Podcast 25: Hilarious Tips from A. J. Jacobs: Posture, Brainstorming, and Eat from the Fridge, Not the Pantry.

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

Update: In episode 21,we discussed the try-this-at-home tip, “Join or start a group.” We heard about many interesting, productive groups. Remember, you can request the starter kit for starting a Better Than Before Habits group, or a Happiness Project group. Or you can just email me a request.

Try This at Home-a-Palooza: Our terrific guest, the hilarious writer A. J. Jacobs, suggests a bunch of try-this-at-home tips: stand up straight, brainstorm for fifteen minutes a day, use sustainable honesty, and eat from the fridge, not the pantry. If you want more of A.J.’s humor and insights, read The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, Drop Dead Healthy, and The Guinea Pig Diaries.

Gretchen’s Demerit: I allow my ten-year-old to watch the TV show Friends. Appropriate — or not? Bonus: we include a clip from my favorite episode.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Rain! Drought-plagued Los Angeles got a day of rain.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors.  Want to avoid post-office pain, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

Also, check out The Great Courses for a wide variety of fascinating courses. Special offer for our listeners: go to thegreatcourses.com/happier to order from eight of their bestselling courses, including Behavioral Economics: When Psychology and Economics Collide, and get up to 80% off. Limited time.

We’d love to hear from you. Did you try any of the tips suggested by A. J.?

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

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Agree, Disagree? Outer Order Contributes to Inner Calm.

From Further Secrets of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm.

Agree, disagree?

One of the things about happiness that continually surprises me is the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm, and inner self-command.

In the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet or an overflowing in-box is trivial, and yet such things weigh us down more than they should.

That’s why I follow habits like making my bed and the one-minute rule, and why one of the most important strategies of habit formation is the Strategy of Foundation.

A friend once told me, “I finally cleaned out my fridge, and now I know I can switch careers” — and I knew exactly how that felt.

A good clutter-clearing makes me feel more energetic, more creative, and more in command of myself. And I know where my keys are!

Do you agree — that there’s a weirdly tight connection between getting control of the stuff of life and feeling in control of your life, generally?

Like Me, Are You Haunted by Reading People’s Final Journal Entries?

Lately, I’ve been somewhat obsessively reading Thomas Merton’s journals.

It was very eerie to read the final entry in his journal — which, of course, he had no idea would be his last. And that got me remembering other final journal entries from authors I love.

From Thomas Merton:

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In a little while I leave the hotel. I’m going to say Mass at St. Louis Church, have lunch at the Apostolic Delegation, and then on to the Red Cross place this afternoon.

The Journals of Thomas Merton, vol. 7, December 8, 1968, Bangkok (Merton died on December 10, 1968, while at a conference, from an accidental electric shock from a fan with faulty wiring)

From Virginia Woolf:

A curious sea side feeling in the air today. It reminds me of lodgings on a parade at Easter. Everyone leaning against the wind, nipped & silenced. All pulp removed.

This windy corner. And Nessa is at Brighton, & I am imagining how it wd be if we could infuse souls.

Octavia’s story. Could I englobe it somehow? English youth in 1900.

Two long letters from Shena & O. I cant tackle them, yet enjoy having them.

L.  is doing the rhododendrons…

–The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol. 5, March 24, 1941, Sussex (Woolf drowned herself on March 28, 1941)

Most haunting of all, from Anne Frank:

…I just can’t keep it up anymore, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if…if only there were no other people in the world.

The Diary of Anne Frank, August 1, 1944, Amsterdam (Frank was discovered and arrested on August 4, 1944, and died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in late February or early March 1945)

From Flannery O’Connor:

This isn’t a journal entry, but the final letter written by Flannery O’Connor.

Dear Raybat,

Cowards can be just as vicious as those who declare themselves–more so. Dont take any romantic attitude toward that call. Be properly scared and go on doing what you have to do, but take the necessary precautions. And call the police. That might be a lead for them.

Dont know when I’ll send those stories. I’ve felt too bad to type them.

Cheers, Tarfunk

Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, letter to Maryat Lee, July 28, 1964, Georgia (O’Connor died on August 3, 1964, of complications from lupus)

It’s a very solemn moment, coming to the end of a journal that I know was ended by death. Although the person writing it doesn’t infuse the words with special meaning, they seem to take on power from being the last.

For me, these entries serve as reminders to be grateful for my ordinary life, for the unremarkable routine that might be cut off at any moment.

This kind of memento mori may seem a bit grim — but I find it very helpful. I always struggle to remember how thankful I am for my everyday life, and this helps.

How about you? What practices help you to remember to be grateful for your ordinary day?

“You Know What I Was,/You See What I Am: Change Me, Change Me!”

The saris go by me from the embassies.
Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet.
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.
And I….
               this print of mine, that has kept its color
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so
To my bed, so to my grave, with no
Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief,
The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief—
Only I complain…. this serviceable
Body that no sunlight dyes, no hand suffuses
But, dome-shadowed, withering among columns,
Wavy beneath fountains—small, far-off, shining
In the eyes of animals, these beings trapped
As I am trapped but not, themselves, the trap,
Aging, but without knowledge of their age,
Kept safe here, knowing not of death, for death—
Oh, bars of my own body, open, open!
The world goes by my cage and never sees me.
And there come not to me, as come to these,
The wild beasts, sparrows pecking the llamas’ grain,
Pigeons settling on the bears’ bread, buzzards
Tearing the meat the flies have clouded….
When you come for the white rat that the foxes left,
Take off the red helmet of your head, the black
Wings that have shadowed me, and step to me as man:
The wild brother at whose feet the white wolves fawn,
To whose hand of power the great lioness
Stalks, purring….
                              You know what I was,
You see what I am: change me, change me!

–Randall Jarrell, “The Woman at the Washington Zoo,” The Complete Poems

I can’t even describe how much I love this poem. I can hardly stand to read it; it makes my head explode. The vulture. (A few of the line spacings are missing — for some reason, I can’t get it to show up correctly in the post. Sorry about that.)

I discovered it when I read Marjorie Williams’s The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate. It’s a very moving book, which I highly recommend — and the aptness of the poem is astonishing.

On the subject of Randall Jarrell, if you love children’s books, I highly recommend The Animal Family. A beautiful, quiet book, with gorgeous illustrations from Maurice Sendak.

Video: “I Can’t Stick to My Good Habit, Because I’ll Inconvenience Someone Else.”

In my latest (bestselling) book, Better Than Before, I identify the twenty-one strategies of habit-formation, and one is the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the ten categories of loopholes. I love studying loopholes, because they’re so funny. And ingenious! We’re such great advocates for ourselves — in any situation, we can always think of some loophole to invoke.

Well, what is a “loophole?” When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

In Better Than Before, I describe all ten categories of loopholes; in this video series. I’ll describe them, one by one.

Sixth of ten loopholes: The Concern for Others Loophole. We tell ourselves that we need to break a good habit out of concern for someone else.


Other examples?

Other people’s feelings will be hurt if I don’t partake.

I can’t ask my partner to stay with the kids while I go to class.

At a business dinner, if everyone is drinking, it would seem weird if I didn’t drink. (Somewhat to my surprise, this loophole comes up a lot with drinking. Teenagers aren’t the only ones to feel peer pressure to drink, it seems.)

For some people, this loophole is a major challenge. Relationships are a key to happiness, and if a particular habit makes you feel very awkward about being out of sync in a social situation, or you worry that you’re hurting other people’s feelings or making them feel uncomfortable, this is a real factor in the formation of a habit.

By identifying the loophole, you can identify possible solutions. “Everyone else is drinking, so I’ll order a sparkling water, and no one will know what’s in my glass.” “Everyone else is ordering a drink, so I’ll order a glass of wine, but I won’t drink it, I’ll just leave it on the table.” “My grandmother gets upset if I don’t take seconds, so I’ll take a very small portion the first time, so she sees me go back for more.” “I’ll talk to my partner about whether this new habit is actually inconvenient, and if so, how we can work out a schedule that works for both of us.”

Sidenote: when you’re forming a new habit that feels awkward to others, give them time to adjust. Any change feels awkward at first. But if you keep starting and stopping, no gets used to a new pattern. For instance, a friend wanted to go for a run on weekend mornings, but her family complained that she wasn’t around to get the day started — so she immediately stopped. She started again, and stuck to it, and after the first few weekends went by, everyone got used to starting the day on their own.

Is this a loophole that you invoke? In what situations? I love studying loopholes! They’re so ingenious.