“I Was Drawn to the Notion of Freeing Up Time and Space and Energy for the Things that Matter Most.”

Interview: Joshua Becker.

Joshua Becker and I met during a conference in Portland, Oregon — I was very interested to meet him, because I’d read posts on his site, Becoming Minimalist.

Within the larger subject of happiness, one of the most complex, and emotionally charged, is the role of possessions and happiness.

I write a lot about this issue in The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. And in Better Than Before, I write about the distinction between simplicity-lovers and abundance-lovers. I think it’s safe to say that Joshua is a simplicity lover! (Now, some simplicity-lovers say that simplicity is the true abundance…but there’s a difference between simplicity-abundance and abundance-abundance.)

Joshua has a book that’s just about to hit the shelves. He describes  The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own as “a book about owning less, but it’s more than that. It’s a book about generosity and intentionality and learning to pursue happiness in more fulfilling places than the acquisition of money or possessions.”

I was intrigued to hear what he’d have to say on the subject of habits, happiness, and minimalism.

Gretchen: 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.?

Joshua: Absolutely! In fact, the work I do today is based on a lightning bolt moment. Eight years ago, while cleaning out my garage, I was introduced to the idea of intentionally owning fewer possessions during a short conversation with my neighbor. At the time, this was counter-intuitive to me. I’d spent most of my life pursuing and accumulating as many material possessions as I could afford. But when my neighbor introduced me to the idea of minimalism, I was immediately drawn to the notion of freeing up time and space and energy for the things that matter most. Ever since then, I’ve worked to keep my possessions at a minimum and help others discover there is more joy to be found in owning less than we can ever discover pursuing more.

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

It is important for me to clear distractions—both at work and at home. Distractions can come from any number of places, but I often find that removing physical distractions (clutter) from my environment provides me both calm and focus. For me, this means something simple: clearing my desk at the end of the workday and cleaning my kitchen at the end of the evening so each day begins fresh. Recently, somebody advised that I do the same with my computer (shutting browser tabs, saving and closing documents at the end of the day)—I have been enjoying that routine for the past few weeks.

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

I’m not sure I’d classify it as a habit—I usually think of it as more of a temptation that often gets the best of me. But internally, I’ve struggled with jealousy as long as I can remember. For example, I often find myself becoming envious of the skill and success of other writers or of those who are younger but have seemingly accomplished more. Sometimes I find motivation in this envy, but most of the time it is crippling and burdensome.

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

One important realization that I made recently in life is that my predisposition does not determine my future. For the longest time, I would excuse negative habits as “just the way I am.” Often times, with an almost defeatist attitude, we make excuses for our negative behaviors or unhealthy habits by appealing to an unchangeable, internal force that makes decisions for us. And while our specific personalities certainly do make some habits more difficult to implement, it is important to realize the opportunity to create new ones is always available to us.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Minimalism served as a catalyst to embrace greater intentionality in all areas of my life. Eight years ago, I would never have responded to this question by saying I embrace habits. But today, I do. In fact, I see them as essential to living my fullest life possible.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Leo Babauta’s writing on habit creation has been very influential in my life (Zen Habits). I recommend his work to everyone. His approach is practical, helpful, positive, and encouraging.

A Little Happier: Outer Order Contributes to Inner Calm.

This is one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm.

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. I write about this connection in Better Than Before, in The Happiness Project, and in Happier at Home.

This connection fascinates me; 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?


I hope you’re enjoying the new mini-episodes. I love doing them.

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


Happier listening!

Can You Be Both “Home-Loving” and “Adventurous?”

Of the French writer Colette, her husband wrote: “She was both home-loving and adventurous…passionately attached to what she possessed and ready to risk or give it away at any moment.”

–Maurice Goudeket, Close to Colette: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman of Genius

How about you — are you more home-loving, more adventurous, or, like Colette, both? I’m more home-loving.

What’s a Critical Habit for Happiness? “Remembering the People We Miss Most.”

Interview: Allison Gilbert.

I don’t even remember when or how I met Allison Gilbert. We keep banging into each other in the world of New York area writers, and it’s always thought-provoking and fun to talk to her.

She has a new book that just hit the shelves. Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive is all about how to keep alive our memories of the people we love, after they’re gone — in a way that’s about happiness and remembering, not sadness and grieving. The book is crammed with specific, manageable, creative ideas for holding onto precious memories. (What a brilliant title for this subject, right?)

Given her subject, I was eager to talk to her about habits and happiness.

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

Allison: Being proactive about remembering loved ones I’ve lost.  Honoring past relationships has significant restorative power.  Celebrating what our family and friends still mean to us — even if they’ve been gone one year, fifteen years, or more — makes us happier.  This is because grief, especially when new, tends to make individuals feel out of control. Taking steps to remember leads to empowerment, and feeling empowered is what enables us regain our footing and charge forward.  Absence and presence can coexist.  Moving forward doesn’t have to mean leaving your loved ones behind.

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

Getting up early to write.  My alarm is set every day for 5:30am, before my husband and our two teenagers begin to stir.   I use this time to think and type without interruption.  Spending these concentrated moments on my writing puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.  I’ve focused on myself — the work I enjoy and need to do — and then I can be more giving to my family.  Getting up early to write it a lot like putting my oxygen mask on first.

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

Without hesitation, I am an Upholder.   I’m very good at setting deadlines for myself and meeting them.  I also LOVE to-do lists!

Have you ever changed a habit over a prolonged period of time, after years of struggle?

Yes, over a decade, after several family members died in rapid succession, including my parents. Immediately following each of their funerals, I never had to look far to share a story or hear one.  But a few months later, outside the holidays and other special occasions, I hesitated to bring them up in conversation.  Anecdotes I told my children seemed heavy or forced, and I didn’t want to make my friends uncomfortable. I also had so many questions most of my well-meaning friends couldn’t answer. What should I do with all their belongings— the random collections of loose papers, official documents, silverware, dishes, gardening tools, photo albums, VHS tapes, film reels, and 35mm slides? What should I keep? Where do I even start?  In some respects, because techniques for honoring and celebrating loved ones are seldom discussed, I felt lonelier at that later time than when my parents and other family members died.

Over time, I came to an important conclusion.  Nobody is responsible for keeping my family’s memory alive except me.  For my parents and other loved ones to continue enriching my life—and for my children to get to know their relatives—it would be up to me to develop the habit of integrating them into our already full and busy routines.  So the more I explored ways to celebrate their memory — cooking reminiscent foods, using technology and social media to frame their memory in a contemporary context — the happier I felt.  I embraced the idea that I could move forward, live and rich and joyful life, while keeping the memory of my loved ones alive.  This new habit has been a game changer.  It’s brought immeasurable joy and grace to my life.  In fact, as I was researching and writing Passed and Present I learned something quite astounding:  Taking steps to appropriately remember loved ones has been proven to be essential for healing.  Individuals who keep their loved one’s memory alive almost always fare better emotionally than those who don’t.  Who knew?! A critical habit for happiness is remembering the people we miss most.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

My mother.   My mother was a top executive recruiter and was often interviewed for magazines and books.  She was an expert source in Dr. Joyce Brothers’ book, The Successful Woman: How You Can Have a Career, a Husband and a Family — and Not Feel Guilty About It.  The book wasn’t relevant to me when it was published (it came out when I was in high school), but now that my mom is gone, I cherish the perspective she offered on habits.  She often used small pockets of time for guilt-free pleasure.  The best such nugget is on Page 113.  In this passage, my mother was asked how she finds time to take care of herself, even go clothes shopping, when she was also running an international enterprise.  Here’s what she said:

“The only time I spend any time going shopping is when I’m traveling on business.  If I’m in Dallas and have an appointment at nine and the next one isn’t until three, there is nothing I can do in between.  I can’t talk with my daughter.  I can’t write a business proposal.  So I go shopping.  It’s the only time I can shop without guilt.”  

This reads a little dated, of course.  My mother offered her point of view before laptops and cell phones. But her thinking still rings very true for me.  And if I’m being honest, the Passed and Present Memory Bash Book Tour might provide just these kind of guilt-free shopping opportunities for me.  I can’t wait to get on the road — meet readers — and also find windows of time to buy some new clothes.  I’ll be enthusiastically celebrating my mother’s memory with every dress I find. (To learn more about the #MemoryBash Movement, read more here.)

Podcast 60: Very Special Episode! Live from the TV Sound Stage Where Elizabeth Is Working.

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

Episode 60 — that means it’s a Very Special Episode! Our producer Henry and I traveled to the famed Silvercup Studios in Queens, New York, to visit Elizabeth on the sound stage of the show she’s working on. Super-glamorous, I must say. In the photo, in the directors’ chairs in “Video Village,” you can see Elizabeth (near chair), Helen Childress (middle), Sarah Fain (far chair), and Henry (half-hidden in the back row).

Try This at Home: Let people do their job. This relates to the problem of shared work, which we discussed in episode 28.

craftservicesSilvercupInterlude: a trip to craft services. So many tempting treats, all for free, and right at hand! Elizabeth calls it “the bane of her  existence.”

Interview: Helen Childress. Helen is the creator of the terrific-yet-still-unnamed TV show that Elizabeth is working on. She also wrote the iconic 90’s movie Reality Bites. In her interview, she gives many great insights on the nature of writing, creativity, and habits.

 Gretchen’s Demerit: I’ve acquired a Pile o’Papers related to tasks that I need to do — and it just keeps growing. I’ll use Elizabeth’s suggestion of using Power Hour.

ElizabethSarahHenryRecordingSarah Fain’s Gold Star
: We’ve talked about Elizabeth’s writing partner Sarah Fain so many times — it was great to have her on the show. She gives a gold star to her three-year-old daughter Violet, for being such a good sport for moving to New York City for several weeks.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out The Great Courses Plus for a wide variety of fascinating courses taught by top professors and experts in their fields. Special offer for our listeners: free access to one of their most popular courses, for free as part of a 30-day trial, when you sign up. Go to thegreatcoursesplus.com/happier

And check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, 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 4-week trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

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.)

1pixHappier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin #60

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 toHappier 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.

HAPPIER listening!