It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a year since my latest book, Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World, hit the shelves. Now the paperback is about to come out — April 30th.

I loved writing this book, and just as much, I’ve loved getting to talk to readers and listeners about the five senses.

I’ve heard things that have surprised me. For instance, to concentrate, some people choose to listen to the same single song on a loop, for an entire day. This wouldn’t work for me! Also, I learned that the “silky” texture is surprisingly polarizing. I always assumed everyone enjoyed it, but it turns out that many people really dislike that feeling of silkiness.

Over and over, I’m reminded that we all live in our own brew of sensations. As Zora Neale Hurston observes in her strange, brilliant autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road: “Every man’s spice-box seasons his own food.”


5 Things Making Me Happy​

I learned about a fascinating phenomenon, “the denomination effect.” Research shows that we’re more willing to spend money if we use smaller denominations; we hesitate to spend large bills. In other words, if you had twenty $5 bills, you’d spend them more readily than if you had a single $100 bill. There are competing theories about why we operate this way, but whatever the reason, it suggests a helpful, if possibly counter-intuitive, tool for resisting spending: Keep large bills in your wallet.

My visual theme for 2024 is the koi fish, so my sister Elizabeth sent me this photo of Taylor Swift, where she’s playing a guitar featuring koi fish. Koi fish are a very auspicious symbol—and also very beautiful. It’s fun to spot them in unexpected places.


For Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I studied the way that we pick up habits from each other—both for good and for bad. We’re influencing each other all the time. So I was fascinated to learn that when a group of 26 scientists spent six months in isolation in Antarctica, their accents and slang began to change. Without influences from the outside, they began to shape each other’s speaking styles.

Fun fact: Antarctica has no permanent human population.

When I ride the subway, it makes me so happy to see all the people using their riding time to study. Very often, I see adults and teenagers who are obviously memorizing information, highlighting text, quizzing themselves, and working in workbooks. They’re using that commute time in such a productive way. I have to admit, I’m a subway snoop—I’m always trying to sneak a look at what they’re studying, and I also try to spot the titles of the books that people are reading for fun.

Spring—and spring cleaning season—is around the corner, and I’m enjoying thinking about clearing clutter, a subject I find strangely energizing. I recently cleaned out my office, and I feel so much better. It’s one of my Secrets of Adulthood: For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.


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This week on Happier with Gretchen Rubin


We report on our experiences with doing “No-Spend February.” We also discuss the suggestion to go for a walk while having a difficult conversation and tackle a listener’s question about #Write24in24. Also, a listener offers a hack about using our non-dominant hands to improve our habits.

Listen now >


Cal Newport

Cal Newport is an MIT-trained computer science professor and New York Times bestselling author who writes about technology, work, and the quest to find depth in an increasingly distracted world. His latest book, Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout, just hit shelves.

Q: Can you suggest something we might try to help ourselves to become happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

The core idea of my latest book is the importance of breaking the connection between “productive” and “busy.” Some of history’s best-loved creators and thinkers took their time producing work that they were proud of; mixing intense periods with rest, inspiration with rejuvenation. Their goal was not to be busy on the scale of days, but to instead be impactful on the scale of years.

Given the realities of our modern world, of course, we cannot all directly follow, say, Georgia O’Keeffe’s example of retreating to the quiet shores of Lake George each summer to replenish her creative drive. But we can adopt this same general spirit of slowing down in the short term, while trusting that in the long term the quality of what we do we ultimately produce will easily compensate for our more sustainable pace.

Q: In your own life, have you found ways to tap into the power of your five senses? (For instance, I often take a sniff of a spice jar as I pass through my kitchen to help ground me in the present moment.)

No force is more effective in resetting my mind than the noisy quiet of nature. Walking deep enough into the woods so that the mechanical soundscape of the city fully devolves into tree-branch-rustling, provides a relaxed clarity I cannot otherwise summon. Some of my most important insights and ideas have emerged against this natural sonic backdrop.

Q: Is there a particular motto that you’ve found very helpful? (I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

This whole idea of slow productivity that I have been wrestling with in recent years began with a simple motto, that even before I knew how to elaborate its details, resonated with me deep down as self-evidently correct: Do fewer things. Work at a natural pace. Obsess over quality.

Q: What simple habit boosts your happiness or energy?

Simplifying my schedule so that I have more than enough time to finish what’s on my plate for a given day. It’s tempting to try to fit in absolutely as many tasks as possible, but a more gracious, slower moving schedule changes the whole mood of my professional endeavors for the better, and leaves me with more energy for my family when the workday ends. (It’s can be scary in the moment to take off that extra meeting or handful of extra tasks from your daily plan, but I’ve found that no one ever really notices.)

Q: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

Thoreau’s Walden, which I first read in my mid-twenties, has stuck with and influenced me as much as any other book I’ve encountered. People often mistakenly think about Walden as a nature book, but it’s actual much more radical than that. Thoreau’s experiment was not about appreciating life in the woods, but instead trying to determine, from first principles, what is required to cultivate a fulfilling life. I talked about Walden in detail in my book, Digital Minimalism, but Thoreau’s general, intentional, radical approach to rethinking life influences almost everything I’ve written since.

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Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.