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Podcast 273: Get Grounded in Your Body Through Your Senses, an Idea for a Quick, Inexpensive Gift, and a Conversation about Tough Times with Kate Bowler


Update: A few episodes back, the question came up: Is it important to keep your diploma? Many listeners wrote to tell us: Yes! Definitely keep your diploma. We heard many different examples of how having a physical diploma handy can save us time, energy, and money.

Try This at Home: Get grounded in your body. At a time when many of us are feeling distracted and uneasy, we can boost our calm and focus through our five senses.


  • Go outside and look at the sky. Really notice the colors and the light. (Also, research shows that getting sunshine is great for the body.)
  • Get out a photo album and look at each photo closely.


  • Choose a favorite song, sit down, close your eyes, and listen without distraction.
  • Go outside and listen to the noises you hear. Wow, we can really hear the birds in New York City these days.
  • Play an instrument—whether that's a piano or a kazoo.


  • Appreciate ordinary beautiful scents—vanilla, grapefruit, clean towels.
  • If something or some area of your house is stinky, do something about it.

Here's a photo of part of my shrine to smell:


  • Really experience ketchup—ketchup is a super-food that includes four of the five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, umami—all but the unpopular flavor of bitter.
  • Organize a "tasting"—for whiskey, tea, chocolate, barbecue sauce, vanilla ice cream.


  • Take a shower and focus on the feeling of the water on your body and the lathery feeling of soap or shampoo in your hands—or shaving cream! I love the feel of shaving cream.
  • Pet your cat or dog.

If you're interested in thinking about ways to ground yourself in your body, I wrote a post "Give a 'sensorium gift'--because sometimes we can minister to the spirit through the body."

Or listen to Elizabeth and me talk about the sensorium gift on episode 265.

Happiness Hack: For an inexpensive, thoughtful gift, pot a small plant in a mug.

(This idea reminded me of something I'd seen for sale: a fancy teacup with a scented candle. I thought I saw one at the Met Gift Shop, but now I remember that actually I saw it on a shelf at Bergdorf Goodman. The site Etsy has many teacup candles for sale, too.)

If you'd like to give someone a Tendency mug with a plant in it, you can order a mug here. Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel—we have a mug for everyone.

Interview: Kate Bowler.

About four years ago, Kate Bowler was living an ordinary life: she was 35 years old, she was a professor at Duke Divinity school, married, with a new baby—when she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

This experience forced her to reckon with her mortality. In a truly extraordinary way, she has grappled with this experience. She has a wonderful memoir called Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.

And she has a terrific podcast, which we highly recommend, called Everything Happens—and we’re so excited that she's joining the Onward Project! That's the family of podcasts that all aim to make our lives better: Happier in Hollywood, Side Hustle School, and Do the Thing with Whole30's Melissa Urban.

We interviewed Kate before, episode 239, and we wanted to talk to her again about how to stay happier in these difficult times.

We talked about:

  • dealing with "toggle brain," when we're planning for the future amid so much uncertainty
  • deciding "Given how I'm feeling today, what does progress look like for me today?"
  • for figuring out to be behave safely, Kate suggests a “two-week fear schedule." "Every two weeks," she says, "I look at the research and the choices I’ve made, and I decide if I’m going to do anything differently. That way I don’t have to worry constantly.” This is similar to our try-this-at-home to "schedule time to worry."
  • shutting out all the "Have you heard about the...?" conversations
  • coping with the fact that right now, we can't do many of the things that we'd usually do to comfort and connect with people—to visit, to touch, to do errands, to hug, to show up

Kate started an online platform "Life Together Apart" to give people a community during this difficult time; people can watch a video together, discuss questions, and do daily reflections and practices.

Along the same lines, more casually, Elizabeth and I lead a "Coping with COVID-19 Conversation" on Instagram Live every day at 4 p.m.

Kate's Try This at Home—she has two: During this time of ever-changing information, if you're anxious about what steps to take in order to be safe, plan to reevaluate and adjust your behavior every two weeks.

Give your micro-attention to something: remind yourself: in the whole day, this is it—don't miss it.

Elizabeth's Demerit: Elizabeth's family hasn't been eating dinner together.

Gretchen's Gold Star: I give a gold star to a podcast that our mother recommended to me: Desert Island Discs. This BBC radio program has been going since 1942 and was named by a panel of experts as the “greatest radio program of all time.” More than 3,000 radio episodes exist, and some huge number are available on podcast now. The concept: a host interviews a prominent guest about his or her life, and asks the person to choose eight songs, a book, and a luxury to take to a desert island. Interesting, engaging, calming, elevating.


  • Many people are using this time of staying safe-at-home to clear clutter. If you'd like to print out my Manifesto for Outer Order, you can download it at (scroll down to "Outer Order, Inner Calm").
  • As the COVID-19 situation has continues, I’ve been better able to read. Now that I can focus, books are my refuge and playground once again. If you love books as much as I do, support your local indie bookstore by visiting—it makes it easy to find and support your local bookstore by buying online. It also has a lot of great recommendations.

Quote From the Podcast

Given how I'm feeling today, what does progress look like for me today?
Kate Bowler

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