A Little Happier: Sometimes, We Can Be Generous by Taking.

You never know what you’ll remember…sometimes, the smallest incidences stand out in our memories forever.

I’ve never forgotten this brief encounter with a woman on an airplane, back from when my older daughter Eliza was a new baby.

With greater age and experience, I now know that feeling of just wanting to hold a baby. I wish I’d say “yes” when that nice woman offered to hold Eliza for me.

Agree? Sometimes, we can be generous by taking.

I mention Better Than Before, my book about habit change. You can find more information here.

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A Happiness Reminder from Charles Darwin: “I Have Worked as Well as I Could.”

“Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously criticized, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that ‘I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this.’”

–Charles Darwin, The Autobiography

I often comfort myself with the same thought — and often, in advance. When I’m preparing for some challenge — say, one of my books getting published — I think, “I should do everything I possibly can, because that way, if things don’t go as well as I hope, I can comfort myself with the thought that there just wasn’t anything else I might have done.”

Does this reminder strike a chord with you?

“I’m Thankful for What I Have and Hopefully a Little Less Selfish than 18-Year-Old Me.”

Interview: Áine Fay.

Lately, I’ve learned a lot about the impressive work of Concern Worldwide U.S., an international humanitarian organization that works to transform the lives of the poorest people in the poorest countries.

For almost fifty years, Concern has been visiting the places that few other people choose to go—often, it’s a grueling task simply to reach the destination, because there just isn’t a road that goes there. And Concern doesn’t just hand out supplies from the back of a truck. The people of Concern really dig in, to hear what a community needs, where the true opportunities for growth and change might be.

Aine Fay is the President of Concern Worldwide U.S., serving as the day-to-day leader overseeing the operations of a growing team of more than 50 people engaged in programs, development, communications, advocacy, development education, finance, and administration.  She’s also the organization’s lead strategist.

Trained as a nurse, Áine joined Concern in January 1983, and what started as a 2-year volunteer contract in Bangladesh has turned into a 30-year long commitment. Áine has lived and worked in some of the world’s most difficult environments, including Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Haiti and Afghanistan.

I was very interested to hear what she had to say about how to build a happier, healthier, more productive life.

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

Áine: Cycling to and from the office – the weather rarely scares me off.  It starts my day well and is a clear break between work and home in the evening and a fantastic de-stressor.  It’s a rare day on my bike in New York that I don’t see something to make me smile or even laugh out loud.

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

My mother’s adage ‘moderation in all things’.  If only I had listened all my habits would have been healthier from the get-go.

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

I am generally a happy individual – I love my work with Concern and feel blessed that I wandered into it 34 years ago to give 2 years to a good cause.  Seeing how people who live in dire poverty make the most of their lot, who have the same ambitions for their families and strive hard daily to improve their lives – my work has  made me who I am. I’m thankful for what I have and hopefully a little less selfish than the 18 year old me.

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

Travel.  I travel a huge amount for my job (which I love) but it does absolutely interfere in both the habit of regular exercise and healthy eating.  It’s difficult when you arrive in the remote areas that Concern works in to be fussy about what you eat, and it’s certainly not OK to be critical when the people you are seeing every day may not be able to afford 3 meals a day, so I just dig in, enjoy and live to fight the flab another day!  Similarly for exercise, security issues usually mean that I cannot exercise outdoors when I travel to these remote areas and I have never developed the discipline of indoor exercise – maybe that’s the healthy habit I need to develop.

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.?

Yes.  My sixtieth year – a milestone birthday and the year I moved to New York.  I challenged myself to train for a ½ marathon to raise funds for a Concern program and this in turn led me to train and complete the New York Marathon two years later.  I don’t do such long distances now but keep up jogging on as a regular basis as life allows.

What else would you particularly like to bring to readers’ attention?

Think of something to be thankful for every day – My work with the poorest people on our planet serves as a reminder to me how lucky I am and despite the struggles we think I have, there are many, many people around us who are so much worse off and without the safety nets that we have.

To learn more about the work of Concern Worldwide U.S., or to donate to their efforts, go here.

Podcast 119: Have Friends of Different Ages, Manage Mild Pain, and a Doctor-Related Demerit.

Update: Our next Very Special Episode will be dedicated to listener questions about the Four Tendencies, so if you have questions or comments, send them in. (Don’t know your Tendency? Take the quiz here to see if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.)

Try This at Home: Make friends with people of different ages. Hearing about their different experiences is helpful, and also makes life richer.

Happiness Hack: Always look behind you when you leave a restaurant, a car, a conference table. It’s a simple habit that saves a lot of hassle.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Pain is a huge happiness stumbling block. If we can take steps to manage pain, it’s a way to boost happiness.

Listener Question: Jen asks, “I’m an Obliger. My friends ask me to attend or host home parties. This puts me in a bind.”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I haven’t had a skin cancer check in two years.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star for planning a fun family weekend for two families.

Two Resources:

  1.  If you’d like to buy a happier t-shirt, email us, and we’ll get that underway.
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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #119

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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 .

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Buying Towels and a Moment of Self-Reflection: I’m Already Grown Up.

For a while now, my husband has been talking about wanting new bathroom towels. And he was right, we needed them.

As an under-buyer, I take great pleasure in the process of wearing things out or using things up — and boy, we got good use out of those towels. They were worn, frayed, torn, stained, and generally in bad shape.

We were both home on the Monday afternoon of the long weekend, so my husband proposed that we use the time to go towel-shopping.

We went to Bloomingdale’s, where they stock about a hundred brands of towels. We looked around, identified a mid-range brand (conveniently on sale), and pulled out six white towels to take to the cash register.

As we were paying, my husband asked, “Are these nice towels?”

And I said, “Not super-nice, but nice enough. Did you want very nice ones?”

He said, “No. Just regular towels.”

And here’s the weird thing: I said to him, “When we’re grown up, we’ll buy really nice towels.”

And I immediately thought — what am I thinking? When we’re grown up? We’re already grown up! We have a daughter going off to college next year!

This is something I’ve noticed so often in myself: I have this feeling that everything in my life is…temporary, provisional. That my adult life hasn’t yet truly started or assumed its ultimate form.

But that’s not true. I’m a grown up already. If I want nice towels, I should buy them now. I can’t expect that one day, I will magically have an adult life, with nice towels or anything else. Everything is as adult, or not-adult, as it will ever be, unless I make a conscious change.

Do you ever have this feeling? That somehow, you aren’t yet really a grown up? It’s not a Peter Pan, refusing-to-accept-responsibility feeling; it’s that feeling that nothing is yet real or permanent, but that someday, it will become real and permanent.

Even though I know it won’t.

Have you had this feeling?