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Gretchen Rubin is the New York Times Bestselling Author of “The Happiness Project,” “Happier at Home” and “Better Than Before.” Her work centers around the topics of happiness and good habits.
Gretchen blogs, pens a monthly newsletter and, along with her sister, co-hosts the “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” podcast. Her latest book, “The Four Tendencies,” debuts in September.
Gretchen has received a host of awards and accolades, my favorite of which is that she was named to Oprah’s inaugural SuperSoul100 list.
If you are seeking tips for more energy, wondering why some habits are harder to keep than others and looking to improve your levels of happiness and satisfaction (who isn’t?), this is a great interview for you!
(Published June 2017)
Video Clip (for more, visit the ‘Media’ section of this website):
-All of my books, I know exactly where I have the idea. They hit me like a thunderbolt.
-My books are about human nature: What are we like, why are we the way we are and how can we change if we want to change?
-I’ll get obsessed with a topic or idea, do a bunch of research through reading and take notes. At a certain point, there’s enough material that I think about how I would organize it.
-The most powerful thing is to get an agent. Time is money and someone being your agent is someone using their time and money on you. I felt like having an agent transformed me into a professional.
PROMOTION OF BOOKS:
-I started a blog, which was a way of starting to connect directly with an audience. This gives me my own way to promote my books. Of course I still would love all of those other entities, people or organizations to pay attention to my books, but I wanted to have my own way of getting the word out as well. This also gave me the ability to create a market for the book before it came out. I had been blogging about “The Happiness Project” for two years before the book came out.
“THE HAPPINESS PROJECT”:
-I thought: What do I want from life, anyway? I want to be happy. I should have a happiness project. Those were the words that came to my mind.
-The next day, I went to the library, got a giant stack of books about happiness and started researching – ancient philosophy, contemporary researchers, pop culture and more. I wanted to know: What do people say? Can you make yourself happier and, if so, what would you do?
-For a while, the project was just going to be for me. But the material was so rich and vast and I was so excited about all of the things I was thinking about doing that it was becoming clear that it was going to be a big project and then I thought: this could be my next book.
-To organize it, I decided that there would be a year and each month would be a theme. Then I had to decide: what are the top 12 themes for me, the top 12 areas in my life that I wanted to work on. It’s really the story of my happiness project.
-The first theme I picked was energy because I figured that if I had more energy, everything would be easier. I’ve really come to believe that that’s true. If you’re going to start and wondering where to start, always start with your energy level because the more energy you have, the more capable you feel of doing other things.
-To get energy: get enough sleep and get some exercise. In an emergency, you can also do 10 jumping jacks, listen to your favorite upbeat music, enjoy a beautiful smell and not let yourself get too hungry.
-One of my favorite resolutions was to imitate a spiritual master. To start, you need to pick your spiritual master. To imitate that person,you have to think: how do I translate my spiritual master into my life? How do their values and principles translate into my experience? Because often times, you’ll pick a spiritual master who is living in very different circumstances and maybe talking in different terms. It tells you a lot about yourself to know who you would choose. Then you have to study that person to understand them and know how you would imitate them.
-One of the themes I picked was marriage. My research showed that married people show less consideration to their spouses than to friends and even strangers. So I tried to do things like ‘fight right,’ which is to work on having a sense of humor and talking in a way that was kinder, and showing consideration. Looking for small ways to be considerate like saying: ‘I’m going to the drugstore. Do you need something?’ Also, to Kiss every morning and kiss every night.
Lipps On Life: Did your work in this area make a difference in your home or in your marriage?
Gretchen: Absolutely! The only person we can change is ourselves. It really is true that if I change, a relationship changes. If I change, the atmosphere of my house changes. So when I act more lovingly, calmly and with more consideration to my husband, then he behaves differently towards me. I can change him in a way, but only through changing myself. When I behave better, everyone else behaves better. When I don’t lost my temper, everyone else stays calm. If I got to sleep on time and have energy in the morning, that feeds the energy of my household.
-If something doesn’t work for you and doesn’t make your happier, abandon it. For example, I talk about the advice to have a gratitude journal. But I myself don’t keep one because it doesn’t work for me.
“BETTER THAN BEFORE”:
Lipps On Life: How do you create a habit that sticks?
Gretchen: That is the crucial question. The mistake that many experts make and that people make when they are trying to follow expert advice is they are looking for ‘the best way.’ What is the best way to lose weight, to exercise? The fact is that there is no one best way. There is only the best way for YOU.
What I try to do in “Better Than Before” is say that there are 21 strategies. I try to give every strategy that a person can use to make or break a habit. That’s a lot, which is good because some of these strategies will work for you and some will work for others. Some are available to us at some times and some are available at other times.
The kind of thing that will work for one person won’t work for someone else. You have to begin by saying to yourself: ‘What kind of person am I? When have I succeeded in the past?’
To use the example of food: one strategy is called the strategy of abstaining. We are all or nothing people. We can have none and that’s not hard for us. But once we start, we go all the way. I can’t have one cookie or half a dish of ice cream but I can have none.
Moderators are people who need to have a little bit. They are the kind of people that have the bar of fine chocolate in their drawer and every day have one square of chocolate and that’s all they need. And that’s what works for them.
People always say: well, it’s better to be moderate. You’re going to binge if you don’t allow yourself to cheat. And I’m like: no. For me, it’s easier to have none. I like to have none. It’s easier to make decisions and I’m not tempted by things. Now, there are planned exceptions. Like, for your birthday, you can have a slice of chocolate cake. You’re an adult and can make that decision. But for me, it’s easier to have none. People will constantly say, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ So I say: ‘It’s the right thing for ME.’
Do it the way that’s easier for YOU. That’s the key! Begin by saying: what will be easy for me to stick to? What appeals to me? What has worked for me in the past? How do I set things up for me, and it doesn’t matter that Steve Jobs or your cousin did something else and had great success – it might not work for you!
“THE FOUR TENDENCIES”
Lipps On Life: How do you stick with habits?
Gretchen: When I was writing “Better Than Before” and trying to understand how people could make or break habits, I started to notice patterns of how people struggle with or succeed at habit formation. This led to my understanding of “The Four Tendencies,” the subject of my next book, which is this personality framework about how people fall into the categories of upholders, questioners, obligers and rebels because they have different perspectives on the world and face different challenges with something like doing “The Happiness Project” and would need to set it up in a different way in order to stick to it.
I developed these tendencies through noticing. And I had a couple of epiphany conversations. Once I started seeing these patterns, it became obvious that people fell into very distinct four categories based on how you respond to inner and outer expectations.
You can go to www.happiercast.com/quiz to take a quiz, but most of us can tell from just a brief description:
Again, It has to do with how you respond to inner and outer expectations. Outer expectations are like a work deadline. Inner expectations are like your own desire to get back into meditation.
-Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. They want to know what is expected of them but their expectations for themselves are just as important as others’ expectations for them.
-Questioners question all expectations. They do something if they think it makes sense. They hate anything arbitrary, inefficient or irrational.Their first question is ‘why should I listen to you?’ So they in a sense make everything their inner expectation.
-Obligers readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
-Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do, in their own time in their own way. If you tell them to do something they are likely to resist and they don’t even like to tell themselves what to do.
Rebel is the smallest tendency and obliger is the largest tendency.
We all have a little of each of the tendencies in us but there is a dominant flavor to our first inclination when someone tells us to do something.
Lipps On Life: Was your JFK book a disappointment? If yes, how did you bounce back?
Gretchen: When you’re doing something you really love – when it doesn’t work out, you might be disappointed but it’s not as bitter. I loved writing that book so much that I can’t regret it. Also, when something disappointing like that happens, I always ask: ‘What can I learn from this?’ Because when I can learn something, it also is less bitter.
Often times, the way that we learn is through experience and often a difficult experience. What I learned from JFK is: I need to build a direct connection to my readers. That has been such a powerful engine in my life. It’s been such a source of happiness, energy and ideas. It’s helped me and my career. If my book had been halfway successful, would I have learned that lesson? Perhaps not! In the end, I had a great time and learned an important lesson so I can’t regret it.
ADVICE FOR PARENTS:
-It’s an idea that I suggest to so many parents: have time that you schedule in a calendar with a child by him or herself. Even it’s only 45 or an hour. It really makes you feel that much more connected to that child. It’s not that hard to do and it’s lovely.
Lipps On Life: What’s the secret to happiness?
Gretchen: There are two answers:
-Relationships. If you look at the people who are the happiest, they are the ones that have deep, enduring bonds with other people. They can confide. They get support and they also give support, which is just as important for happiness. They feel that they belong and we need that for a happy life. So anytime that you’re thinking: should I go to my college reunion, should I have that Super Bowl party, should I start a book group, should I have my family over, should I send that email to a friend? If it’s something that’s going to broaden or deepen your relationships, it’s something you should probably do for your happiness because relationships are so central.
-Self-Knowledge. We can only build a happy life on the foundation of our own nature, values, interests and temperament. You say: ‘Of course I know myself because I hang out with myself all day.’ But it’s actually very hard to know ourselves. So one of the things I do in my books is help you get insight into yourself. How can you ask yourself questions like ‘Whom do you envy?’ or ‘What did you do for fun at age 10?’ that can maybe can trigger self-knowledge because you’re coming at it from a different angle. You have to do your own happiness project. You have to do habits in the way that will work for you There’s no template. There’s no one-pager that you can download off the internet. There’s no one way to do it. You have to start by knowing yourself.