Can You Be Both “Home-Loving” and “Adventurous?”

Of the French writer Colette, her husband wrote: “She was both home-loving and adventurous…passionately attached to what she possessed and ready to risk or give it away at any moment.”

–Maurice Goudeket, Close to Colette: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman of Genius

How about you — are you more home-loving, more adventurous, or, like Colette, both? I’m more home-loving.

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.

HAPPIER listening!

Tips for Knowing If You and a Friend Would Be Good Traveling Companions.

I’m way behind on reading my magazines (are we the only household in American who gets The New Yorker magazine every day?), so I only just read an interesting piece from the March 21 issue of New York magazine, The Complicated Part of the Friend Trip.

In a subsection, “Whom Do We Invite?” the article cites psychologist Michael Brein’s compatibility scale, which asks:

  1. Do you have similar activity levels?
  2. Do you have the same day/night patterns? Say, does one person want to get up early and start the day, while another person wants to party late into the night?
  3. Do you have the same sense of “time urgency”? In other words, does one person want to make a plan and stick to it, while another person wants to keep things loose?

I think these are three terrific questions to ask.

For several years, my family has taken a summer trip with another family, and it’s really important to think about compatibility — and also to accept that your family’s way isn’t necessarily the right way, or the wrong way.

For instance, the family we travel with has a higher group energy level than my family. Before ending the day, they’ll often squeeze in an extra museum stop or historical site. My family — right or wrong — needs a lot of down time. I used to feel bad about the fact that we were missing out, and wimping out, but now I accept the fact that our families are just different.

Also, I’m different from the other adults on the trip: unlike the rest of them, if there’s a schedule, I really, really want to stick to it. Upholder that I am! But the other adults, and also kids, are fine with last-minute changes. Even though it makes me uncomfortable, I remind myself, “The point is to have fun together. Even if we’re not seeing this giant fountain.” That helps me remember not to nag or complain when the plans start to change.

Do you find these questions helpful? What other questions are useful to consider, when you’re planning to travel with someone?

A Little Happier: Sometimes, Flawed Can Be More Perfect Than Perfection

This is one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Sometimes, flawed can be more perfect than perfection.

I love the humming that’s audible in this recording of Glenn Gould’s performance. For me, the “flaw” of the humming makes the music more beautiful.

What do you think — agree, disagree?

If you’re interested in this idea, it also relates to the haunting Japanese concept of wabi-sabi–-the beauty of “the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

I hope you’re enjoying the new mini-episodes. I love doing them.

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Happier listening!