Podcast 102: Tame the “Travel Beast,” Find the Missing Puzzle Piece, and a Clever Solution to Dirty Mugs in the Office Sink.

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

It’s hard to believe — we’re coming up on our second anniversary of the show! To celebrate, just as we did for our first anniversary show, we want to do an episode of highlights from the previous year. So if you have a favorite try-this-at-home, a great before-and-after story of something you tried, a favorite funny moment, let us know. Email us at podcast@gretchenrubin.com or call 77-HAPPY-336.

Try This at Home: Find the missing puzzle piece from your life — the missing tool, item, or activity that’s missing.

Happiness Hack: In episode 95, we talked about how shared spaces can tend to get messy. Our listener Hannah recounted how her boss gave everyone in the office a personalized mug, so it was obvious who was (or wasn’t) taking care of their mugs.

Happiness Stumbling Block: Both of us turn into the “travel beast” — we get cranky, we panic that we’ve lost something, we hurry everyone along. If you have solutions to offer, please let us know.

Listener Question: Heather asks, “How do you stop Obliger-rebellion?” If you don’t know whether you’re an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger, or a Rebel, take the quiz here. My book The Four Tendencies comes out in September — don’t worry, that’s not the real cover.

Demerit: Elizabeth is procrastinating about moving her clothes back into her newly renovated closet.

Gold Star: While in Havana, I stayed out late! Probably, most people wouldn’t give themselves a gold star for staying out until 2:00 a.m. at a bar, but for me, that’s gold-star territory.

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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

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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.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that.

HAPPIER listening!

Revealed! February Book Club: Keys to Good Design, a Personality Quiz, and High Fantasy.

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

— one outstanding book about happiness or habits

— one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

— one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at IndieBound, BN.com, or Amazon (I’m an affiliate), or your favorite local bookstore. Or my favorite, visit the library!

For all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read most of them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

Bonus book this month: with Shea Olsen, my sister Elizabeth Craft has a new young-adult novel, Flower. The tag line? “She had a plan, then she met him.” Romance, temptation, secrets, college applications, celebrity...Check it out.

Now, for the three book-club choices. Drumroll…

A book about happiness, good habits, or human nature:


The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Elizabeth Wagele

On episode 99 of the Happier podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I discussed the “Try This at Home” of taking personality quizzes. The Enneagram isn’t a scientific way to understand personality, but many people find it to be an illuminating framework. To my mind, that’s the chief benefit of a personality quiz: whether it helps us glimpse into our own nature. Sometimes it’s hard to look directly in the mirror, and something like a personality quiz can help us see ourselves indirectly.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

I was astonished to realize that I’ve never suggested the Tolkien books as my kidlit choice (though arguably they aren’t children’s books). These are towering classics of world literature. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first in a trilogy called “The Lord of the Rings,” and while The Hobbit isn’t part of the official trilogy, and is very different in tone, it’s quite related to the high fantasy epic that unfolds. These books are unlike anything else. Read the books even if you’ve seen the movies; as always, movies can’t capture so much that’s wonderful about books. For instance, one of my favorite characters, Tom Bombadil, doesn’t appear in the movies.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

The Pocket Universal Principles of Design: 150 Essential Tools for Architects, Artists, Designers, Developers, Engineers, Inventors, and Makers by William Lidwell.

This is an absorbing, fascinating, accessible book. Each page has a very succinct description of a design principle, with a fascinating example on the facing page. I loved reading this book because it made me realize why certain designs in the world around me worked well — or didn’t work. It’s so fun to know about design principles like “Back-of-the-Dresser,” “Defensible Space,” “Figure-Ground,” and the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” These may sound dry, but they’re fascinating.

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon.


If you want to make sure you never miss a month’s selections, sign up here for the book club newsletter.

Remember, if you want to see what I read each week, I post a photo of my pile of completed books on my Facebook Page every Sunday night, #GretchenRubinReads.

I just went to the library a few days ago — my reading stack is huge. What book are you most excited to read next?

A Little Happier: “No Deposit, No Return.” Agree, Disagree?

I’m always looking for universal truths. And what I’ve found is that there are very few universal truths — not many things are true for everyone, all the time.

But one such iron law does seem to be: No deposit, no return.

We never get out of things more than we put into them.

Listen to this mini-podcast episode by clicking PLAY below.


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


Happier listening!

One of My Cures for Feeling Anxious? Think about My Favorite Churchill Quotations.

One of my most useful resolutions is to “Find an area of refuge.”

We all suffer from negativity bias, that is, we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good.

Research shows one consequence of negativity bias is that when people’s thoughts wander, they tend to begin to brood. Anxious or angry thoughts capture our attention more effectively than happier thoughts.

And of course, we often have many difficult, upsetting, or worrying matters weighing on our minds.

If I feel myself struggling to calm my bad or anxious feelings, I seek a mental “area of refuge” for my mind.

Sometimes I look at photos of my family — research shows that reflecting on happy times in the past boosts happiness in the present.

Sometimes I think about my favorite scenes from books, movies, or TV shows. I often find myself thinking about classic funny scenes from The Office, for instance — like the time Jim wrapped Dwight’s desk in wrapping paper.

Most often, however, I reflect on my favorite quotations from Winston Churchill. When I was writing Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I collected a countless number of these — some funny, some sharp, some transcendent.

It’s impossible for me to choose my favorite, but this quotation is certainly one of my favorites. I’ve quoted it here before, but I can’t resist quoting it again.

In September 1940, Churchill gave one of his most memorable broadcasts — about the “Blitz,” the brutal nightly bombing of London.

I know the words practically by heart.

These cruel, wanton, indiscriminate bombings of London are, of course, a part of Hitler’s invasion plans. He hopes, by killing large numbers of civilians, and women and children, that he will terrorise and cow the people of this mighty imperial city, and make them a burden and anxiety to the Government…Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fibre of the Londoners…who have been bred to value freedom far above their lives. This wicked man, the repository and embodiment of many forms of soul-destroying hatreds, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shame, has now resolved to try to break our famous Island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed.

My favorite line: “What he has done is to kindle a fire in British hearts, here and all over the world, which will glow long after all traces of the conflagration he has caused in London have been removed.”

If you want to listen to Churchill give his broadcast, you can listen here. The section I quote above begins at 7:43.

Ah, what a joy it was to write that book!

“Zombie Mode Is Not Nearly as Delicious as Diving Deeply into Fully Living Life Every Day.”

Interview: Judson Brewer.

I was very pleased to get the chance to talk to Judson Brewer, because he and I are interested in so many of the same subjects.

He’s a leading figure in the “science of self-mastery” — oh, self-mastery! How I love that subject; it so appeals to my Upholder side.

He wears many hats and has many balls in the air (to mix metaphors horribly): Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness and associate professor in Medicine and Psychiatry at UMass Medical School; adjunct faculty at Yale University; research affiliate at MIT.

One of his specialties is using mindfulness programs to address addiction. He’s developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including both in-person and app-based treatments (e.g. www.goeatrightnow.com, www.cravingtoquit.com). He has also studied the underlying neural mechanisms of mindfulness using standard and real-time fMRI.  In 2012, he founded Claritas MindSciences to move his discoveries of clinical evidence behind mindfulness for eating, smoking and other behavior change into the marketplace.

In just a few weeks, his new book will hit the shelves — The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love, Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.

I was so interested to hear what Jud had to say about habits.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?

Jud: I’ve been blown away by how habits are the basis for so much of our lives – from smartphones to romantic love to getting caught up in our own thinking to even how we judge “right” and “wrong” in the world. Now I understand more where the phrase “we are creatures of…” comes from. And it’s amazing how much our modern scientific tools such as probing people in their natural environments via smartphone technology and detecting brain changes using fMRI machines have helped fill in the picture of what’s going on. All of these seem to repeatedly point to the same end: that we are tapping into a very evolutionarily conserved process that was set up for survival (trigger, behavior, reward).

Perhaps the most fascinating part of my research and clinical work was a paradoxical discovery: that we can tap into this natural reward-based learning process and by simply paying careful attention to different habit loops, we can learn to step out of them (paying careful attention to the “reward” is critical here).

In our clinical and brain studies, my lab has found that simple mindfulness trainings to help us pay attention and build awareness around our habits can have big effects on changing them (e.g. smoking, stress and emotional eating); our research has shown that these practices can not only help us quit smoking and change eating habits but literally change how our brains fire and wire.

What are some simple habits that consistently make you happier?

Practicing simple acts of kindness. Being curious. Smiling.

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

That changing habits is less an act of force or will than focusing on seeing the “reward” more clearly. I’ve also learned that curiosity is a key ingredient here.

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

Judgment (of myself and others).

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

Being kind. Listening carefully and completely when in conversation with someone. Exercising (running, mountain biking).

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

Eating healthfully. Looking back, I think the roots of this started to grow when I was racing BMX bikes in junior high school. I started noticing that when I ate donuts and drank soda before a race, I’d quickly run out of steam – which I later learned was probably due to getting a sugar rush and subsequent crash. As an adult, I’ve really started noticing how my body and mind feel after eating junk food (especially refined sugar) as compared to healthy food. It’s amazing how much wisdom comes from simply paying attention to the process! I couldn’t maintain a “don’t eat ice cream because it’s bad for you” mindset (which was totally cognitive/thinking in nature), but now when a craving comes on to pig out, can more easily remember what it felt like last time I ate an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s. This helps me stop with a small serving, while at the same time enjoy what I’m eating even more because I’m not mentally leaning in for the next bite.

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

Definitely a Questioner!

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Both – it is wonderful that we don’t have to relearn how to tie our shoes every day, and also great to pay attention to how much of our lives we spend on “autopilot” so that we can step out of old habits that no longer serve us, or may get in the way of really embracing life. I know that sounds hokey, but its true. Zombie mode is not nearly as delicious as diving deeply into and fully living life every day, no matter what is happening.

If you’d like to hear more from Jud Brewer, you can watch his TED talk, “A simple way to break a bad habit”: