Do You Have a “Taste for the Good?”

 “There is in the soul a taste for the good, just as there is in the body an appetite for enjoyment.”

– Joubert, Pensees

If you have a strong “taste for the good,” read Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead. A beautiful, beautiful book, with a truly good main character — which is rare.

One of the reasons I love children’s literature, especially from the past, is that it’s often fairly didactic. The Secret Garden, Heidi, the Narnia books — I love that element.

Revealed! Book Club Choices for September. Such Good Books.

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,, 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.  Drumroll…

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

The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Buy from IndieBound;; Amazon.


An outstanding children’s book:

Judy’s Journey by Lois Lenski

Buy from IndieBound;; Amazon.


An eccentric pick:

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

Buy from IndieBound;; Amazon.


Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links. I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

“I Realized that My Calendar Was Full of Commitments to Other People, But Few Commitments to Myself.”

Happiness interview: Amy Whitaker.

Amy and I met many years ago. She has a fascinating background: she got both an MBA and an MFA in painting (not a combo you see every day), and she has spent many years thinking about the conjunction of her two interests.

She teaches business to artists and designers, and lectures widely on creativity in the workplace. She’s also an assistant professor of visual arts administration at New York University.

Amy has a new book that just hit the shelves: Art Thinking: How to Carve Out Creative Space in a World of Schedules, Budgets, and Bosses.

I know from talking to people over the years that one of the habits that people most want to form is the habit of doing creative work. We have so many claims on our time, energy, and money that it can be hard to fit in that element — even when we know it will make us happier.

So I was very eager to hear what Amy had to say.

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

Amy: The mind naturally goes to worrying about what could go wrong. While that’s evolutionarily helpful if you’re being chased by a cheetah, it can make it hard to soak up the joy that’s around you. I have learned some mental habits for when I worry that help me to separate out the facts, to notice any conclusions I’m jumping to, and to question what might or might not be true. You could call it the Habit of Injecting Skepticism.

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

That you have to actually do them, over and over, until they become rituals that support you.

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

I just had a book come out, Art Thinking (Harper Business). In switching from writing it (a.k.a., long romantic getaways, just me and the Microsoft Word doc) to sharing it with people (social reentry and the dawning realization that a project is real), I noticed that I had a habit of acting like my life was happening on a five-second time delay, the way that live television has a lag for bleeping out swear words. Someone would make an offer to help with the book, and I would have to think, oh, this is happening right now. I had to remind myself to show up presently, as if we were all doing improv comedy.

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

I live on my own, so every morning I walk across the street, in New York, to get a cup of coffee, from people whose names I know and who know my standard order. It wakes me up and gives me a sense of community.

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

I’m an Obliger, with a dash of Rebel and Questioner thrown in. I’d like to think that I’m less of a people pleaser than I was growing up, and that my “Obliger” nature comes from an old-fashioned belief that you are only as good as your word. If I tell someone I will do something, I have to do it, even if I have to put something on the back-burner to do it.

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

I’m a social creature and a Southerner originally, so I hate for people to eat or drink alone. That means that if I have any habits related to food or drink, I need to go cold turkey. Otherwise, I think, well, I’ll have that one Manhattan / glass of red wine / cookie / entire chocolate cake because what is life without a shared sense of occasion?

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.?

Several years ago, a friend looked at my calendar and said, “Wow, this doesn’t look at all like what you’re talking about!” I realized that I was putting down all the things that were commitments to other people (see Obliger, question #6) and few of the ones that were commitments to myself. So I started putting everything in my calendar. (Like a time-traveler, I still keep a long-hand calendar in a giant leather-bound book I buy every year.) It was a breakthrough in being able to see the whole landscape of my life—something I actually found myself writing about not long after.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I think I resist habits—or that I work episodically and have different habits within different episodes of my life.

There’s a feeling as a writer that you should have habits, because people will ask you what your writing routine is. And you’re supposed to Ernest-Hemingway the question and explain how you write in the morning and drink with friends in the afternoon. Or that you make yourself get up and write from 5-8 am every day.

I was writing a book about how to carve out creative time in the midst of busy working life, while working full-time. So, I wrote a little on a regular basis time, and then took a deep dive periodically when I had school breaks or bracketed weekends.

When I am writing intensively like that, I have a habit of starting the day with coffee, going for a midday walk, even around the block, and then going for an evening run.

When I was working full-time, I used one of the tools from Art Thinking – the habit of “studio time.” I would decide how much time I had to devote to a creative project—whether a half hour or two hours—and then set it aside and commit to it.

I also used the studio time habit to learn something new—video editing, hip-hop dance—because it renewed my ability to take a risk on feeling (and looking) like an idiot, which I’d argue is an important part of creative process. Risë Wilson, the director of philanthropy for the artist Robert Rauschenberg’s foundation, once described being an artist as “the act of being vulnerable in public.” I use habits to force myself to do that on a regular basis.

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

I made a new friend a few years ago who is one of the most remarkably punctual people I have ever met. She arrives fifteen minutes early. She reminded me of the importance of punctuality. I practice the habit of being on time, and it makes me happier when I do it.

Podcast 80: A Very Special Episode Focused on Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.”

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

Update: It’s almost September, and for many of us, September is the other January. If you get a clean slate, start-over feeling in September, check out my book Happier at Home. If you’re not happy at home, it’s hard to be happy.

Very Special Episode: Every tenth episode we do a Very Special Episode, and for episode 80, we’re talking about Gary Chapman’s blockbuster bestselling book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts.

I love a personality framework derived from observation! If you want to experience my own personality framework, the Four Tendencies, to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, check it out here.

The Five Languages:

  • Words of Affirmation — the love language for both Elizabeth and me
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch


Gretchen’s Demerit: I didn’t give a proper good-night kiss to Jamie, even though I’d just been thinking about the fact that his language is Physical Touch.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives Acts-of-Service Adam a gold star for buying a light-weight comforter.

Want to give us the Words of Affirmation we both crave, for the podcast? Easy instructions here about how to rate and review the podcast (scroll down).

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, check the schedule. 

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #80

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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.

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In Honor of Gene Wilder, a Lesson about Happiness that I Learned from Wilder and Gilda Radner.

I was very sad to hear the news that Gene Wilder died. I’ll never forget him as Willie Wonka — limping down the path outside of his chocolate factory, then dropping into a somersault and springing to his feet.

In honor of his death, I wanted to re-post something I wrote nine years ago, about Wilder and his wife, comedian Gilda Radner.

Here it is, from 2007:

One thing I do for The Happiness Project is to read memoirs of catastrophe – people who have gone through cancer, divorce, death, etc.

Several months ago I read Gilda Radner’s interesting memoir, It’s Always Something, and yesterday I finished Gene Wilder’s equally interesting memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger. The two were married when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and died, so reading the two memoirs gives a window into that experience from both perspectives.

One thing that made this story particularly striking to me is that I remember seeing Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder together, many years ago. It was in a drugstore somewhere in New York City, I can’t remember where. I do remember that Gilda Radner was carrying a little dog (named Sparkle, I know now after reading these memoirs).

A very peculiar aspect of fame is that fact that strangers remember the most fleeting encounters with you; it’s astonishing, really, that I remember seeing the two of them, for just a moment, so long ago.

One reason that I remember them was that I remarked on how serious they both seemed. They were speaking in low, intense voices and looked solemn. “Well, maybe they’re only funny and light-hearted when they’re acting,” I thought. “Maybe that’s how famous comedians are in person. Or maybe they’re trying to be inconspicuous, because they’re famous.”

In fact, this might have been the very day that Gilda Radner got a terrible report from her doctor. When I intersected with them would’ve been about the same time that she was sick. What for me was an ordinary day, with the fun of a celebrity sighting, might have been one of the worst days of their lives.

This is a perfect example of the fundamental attribution error — which Wikipedia defines as “the tendency for people to over-emphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing situational explanations. In other words, people have an unjustified tendency to assume that a person’s actions depend on what ‘kind’ of person that person is rather than on the social and environmental forces influencing the person.

I assumed that Radner’s and Wilder’s behavior reflected their characters as celebrities and comedians and actors; it never occurred to me that their behavior might reflect something happening to them.

Which reminds me – I should always cut people slack; always assume that their irritability, or unfriendliness, or absent-mindedness, neither reflects their true nature nor has anything to do with me. In brief, don’t take things personally. As Henri-Frederic Amiel wrote, “Life is short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.”