Ever Been Inspired with a Moment of Transcendence from an Unexpected Source? Like Oklahoma!

Do you ever have an unexpectedly strong emotional reaction to something?

I sometimes get what I think of as my “America feeling.” Usually when I get this feeling, it’s so strong that I actually get teary.

It hits me at the oddest time. I often get it when I’m waiting in line to vote. I felt it when I got my daughter’s emergency passport, and the officer was giving us our directions. (You can hear me tell the story on episode 31 of the podcast: “If you have an appointment, you’re in line A, for ‘appointment’; if not, you’re in line B, for ‘bad planning.'”)

I felt it the other day. My sixteen-year-old daughter was playing music from her playlist, and of all things, it included the song “The Farmer and the Cowman” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein 1943 musical Oklahoma!

Yes, the song is dated, and it trades in cliches. Nevertheless, I love it, and the America feeling hit me hard.

Andrew Carnes:
The farmer and the cowman should be friends,
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.


Territory folks should stick together,
Territory folks should all be pals.
Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,
Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.


Aunt Eller:
I’d like to teach you all a little sayin’
And learn the words by heart the way you should
I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be danged if I ain’t jist as good!

This song gives me such a strong America feelings — I tear up every time I hear it. Which makes me feel a little ridiculous, but there it is.

Because yes it’s true: Territory folks should stick together, and I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be danged if I ain’t jist as good.

If you want to see the clip from the movie Oklahoma!, with singing and dancing, watch here.

In my experience, moments of transcendence — so precious for happiness — don’t always hit me the way I’d expect.

How about you? Do you ever get a feeling of transcendence — or the America feeling — from an unexpected source?

Like Andy Warhol, Would You Like to Have a Boss on Retainer? I Sure Would.

“When I think about what sort of person I would most like to have on a retainer, I think it would be a boss. A boss who could tell me what to do, because that makes everything easy when you’re working.”

–Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)

I like Andy Warhol’s art, but I love his writing.  He is the most extraordinarily interesting writer and observer of human nature. I find myself quoting him all the time, and this is one of the lines that I quote most often.

I find that so true about work — that the hardest part about working is telling yourself what to do.  Once you know what to do, things get much easier.

Note the genius, too, of specifying a boss on retainer. Not a boss all the time! Just when you want one.

How about you? Do you ever wish you could hire a boss on retainer, to tell you what to do?

Agree, Disagree? Home is a Physical Space; It’s Also a State of Mind.

From Further Secrets of Adulthood: Home is a physical space; it’s also a state of mind.

Agree, disagree?

I thought about this issue a lot as I was writing Happier at Home. What is “home?” What makes a place “homey?” How can I make the physical space of my home more comfortable — and how can I influence my state of mind?

As Harlan Coben told me, “You bring your own weather to the picnic.”

I’m always trying to identify the iron laws of the universe. There aren’t many.  (Send me your suggestions, if you have them.)

Here’s one: You’re better off if you get enough sleep.

Here’s another: It’s hard to be happy if you’re not happy at home. Of course, people’s idea of “home” can be very different.

That’s why it seemed to me that the effort to make home more homey (and then to write a book about it!) was truly worthwhile.

Have you found any good strategies to help ensure that your home is welcoming — both as a physical space and as a state of mind?


Is There a Line of Poetry that’s Become Your Mantra?

Interview: Rachel Kelly.

An old friend told me about about Rachel Kelly’s memoir, Black Rainbow: How Words Healed Me: My Journey Through Depression. In it, she describes her struggle with depression, and how she was able to use her love of poetry to help her during this time.

In this memoir, she recounts her experiences, as well as the poetry that moved her so deeply.

For me, the opposite of happiness is ordinary unhappiness; depression is its own third, urgent category. But happiness, unhappiness, and depression are all worth studying, for insights into one brings insights into the others. I was eager to hear what Rachel had to say about happiness and good habits.

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

Rachel: A habit that consistently makes me happier is to recite inspirational quotations in my head, mantra-style. My favorites include “My strength is made perfect in weakness” from Corinthians in the Bible, as well as a line from a poem by George Herbert: “Love bids me welcome,” which reminds me to keep returning back to a place of love and compassion.

My memoir Black Rainbow has fifty poems in it; all full of great inspirational lines that have helped me change the narrative in my head and feel less alone.

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

I now know that mind and body are intimately linked. A healthy body helps cultivate a healthy mind, and vice versa. If I’m mentally tense, then I’m physically tense. Equally, if I can become physically relaxed, it helps me to become mentally relaxed. The two are inseparable.

When I was younger I didn’t give much attention to my physical health because I didn’t feel as if I needed to. Now I know that if my head is a mess, it’s sometimes best to work at it the other way round by trying to optimize the way my body feels and functions. Physical exercise plus breathing and relaxation exercises are all crucial healthy habits that I didn’t previously recognize.

Do you have any habit that continually gets in the way of your happiness?  

Eating sugar continually gets in the way of my happiness because it makes me feel physically lethargic and low after an initial “buzz.” I turn to it when I’m sad and think I need a treat; just as when I was little, I was given sweets to make me feel better.

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

Yes, I would describe myself as a recovering Obliger. I have managed to become a bit less of a people-pleaser and am now better at listening to my own needs.

However, I do also try to put my tendency to oblige to good use. I have found the concept of “external accountability” really useful – thank you Gretchen!

So in order to stay fit for example, I have committed to doing an exercise class with my husband — so I have to show up because he’s expecting me there.

Another tool that’s been fundamental to growth and change has been learning to be more compassionate with myself and to stop pushing myself so hard. When self-criticism sets in, I now imagine treating myself as I would one of my own children. I ask myself: would I be so hard on a small child? On my own darling daughter? Saying she had to show up at every function and do whatever it takes to make everyone else happy? No, I would not.

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

This is such an easy question for me. My default setting for a long, long time has been “Obliger.” I was born an Obliger. I imagine that when I was a baby I would have said to my mom: “No, really, only feed me if the timing suits you,” and “Don’t worry – I’m fine with a dirty diaper.” I always aim to please.

I once went to the screening of a friend’s film, waited for the credits to roll and then let myself out through the emergency exit to go to another friend’s party, because I didn’t feel as if I could let either of them down. To top it all off I rushed home for dinner because I had promised my daughter that I wouldn’t be out that evening.

I’m such a people-pleaser that I even keep score of how many people I manage to please; it’s very much a number’s game. Each time I feel as if I’ve given another person what they need from me I get a high — a rush.

Thank goodness, I’ve begun to change. Very slowly I’m edging towards becoming more of an “Upholder” and more able to respond to inner, as well as outer expectations.

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? 

I experienced a lightning bolt moment when I first identified myself as a people-pleaser: so many things fell into place in my mind. This was thanks to a conversation with my therapist and was also informed by reading Better Than Before, which had a big impact on me. [That’s so nice to hear!]

I realized that being such a compulsive Obliger had literally almost killed me. Trying to do too much, please too many people, working long hours while raising my young children, led to serious depressive episodes that made me want to take my own life.

Do you embrace habits or resist them? 

Like many people, I’m a great one for embracing new habits with enthusiasm for a few weeks, and then my commitment begins to wane. But over time, some good habits have stuck, luckily, which is actually the subject of my next book – Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness.

Podcast 35: A Close Look at the Upholder Personality; Are You Like Gretchen and Hermione?

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” (Remember, if you’d like to get an email alert every time we release a new episode, you can sign up here.)

Update:  Elizabeth is struggling with the novel-writing.

Today is the first in the series of four episodes that we’re devoting to the Four Tendencies. Today, Upholder! That’s my Tendency.

Check out the photo — that’s me wearing the Upholder t-shirt that Elizabeth gave me for Christmas last year. Perfect.

Try This at Home: Take the Four Tendencies quiz here. Find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Upholders: Think Hermione Granger! Ah, Elizabeth knows me, and consequently the strengths and weaknesses of Upholders, very well.

Striking Pattern of Upholders: My fellow Upholders, do you also experience “tightening,” where our expectations for ourselves get tighter?

Our producer Henry is an Upholder, and he weighs in on his own experience with tightening.

Listener Questions: “How can Upholders balance interior and exterior expectations?” “I live with an Upholder, and find it impossible to meet his expectations.”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth missed the blood moon. So did I, by the way.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I love this Funny or Die video of Jewel, where she goes in disguise to a karaoke bar.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Episode #35

Call for comments, questions, observations!

We’re spending four weeks talking about my Four Tendencies framework for human nature. We’ve already had many thought-provoking responses, but we want more.


Please, send in your questions and comments by voicemail, email, etc.


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