I have Twelve Personal Commandments, and the first commandment, and the most important, is to “Be Gretchen.”
In some ways, it makes me sad to “Be Gretchen,” because it means admitting my limitations. And one of my limitations? I don’t have much appreciation for music.
I mean, sure, I like a song here or there, but I don’t have the passionate interest and enjoyment of music that so many people have. On the upside—more time to read!
That’s why it’s all the more surprising that I love the music of Laurie Berkner. Her band is the Laurie Berkner Band, and she has lots of terrific albums, she regularly appeared on Nick Jr. and Sprout, she’s written children’s books, she gives huge concerts, and so on.
She’s best known as a writer and performer of music for children, but I love her music as an adult. She has many songs I love.
In The Happiness Project, in a discussion of why children boost happiness, I wrote: “Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t…pore over Baskin-Robbins cake designs, memorize Is Your Mama a Llama?…I wouldn’t watch Shrek over and over or listen to Laurie Berkner’s music…Nevertheless, I honestly do enjoy these activities with my children. I don’t just enjoy their pleasure…I also experience my own sincere enjoyment of activities that I would otherwise never have considered.”
So here’s the beauty of Twitter. Laurie Berkner herself tweeted me a message! Saying how much she liked The Happiness Project and that she got a kick out of seeing her work mentioned.
I was so excited. I went running to my family and said, “You’ll never guess who just sent me a message on Twitter!” They were very impressed.
I actually got to have coffee with Laurie Berkner, and of course, ply her with questions about her habits. I was dying to hear what she said.
Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?
Laurie: Going to the farmers’ market on Sundays to drop off our compost and buy food for the week. I like saying hi to all of the people who sell there, running into friends, knowing I put a little less garbage into a landfill and discovering what is in season. It’s my treat to myself whenever I’m not working on a Sunday morning. Plus, we make it into a family affair when everyone is home. We even bring our dog, Winston.
What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That I’m much happier forming habits for myself than for someone else. Also, that I am often not very good at forming habits in a long term way. It takes a lot of work for me. I start with good intentions, enjoy them, but I often lose track of the things that make me happy. It’s as if I forget the effect they have on me, and I only remember those good feelings once I convince myself to do them again. It’s also easier to convince myself now that I’ve had many more years to experience how good the good habits can feel—I can at least recall them intellectually.
Sometimes I even use images to remind myself. For example, going to sleep before 11 pm is very challenging for me. Recently I’ve been able to do it pretty consistently for one of the first times I can remember. I remember visiting my brother and sister-in-law a few years ago (they are both great at getting to bed early), and I saw her climb in bed, pull the covers up to her chin, and close her eyes with a look of pure contentment on her face just before she called out “goodnight!”When I find myself putting off getting in bed, I conjure up that image of my sister-in-law and it helps me remember how good I feel once I pull the covers up and am lying down myself.
Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
Misjudging time. It sometimes feels to me as if I have a brain issue around understanding how long things will take me. I never leave enough time for things that will take a while, and I leave too much time for short tasks. It also means I’m late, a lot.
Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
It’s funny, while being creative is really important to me, I don’t have a lot of habits around it. I just tend to be creative when I feel like it. But habits are really important for me for my physical and emotional health. Exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, spending time outside and in nature, meditating (that I one I have the hardest time maintaining), are all really important habits for me. Actually these habits all help everything I do. They help my health, my creativity, my productivity, my happiness, and my relationships.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I took the test on your site and it said I was a Questioner. I wasn’t at all sure what it would say I was. I feel like I can see myself dip into Rebel and Obliger as well.
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties, too much performance)
It’s funny, traveling when I’m performing actually often helps me keep my healthy habits. I make sure to go to bed early, I don’t snack before bed, I make time to practice, and I get things on my to-do list done that I’ve been putting off. I think being away from home and not feeling the pressure of all the things I do as a mom makes me feel like I have more time to do things that I would otherwise squeeze out of my schedule.
And the thing that interferes with my ability to keep healthy habits the most is when I have a lot going on at work. It spills into my personal life and time.
Do you embrace habits or resist them?
Hmm, I’m not really sure. I think I resist them more than I embrace them – but I’m drawn to the idea of having good habits. It just seems like there is never enough time for all of them.
Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?
Yes. I had a therapist for almost 20 years who taught me a lot about making time for myself. It helped me enormously in feeling okay about making time to cook my own meals, see an acupuncturist and a chiropractor regularly, and take the time I need in order to finish projects and feel good about them.
How do you feel about answering questions about habits?
Strangely stressed out. I feel aware of how hard it is for me to stay consistent in most areas of my life. I feel like I keep habits in phases. I will loyally do something for a period of time, then I’ll forget about it and start doing something else loyally for the next period of time and then find a third and maybe a fourth thing and then rediscover the first one and start all over again.
What are you currently working on?
I have a new double album out of traditional kids’ songs called Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs. In early 2016, I’m launching an online training of my “me and my grown-up” type curriculum for music teachers called Laurie Berkner’s The Music In Me. You can hear me talk about ways to incorporate music into daily family life every day on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live with “The Music In Me Minute.” I’m also making new videos every month on the Official Laurie Berkner Band YouTube page, we have a very active Facebook page with fun crafts, and I’m always performing and would love for people to know about my shows and come see them! People can sign up for our fan list at www.laurieberkner.com to be notified about performances in their area and anything else I’m up to.