How To Be Happier? Eat Lots of Apples.

Happiness interview: Phil Rubin.

Warning: shameless family promotion: A first for me! I interviewed a member of my own family. My brother- and sister-in-law have a new book that just came out -- a fabulous cookbook, The Comfort of Apples: Modern Recipes for an Old-Fashioned Favorite, that focuses on apples (my own personal favorite fruit). Great recipes, lots of recipes, and beautiful photos of apples.

It's rare that I explicitly ask members of my family about their ideas about happiness, so I was very curious to see what Phil would say. When he gave me his answers, he added, "I wouldn't recommend anyone listen to me, except maybe about apples."
Which I found very funny. He definitely does know apples. Lauren says she will never eat another apple as long as she lives.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Phil: I used to think happiness resided solely in professional achievement. I think there are 2 elements to this trap: internal and external pressures real or implied. As you get older (hopefully) you learn to weave through and step back from some of this junk—you see people who are successful but unhappy or successful and happy, proving that it’s sort of an arbitrary thing.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
It doesn’t always work, and you’ve repeated this on your blog, but my dad’s thing “don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good” is a solid one. For those of us who obsess over everything, it can halt that pattern, reminding us it’s more constructive to move on than spin your wheels. In college I used to sit in the library working on a paper, staring at the same page for hours, but in the end, it’s better mentally and factually to hand in something.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?

Exercise helps. Being outside helps. While not necessarily affordable, I’m buying a bike, which I’ve always wanted to do, especially with the fall weather coming up and the great weather in the city. However, it’s cheaper and just as efficient to rent, which we also do.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?

Menial labor has been my thing. Not suggesting everyone go work in a candy plant, but a long time ago I spent a summer picking up trash, and (slightly) more recently I spent a year receiving meat and fish at a cooking school and that was pleasantly mind-numbing. Volunteering mimics this—delivering food and whatnot. And of course, cooking, which is both creative and working with your hands.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Again, you can’t go and buy a kid, but I never thought I’d enjoy being a parent. While it can be a huge pain, it’s totally worth it, and it’s worth it especially if you involve yourself in the kid’s life rather than sit back. While I don’t by any means always play with him and often wish I had more personal time, I like showing him the world, especially the swimming pool (which I heartily recommend as a gratifying activity for kids).

* I'm always talking about the importance of organ donation -- and pestering people to tell their families that they'd want to be a donor and to sign the Recycle Me. Check it out! Such a brilliant public service campaign. I love it.

* If your book group, spirituality book group, or church group is reading The Happiness Project -- or considering it -- I've prepared a one-page discussion guide for book groups, as well as a guide tailored for church groups, spirituality book groups, and the like. If you'd like either discussion guide (or both), email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.

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