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Interview: Anna Palmer.

Anna Palmer is the senior Washington correspondent for POLITICO and the co-author of POLITICO's Playbook She’s also the co-host of the daily POLITICO morning podcast Playbook Audio Briefing (which she records at 4 a.m. every morning!) as well as host of the Women Rule podcast.

I couldn’t wait to talk to Anna about happiness, habits, and productivity.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

Anna: WATER. I challenge myself to drink 90 oz of water a day – I really believe it bleeds into making similar healthy choices and keeps me peppy despite my early mornings and late nights!

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Anna: FOMO. I used to have a huge fear of missing out and that would mean I was going to all kinds of things on the off chance it would be something special and run myself ragged in doing so. I try to be much more deliberate and be present at the events I choose to attend.

Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Anna: Sleep. I always want more but it's hard when we are all on the go. I got great advice a few years ago -- and that was to be comfortable taking a nap. A good...

In my book The Happiness Project, I describe how and why I bought my sister Elizabeth a treadmill desk, to use in her office where she works as a writer and producer in Hollywood.

Along with getting my husband a subscription to Sports Illustrated, this is the most successful gift I’ve ever given.

I had to ask her permission, of course: you can’t just spring a treadmill desk on someone. They’re enormous.

But after some thought, she did accept it, and it makes me so happy that she’s used a treadmill desk ever since.

In fact, as soon as she announced that she was getting a treadmill desk, her writing partner Sarah Fain got one, too! They have two treadmill desks side by side in their office on the Disney lot, and use the treadmill desks while they work. I often hear it softly whirring in the background when I’m talking to Elizabeth on the phone.

There’s even a segment on their podcast Happier in Hollywood called "From the Treadmill Desks of..." when they talk about what’s most pressing in their work psyches that week.

Because we often mention the treadmill desk, many people become intrigued by the idea of getting one themselves – with the hope of getting more activity into their work day, without having to make a special time or trip for exercise.

If you wonder what...

Interview: Geneen Roth.

Geneen Roth is a bestselling writer of many books who, in her work, examines the relationships among identity, food, spirituality, body image, money, and other aspects of our everyday lives. That is, some of the most some complex and charged issues within the larger subject of happiness.

She has a new book that has just hit the shelves: This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide.

I love the idea of a "field guide" to life.

I couldn’t wait to talk to Geneen Roth about happiness, habits, spirituality, and productivity.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

Geneen: When I wake up every day, within the first five minutes, I counter [what I fondly call] my marriage to negativity by asking myself: What’s not wrong right now? Then I list five things. They could be as simple as: “I woke up today. It’s another day on planet earth! I have eyes to see, ears to hear, a partner sleeping next to me, an irrepressibly silly dog”…and I make sure to not just list those things but to take them in, to feel them, to experience the goodness of them so that I’m not just reciting a checklist. Then, as silly as this sounds, I remind myself to smile right there, right then, not at anything or anyone but just because -- and I notice how that amplifies joy. It always amazes me that the littlest things make the biggest difference.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about...

In episodes 149 and 152 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I talked about how we created a list of our "18 for 2018" – eighteen things we wanted to get done in 2018.

Well, we’re a few months into 2018 now, and I thought I’d review my progress so far.

I note an item as "underway" in two situations: if it’s a repeating action that I’ve done a few or several times, but not so many times that I consider it "completed," or if I’ve successfully started a long project but can’t yet check it off my list.

  1. Start having weekly adventures with Eleanor. [underway]
  2. Fix my headset, runs out of battery really fast. [DONE]
  3. Set up a home studio in this closet for my Facebook show. [underway; I did this, but now seem to be having technical issues with my lighting so not sure whether to "count" it as completed]
  4. Work with Barnaby so he’s better at coming when I call him.
  5. Clean out my massive tote bag collection. Each one is special.[DONE]
  6. Take Eleanor to get her contacts checked.
  7. Start making consistent progress on "Report to the Committee on Exploration" (if you want to read about "Four to Llewelyn's Edge", I describe it here).
  8. Create a work calendar for the year. I have a lot of little projects and I need more structure than usual; trips I need to make. [DONE]
  9. Finish My Color Pilgrimage and figure out what the heck to do with...

In her memoir Life with Picasso, Francoise Gilot quoted Matisse:

As Matisse said, "When I look at a fig tree, every leaf has a different design. They all have their own manner of moving in space; yet in their own separate ways, they all cry, 'Fig tree.'"

It's one of my Secrets of Adulthood: I'm unique, just like everyone else.

Do you have any favorite memoirs to recommend? I'm in the mood to read a really terrific memoir. Maybe I'll finally read James Boswell's London Journal.



I love my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and talk about it often – and people ask, "What are some fun things to do in Kansas City?"

I like that question, because it reminds me that I can be a tourist without leaving home. A tourist reads and studies, a tourist shows up, a tourist looks at things with fresh eyes. A tourist appreciates everything a particular place has to offer.

In fact, Elizabeth and I discuss the Try-This-at-Home tip of "Be a tourist in your own city" in episode 15 of the Happier podcast.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite stops in Kansas City.

  • The Nelson-Atkins Museum – this is a gorgeous, wonderful museum, with all sorts of treasures in a beautiful building.
  • The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures – this isn’t a huge place, but well worth a visit. It inspired my daughters to get a dollhouse themselves. The Museum includes displays showing the most popular toys of recent decades, and it’s fun to be reminded of all the various toy fads: Cabbage Patch dolls, G.I. Joe, etc.
  • Winstead’s – this diner is my family’s favorite restaurant. It’s the place we stop to eat on our way home from the airport. We can’t get these super-thin steak-burgers anywhere else.
  • Barbeque – Kansas City is famous for BBQ, and there are many great options. Q39 and Char Bar are among our current favorites, and of course Gates and Arthur Bryant’s have been...

One of my favorite things about myself is that I often become obsessed with certain subjects. I’ll do countless hours of research to learn more about these subjects, sometimes over the course of years.

For instance, some of my obsessions have included: color, clutter, the placebo response, the sense of smell, dogs, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Winston Churchill, the question of why owners would destroy their own possessions, and happiness.

Some of these preoccupations turn into books; some burn themselves out. But whatever happens, I love discovering a new passionate interest – all of a sudden, an unfamiliar area of the library becomes extremely important to me.

When I read, I take notes. Many people have asked about my process, so here it is:

When I read, I’m always looking for passages that I want to note. I mark them as I read – either by putting in a sticky flag if I’m reading a library book, or by marking the page if I own the book. Side note: for books I own, I mark them up a lot – it’s faster, plus if I’m looking through a book later, those marks help me find the passages that I found most notable.

Then, when I’ve finished reading the book, I go back and copy the notes into my computer.

If it’s a particularly beautiful or thought-provoking passage, I copy it into a document called "Quotes2006+." This is a giant trove of my favorite passages – favorite either because they’re beautifully written, or because they capture an...

Interview: John Leland.

John Leland is a longtime journalist who has been at The New York Times since 2000. He's covered a wide range of topics, among them, retirement and religion.

He also writes books, and he has a new book that is just hitting the shelves: Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old.

It's based on a yearlong series he wrote for the Times. If you want to read a great article to get a sense of his project, check out his piece "When Old News Is Good News: the Effect of 6 Elderly New Yorkers on One Middle-Aged Reporter."

His book is a fascinating look at the lessons he learned about happiness from studying the lives of a group of the "oldest old" (age 85 and older). The people in this group had very different backgrounds and circumstances, but John Leland was able to divine certain lessons about how to be happier -- at any age.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

John: The biggest revelation was how much influence older people – and by extension, all of us – have over how we process the events of our lives. I don’t mean that we have control over them. At some point, bad things will happen to all of us. We’ll lose our jobs or our vision or our parents, we’ll suffer disappointments at work or in front of the mirror. But we have a choice: we...

In 1886, Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov wrote a letter of advice to his beloved older brother Nikolai, a talented painter and writer who suffered from severe alcoholism.

Chekhov writes:

To my mind, civilized people ought to satisfy the following conditions:

1. They respect the individual and are therefore always indulgent, gentle, polite and compliant. They do not throw a tantrum over a hammer or a lost eraser. When they move in with somebody, they do not act as if they were doing him a favor, and when they move out, they do not say, "How can anyone live with you!"...

2. Their compassion extends beyond beggars and cats. They are hurt even by things the naked eye can't see. If for instance, Pyotr knows that his father and mother are turning gray and losing sleep over seeing their Pyotr so rarely (and seeing him drunk when he does turn up), then he rushes home to them and sends his vodka to the devil....

3. They respect the property of others and therefore pay their debts.

4. They are candid and fear lies like the plague. They do not lie even about the most trivial matters. A lie insults the listener and debases him in the liar's eyes. They don't put on airs, they behave in the street as they do at home, and they do not try to dazzle their inferiors. They know how to keep their mouths shut and they do not force uninvited confidences on people. Out of respect...

Interview: Melissa Dahl.

Melissa is a senior editor at New York Magazine, and I got to know her work because I've been a long-time fan of Science of Us, a site that has now joined The Cut. The sites cover mental health, human behavior, personality, relationships, work, health, wellness -- all subjects that I love to read about.

Melissa is also the author of new book about a fairly unconventional topic: Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. She looks at the situations that make us feel awkward, and argues that such moments -- although, well, awkward -- have great value. Fascinating!

I couldn’t wait to talk to Melissa about happiness, habits, relationships, and productivity.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers -- most?

It’s funny — when I would tell my friends and colleagues what I was writing about, a lot of them had the same reaction: “You don’t strike me as particularly awkward!” Which, first of all, thank you, I will take the compliment.

But that response kind of encapsulates what ended up interesting me (and surprising me) about this subject. I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of understanding awkwardness as an emotion, not a personality trait. I mean, it can be both of those things — there are certainly “awkward people” out there. But to me, it’s also a feeling. I may not seem “awkward” from the outside, but I feel it almost constantly! I’m always sure I’m saying or...

Valentine’s Day is almost here – and if you’ve been thinking about the relationships in your life, you may be thinking about some questions that I often get: "How do people’s Tendencies play out in romantic relationships? Are any pairings particularly strong – or particularly troubled? Can The Four Tendencies help me improve my relationship?"

If you don’t know anything about the Four Tendencies – whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel – you can take the free quiz here (more than 1.3 million people have taken it).

When we first meet someone, we’re often attracted to the very qualities that, over time, will drive us nuts. An Upholder might initially be intrigued by a Rebel’s refusal to play by the rules, and the Rebel may be drawn to the Upholder’s ability to get things done—but five years into the marriage, those qualities look much less attractive.

For instance, I’m an Upholder, and realizing that my husband Jamie is a Questioner dramatically improved our dealings. One common (ironic, annoying) aspect of the Questioner Tendency is that Questioners often hate to answer questions. Now that I know that fact, I don’t take it personally when Jamie refuses to answer a question. Also, I know I’m more likely to get an answer from him if I explain why I’m asking. "What time are we leaving? Because I’m wondering if I have time to go to the gym."

So if you know your Tendency and the Tendency of your sweetheart, that knowledge can...

Given that Valentine’s Day is approaching, if you’d like to read a novel about relationships, here are some of my favorites.

Never fear, each one stands on its own, and is well worth reading even if you’re not particularly interested in the subject. If you’re looking for a compelling, page-turning novel, choose any one of these:

  1. Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner – A beautiful account of love as it unfolds over the years. Fun fact: Justice O’Connor told me this is her favorite book.
  2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen – of course! One of the most purely enjoyable novels of all time, with a great hero and heroine.
  3. Happy All the Time, Laurie Colwin – a happy story of new love, with all its delights and anxieties.
  4. The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim – four very different women, strangers to each other, rent a castle in Italy for a month, which has unexpected consequences in their lives.
  5. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson – love comes to a minister, very late in his life. One of my favorite novels, ever.

What’s your favorite book about relationships?

Interview: Anya Kamenetz.

I got to know Anya Kamenetz through a writers' group to which we both belong. Among other subjects, such as education and student debt, she writes about something that's of deep interest to just about everyone in the world today -- how to use technology to make our lives happier, healthier, more productive and more creative, and not to let it get in the way of those aims.

Technology is a good servant but a bad master -- so how do we master it?

Her new book just hit the shelves: The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.

This is an issue many parents face -- how to think about and manage children and screens. One of her great conclusions for how to think about screens: "Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly with others."

I couldn’t wait to talk to Anya about happiness, habits, and productivity.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Anya: I think we're going to look back on this first decade-plus of the smartphone era and it's going to be like smoking, or riding in the car without a seatbelt, or drunk driving. Like, WHAT were people thinking? And there's going to be a massive citizen movement, public health interventions, and maybe some litigation before things get better.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Anya: I don't regularly meditate, but I stop and take deep belly breaths throughout the day, especially before...

Interview: Morten Hansen.

Morten Hansen is a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the co-author with Jim Collins of the book Great by Choice and also the author of Collaboration, and he has a new book that's just hitting the shelves, Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More.

Morten has done a lot of thinking about how people do their best work and live their happiest lives, so I couldn't wait to hear his insights about happiness, habits, and productivity.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

Morten: One of the things I have always done is to celebrate milestones, even the small ones, with my wife and kids. When I got an academic paper accepted in a prestige journal, I would open a bottle of champagne with my wife and have a toast, to mark the milestone but also to give thanks for her support. When I finished my last book, I took my family out to dinner and thanked them. We do this for their milestones too. Some of these are small markers, perhaps, but it’s great to pause for a moment in our hectic lives, celebrate a bit, and express gratitude. I believe we don’t celebrate enough at work. It’s an easy thing to do.

You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or other people -- most?
In my new study published in my book Great...

Interview: Rebecca Soffer and Gabi Birkner

A common happiness stumbling block is that it's hard to talk candidly about grief -- often, we just don't know what to say or what to do. In recognition of that difficulty, several years ago, Rebecca Soffer and Gabi Birkner launched the website Modern Loss.

Now their new collection of essays Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome has just hit the shelves. This volume includes essays from more than forty contributors, including Brian Stelter, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, and of course, themselves. Rebecca and Gabi both lost parents as young adults, and they recognized the need to change the way we approach grief.

The book has generated tremendous buzz and interest. If you're intrigued, here's a great excerpt from the book in the New York Times Sunday Review.

I couldn't wait to talk to Rebecca and Gabi about happiness, habits, and productivity.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

Rebecca: Playing with my kids. Things have been pretty hectic since we launched the Modern Loss website four years ago, exactly three weeks before giving birth to my first child. Playing is a simple habit but consciously making space for it feels so complicated. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to be productive, be silly, be nurturing, get a modicum of sleep, oversee the logistical madness of a family, and do so without being able to schedule each of those activities into neat little time blocks.


Interview: Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski.

Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski are the co-authors of a new book, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts

They're both positive psychology experts, and they're also married to each other -- very fitting, given their subject! In their book, they use the principles of positive psychology to help people figure out how to create thriving romantic relationships.

I was very interested to hear what they had to say about happiness, habits, and making more loving relationships.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

James: Reading together quietly or playing family games with our adorable seven-year-old son Liam.

Suzie: Tackling -- or ideally completing -- the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Gretchen: You’ve highlighted fascinating positive psychology research in your book Happy Together and your Romance & Research workshops you’ve conducted across the world. What has surprised or intrigued you the most?

In most areas of our lives we understand that it takes hard work to achieve our goals. For example, we don’t just land a job and sit back coasting along thinking it’ll turn into our dream job without effort. Or we don’t buy a gym membership and only go once expecting to have a fitter and more toned body overnight. Instead, we work hard by taking training classes to excel in our career, and training at the gym to help strengthen our body. Yet when it comes to our romantic relationships we...

Interview: Greer Hendricks.

Greer Hendricks is one of my favorite people, and someone who had a huge influence on my life as a writer: she was the first editor to buy one of my books. She and I worked together to publish Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide. What a joy it was to write that book -- and what a joy to work with Greer! We were both early in our careers, and it was such a happy experience.

She had a long run as a highly successful and respected editor, with more than two decades at Simon & Schuster -- and now she has switched positions, and become the author.

With her co-author Sarah Pekkanen, she wrote the new psychological thriller, The Wife Between Us. Even before it hit the shelves, this novel generated a huge amount of buzz and excitement, with starred reviews, a movie deal, and comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. I just got my copy, and I can't wait to dive in!

I couldn't wait to talk to Greer about happiness, habits, and productivity.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier or more productive?

Greer: Exercise.  I work out first thing in the morning usually seven days a week -- a mixture of running, interval weight training and yoga (which I do with my husband on Sundays).  I find that no matter what curveballs are thrown at me during the day I am...

Every year, I celebrate January 9.

January 9, 2015, was one of the happiest days of my whole life.

Back then, I wrote this piece about why January 9 was one of the happiest days of my life, and I re-post it every year, to commemorate the occasion. So here it is...


Assay: Today is one of the very happiest days of my life.

I was happy when my two daughters were born, but having a baby is such a tremendous new responsibility; I was extremely happy, but also awestruck and slightly terrified.

I was happy on my wedding day, but I was also worried about how the whole day would unfold. For instance, strangely, I was very concerned that my veil might fall off as I was going down the aisle.


Today, though, I’m purely, absolutely happy.

In The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, I write about the fact that my husband got hepatitis C from a blood transfusion during a heart operation, when he was eight years old. You really don’t want to have hepatitis C; eventually, it destroys your liver. My husband tried many treatments over the years, but nothing worked.

I’ve so appreciated the thoughtfulness of readers who have emailed me to make sure that we knew about possible new treatments, or to send along their good wishes for my husband’s health. Last year, a new treatment was approved, and my husband went on it right away.

As of this morning, he...

"Even one task fulfilled at regular intervals in a man's life can bring order into his life as a whole; everything else hinges upon it. By keeping a record of my experiences I live my life twice over. The past returns to me. The future is always with me."

-- The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

Agree, disagree?

How I love this book!

Interview: Courtney Carver.

I love the subject of clutter-clearing. So, of course, I'm intrigued by the work of Courtney Carver -- her site declares: "Are you overwhelmed with clutter and busyness? It's time to create a life with more clarity, ease, and joy." Wonderful.

Her new book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More is just hitting the shelves.

Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Courtney: Sugar! I’m so much happier without it but I love it. When I’m in a sugar rut, I’m moodier. When I quit sugar for long periods of time, I'm much happier. Like you, Gretchen, I'm an Abstainer when it comes to sugary treats:  it's easier for me to have none than one. When I've intentionally quit sugar for a period of time, I don't crave it or think about it that much after the first day or two. I love that feeling of not having to decide how much is too much because when I am eating sugar, I don't want one cookie, or one bite of dessert. I want it all. Why do I go back? Just thinking about it makes me less happy.

Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

Courtney: My morning routine fuels better health, creativity, and productivity. It includes some combination of writing, meditation, reading, yoga and walking. Whether I practice my morning routine for 5 minutes...