How I love quotations—I collect them myself in giant troves, I collect books of quotations, and I love sending out my free daily “Moment of Happiness” newsletter with a terrific quotation about happiness or human nature (sign up here if you’d like to get it).
So of course I was immediately intrigued by the new book from two friends and authors Emily Luchetti and Erin McHugh. So Who’s Counting?: The Little Quote Book About Growing Older and Still Kicking Ass is a book of quotations that remind us that with age comes the opportunity to ask, “What’s next? What do I really want? What have I learned the hard way?”
I couldn’t wait to talk to Erin and Emily about happiness, habits, aging, and self-knowledge.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Emily: Exercise. Either a hike or working out at the gym in a TRX/weights class. The former I do on weekends with my husband and a friend. The classes first thing in the morning during the week. I feel more productive, energized, and ready to take on the world once I have gotten my body in gear.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Emily: Don’t worry so much about what other people think. And don’t compare yourself to others. Be your own authentic self. Now that I am older I take many things less personally. I can keep myself and others happy. I don’t have to forfeit what I want over others’ needs.
Erin: That it isn’t an inalienable right. Happiness is work, and it needs constant attention and upkeep. Feed it and it grows. And that, along with the time to pursue it, happiness is worth more than any commodity on earth.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
Emily and Erin: What turned out to be a revelation for us while we were working on So Who’s Counting? was getting to delve in and discover more about the people we quoted, not just the quote that ended up on the page. We conferred on every passage in the book—more than once—and researched where each came from, whether it was a speech, a letter, a passage from a book. But in doing so, we went down the most intriguing and rewarding rabbit holes. We found that Julia Child’s family had a cook growing up, and young Julia could have cared less about food. We were reminded about Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War draft, how it caused him to lose all his titles, left him on the sidelines during his best fighting years, but became the beginning of his journey as a humanitarian. How Maya Angelou’s life was burdened by a past as a sex worker, and a childhood in the Jim Crow South. And though these were people we had never met, we found then began to influence us in profound ways.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Emily: I took the quiz (I love things like this!) and am an Upholder. “I do what others expect of me—and what I expect from myself.” In my younger days only the first part of this sentence would have been true. I took care of others needs and put myself last. A real plus about getting older!
Erin: I’m a Questioner. By profession I’m a writer and an interviewer: so it’s no surprise that curiosity drives me even when I’m practicing neither!
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
Erin: Time—especially as one grows older—seems to whiz by. You’ve got to keep it in your grasp! A good calendar with some structured activity, whether it’s yoga, writing, getting together with friends, and whatever else pleases you, is key. Then the distractions don’t seem as…well, distracting. And Emily and I are both big believers in doing at least one fun thing a day, however small.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Emily: When I turned 60, I became aware of time in a good way. It hit home that we each only have one life and should live it to the best—whatever that means to you. For me, it’s a different answer each day. Some days it will be all work, sometimes all play. Sometimes something totally new, sometimes something I have done a zillion times. That’s what makes life exciting. I never really celebrate my birthdays but at 60 I wanted to make a statement to myself and saw it as an opportunity to do something I always thought would be fun but never did, I had a luncheon (cooked by Chef Jonathan Waxman) for about 70 women in the food world. It was electrifying to be in that room. Since then I have tried to make more time for these friendships and connections. We are always all so busy. You need to make a concerted effort to get together. And it’s worth it.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Emily: “Someday is Today.”
Erin: Singer Lauren Hill says at the end of one of her songs, “Everything is everything.” From the first time I heard it, I have found it such a valuable reminder for me. It means “Every little thing matters,” “Every moment counts,” and “Even the tiny things sometimes end up being the thing that makes the difference.”
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
Erin: I wrote a book a few years ago called One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better, in which I tried to do just a small, positive thing each day as I went about my business. Almost immediately it clocked the way I looked at the world, and how I approached life on a daily basis. It trained both my head and my heart to be aware, mindful, kinder. I treasure the experience and take myself back to its pages constantly to remind myself that better doesn’t have to be hard.
In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?
Emily: “Never trust a skinny chef.” For sure, I know how hard it is to not succumb to sweets. Especially when there are several ten-pound boxes of chocolate on the shelf. But it is possible to enjoy desserts and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s all about moderation. I started a movement around it called dessertworthy. Pastry chefs like to bake but we also like to exercise, eat veggies, and fit into our jeans. People don’t automatically assume a wine maker is an alcoholic or a pharmacist is a drug addict.
Erin: Writing a book is never a simple task. It’s long, arduous, vexing…but always rewarding.