A brief interview with Gretchen Rubin, experimenter extraordinaire and author of The Happiness Project
I am pleased to share a short email interview I had with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. Gretchen's approach to her book meshes well with my Think, Try, Learn work: She set aside a year to explore lots of possible ways to make herself happy, courageously tried them out, shared them with her blog readers as she went along, and then wrote up the resulting wisdom, principles, and stories for others to learn from. I hope you enjoy her answers.
Follow these links to learn more about her:
Why should people experiment with their lives?
It's exciting to try something new, to push yourself in a fresh direction. Novelty and challenge bring happiness.
You experimented with many things during your year-long project. Where did you get the ideas for what to try?
Everywhere! Novels, philosophy, science, my friends. I look constantly for ideas.
When you were doing your project, what were some of the surprises you encountered? How did you handle any nasty ones?
I realized that some of my bad habits were worse than I thought. Gossiping, for example -- I gossiped a lot more than I realized. Nagging. Speaking "in a mean voice" as my daughters put it. When I really tracked how much I indulged in these behaviors, I realized how much room I had to improve.
For someone who just read your book, what would be some small starting experiments they could try to kick off their own happiness project?
Make your bed. Sounds so trivial, but so many people mention that one as something useful. Keep a one-sentence journal, where you write just one sentence about your day.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to try new things, but is afraid to experiment?
Start small and manageable. It's astonishing how a small action, over time, can lead to large results. So pick something that you know you can really stick to, and do it.
In what ways was the process of writing your book experimental?
I'd never written in the first-person before, so that was a whole new challenge.
What was the risk of perfection getting in the way of your enjoying the process? How did you get around it?
I think I am a perfectionist up to the point of usefulness. I don't have too much trouble with over-perfectionism. "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is one of my Secrets of Adulthood (cribbed from Voltaire).
When the inevitable slip-ups, goofs, and mistakes came up, how did you keep a playful attitude?
Ah, that was a major struggle! "Be serious about play" is one of my catchphrases.
In what ways is treating things experimentally important in your own work and life?
It shaped my entire life.
What experiments are you doing right now, professionally? What about personally? Any surprises?
I'm still working on my happiness project. I make more resolutions all the time. One of my latest ones, that I'm really enjoying, is to "Cultivate good smells." The sense of smell is so vital to our lives, and yet it's easy to overlook. I'm trying to pay more attention to this aspect of my ordinary day. [I simply love this one. Anyone want to Try It in Edison? -- matt]