Podcast 333: We Review Our One-Word Theme for the Year, Suggest a Hot-Weather Hack, and Discuss the Power of Plants with Michael Pollan

Try This at Home

Review your one-word theme for the year.

We do this exercise every year. In the past, I’ve had themes such as “Upgrade,” “Bigger,” “Lighten Up,” “Re-purpose,” “Delegate,” “Growth,” and “Infrastructure.”

Elizabeth’s past choices have included “Free Time,” “Style,” “Hot Wheels,” “Novel,” “Home,” “Control,” “#6,” and “Lighter.”

In episode 306, we talked about what word we chose for 2021 and why: Elizabeth chose “Butterfly“; I chose “Open.”

Like writing New Year’s resolutions, or making a “21 for 2021″ list, this exercise is meant to help us think about what changes we could make in our lives, to become happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative.

Once we’ve picked our theme, the trick is to keep it uppermost in our minds. People use screensavers, passwords, dog tags, jewelry, vision boards, bullet journals, and so on. And it’s also helpful to review the word periodically—which we did.


I ordered my “Open” necklace from MyIntent.

Elizabeth also has a “Butterfly” necklace. Elizabeth suggests that perhaps “Open” is a particularly useful one-word theme for an Upholder like me, because Upholders can tend to be rigid. If you don’t know what she’s talking about, learn about the “Four Tendencies” personality framework and take the quiz here. We also talk about the difference between “finishers” and “openers.”

Happiness Hack

It finally dawned on me that I could buy a lightweight blanket for the summer months, instead of keeping the same heavy blanket we use during the winter. 

Interview: Michael Pollan.

Author and journalist Michael Pollan writes about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in our minds. He’s the author of many bestselling books: How to Change Your Mind (AmazonBookshop); Cooked (AmazonBookshop); In Defense of Food (AmazonBookshop); The Omnivore’s Dilemma (AmazonBookshop); The Botany of Desire (AmazonBookshop); A Place of My Own (AmazonBookshop); and Second Nature (AmazonBookshop).

I admired the structure of his little book Food Rules (AmazonBookshop) so much that it inspired the structure of my book Outer Order, Inner Calm.

His new book is This Is Your Mind on Plants (AmazonBookshop). He dives deep into three plant drugs—opium, caffeine, and mescaline—and explores our relationship to them—how we’re drawn to them, but also are deeply suspicious of them.

Michael Pollan and I discuss:

  • the theory of “nominative determinism,” also called “aptronym”—that your name might influence your choice of profession
  • how working in his grandfather’s garden as a child got him interested in plants
  • of the three mind-altering substances derived from plants featured in the book—opium, caffeine, and mescaline—which he found most interesting
  • why humans are so drawn to plants that change our consciousness

Highlights include:

  • “My grandfather’s garden was my favorite place in the world to visit when I was eight years old.”
  • “My love of plants goes way back—the sense of wonder at what they give us, how they work, and how different they are from us.”
  • “My writing really began in the garden.”
  • “One of the most astonishing things that plants do is to manufacture chemicals that have the specific power of unlocking neurotransmitters in the human brain.”
  • “Caffeine is a drug that most of us don’t even think about as a drug.”
  • “Most of us, to achieve a kind of baseline state of normal consciousness, must have a cup of coffee every day. And if we don’t, we don’t feel ourselves.”
  • “We are working for the plants…we’re manipulating them, and they’re manipulating us.”
  • “There are some ways to change consciousness that are promoted by a society, as conducive to order and whatever its goals are…and then there are drugs that are usually taboo; and it differs from culture to culture.”
  • “Giving up caffeine for a time awakened my appreciation for what a powerful and useful drug it is.”


Michael Pollan’s Try This at Home

If you’re in a habitual relationship with something like caffeine, try getting off of it for a little while. Michael gave up coffee; it was difficult, and very revealing. And when he had his first cup after the period of abstention, it was wonderful.

Gretchen’s Demerit

In my recent visit Kansas City, we didn’t visit the beautiful Rose Garden in Loose Park.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star

Elizabeth gave a gold star to our parents for being so understanding when she had to postpone her trip to Kansas City.


  • Looking for new books to read? You can follow me on Goodreads, check the hashtag #GretchenRubinReads for my weekly photo of what I read that week, or read my monthly blog post where I share a quick description or response to each book I read that month.
  • Every week, I send out an email with five things that are making me happier, questions for readers and listeners, and links to new blog posts, listicles, quotations I’m pondering, and other updates. You can join the free weekly newsletter—featuring a brand new design—hereMore than a million people subscribe to it!


What we’re reading

  • Elizabeth: Still reading The Housewives: The Real History of the Real Housewives by Brian Moylan (AmazonBookshop)
  • Gretchen: Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey Moore (AmazonBookshop)



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

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.