Revealed! Book Club Choices for March

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, each month, I suggest:

· one outstanding book about happiness or habits

· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit

· one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone

Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…

An outstanding book about happiness or habits:

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book:

Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick:

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links. I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.

Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.

In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think?

In a few weeks, I leave on my book tour and that means…lots of time for reading! I love to read on airplanes, but it’s crucial to have a great book. I’ve been poring over my book list, to decide what to take. High stakes. Any great suggestions?

So if you’re in San Diego, LA, Plano/Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Princeton, Washington DC, Wellesley, New Haven, NYC, Cedar Rapids, Doylestown, Toronto, or London, I’m headed your way. Please come, tell your friends! A lot of these events take place in bookstores…and you just can’t spend too much time in bookstores.

Happy March, and happy reading.

To Be Creative, What Are the Best Habits To Follow?

Assay: This post is back by popular demand, because when I tell people that I’ve been working on Better Than Before, my book about habit change, one of the questions that people most often ask me is: “What habits are best for creativity?” They want to know what habits help people think creatively — and also, actually produce.

Often, people make the case for adopting a particular habit by pointing to a renowned figure who practiced that habit, with great success. For instance…

Maybe we should live a life of quiet predictability, like Charles Darwin.

Or maybe we should indulge in boozy revelry, like Toulouse-Lautrec.

Maybe we should wake up early, like Haruki Murakami.

Or maybe we should work late into the night, like Tom Stoppard.

Maybe it’s okay to procrastinate endlessly, like William James.

Or maybe it’s better to work regular hours, like Anthony Trollope.

Should we work in silence, like Gustav Mahler?

Or amidst a bustle of activity, like Jane Austen?

Maybe it’s helpful to drink a lot of alcohol, like Fried­rich Schiller.

Or a lot of coffee, like Kierkegaard.

Are we better off produc­ing work for many hours a day, like H. L. Mencken?

Or maybe for just thirty minutes a day, like Gertrude Stein.

The sad fact is, there’s no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all solution—not for ourselves, and not for the peo­ple around us.

We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.

In his fascinating book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, from which these examples are drawn, Mason Currey exhaustively examines the work habits of 161 writers, composers, artists, scientists, and philos­ophers.

These examples make one thing perfectly clear about creative habits: while brilliant people vary tre­mendously in the specific habits they follow, they all know very well what habits work for them, and they go to enormous lengths to maintain those habits.

I used to tell everyone that working slowly and steadily was the best way to produce creative work. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to encourage everyone to get up early, to work in the morning. Because that’s what works for me.

And I used to say that it was better to work in a reasonably quiet, calm, orderly environment. Because that’s what works for me.

But as I worked on Better Than Before, it became increasingly clear to me that the opposite habits work better for some people.

I’m a Marathoner, but some people are Sprinters.

I’m a Lark, but some people are Owls.

I’m a Simplicity-Lover, but other people are Abundance-Lovers.

We have to think about ourselves. It’s helpful to ask, “When have I worked well in the past? What did my habits look like then – and how can I replicate them?” Maybe you work more creatively with a team – or by yourself. Maybe you need deadlines – or maybe you feel strangled by deadlines. Maybe you like working on several projects at once — or you prefer to focus on one project at a time.

With habits, as with happiness, the secret is to figure out ourselves. When we shape our habits to suit our own nature, our own interests, and our own values, we set ourselves up for success.

How about you? What habits contribute or detract from your creativity?

Podcast: The First Episode of “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” — Exciting!

I’m thrilled to announce that...I have a podcast! It’s called “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” It has been hard to keep this secret, so I’m excited to reveal it at last.

This podcast is one of many launching today on Panoply, a terrific new podcast network.  I’m so excited to be part of it — and in such good company. Other podcasts in the Panoply netwrk come from the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine/Vulture, The Huffington Post, Inc., Real Simple, Popular Science, Food52,  HBO Documentary Films, and lots of others.  Yowza.

One thing that makes this podcast especially fun is that I’m doing it with my sister the sage, Elizabeth Craft.

When I was asked if I wanted to do a podcast, I thought, “Yes!” but then came the question of, well, what exactly would that podcast be?

As it happens, for years my sister and I have talked about the fact that we should have a radio show or YouTube show together. “It would be so fun! We could discuss all our brilliant musings!” we’d say to each other, but it never seemed possible.

So the minute I started to consider this podcast, I knew: this was the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. And it has been so fun to collaborate with my sister. (By the way, this is a good example of why it’s good to do some pie-in-the-sky dreaming from time to time. That way, you’re more ready for new chances.)

One of the main aims of my happiness projects — in both The Happiness Project and Happier at Home — was to spend more time with my brilliant, hilarious sister, because my relationship with her is one of the most important in my life. And if you read Better Than Before, you’ll discover that my sister is a major figure there — because she is the guinea pig/beneficiary/innocent victim of some of my most determined attempts to shape someone else’s habits. Which succeeded brilliantly in some ways, not so much, in others.

We’ve spent so much (phone) time together working on this podcast, and that will continue. That makes me so happy!

So what will you hear us discuss, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin“? We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from the problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest,” consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

Here’s what we discuss in this launch episode:

Try This at Home: The one-minute rule, as a way to keep clutter under control. As noted, I’ve been surprised by the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

Know Yourself Better: Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? To read more about this distinction, check out Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice.

Happiness Stumbling Block: The one-coin loophole. You’re trying to keep a habit, but just this once, you’re going to let yourself off the hook. This loophole gets its name from “the argument of the growing heap,” which I learned about in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly.  (I love teaching stories, koans, paradoxes, fables,):

“If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

There are ten categories of loopholes–all so funny.

Listener Questioner: “Does checking Facebook make people feel happier and more connected, or more lonely and sad?” Elizabeth isn’t even on Facebook; we discuss.

Demerit: I confess that I snuck emailing while talking to my husband on the phone.

Gold Star: Elizabeth gives her treadmill desk a gold star. In Better Than Before, I explain why I gave this gift to her, her very funny reaction, why she loves it so much, etc.  Here’s a photo of it.Elizabeth'sTreadmillDesk

 

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: Maybe, like me until fairly recently, you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe.

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

But if you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really! Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you listen, tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336.

Be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material.

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!

Secret of Adulthood: Succeed by Failing

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

I try to see failure as a necessary aspect of success. Which is easier said than done.

For instance, I often remind myself to Enjoy the fun of failure. This catchphrase has made a huge difference to me. I’m very ambitious and want to succeed at everything I try, and that makes me very anxious—which isn’t a creative frame of mind.

Telling myself that I can enjoy the “fun of failure” has made me (somewhat) more light-hearted about taking risks. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

I also tell myself, “If I’m not failing, I’m not trying hard enough.”

I want to see failure as a necessary and acceptable part of a fun, ambitious, creative career. As an Upholder, that can be tough, because when I set out to do something, I really want to met that expectation for myself. So I try to expand my expectations for myself to include failure, as odd as that sounds.

Someone once said to me, “Don’t call it failure! Re-frame it!” At first, I thought that sounded like a good idea, then I realized — no. I don’t want to pretend a failure away; I don’t want to gild it up; I want to acknowledge and even welcome failure.

How about you? How do you think about failure? Can you stretch your definition of success to include failure, so that you can succeed by failing?

One Way To Use Someone Else to Strengthen Your Good Habits

In Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I outline the twenty-one strategies we can use to change our habits.

Don’t be alarmed: twenty-one may seem like a huge number, but it’s actually good — it means that each of us has many options from which to choose. In different situations, at different times, different strategies will be most helpful.

It’s clear, however, that one of the most popular and effective strategies is Accountability. When we know we’re answerable to someone, most of us do a better job with our habits.

For Obligers, the Strategy of Accountability is crucial. Key. Central. Necessary! If you’re an Obliger, external accountability is the element that will allow you to follow through.  And for Rebels, on the other hand, it can actually be counter-productive. Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take this Quiz. More than 53,000 people have taken it.

Because accountability is so important, I’m always looking for new, ingenious ways that people have created accountability — and I’ve noticed that some people create accountability by pulling another person into the process.

In the New York Times, Gina Kolata wrote the article, Doctors Strive to Do Less Harm by Inattentive Care.

The article explains that Dr. Michael Bennick wanted to reduce the number of times that patients were awakened in the middle of the night to get get their blood drawn.  Here’s what he did:

“I told the resident doctors in training: ‘If you are waking patients at 4 in the morning for a blood test, there obviously is a clinical need. So I want to be woken, too, so I can find out what it is.’ No one, he said, ever called him. Those middle-of-the-night blood draws vanished.”

The doctors were in the habit of ordering blood tests in the middle of the night, so they’d have the results when they made rounds in the morning. But when they had to wake up another doctor, as well as a patient, their habits changed.

This reminded me of a writer friend whose book was long overdue. She created a standard email response that said, “Please email only if you have an urgent message.” Despite that word “urgent,” people kept emailing her. So she changed the message, “If you have an urgent message, please email my husband, and he’ll convey it to me.” She gave his email address — but no one used it.

So how could this approach be adapted to other circumstances? I’m trying to think of ways to draw someone else in, as a buffer…maybe:

–you can eat ice cream, but only when your spouse eats it, too

–you can use a device only when your kids are using one, too; many people wish their children spent less time on devices, so this might be a good deterrent.

–before you make a purchase over $50, you have to call your brother and tell him

Can you think of other ways to use a person as a buffer? Somehow I feel like I haven’t quite got the knack of this one, to understand the possibilities. I’m eager to hear your suggestions.