Tag Archives: spirituality

For Habits, “Adopting a Sabbath Pause Has Been Revelatory.”

Interview: Abigail Pogrebin.

I met Abby Pogrebin because our daughters, now seniors, have been in school together since kindergarten, and she also lives right around the corner from me.

I’m a huge fan — of the many and various things that Abby’s involved in. She wrote a fascinating book about her experience as an identical twin, and about the twin phenomenon generally, in One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular. (If you want to hear me recount what I found to be one of the most striking observations from this book, you can watch that that two-minute video here.)

She was recently featured in the fascinating documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened, about the making of the Stephen Sondheim/Hal Prince musical Merrily We Roll Along, which opened with enormous fanfare in 1981 and closed after sixteen performance. The show starred teenagers and young 20-somethings, and Abby was the youngest member of that cast. Yes, she was in a Broadway musical at age 16. You can read her account of the experience in her Kindle Single, Showstopper.

And now Abby has a new fascinating, candid, funny, heavily researched book: My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew. Although she grew up with some basic holiday rituals, Abby realized that she didn’t know much about the history, purpose, or current relevance of the Jewish calendar. To reconnect with her Jewish roots and spirituality, she decided to immerse herself for a year — to research, write, and observe eighteen important holidays on the Jewish calendar.

I love this kind of year-long-experiment book — like my own book The Happiness Project (my year-long experiment in how to be happier), A. J. Jacobs’s hilarious The Year of Living Biblically, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. (Foreshadowing: I’m not sure, but it’s possible that after The Four Tendencies comes out, I’ll write another book that takes the form of year-long experiment. Stay tuned.)

Abby has so many interesting things to say — I couldn’t wait to hear her answers.

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

Abby: Having a cappuccino in bed reading the New York Times on my iPad every morning.

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

It’s very hard to do any healthy thing consistently if I didn’t get in the habit of doing it when I was in my teens or twenties. To that end, I would not, at this stage, be able to give up sugar or butter unless I absolutely had to.  But I did manage to start weekly yoga in my thirties and that added enormously to my ever-elusive sense of equilibrium, which– truthfully– remains elusive.

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

Yes. I hate my habit of being unable to get off email at night, when all I want to do is read a book.  I also hate my habit of waking up each morning thinking about the one thing I’m worried about, instead of the ten things I’m grateful for.

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

          • Having Sunday breakfast with my family – at a nearby diner or our own kitchen table.
          • Going to synagogue services every Friday night.
          • Always being in the middle of an interesting book.
          • Volunteering to serve breakfast to the homeless once every few weeks.
          • Exercising in some form five times a week.
          • Connecting with my twin sister daily.
          • Reading the New York Times daily.
          • Being mindful of my carbs.
          • Enjoying a great almond croissant when I find one.

 

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

The healthy habit I adopted is to make sure I forcibly slow down at least three times a week – whether that means doing a yoga by myself (admittedly, often in front of CNN, which quickens my pulse counter-productively), meditating for 10 minutes (the recommended 20 minutes is still too much for this rookie), or not looking at email on the Sabbath – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  Adopting a Sabbath pause has been revelatory.  It’s untethering and freeing.  The unhealthy habit that all of these address is my addiction to constantly crossing off the to-do list or thinking of what I’ve forgotten to accomplish – an exercise which is obviously bottomless. Maria Popova of the always-fascinating Brainpickings.com site which I read every Sunday once quoted author Jonathan Fields saying that, “busy is a decision.” I am trying to make a different decision than “busy” – at least part of every week; to decide to be unscheduled and inefficient.

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

Definitely, unequivocally, and a little pathetically, an Upholder. Everything you describe fits the bill.

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

Calls and coffee dates.  I often look at my calendar and see that there are too many coffee dates scheduled with people and too many work calls — with little space remaining for reading, working, walking, or exercise.  I am currently President of Central Synagogue, so these coffees and calls are important – and admittedly always interesting, even enriching.  But there can be too many in a day and leave me craving the chance to shut my mouth for a couple hours.

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.?

I started slow-weight lifting for 30 minutes every week (lifting very heavy weights for very few reps, to the point of muscle failure), after taking a walk with Gretchen Rubin and hearing her report that this regimen made her feel stronger.  I’ve continued that habit for a decade now.  [Yes! I converted Abby to Inform Fitness, the gym that trains Super Slow method that I “love.”]  But I have been unsuccessful when it comes to jettisoning my daily one-Diet-Coke-at-lunchtime habit.  I stopped for a while, after a nutritionist said it was potentially bloating and dehydrating.  But then I started again because my husband likes it and he pours the soda over ice, which makes it look good.

Do you embrace habits or resist them? 

Embrace them.  I like routine because it’s reassuring and I’m not someone who feels the need to shake up – or even vary that much –my exercise, eating or sleeping habits.  Maybe that makes me dull and predictable, but there is plenty of other unpredictability in my life; habits give me a sense of stability, having a home base.

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

My identical twin sister.  When she tries something and likes it, I often follow suit.  That has happened with yoga, meditation, and eating Grape Nuts for dinner every once in a while.

How Do We See the Living Soul of the World? Through Color.

“Light, that first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.”

–Johannes Itten, The Elements of Color

My color obsession continues! What a beautiful, fascinating subject. I just finished a book about green–that’s right, a whole book about green. I recently finished a book about black. Next up, blue.

Do you have a signature color? I was vexed by my inability to commit, but I’ve realized that the color wheel is my signature colorscape.

E. M. Forster Explains How To Know If a Book Is Influencing You.

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have got ourselves. I suggest, furthermore, that when you feel that you could almost have written the book yourself—that’s the moment when it’s influencing you. You are not influenced when you say, ‘How marvelous! What a revelation! How monumental! Oh!’ You are being extended. You are being influenced when you say ‘I might have written that myself if I hadn’t be so busy.'”

– E. M. Forster, “A Book That Influenced Me,” from Two Cheers for Democracy

Does this ring true for you?

I have to say, I think that people sometimes get that feeling from my books, especially The Happiness Project. People often say to me,  “Wow, I could’ve written a book like yours myself.” And I always think, “Terrific, you should!”

One of my favorite happiness-project resolutions is to “Imitate a spiritual master,” and I feel influenced (I hope) every time I read Story of a Soul, the memoir of my spiritual master, St. Therese of Lisieux. She’s a great saint and a Doctor of the Church and I’m me, of course, but still, when I read St. Therese, I think, “That’s exactly right, I’ve thought the same thing myself, I’ve struggled with that impulse, too. ”

What books have influenced you — or extended you?

Podcast 90: Very Special Episode on the “Essential 7” for Happiness and Good Habits.

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

NOTE: This episode was recorded before Election Day 2016, which is why Elizabeth and I don’t mention it. The election has been unusually emotional and contentious. As with any milestone moment, it provides an opportunity for us to reflect about our own values, and how we can serve the highest ideals of our country and ourselves.

Update: To hear the Happiness 911 songs, the link is here, or you can search for “Happier 911” on Spotify. Currently at 397 songs — that’s almost 25 hours of happy music.

podcastt-shirthappierblackIf you want to buy a Happier t-shirt, email us here, and we’ll get your information.

Every tenth episode is a Very Special Episode. For this VSE, we talk about the “Essential Seven,” the seven areas in which just about every desirable habit falls.

Try This at Home: Figure out what you’d do using the Essential Seven, to make your life happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)

2. Exercise regularly

3. Save, spend, and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, make purchases that contribute to happiness or habits, pay taxes, stay current with expense reports, take classes to expand career options)

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (pursue a hobby instead of cruising the internet, enjoy the moment, stop checking email, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car, take time for myself)

5. Stop procrastinating, make consistent progress (practice an instrument, set aside two hours daily for uninterrupted work, learn a language, maintain a blog, keep a gratitude journal)

6. Simplify, clear, and organize (make the bed every day, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle, give away unused clothing) If you want listen to Episode 10, the clutter-clearing episode, it’s here.

7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world (call family members, read the Bible every day, volunteer, spend time with friends, observe the Sabbath, spend time alone in nature)

Of course, the same habit might satisfy different needs for different people. For one person, yoga might be a form of exercise (#2), for someone else, a way to find mental rest (#4); for someone else, a spiritual practice (#7). And people value different habits. For one person, organized files might be a crucial tool for creativity; another person finds inspiration in random juxtapositions.

Gretchen’s Demerit: I invoke the False-Choice Loophole to skip the gym.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Adam discussed a renovation decision at length, because he knows that Elizabeth likes to talk things through.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #90

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A Little Happier: Accept a Gift in the Spirit in Which It’s Offered. (Easier Said Than Done.)

In my books The Happiness Project, and on my blog, I’ve written about the fact that my spiritual master is St. Therese of Lisieux, which I learned after reading her spiritual memoir Story of a Soul.

I’ve always been very struck by St. Therese’s discussion about getting gifts. She emphasizes that we should accept a gift in the spirit in which it’s offered — and also admits why, even for her (a saint!), this is difficult.

This is the line I especially love: “for the love of God and my Sisters (so charitable toward me) I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.”

If you’d like to watch a short video of me talking about the happiness resolution of “Imitate your spiritual master,” it’s here:

Check out Yogi Tea. When it comes to enjoying life, little moments — like drinking a delicious cup of tea — can make a big difference.

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