantasy.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits

— one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

— one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at IndieBound, BN.com, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library!

For all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read most of them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

Bonus book this month: with Shea Olsen, my sister Elizabeth Craft has a new young-adult novel, Flower. The tag line? “She had a plan, then she met him.” Romance, temptation, secrets, college applications, celebrity...Check it out.

Now, for the three book-club choices. Drumroll…

A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:

 

The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Elizabeth Wagele

On episode 99 of the Happier podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I discussed the “Try This at Home” of taking personality quizzes. The Enneagram isn’t a scientific way to understand personality, but many people find it to be an illuminating framework. To my mind, that’s the chief benefit of a personality quiz: whether it helps us glimpse into our own nature. Sometimes it’s hard to look directly in the mirror, and something like a personality quiz can help us see ourselves indirectly.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An outstanding children’s book:

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was astonished to realize that I’ve never suggested the Tolkien books as my kidlit choice (though arguably they aren’t children’s books). These are towering classics of world literature. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first in a trilogy called “The Lord of the Rings,” and while The Hobbit isn’t part of the official trilogy, and is very different in tone, it’s quite related to the high fantasy epic that unfolds. These books are unlike anything else. Read the books even if you’ve seen the movies; as always, movies can’t capture so much that’s wonderful about books. For instance, one of my favorite characters, Tom Bombadil, doesn’t appear in the movies.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

An eccentric pick:

The Pocket Universal Principles of Design: 150 Essential Tools for Architects, Artists, Designers, Developers, Engineers, Inventors, and Makers by William Lidwell.

This is an absorbing, fascinating, accessible book. Each page has a very succinct description of a design principle, with a fascinating example on the facing page. I loved reading this book because it made me realize why certain designs in the world around me worked well — or didn’t work. It’s so fun to know about design principles like “Back-of-the-Dresser,” “Defensible Space,” “Figure-Ground,” and the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” These may sound dry, but they’re fascinating.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.

 

If you want to make sure you never miss a month’s selections, sign up here for the book club newsletter.

Remember, if you want to see what I read each week, I post a photo of my pile of completed books on my Facebook Page every Sunday night, #GretchenRubinReads.

I just went to the library a few days ago — my reading stack is huge. What book are you most excited to read next?

“I Am Being Swept off My Feet at Last.” A Good Thing–or Not?

“ ‘Don’t you worry about me! I am as happy now as I have ever been, and that is saying a great deal. But the time has come. I am being swept off my feet at last,’ he added, and then in a low voice, as if to himself, he sang softly in the dark…”

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

If you know your Lord of the Rings trilogy (and we all should), Bilbo Baggins makes this remark to Gandalf, just after Bilbo’s 111th birthday party, as he’s leaving Bag End forever.

How I love that line! “I am being swept off my feet at last.”

A good thing, or a bad thing, to be swept off your feet at last? It could probably go either way.

Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread–Know the Feeling?

For a while, I’d been feeling very…depleted. I kept feeling as though I needed to catch my breath.

As I was trying to describe how I felt, to myself, I was reminded of something Bilbo said to Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. It perfectly describes how I’d been feeling. Bilbo said:

I feel I need a holiday, a very long holiday, as I have told you before…Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”

So I decided to take a few weeks and try to re-charge my battery –which I do mostly through heavy reading. That really, really works for me. Now, once again, I feel like there’s enough butter on the bread.

What do you do, when you need to restore yourself?

Do You Have Things That You Don’t Use, But Can’t Toss? Hobbits Do.

Yet another Lord-of-the-Rings inspired post!

What can I say? Everything reminds me of habits these days. Better Than Before comes out next week, so I can’t really think about much other than habits. And, apparently, hobbits.

And here’s a hobbit habit, as described in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“Anything that Hobbits had no further use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”

I love this term! Mathoms are indeed a problem. All that stuff — you don’t want to get rid of it; but you don’t actually use it or want  it. Re-gifting is a terrific solution, but rarely possible.

What’s the tie to habits? One thing that has surprised me most about habits is the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm, and inner self-command.

There’s something about getting control of the stuff of life that makes us feel more in control of our lives generally. And if that’s an illusion, it’s a helpful illusion.

Although it doesn’t necessarily seem logical, for most people, it’s easier to eat right when the kitchen is tidy; it’s easier to exercise when your desk isn’t buried in papers; it’s easier to make the bed when the floor isn’t covered by dirty clothes.

In Better Than Before, I discuss the Strategy of Foundation. From my observation, habits in four areas do most to boost feelings of self-control, and in this way strengthen the Foundation of all our habits. We do well to begin by tackling the habits that help us to:

1. sleep
2. move
3. eat and drink right
4. unclutter

Foundation habits tend to reinforce each other—for instance,
exercise helps people sleep, and sleep helps people do everything
better—so they’re a good place to start for any kind of habit change.

Furthermore, somewhat mysteriously, Foundation habits sometimes make profound change possible. A friend once told me, “I cleaned out my fridge, and now I know I can switch careers.” I knew exactly what she meant.

For this reason, taking charge of the mathoms in our lives — giving them away, donating them, tossing them, or putting them to use — makes us feel more in command of ourselves, and therefore more able to master our habits.

What form do your mathoms take? Off the top of my head, in my house, I would say: flower vases, serving dishes, board games, tote bags, light jackets, and mugs.

Flower vases are a particular issue. They always seem so useful, but I never buy cut flowers (as an under-buyer), so whenever we get flowers, it’s because someone sent them — in a vase!

When we moved, I gave a giant box of vases to the flower shop on the corner of our street. It may be time to do that again. One apartment can hold only so many mathoms.

Like Gollum, Do You Have Something Precious–That Isn’t Good for You?

As I mentioned the other day, to give myself some comfort food for my brain as I gear up for the publication of Better Than Before next week, I’ve been re-re-re-re-re-re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books.

These days, everything reminds me of habits, because I’ve been thinking and writing about habits for so long. And The Lord of the Rings is no different.

In case you’re not quite as familiar with the story as I am, one of the book’s main characters is Gollum, who for many years carried the One Ring, an evil ring of supreme power.  The ring extended Gollum’s life but turned him into a pitiful creature.

In the book The Hobbit, Gollum loses the ring, which is found by the hobbit Bilbo, who later gives it to Frodo, etc., etc.

How does this relate to habits? Bear with me.

Whenever Gollum refers to the ring, he calls it “my precious.” “Losst it is, my precious, lost, lost! Curse us and crush us, my precious is lost!

And when the wizard Gandalf goes to research the history of the ring, he finds an account by King Isildur, who, in the distant past, had won the ring from the evil Sauron. Isildur writes of the ring, which he refuses to destroy, “It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”

So again, that word “precious.” Once the ring comes into the various people’s possession, they hate to give it up.  They become enslaved to the ring, though it’s precious to them.

I’m haunted by the way, through the books, Gollum mourns for “my precious.” And if you watch the movies, you see the way he hisses out, “my precioussss.” (You can watch a 10-second clip here.)

Here’s the tie to habits: I’ve noticed that many people have a habit that makes them unhappy — one that they know drains them, isn’t good for them, causes them grief. And yet, at the thought of giving it up, they protest, “No! It’s my precioussssssss!”

A friend told me that she was uncomfortable about how much wine she was drinking every night, but when I said, “Do you think you’d like to stop drinking the wine?” she became very agitated, saying “No, no! I don’t want to do that.”

Or when another friend told me that she felt bad about her weight, and I said that I felt so much better after I gave up sugar, she said, “Oh, that’s ridiculous. I could never give up sugar.”

And I talked to a friend from law school who felt lousy because he was exhausted all the time; when he told me that he gets four hours of sleep each night, I said, “Maybe you could go to bed earlier?” In a furious voice, he said, “If I went to bed earlier, that would mean my firm would get more of me! That time at night is the only time I have to myself!”

Each time, I was reminded of Gollum and Isildur. “It’s my preciousssss! It’s precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.”

We’re grown-ups. We can do what we want. I’m not saying that giving up wine, or sugar, or leisure time is necessarily the right thing for those folks to do. But as my Habits Manifesto holds, “We should make sure the things we do to feel better don’t make us feel worse.

It’s precious…but perhaps we’d be healthier, happier, and more productive if we think about tossing it away.

Whenever I start to get that feeling in my life, when I feel myself starting to hiss, “But it’s my precioussssss!” I pay attention. Am I being mastered by something that’s not good for me?

greekyyogurtFor a while, I had this feeling about — of all things — Greek yogurt. Oh, how I love Greek yogurt! I was eating it two or three times a day, instead of other foods. Which I knew wasn’t a healthy course for me. And if some other member of my family ate the last carton of yogurt, I was furious.

So I stopped eating it altogether for a while (that’s the Abstainer way).  Now I eat it just once a day, and am finding that manageable.

But for a while there, I had that feeling of “this isn’t good for me/but it’s precious to me/so I’m going to refuse to give it up.”

How about you? Have you ever had this feeling about something, “It’s my precioussssssss!” How did you master it — if you have?

In a future podcast of Happier with Gretchen Rubin, you’ll hear my sister Elizabeth talk about her precioussss: Candy Crush.