Today, I spoke with Gretchen Rubin, who just might be the happiest woman on earth. She shares her happiness tips everyday on her world famous blog (over 17,000 subscribers), while blogging at the Huffington Post, being an author of several books and, soon, taking over the world. In this interview, Gretchen reflects on 2008, gives you tips for 2009, shares some of her blogging strategies and then analyzes her own personal brand for all of us.
Gretchen, for 2008, can you sum up some of your advice on how to live a happy life?
If you want to live a happier life, I’d suggest you start by thinking about the elements of my “First Splendid Truth” – to be happy, you should think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
- First, ask yourself – what makes me feel good? What brings me joy, energy, enthusiasm, engagement, satisfaction? Ok. What can I do to bring more of this into my life? E.g., you might start a film club with six other movie-crazy friends.
- Second, ask yourself – what makes me feel bad? What brings me anger, resentment, boredom, frustration, guilt, remorse? Ok. What can I do to lessen this in my life? E.g., I have tried very hard to give up gossip.
- Third, ask yourself – do I feel right about my life? Am I leading the life I feel that I’m “supposed” to live? Do my choices reflect my values? Am I heading in the right direction? I switched from law to writing, because although I had a great experience as a lawyer (for instance, I clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), I felt that I wasn’t doing what I was “supposed” to be doing.
- Fourth, ask yourself – does my life have an atmosphere of growth? What’s changing for the better? In what way am I learning, growing, helping, and making things better? (more on this topic in Question #2)
What are your top 3 suggestions that people can use for living a happier life in 2009?
- First, although happiness seems like a transcendent, abstract principle, start with the physical reality of your own body: work on getting enough sleep, some exercise, and eating healthfully. These habits matter! If this seems overwhelming, start small: turn off the lights 15 minutes earlier each night, take a ten-minute walk outside each day, eat an apple at lunch. You will really see a boost in energy – and energy is a great foundation for happiness.
- Second, ancient philosophers and modern scientists agree that the key to happiness is relationships with other people. Take time to see your friends and family, show up, reach out to new people, try to be helpful, make connections – anything you can do widen and deepen your relationships will boost your happiness.
- Third, one aspect of happiness that I didn’t recognize when I started my research was the importance of a factor that I call “the atmosphere of growth.” We’re all happier when something in our life is changing for the better: we’re learning something new (taking a Photoshop class, working on our golf game); we’re helping something grow (a child, a business, a garden), we improving something flawed (cleaning a messy closet, volunteering to help an organization get its books in order), we see positive change in our life (getting a raise, getting out of debt, starting a new relationship, healing a rift). As that list suggests, there are many ways to foster “an atmosphere of growth.” Make sure your life includes this aspect somewhere. It helps bring you enthusiasm and energy – without it, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, trapped, cramped, stagnant.
Your happiness project consists of twelve commandments. What are your three favorite and why?
Actually, I think all my commandments could be summed up in two: “Be Gretchen” and “There is only love.” In the end, I’ve found that although it sounds like a cliché, it really is true: as long as I remain faithful to myself (not who I wish I were) and as long as I try to act with love, I have the foundations of a happy life.
As an individual blogger, you’ve succeeded more than almost anyone. How are you able to stay committed, original, vocal on your blog? What are your secrets for growing a readership?
Thanks for those nice words about my blog! I’m very lucky, because the topic of happiness is inexhaustible. I never worry about running out of things to write about. I never lose interest in the subject, myself.
I do try to discipline myself to keep things interesting for readers. I ask myself a series of questions when I post: am I being funny? Am I giving good information? Am I tying into recent events? Am I telling stories? Am I providing links to interesting material and highlighting the valuable writing of others? Am I showing what it’s like to live in New York City? Am I being honest about my own nature and perspective? Am I being critical of anyone other than myself? Obviously, I don’t hit each note every time, but I keep those goals in mind.
I also post six days a week – I think that’s important to keep a blog lively.
I try to reach out to other bloggers who write about related subjects. This is good for my blog and also wonderful for me personally – I have lots of new blog friends, some of whom I’ve met, but most of whom I haven’t met – and that has enriched my life tremendously.
Once a week, I write a post in “tips” form, a format that’s very popular on the internet. I think that has helped me get picked up in places that exposed my blog to new readers. I also cross-post twice a week on the Huffington Post, post original content twice a week on RealSimple.com, and starting on January 12, I’ll cross-post on Slate. I love each of these sites, and I’m thrilled that I get a place there myself. And obviously that’s good exposure for my writing.
How have you built your personal brand over time and what’s next for the brand called Gretchen Rubin?
The goal of my book and my blog is to help people understand happiness better and to start their own happiness projects, so that they can help themselves become happier. As such, my brand is to be engaging, informative, accessible, light-hearted, and encouraging.
So, for example, I tell people that if they’d like to see my personal Resolutions Chart, of the resolutions I keep as part of my happiness project, they can email me for a copy (just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. — no need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line). By sharing my experience, I hope that I can inspire other people to do a happiness project of their own.
I also use Facebook, Twitter (follow me at gretchenrubin), and a monthly newsletter to connect with readers. I love these new tech tools, which weren’t available to me when my other books came out. I try to use my presence there to reinforce my availability, my ability to point people to interesting, useful information, and to connect other people.
Because my book, The Happiness Project, isn’t coming out until December 1, 2009, its publication is what’s next for me.
Gretchen Rubin is a writer working on The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving every conceivable principle about how to be happy, from the wisdom of the ages to current scientific studies, from Aristotle to Ben Franklin to Martin Seligman. On her Happiness Project blog, she reports her daily adventures on her way to becoming happier. Rubin is a graduate of Yale Law School and was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. She was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she had the epiphany that she really wanted to be a writer. Her bestselling Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK are succinct, provocative biographies.