Tag Archives: reading

Revealed! The Making of a Scientist, Happy Summertime Adventures, and the Frustrations of the Push-Pull Door.

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

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits or human nature

— 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.

Now, for the three book-club choices.  (I couldn’t find my copy of the Norman book, and it was checked out of the library, so I took some liberty with the photo.)

Drumroll…


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

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

I love books about people coming into their vocation, and often, scientists write the best books of this kind. Also, every once in a while, when I read a book, I conclude, “This person’s mind works in a completely different way from mine. They are making decisions, making observations, and doing things that are beyond what I could imagine.” This is one of those books. Thought-provoking and engaging.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

Usually, I don’t recommend more than one book by an author. But I decided to break this rule, because A) I love Elizabeth Enright’s books so much and B) they do fall into two distinct sets. I’ve already recommended The Saturdays, the first book in the brilliant Melendy series, and I just can’t resist recommending Gone-Away Lake, too. Two cousins discover a lake that dried up when a new dam was built so that the old resort houses were abandoned. But two wonderful old people, a brother and sister live there, and entertain the children in all sorts of adventures. Club house, island shack, bog flowers, goats, hidden treasure, and so forth. I’ve read it a million times.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

This book examines — no surprise — the design of everyday things, and after I read it, I never looked at a store door the same way. Why do some doors make us want to push, and others, to pull? So much so, in fact, that the store has to put a handwritten sign on the door, telling us to do the opposite of what seems natural? Why do we sometimes put the mail in the refrigerator? Why are tea pots often so hard to use? Never fear — if you look at the Table of Contents for this book, it looks very dry and boring, but the book itself is fascinating and accessible.

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.

If you have any great suggestions for summer reading, send them my way.

“It Is Not Just Okay But Necessary to Let Myself Feel Good.”

Interview: Courtney Maum.

Courtney Maum is a gifted writer, and her terrific new novel Touch just hit the shelves — so if you’re looking for a book to read this summer, here’s one for your stack.

It’s getting a tremendous amount of buzz, such as being chosen as an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times Book Review, as one of “The 6 Juiciest Summer Reads” by Glamour, and as one of “The 29 Best Books of the Summer” by the New York Post.

And while I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, I always do, and I think that Touch has one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s about Sloane, a trend forecaster who goes on a quest to understand the value of “in personism,” that is, real-life human interaction. Many of the fictional trends mentioned in Touch have already proved to be eerily prescient.

In addition to writing, Courtney Maum also has a position that instantly caught my attention – she is a product namer for the cosmetics MAC cosmetics and other companies. As someone who is obsessed both with color and language, this fascinates me.

A great job for a novelist!

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

Courtney: Horseback riding. This was something I got great joy from when I was a little girl, but I stopped riding when I was ten. Thirty years later, I decided to start again. At first, I was reluctant: it felt really indulgent, it takes a lot of time and resources to ride. But it brings my mind and body such strength and honest joy. Now I feel proud that this is something I’ve decided to do for myself, on my own terms. The fact that I’ve made a habit of it reminds me to remind myself that I am worth it: that it is not just okay but necessary to let myself feel good.

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

Do not drink three Venti servings of Starbucks coffee in one day! I ruined my young adulthood with caffeine. I became completely hooked at a young age. I’ve always been incompetent at math, and growing up, I was at the kind of school where it wasn’t kosher to underperform, so I had a math tutor. I was thirteen, and she’d show up to our sessions with the huge cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, which have such a specific smell. I was so entranced by her beverage, she started bringing one along for me as well. And that was it. I became addicted to caffeine.

In high school and college, I worked at Starbucks—this was back in the late 90s when Starbucks was still novel, and I got the coffee for free, so I’d just take it around everywhere with me, like a designer handbag. I got free refills. I was drinking it all the time. I was awake my entire sophomore year.

I haven’t given up “caffeine” per se—although I stopped drinking coffee about ten years ago. I’m a black tea drinker now, one cup of tea a day. I don’t get jittery and nervous and sick-feeling the way I did with coffee. If I could go back, I’d tell my younger self that caffeine addiction is not a good look for a person who already struggles with sleep issues.

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

Insomnia. I’ve always struggled with sleep issues, even when I was a little girl. It’s never been easy for me to quiet my mind, and like many people with similar challenges, the less I sleep, the more I worry about not sleeping, and so the less I sleep.

After touring for my first book, my insomnia got so bad, that (along with some other personal issues I was dealing with) I spiraled into a depression. So over the last year, I decided to do whatever I could to tackle this unhealthy habit. I saw a therapist and a pharmacologist; I tried different medications. I went to an acupuncturist, a shaman, the works. I saw a nutritionist who put me on an herbal regimen that helped. I tried going off of stimulants, off of dark chocolate, off of white rice…I tried whatever the professionals wanted me to try, but the irony of course, is that you can’t be stressed out about adhering to the rituals that are supposed to improve your sleep, because stress just makes it worse. So what I’m focusing on mostly right now is treating the root cause—my brain. I do what I can to give myself access to real happiness and rest. There are inevitable periods when I’m overworked, but I no longer want “overworked” to be my way of life. And I don’t give myself a hard time about taking medication anymore. I used to be really dyed-in-the-wool against that: I used to think that I could treat anxiety and depression by going for a run. Now, if I need support, I take a sleeping pill, and I don’t beat myself up about it.

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

De-connected quality time is extremely important to me. And I literally mean de-connected: time spent away from the Internet and my phone. I try to start workdays writing by hand with my phone off and my computer stored away somewhere out of sight.  When we join friends for dinner, I don’t tolerate cell phones being out. I can’t stand the sight of that frenetic slab pinging away while we’re trying to settle into a conversation. It’s tough being a parent, because ideally I really want to spend time with my daughter without my cell phone on me so that I don’t even have the option to be distracted, but this is hard to do because common sense tells you that you should always have the capability to place an emergency call. This is one of the reasons I’m tempted to get a dumb phone: a secondary cell that only calls and texts. Light Phone has a great one out right now.

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.?

Oh, yes! Earlier in my career, I gravitated toward professional opportunities that had me in close contact with a super intelligent, super creative, super passive aggressive boss. I would constantly find myself unhappy and destabilized in a job that was unpredictable and usually underpaid. And I’d drop everything for these bosses, time and time again. A single email from them would see me decimating an entire weekend of plans just so I could come through for them, be asked “what they would ever do without me?” in a thank-you text. [Courtney, I suspect that in my Four Tendencies framework, you are an Obliger.]

As creatively fulfilling as a lot of these jobs were, I often felt terrifically unhappy and unsure, and I was always nervous: I couldn’t settle into my present or enjoy a moment with friends because I was constantly expecting a missive from my high-powered boss.

The lightning bolt came in 2007 when my husband, on another day that I’d come home from work crying, told me, “You know, this job pays nothing. You went to a great college! You get that there are other jobs out there, right?” But although I quit that particular position, it took me a decade to break the bad pattern I was in. I’m mostly freelancing in the branding world now, but I now choose to collaborate with people who respect that I have a personal life, that I need private time. This has resulted in my private time feeling like a much safer space. I don’t have to worry about crazy desperate “need this ASAP” emails any more.

Podcast 121: How to Get More Reading Done, a Car-Related Hack, and an Interview with Sam Walker about Leadership.

Update: We love reading everyone’s haiku!

Here’s mine for today:

Writing my haiku

A new way to see the world

Quiet, creative.

Try This at Home: Read more. Something that definitely boosts my happiness! For my one-pager about “Reading Better Than Before,” it’s here.

As promised, here are Daniel Pennac’s “10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader.”

Happiness Hack: Michael Melcher suggests using the vacuum at the gas station to keep the car clean. Outer order, inner calm.

Check out his podcast, Meanwhile, for ideas about how to improve your work and life.

Interview: We talked to journalist and editor Sam Walker about his fascinating book The Captain Class: the Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams. It’s about sports, leadership, and success.

Sam mentions that he’s a Questioner. Don’t know your Tendency? Take the quiz here to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

Sam’s Try This at Home: Ride a bike to work.

Gretchen’s (Possible) Demerit: I decided to stop driving in New York City. I write about my dislike of driving in Happier at Home,  and as part of the experiment of that book I worked hard to get back into the practice of driving. This decision feels cowardly — but those drives drain me and casts a shadow over summer weekends.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth and Adam just celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary, and that occasion reminded her how much work our mother did, to plan her wedding. It was gorgeous, and just what Elizabeth wanted.

Two Resources:

  1.  To get the one-page PDF on “Reading Better Than Before,” “Working Better Than Before,” “Eating Better Than Before,” or “Exercising Better Than Before,” you can find them here.
  2.  Sign up for my free newsletter here. More than 300,000 people  get it. Or text me 66866 and enter the word “happier.”

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Lyft  — join the ride-sharing company that believes in treating its people better. Go to Lyft.com/happier to get a $500 new-driver bonus. Limited time only.

Also check out ThirdLove, the lingerie brand that uses real women’s measurements to design better-fitting bras. Try one of their bestselling bras for free, for 30 days, by visiting ThirdLove.com/happier.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #121

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 to the award-winning Happier 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!

Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” Check out these great shows: Side Hustle School and Radical Candor and Happier in Hollywood.

HAPPIER listening!

Revealed! Books for June: a Talented Spider, an Unusual Perspective, and Health Hijinks.

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

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits or human nature

— 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.

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


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

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs

This book contains a lot of very helpful information about how to be healthier — and it’s also hilarious and absurd. It’s a very fun way to learn about various ideas and trends in health. If you want to get healthier this summer, Drop Dead Healthy will inspire you. I think about this book just about every time I wash my hands or eat kale.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

I’m staggered to realize that I haven’t yet suggested one of the towering classics of children’s literature, the immortal Charlotte’s Web. It’s an extraordinary book, from the very first, unforgettable first line: “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern.” Terrific characters, like Charlotte, Fern, Wilbur, and of course Templeton the Rat. Gorgeous, profound, but be warned, it’s also sad…when this book was read to me as a child, I cried for two days. But beautiful tears.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is an eminent animal scientist, and she also lectures widely on her experience with autism. Grandin provides an absolutely fascinating look into how she sees the world differently from non-autistic people, and how grappling with those differences has influenced her work and her life.

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.

If you have any great suggestions for summer reading, or books about children going off to college, send them my way.

“My Not Procrastinating Stems from Laziness. If I Do Something Immediately, I Can Go Back to Reading.”

Interview: Pamela Paul.

I’ve known Pamela Paul for many years. When I switched from law to writing, one happiness stumbling block was that I didn’t know many other writers. Pamela was among the first writers that I got to know, and through her, I met a lot of other writers who have become my friends. So she has been a huge contributor to my personal happiness.

In her professional life, Pamela is an acclaimed journalist, editor, and author, and she’s also a passionate reader — credentials that make her perfect for her current position as the editor of The New York Times Book Review and head of all things book-related at The New York Times.

She’s also a member of one of my (three) beloved children’s literature reading groups. In fact, she wrote about the Kidlit group in her New York Times piece, “The Kids’ Books Are All Right.

I’m so excited — Pamela has written a memoir that combines her love of writing and reading (and also travel), and it just hit the shelves last week. The day it went on sale, I ran out to get my copy for my weekend reading: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. I loved it.

Since high school, Pamela has kept a single journal with her at all times, a book called Bob. It’s her “Book of Books” (“Bob,” get it?), and in it, she records every book that she reads.

My Life with Bob is a reflection on her relationship with the books she reads — how those books have been entwined in her experiences, her relationships, her extensive travels, her work, and her understanding of the world.

When I read it, I was thrilled to see a mention of Kidlit! And myself mentioned by name! Yes, I am a character in someone else’s memoir.

I love memoirs where people explore their passions, and I also love reading books that gives me a reading list for more books to read.

I was also fascinated by the way Pamela reflected on her life by looking at her “Bob.” It’s such an interesting angle. Like writing a one-sentence journal, or taking one photo every day, she found a quick, manageable way to record her experience in a way that allowed her to look back, reflect, and get a better glimpse of her life. So many thought-provoking, hilarious stories.

I couldn’t wait to hear what Pamela had to say about happiness and habits.

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

Pamela: When I am away from my children, I keep my phone by my side. When I am with my children, I (try very hard to) keep my phone away from my side. Obviously, work (and life) can interfere with that, but I really want to be present when I’m with them and available when I’m not. As a parent working full-time outside the home, this makes me happier.

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

I know that you can change your habits, for better and for worse. When I was younger, I thought you created habits for life. Now I realize that life can interfere with even the most ingrained habits. For example, I used to have a habit of exercising three times a week, but I’ve lost that in the last 2 years. Obviously, that falls into the “for worse” category. For better, I have found that when circumstance calls for it, I can start much better habits. When I was pregnant with each of my kids, I was able to learn to sleep on my side and my back, rather than my stomach, which I know is better for my back and overall posture.

Like a lot of people, I’m hard enough on myself as it is. Knowing that there can be a certain amount of flexibility in my habits makes me feel more aspirational and optimistic about the possibility of forming better ones, and more forgiving about falling into poor ones.

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

My most important habit is sleep. If I don’t get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, I am generally unhappy. If I have less than 6 hours, I almost entirely useless. If I get between 6 hours and 7 hours, I complain about it all day and blame all that goes wrong in the world on my lack of sleep, and that includes everything my kids do that irritates me that day, every unpleasant news development and every personal failing. Also, I send emails I regret and blurt out things I ought never have said. Sleep makes everything better.

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

Books keep me up later than they should that isn’t good for my most important habit, sleep. Also, really good TV shows, when I have the chance to watch them, are terrible for sleeping. The most recent one was “Stranger Things,” which I was possessed by. Now it’s “The Night Manager.” A few years ago, it was “Breaking Bad.” That show nearly destroyed me, and a few weeks after I’d finally finished binge watching it again, I started watching the first episode from the beginning and knew immediately that if I finished watching that episode, I would fall right back down the rabbit hole and not emerge again until I’d gone through every season. I had to turn it off at that very moment. It’s taken effort not to go back there.

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.?

Like most kids, I procrastinated doing everything: raking the leaves, constructing dioramas, bringing in bagels from the outside freezer. Then one day, I had a kind of epiphany though I can’t say it began with a lightning bolt. Instead, I recall it happening as I was sitting in my childhood bedroom, pushing a pencil through the grayish pink carpet while contemplating what I didn’t want to have to do that week. Here was my realization:

Say I had a homework assignment. I realized that I could either put the assignment off for a week and thereby add to the list of things I had to do, which is to say, add a week’s worth of low-level stress and then a day of high-stress when I struggled to get it done at the last minute. Or, I could simply do the homework as soon as it was assigned, and then spend a week feeling accomplished and relaxed and able to read or play games on my brother’s Apple II+ or do whatever else I wanted to do with that time. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, and it has ever since. I know it sounds show-offy to brag about it, but fundamentally, not procrastinating stems from a profound laziness. If I do something immediately, I get it out of the way and I can go back to lying around reading or watching a movie instead.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Both.