“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 124: Remember Love, Coping with Sad Anniversaries, and Why People Shouldn’t Tell You What You “Should” Be Able to Do.

Update: Elizabeth gives a teaser — tomorrow on her other podcast Happier in Hollywood, she and Sarah discuss the highly controversial issue of food in the workplace. Will they discuss the evil donut-bringer? Tune in!

Try This at Home: Remember love. When someone is bugging us, often we can re-frame the situation by remembering: this person’s annoying behavior is an expression of love.

Happiness Hack: Use a Ziploc bag instead of a toiletry bag. Cheap, clear, easy to replace, any size, and changes shape to conform to the open space in a suitcase.

Four Tendencies Tips: Be very wary when someone tells you what you “should be able” to do. That’s often a sign that someone is giving you advice based on their Tendency, which is often not the way that’s right for someone else.

If you want more information on the Four Tendencies, go here.

If you want to pre-order my book The Four Tendencies (and it’s a big help to me, if you do), go here.

Listener Question: Nicole asks about “What’s your advice about dealing with sad anniversaries?” If you have any strategies to suggest, please let us know.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth didn’t “design the summer” for her seven-year-old Jack. I mention the “Strategy of Clarity,” which is very useful to keep in mind.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to Dwight Garner’s new New York Times book column, “American Beauties,” where he writes about under-sung American books from the past 75 years. The novel that Elizabeth mentions after the credits is Soleri by Michael Johnston.

Two Resources:

  1. As I mention, I have a “book club,” where each month I recommend one book about happiness or human nature; one work of children’s literature; and one eccentric pick (a book that I love, but that’s probably not for everyone). To make sure you never miss a month’s selections, sign up here for the free newsletter.
  2. Speaking of books, if you’d like a free, personalized, signed bookplate for you or for some friends, make your request (within reason). Or if have audio-book or e-book, I’ll send you a free, signed, personalized signature card. Alas, U.S. and Canada only.  To request, email me or go here.

The September book tour for The Four Tendencies is set! I’ll be going to New York City (obviously), Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.  I hope to see you there — please come, bring friends. Info is here.

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.

And check out BlueApron.comWish you cooked more? Get all the delicious, fresh ingredients you need to make great meals, delivered to your front door. Check out BlueApron.com/happier to get your first three meals free, with free shipping.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #124

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!

A Little Happier: Don’t Check Every Box.

One of my most important Secrets of Adulthood is: The opposite of a profound truth is also true.

Examples: I keep an empty shelf; I also keep a junk drawer. I try to accept myself, and also expect more from myself. If I want to keep going, I must allow myself to stop.

Last week, in “A Little Happier,” I talked about some valuable advice I got from my law-school roommate’s ex-boyfriend, to “Check every box.” That idea has helped me a lot during my career.

Many listeners wrote to remind me of another important idea: Don‘t check every box!

Don’t imagine that I have to check every box before I apply for a job or try something new.  It’s important to stretch, to challenge ourselves, not to limit our sense of possibility because we think that we just don’t have enough credentials.

We don’t have to check every box.

Excellent advice. Thank you, listeners.

This mini-episode is brought to you by The Happiness Project — my #1 New York Times bestselling book that stayed on the list for two years. Intrigued? Read a sample chapter here, on “Boost Energy.”

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

 

 Happier listening!

 

“I Simply Have to Put All My Energy into Hope and Life, Rather Than Trying to Avoid Doom and Death.”

Interview: Amy Silverstein.

Amy Silverstein is a writer who has written extensively about her very tough health challenges. Her acclaimed, award-winning first book, Sick Girl, explores her experience as an organ-transplant recipient — she was a law student when she received a heart transplant.

Her riveting new book, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, just hit the shelves. It’s about her experience twenty-six years later, when she needed a second heart transplant. To have a chance to survive, she had to uproot her life to go to California, and the book is a tribute to how her squad of nine close friends put aside the demands of their own lives to support her. Her account is a terrific example of how love and friendship can sustain us.

Her story is a great reminder: If you support organ donation, sign the registry! Tell your friends and family you want to donate your organs! If you’ve ever considered doing a “random act of kindness,” here’s one of the most random, most kind, and also most convenient acts you can ever commit.

If you want to know why I care so much about this issue, you can read about my husband Jamie’s experience, and one of the happiest days of my life, here.

I was very eager to hear what Amy had to say about happiness, habits, and health.

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

Amy: An hour of intense exercise – six days a week.

Good sleep – seven nights a week.

Breakfast (preferably Wheaties – it’s the Breakfast of Champions, after all!) – every day.

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

The years have taught me that healthy habits are about choice—at least at first—and that I have the power to decide to control my choices every day in every way.  Part of growing up, I think, is about discovering self-control.  This is not a completely positive discovery; I mean, watch a three-year-old eat an ice cream cone and you might feel nostalgia for that utterly joyful, face-smearing, shirt-staining abandon.  But, for the most part, growing up and growing into self-discipline is, I think, a big part of habit-forming and happiness.   And the payoffs are huge.  For me, the payoffs may be part of the reason I am still alive nearly 30 years after receiving a heart transplant at age 25.

I couldn’t know at 18 that habits were based in deliberate choice.  I didn’t give any thought to healthy habits back then.  Good health was a given, or so I thought.

Then I became suddenly ill at 24 and needed an immediate heart transplant (doctors said a virus had attacked my heart).  I was told that my life expectancy post-transplant might be ten years if I was lucky. Because of the nature of transplanted hearts and the medicines required to sustain them, the risks to my survival were described to me as a dreaded trifecta:  artery disease, cancer, and deadly infection.

As I saw it, I had no choice but to form healthy habits—fast.  And keep at them—forever.  So I made a decision to exercise vigorously six days a week; no doctor told me to do this.   And further, I decided I would eat a diet very low in unhealthy, saturated fats; again, this was not on any doctor’s advice.  It just seemed to me that if my arteries were at risk due to transplantation, I should not fill them up with cholesterol.

Now, you might think, Well, you have enormous health risks—of course you are going to choose and stick to healthy habits.  But I have met many grateful, smart heart transplant recipients, young and old, who do not strive to make the choices I have made, or who make them half-heartedly (no pun intended) and bend or break them regularly.  I never do.

I can’t know if, had I not received a heart transplant in my early 20’s, I would have grown into the habits I’ve chosen and kept them going strong and consistent for decades.  But I’d like to believe that even for those who are healthy, a habit must begin with a strong belief that this habit will make a positive difference.  And when this conviction meets awareness that we control only ourselves in this world, (because, really, who else can make your legs run or your hand reach for a doughnut) then we can choose our habits, form them, and live them.

Heart transplant or not.

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

I’ve tried over the last couple of years to break habits that make me unhappy.  With this second heart transplant, I found an opportunity to press the reset button and give up habits that, on reflection, caused me more harm than good.

For instance: journal writing. Over my 26 years with the first transplanted heart, I wrote in a journal every night, continuing a practice I had started in high school and carried over to college and law school.  But while my pre-transplant journals were full of life and hope, the entries during the transplant years quickly became a litany of medical woes and fears—more like a terrible medical chart than a jotting down of adventures and aspirations.  Soon, it became a sorry habit: get into bed, write down of all my symptoms in detail, and add any new medical fears to the long list in the back of the book.  My intention was to be a smart patient—keep careful watch so that I might save myself from the transplant dangers that threatened to take my life.

Several times, my journal did just this: made a lifesaving difference in my medical care.  My careful records allowed me to be a full partner with my doctor.  Sometimes even supplant my doctor.

But mostly, the daily habit of writing was a sad reminder of how challenging my body was, and how hopeless.  And when, finally, I did become critically ill and needed another transplant, I realized that my journal had not helped stave off the inevitable.  I learned that no matter how carefully I had watched and documented all aspects of my body and its health, the unfortunate fate of my transplanted heart’s demise played out anyway.

So, now, after this second heart transplant, I do not write in a journal anymore.  I am still a careful and observant patient, sure, but not a habitual recorder of my body’s ills.  I know now that habits are not going to save me.   I simply have to be courageous and put all my energy into hope and life, rather than trying to avoid doom and death—come what may.  My new motto (a habit in phrase form):  Che sera sera.

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

For creativity and writing, my most important habit is getting all other activities out of the way—i.e. my morning run, all emails and calls, a shower, Wheaties breakfast of champions—and then setting myself up for serious writing.  This means creating a specific environment and my place in it so that my unconscious knows it’s writing time.  Here’s where habit takes over.

I put on a robe that my husband bought me for me a few years ago—put it right over my clothes.  It’s my writing cloak, of sorts, and it triggers my mind to settle in.  I turn on a Himalayan rock salt lamp that sits on my desk (a gift from my son), switch on the lamp beside it and—now comes the most important part—plant my butt in the desk chair.  I mean plant it—for hours.  I’m talking six or seven or eight, with only a quick break to grab a yogurt, which I eat at my desk while working.

For me, the habit of creating and entering a specific writing environment is the only way I can get myself to face the empty page, and fill it.

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

I am an Upholder, for sure.  But as a person who has had serious life-threatening health issues since my early 20’s, I find that expectations directed at me from the outside are not particularly high.  In fact, they often come with provisos like Only do what you can do—don’t push yourself.  And I suppose this is apt, because during my first 26 transplant years, I was only able to actually achieve about fifty percent of what I set out to do.  So, friends and family and even employers went easy on me. But I never went easy on myself.  My achievements—including finishing law school after my transplant, passing the bar exam, working in law, writing a successful book, hiking mountains, running miles, etc.—went way beyond what anyone expected of me.

And now, after my second transplant, when I feel so much better than after my first, my expectations for myself are quite high.   It is easy to do what you set out to do, I think, when you feel well.  It’s a gift, in fact.  And I do not waste one minute of this gift.

People around me are beginning to notice that these years after my second transplant (there have been 3 of them so far) are different from the earlier ones, and so they are beginning to expect more from me.  To meet their expectations now (and, even better, to exceed them) is my great delight.

How have you viewed habits as part of your health experience?

I’ve chosen healthy habits over the last 30 years based on my hope that they will make a difference in my health.  Of course, this hope has to be set against a background of the medical challenges and shortened life expectancy that are my heart transplant reality.  But still, I’ve felt that if I apply healthy habits with absolute rigor—run that extra mile, pay attention to every tiny detail of my care, take every medicine every day, eschew artery-clogging foods, etc.—I can make a positive difference in my survival.  Well, to be honest, I’ve hoped to make more than just a positive difference; I have hoped to save myself from serious illness and death.

But you know, in spite of all the habits I devoted myself to with diligence and fervor for nearly 3 decades, my heart still succumbed to vasculopathy—the common artery disease that is a deadly heart transplant scourge.

So, now what?  How do I view my habits now that they have disappointed me?

I am so fortunate to have a second heart transplant.  Automatically and out of inured habit, it is natural that I delve into the same healthy habits that characterized my first 26 heart transplant years, because I love and value my donor heart and I want to live long.  But now I know that my health-promoting habits, admirable as they may have been, did not protect me as I had hoped.  Doing my all and doing it diligently did not prevent vasculopathy from invading my arteries and nearly killing me.

What do you do when life shows you that your healthy habits have no efficacy?

 This question applies to everyone, of course.  What happens when you develop and excellent study habits and apply them for months and months, and still, you fail the exam?  Or when you eat healthfully and sparingly and you exercise consistently, and then, a month later, you get on the scale and see no weight loss?

I do not have an answer to this.

Efficacy is all, as I see it, when it comes to assessing our habits in hindsight.

But a transplant cardiologist told me this recently:  “Amy, your extreme healthy habits are the reason you defied the odds and lived 26 years with that heart.  Given the available science and medication when you were transplanted in 1988, a generally healthy lifestyle would have gotten you 8 years, maybe 10.  Fifteen would have been amazing.  But 26?  That’s extraordinary, and that’s all you.”

The vasculopathy was inevitable, he said, because the transplant medicines back in the 80’s weren’t advanced enough to target it early on.  The appearance of artery disease was inevitable; no health habits could have won this battle.

And so, what now?

New medicines.  New treatments.  New hope.

I return to my healthy habits with renewed vigor and hope.

Podcast 123: Shield Yourself from Worry, Open Items Carefully, and Use Clothing to Influence Your Attitude.

Update: Listeners responded with an example of great side hustles (such as coaching high-school football) and with more ideas about how to deal with home parties.

Try This at Home: Shield yourself from worry.

Happiness Hack: Open items carefully. Don’t rip, shred, pull apart — instead, figure out how items are meant to be open, and use it.

Know Yourself Better: Do you use clothes to transform your mood or put yourself in a certain mindset?

Listener Question: Bethany and Benjamin ask for advice about how to have a happy experience when getting a new dog.

As I mention, I wrote this post “7 terrific books if you’re getting a dog.

I also wrote a post “7 things I learned about myself, from getting a dog.”

Gretchen’s Demerit: I feel myself starting to “save” a new white shirt. I have to remind myself, over and over, to Spend out (one of my Twelve Personal Commandments).

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the listeners of Happier in Hollywood, her new podcast with her longtime friend and writing partner, Sarah Fain — it has been great to hear from so many people.  To hear them discuss their “Hollywood origin story,” listen to episode 4 — and the debate about whether Sarah should dye her hair is in episode 4, too.

Three Resources:

    1. I’m obsessed with color, and one fun way to indulge in the pleasure of color is — to color! Want a bonus sheet from my coloring book, The Happiness Project Mini Posters: 20 Hand-lettered Quotes to Pull Out and FrameClick here  to get a PDF of one page from the coloring book. Tag me on Instagram if you color and share it.
    2. If you’d like my Checklist for Habit Change, to help you use the 21 strategies for habit change to improve an important habit in your life, you can click here for the PDF.
    3. The September book tour for The Four Tendencies is set! I’ll be going to New York City (obviously), Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.  I hope to see you there — please come, bring friends. Info is here.

 

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 Texture. Get access to all your favorite magazines — including back issues and bonus video content — in one super-convenient place. Try the app Texture for free by going to Texture.com/happier.

Visit Framebridge.com — a terrific way to get your art and photos framed, in a super easy and affordable way. Use the code HAPPIER at checkout to get 15% off your first Framebridge order. Shipping is free.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #123

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!