Tag Archives: learning

5 Reasons Why Going to a Podcasting Conference Made Me Happier.

This weekend, my sister Elizabeth and I went to the Podcast Movement conference in Fort Worth, Texas. Now that we’re doing our weekly podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin,  how better to embrace our podcaster identity than to go to a conference?

We had a great time, and it made me happier, for several reasons.

1.  Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: relationships make people happy, so anything that widens our relationships tends to boost happiness. Elizabeth and I met a bunch of fun new people this weekend.

2. Likewise, anything that deepens relationships tends to boost our happiness. Having a fun sisterly weekend adventure brought me closer to Elizabeth, and we also got to spend time with the terrific Panoply team.

3. As the First Splendid Truth of Happiness explains, a key element of a happy life is a sense of growth — of learning, of fixing something, of helping someone, of creating something, of improving something. I learned a tremendous amount during the weekend, so I got the sense of growth.

4. Novelty and challenge boost happiness. This is hard for me to remember — I’m naturally attracted to familiarity and mastery, and I really have to talk myself into doing new things. But even for a creature of habit like me, novelty does boost happiness. I was really energized by the new experience.

5. We’re happier when we have many sides to our identity. Maybe you get fired, and that’s a blow to your identity,  but you think, “Everyone in the PTA likes and respects me.” That’s comforting. Professionally, I’m a “writer”: when I became a “blogger,” I got a big happiness boost, and now becoming a “podcaster” is giving me another boost.

Bonus happiness boost: Elizabeth made t-shirts with our “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” logo. Corny but fun.

Working on my three books about happiness — The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before — has really helped me to analyze a situation according to its likely happiness effect. In the past, I might’ve thought, “Nah, why go to the conference? All that bother and expense and inconvenience, for such a short trip.” Now I look at that kind of decision in a very different way.

How about you? When you’re deciding whether or not to do something, do you explicitly consider the effect it will have on your happiness?

Story: Enthusiasm Is the Best Teacher.

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: Enthusiasm is the best teacher.


Do you agree or disagree? Do you find yourself intrigued–or not–by other people’s enthusiasm?

If you want to read more along these lines, check out…

Have fun that’s actually fun–for you.

Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean that it’s fun for me.

What do you find fun? A question that’s surprisingly hard to answer.

You can check out the archives of videos here.  More than 1.3 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Secret of Adulthood: When the Student Is Ready, the Teacher Appears.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


Have you ever had an experience when a teacher appeared, when you needed one? I find this to be almost uncannily true.

Trick Question: Can One Coin Make a Person Rich?

Assay: I’m struck, when I reflect back on my education–years in grade school, high school, college, law school–by the things I remember. From all those years of study, what do I retain? Not much. But at odd moments, a random fact or  snatch of poetry or phrase will float into my mind.

For instance, I can never see a daffodil without thinking of a line from Milton’s “Lycidas”: “And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears.” Now, why do I remember that? I don’t even remember reading “Lycidas,” but that one line I remember.

This morning, I caught myself thinking about something I read in Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly. I read this passage many years ago, and have never looked back at it, until just five minutes ago, but I’ve never forgotten it.

I’m quite impressed myself that I remembered where I’d read this idea; in fact, it isn’t even in The Praise of Folly itself, it’s in a footnote that explains a reference in the text to “the argument of the growing heap.”

According to the footnote, the argument of the growing heap is:

If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

In my memory, I recalled this argument as: “Will one coin make a man rich?”

I think the “argument of the growing heap” has stuck with me because it captures a paradox that I grapple with in my own life, and which is very significant to happiness: Often, when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time,  a sum of those actions is very meaningful. Whether we focus on the single coin, or the growing heap, will shape our behavior.

Take going to the gym. You don’t feel like going to the gym, and you say to yourself, “What difference does one day make? It doesn’t matter if I skip today.”

True, any one visit to the gym is inconsequential, but the habit of going to the gym is invaluable. Does one visit to the gym make a person healthy? Ten visits? Eleven? Finally, you have to say that no one can be healthy unless one visit to the gym can make him or her so.

When we’re trying to find excuses for ourselves, it’s easier to point out the low value of the one coin. By reminding ourselves that the golden heap grows one coin at a time, we can help keep ourselves on track.

What about you? Do you ever make the one-coin excuse to yourself? How do you stay focused on the growing heap?

It’s a bit unnerving to consider how much learning I’ve forgotten,  but education is more than an accumulation of facts that may or may not be remembered. As William Lyons Phelps observed, “Herein lies the real value of education.  Advanced education may or may not make men and women more efficient; but it enriches personality, increases the wealth of the mind, and hence brings happiness.”

Ever Had Such an Intense Interest in a Subject That Learning Was Easy?

As I’ve noted here before, I’ve recently become obsessed with the sense of smell — which has been an interesting experience, for several reasons.

One reason: this obsession has reminded me about the nature of learning. I’ve been struck by how much I’ve learned in the last few weeks. I went from knowing almost nothing about the scent of smell to knowing…well, quite a bit more. And without any effort, any drilling, any assignments on my part. Quite the contrary. I’m gulping down books, jumping around websites, eager to learn more, more, more.

The same thing happened when I was working on my Churchill biography. In college, I’d taken classes that covered World War II, and I had to force myself to do the reading, and I struggled to memorize the facts. But through the lens of my limitless fascination with Churchill, I couldn’t get enough of these materials, and I remembered facts easily.

And what’s strange — for me, at least — is that this interest clicks in so suddenly. Two months ago, if you’d handed me Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York, I would have been only mildly interested. But last week, I was racing to the library to get it off the shelves. Same thing with Churchill. I went from mild interest to wild curiosity in the space of an hour. I remember that hour very well.

The desire to learn strikes me as quite significant. Sheer curiosity! It’s so powerful. When researchers tried to identify the factors that allowed third and fourth graders to recall their reading, it turned out that the students’ level of interest in the material was very important — thirty times more important than how “readable” the material was.

I was talking about this aspect of learning with a friend, and she said, “So you’re saying, being motivated to learn makes the learning process easier.”

“No!” I answered. “There have been plenty of times when I’ve been motivated to learn, but I didn’t desire to learn.” Law school, say. I was highly motivated to learn, but I had to make myself learn the material. And I saw people around me who loved the material, who learned effortlessly.

In the past, I might have fought against my interest in the sense of smell, out of a belief that it was unproductive to spend so much time and energy on it. Now, however, I let myself follow such interests as far as they lead — and these passions give me great happiness. Happiness from my interest in the subject, and also from the happiness that comes from the atmosphere of growth created by gaining knowledge.

I started asking my friends, “Do you have an area of weird, crazy knowledge? Where you know far more than most people, without making a special effort to study? A limitless curiosity about a particular subject?” A surprising number of people answer “Yes.” How about you? Do you have an area where you have an intense desire to learn? And that subject could be anything — baseball statistics, song lyrics, anything.

*This subject makes me want to pull Johnson’s Life of Samuel Johnson off the shelf, because I keep being reminded of passages that I know I shouldn’t quote at length here — so the next best thing is to re-read them all.

*If you’re also looking for a good book, please consider The Happiness Project (can’t resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.