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Changes Joy Month: Gretchen Rubin

The audio version of this episode is available here.

Annie [00:00:05] Hello! My name is Annie Macmanus, welcome to Changes. The dictionary definition of joy is 'a feeling of great pleasure and happiness'. For this episode in our joy series, we are speaking to one of the most influential experts in happiness, globally. Gretchen Rubin is a bestselling author who has written six books on the topic of happiness. She is a host of the hit podcast Happier With Gretchen, and has been interviewed by Oprah and has walked arm in arm with the Dalai Lama. Gretchen, hello and welcome.

Gretchen [00:00:38] Hello, I'm so happy to be here for Joyful January-

Annie [00:00:42] Woooo!!

Gretchen [00:00:42] Like you've- you've coined a phrase, I like it. Let's do it every year Annie laughing.

Annie [00:00:46] Thank you. I'm glad you're approve. As a happiness expert, that's quite important. So, Gretchen, when I think of joy and how it feels for me, I think of the feeling I get when I'm singing with my choir or the feeling I get when I'm lying on my back or my exercise matt after an advanced bootcamp class on the Peloton and I'm sweating and my endorphins are going crazy. Or the feeling I get when I'm like, laughing hysterically with friends. Is it possible to define joy?

Gretchen [00:01:18] The way I think about it, for just the average person, is that it's whatever you want it to be. If you want more joy, get more joy. If you want more happiness, get more happiness. Um, we can all have our own definition and what I think is more, more useful to think about and this is kind of the subject of what we're going to talk about today is, whatever it is you want, how can you lead your life more in that direction? Because sometimes it's like 'what is joy?', your mind kind of goes blank, it feels very abstract. Whatever you imagine joy to be, if you want more of it, how might you have more of it?

Annie [00:01:48] Is it human instinct to strive for happiness?

Gretchen [00:01:52] Oooh, what an interesting question. Different philosophers would say different things.

Annie [00:01:58] I suppose what I'm trying to get at is, is it okay to want it? To want for it?

Gretchen [00:02:02] It comes in two forms, this concern. One is to say, well, I have all the elements of a happy life. If I want to be more joyful, does that just mean that I'm just this selfish brat? Or they think, look, in a world full of so much suffering and injustice, is it morally appropriate for an individual to spend time and energy thinking about how to be happy?

Annie [00:02:23] I think in the context of now, that's exact- you've put the nail on the head. That's it. Should I feel guilty for this?

Gretchen [00:02:29] Here's what research shows. And I think if you think about the people in your own life, you really see this reflected in your own experience, is that happier people are more interested in the problems of the world, and they're more interested in the problems of the people around them. Happier people volunteer more time, they donate more money, they're more likely to vote, they're more likely to help out if a family member or friend or a colleague or a neighbour lends a hand. They make better leaders and better followers. They have better habits. They have a better sense of perspective and sense of humour. Um, you know, there's kind of this idea that if, oh, if I'm thinking about happiness I just am going to want to sit by the beach and drink margaritas all day. But really, it's like, happier people start thinking things like, gosh, it seems like there'd be a better way to distribute malaria nets and like, maybe I need to get involved in that! And so- because when we're unhappy, we can become defensive and isolated and preoccupied with our own problems because we're not feeling very happy. And when we're happy, we have the emotional wherewithal that we need to turn outward and to think about the problems, and the problems of the world. And you see this even with people who say like, with what's going on in my life, I literally cannot read the news. I'm cutting myself off entirely. And of course, I think most of us would say that we have a responsibility as citizens of the world to be educated and knowledgeable about what's happening, but if people feel so overwhelmed by their own lives, then sometimes they feel that they must disengage. Um, and so being happier actually allows you to look out onto the the suffering and injustice in the world and to see how all of us might play our part, um, to make things better.

Annie [00:04:01] Okay.

Gretchen [00:04:01] So if it is selfish to want to be happier, you should be selfish-

Annie [00:04:05] Be selfish.

Gretchen [00:04:05] If only for selfless reasons laughs.

Annie [00:04:08] Right, yeah, that's it, isn't it? Happiness is not a- it's not a characteristic. I think we could get bogged down in like, oh, that person is always sad. You know, they're lugubrious. They're like-they're just like a moany type of person or that person is always really giddy and a bit- you know, happiness is something you can create, it's not something that's passed down or anything. It is, it is, it is a state, it's learned.

Gretchen [00:04:30] Well, that's uh.

Annie [00:04:31] No?

Gretchen [00:04:32] Research suggests that about 50% of happiness is genetically determined.

Annie [00:04:36] No way!

Gretchen [00:04:37] Like some people are born Tiggers and some people are born Eeyores and that is part of, you know, your hard wiring. Then something- about 10 to 20% is something called life circumstances, which is age, income, health, marital status, occupation, education, things like that. And then all the rest is very much influenced by our conscious thoughts and actions. And that's what I think about, that's what I work on, is what can a person do as part of their ordinary life? Because if you think, well, we all come into the world with sort of a normal range of, of happiness. And you see this, some people are kind of 4 to 7 and then some people are excitedly 7 to 10.

Annie [00:05:11] Yeah laughs.

Gretchen [00:05:12] Um, but what can we do to push ourselves up to the top of our natural range instead of, you know, drifting down to the bottom of our natural range? Um, and that's a very significant difference. And so, yeah, there- it is- it's not wholly within our control, but it is somewhat within our control.

Annie [00:05:29] Okay. So we're focusing on the somewhat today. We're focusing on what we can do.

Gretchen [00:05:34] Mmhmm. That's what I spend my time thinking about. What can you actually influence with your conscious thoughts and actions.

Annie [00:05:39] Yeah, and my next question was going to be about circumstantial things. So, you know, is it harder to be happy or to learn happiness or joy when you've been dealt shit cards in life, when you've, you know, been grown up in poverty or with a lack of love or that kind of thing?

Gretchen [00:05:53] Sure. Yes.

Annie [00:05:55] It is harder?

Gretchen [00:05:56] Yes, sure.

Annie [00:05:56] Yeah, yeah.

Gretchen [00:05:57] Yeah, I think that's the common experience of mankind.

Annie [00:06:00] But not impossible.

Gretchen [00:06:02] It's not impossible, no. But I think anybody that says that happiness is a choice and circumstances shouldn't matter, is being fairly unrealistic for the average person. Yes, it matters.

[00:06:11] Short musical interlude

Annie [00:06:21] How do you see the relationship between joy and change?

Gretchen [00:06:27] Well, it's interesting because an element of happiness, I think of a happier life, is having an atmosphere of growth, which is when you feel like you're growing, you're changing, you're learning, you're teaching. You're somehow making the world better or yourself better. But the atmosphere of growth often comes with feelings of frustration, insecurity, anger, resentment, because you're like I want to do this, but I can't do this, or I want to do this, but none of these people will cooperate. You know, it has a downside. Also, a big part of happiness is feeling right, which is does your life reflect your values? And sometimes we do things to make our lives reflect our values, which don't make us feel joyful. For instance, a friend of mine who had a, had a very, very difficult father. He did not have a good relationship with his father. He didn't like to spend time with his father. His father was in the hospital and he went to visit him very regularly. His other brothers didn't go because they were so estranged from their father and he said, oh, I just hate going. I dread going, I don't like spending time with them and then I hate even thinking about it. And I was like, well, why do you do it? And he said, 'he's still my father'. And I was like, that's his value. Not everybody would have made that choice but his value was, this is what I owe to my father. So sometimes we do things that do not contribute to our sense of joyfulness, but in a deeper sense, they do contribute to our sense of joyfulness in that our life reflects our values, which is very, very important for a happy life overall.

Annie [00:07:57] Yeah. And it's important to mention that I don't think you are preaching any sort of idea of permanent happiness, because that's absolutely impossible and also would be quite boring. I mean, you need the shadows in life. You need the dark to go with the light, right?

Gretchen [00:08:12] Yeah, it's funny because sometimes people talk to me as if they think that what I'm, I'm trying to promote is that everybody would be 10 on the 1-10 scale 24/7 and that's what I think everybody should aim for. No, I 100% agree with you, that's not possible and it wouldn't even be a good life. We need emotions like guilt, anger, resentment, righteous indignation, um, regrets, boredom. All these are really important signals to us. Um, so they're very much a part of, of of, uh, of a happy life. But on the other hand, like, if you can get rid of those feelings, that's what they're there for. They're supposed to be like, oh, you're feeling bored? Why don't you find something more interesting to do. You're feeling guilty? Maybe you need to behave yourself better, you know, and so we can make ourselves happier by thinking about, okay, come back to the idea of joy and change. What are the changes that these emotions are suggesting to me? Because they are meant to nudge me toward change, because these are not pleasant emotions, I would rather not feel them and so maybe that helps me to change my behaviour, um, so that it's more in line with the kind of things that give me satisfaction.

Annie [00:09:17] So overall, it's kind of looking, looking at your life, experiencing life as we do, all the ups and downs, but having the tools in place-

Gretchen [00:09:25] Yes!

Annie [00:09:25] To identify when we can make a change and knowing how to make that change towards joy.

Gretchen [00:09:31] Yes and this is- and I think for most people, certainly this is true for me, there's a lot of low hanging fruit. There's a lot of things you can do as part of your ordinary day, like you do not need to go on a ten day silent meditation retreat or move to, you know, another country. What's the ordinary thing that an ordinary person could do that would make them happier? Because for most people, there's plenty to try.

Annie [00:09:53] Okay, so if you're listening, we are going to go through those ordinary things because there's some really, really fascinating things that I think people will be able to walk away from this and just DO today and feel better for it. So we will- we're going to do them at the end. But first of all, can I ask Gretchen why you, you mentioned that you studied law, you had a very big job in that world, you were doing really exciting things in that world, why did you decide to switch your career in quite a dramatic way to then focus on happiness?

Gretchen [00:10:22] Well, that shift for me was in two parts. So first, I switched from law to writing.

Annie [00:10:25] Right.

Gretchen [00:10:26] At a certain point I thought, you know, I'd rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer so I need to just sort of take my shot. And I bought a book called How To Write and Sell Your Non-Fiction Book Proposal and just followed the directions, and it worked out.

Annie [00:10:38] A New York Times bestseller ---! That worked.

Gretchen [00:10:41] Well, well! But here's the thing. Like, I wrote- when I wrote The Happiness Project, that was my fourth book. And for many people, they assume that was my first book, because that was the first time they were aware of it. So like many people, I had worked very, very hard for ten years to then become an overnight sensation.

Annie [00:10:58] Right. And I suppose one would assume that in order to, for you to write about happiness, you might have been in a place where you weren't experiencing that. Tell me where you were in your life when you decided to focus on happiness.

Gretchen [00:11:09] Well, you know, I was like many people, I was pretty happy. And all around the world, if you say to people, are you pretty happy? Most people say they're either pretty happy or very happy. I was pretty happy. So I was stuck on a city bus in the pouring rain one day, as I was finishing up my one of my biographies and, um, I thought, well, what do I want from life anyway? And I thought, well, I want to be happy. But I realised I didn't spend any time thinking about whether I was happy or how I could be happier or even what that would be. And I thought, well, I should have a happiness project! I'm saying this is my most important thing. So I ran out to the library, got a giant stack of books and started researching, and it was just going to be a happiness project for me. What could I do? What could I learn? What could I try? But it was so vast and so fascinating and there was more and more and more that I wanted to try that finally I thought, wow, well, maybe this could be a book. And that was the book, The Happiness Project. And then it turns out that the subject of happiness is so limitless, and it goes in so many fascinating directions, like I got- then I got into habit formation because one of the- if you're studying happiness, you realise a lot of times people know perfectly well what would make them happier, they just have trouble doing it. I wrote a little book called Outer Order, Inner Calm because I realised that for me and for a lot of people, outer order contributes to inner calm more than it really should.

Annie [00:12:25] I hear that.

Gretchen [00:12:25] Like a friend of mine said, 'I finally cleaned out my refrigerator and now I know I can switch careers' and I was like, I get it!

Annie [00:12:32] It's a very powerful move, isn't it?

Gretchen [00:12:35] Right! And it doesn't really make sense.

Annie [00:12:36] Disproportionately so, yeah laughs.

Gretchen [00:12:37] Disproportionate! So anyway, so I wrote a little book about that just because I was so curious, like what is going on with that? Um, because it is- many, many people feel that way. So ever since then, I've just been sort of going into different, um, different sort of subtopics within the larger subject of happiness.

Annie [00:12:53] So let's, let's get into it now and get into the kind of key elements that you have defined with regards to happiness and joy. So, you mentioned growth already. There's this beautiful quote, uh, 'we're happiest when we're growing, when we're fixing something, learning something, helping someone or pushing ourselves forward'. That's a beautiful thing to, to take in. Um, you also talk about knowing ourselves.

Gretchen [00:13:16] Yess!

Annie [00:13:16] Um, why is it so important for us to know who we are, elementally, in order to achieve this happiness, joy?

Gretchen [00:13:24] This is a key step that so many people skip!

Annie [00:13:27] Okay.

Gretchen [00:13:28] And believe me, I used to do this too. You think, okay, there's one right way. There's one best way to make our lives happier and if we can just figure that out, if we can run enough studies or we can read enough philosophy, we'll figure it out. But what I've realised is there is no one best way. There can be no one right way, because we're all different. People will often say, okay, well, um, to be happier, you should keep a gratitude journal. Well, I was very annoyed by my gratitude journal Annie laughs. It wasn't a tool that worked for me.

Annie [00:13:55] I'm interested in how your gratitude journal annoyed you.

Gretchen [00:13:57] Oh, yeah. Well, we can get back to that Annie laughing. But another, another example just on this thing, um, a lot of times you'll see, well, if something's really important to you, you should get up early and do it first thing in the morning. Your energy is high, you've got control of your schedule, yada yada, yada. That's great advice if you're a morning person. I'm a morning person, I get up at 5:30 every morning because that's my best time. BUT, there are morning people and night people. It's largely genetically determined and a function of age. About 30% of people are night people. If you are a night person, the idea that you are going to get up early and do something like work on your novel or go for a run is just unrealistic. It's not that it's bad advice, but it's not good advice for you because you're a night person. We each have to form a happiness project based on our own nature, our own interests, our own values, our own temperament, our own challenges. It's very easy to skip that and think, well, if it works for my brother in law, it should work for me. If my sister can do it, I should be able to do it.

Annie [00:14:54] Sure.

Gretchen [00:14:54] We can learn from each other, you can get ideas from other people, you can try things, but sometimes things don't work and you learn from that as well. There's a lot of information on when things don't work. What else can I try? There's many, many ways to set yourself up, um, but you have to know yourself.

Annie [00:15:10] Okay. Fabulous. Next thing, uh, key element. Again, you've mentioned it, is relationships.

Gretchen [00:15:16] Yeah.

Annie [00:15:16] So cultivating and maintaining healthy, fulfilling relationships.

Gretchen [00:15:21] Yes.

Annie [00:15:21] Key part.

Gretchen [00:15:23] Key. If- I mean, ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that relationships are a key to happiness. Maybe the key. Like if you had to pick one thing- any time you're trying to decide how to spend your time, energy or money. Anything that either deepens relationships or broadens relationships is something that's going to make you happier. And so you might join or start a group, um, you might start a habit with your family that you're going to text every day or email every day or once a week. Uh, you might, um, plan a yearly reunion with your childhood friends so that, you know, you don't have years go by when you don't see each other in person. Um, anytime you're trying to think about what to do or not to do, uh, thinking about how it influences relationships, um, is very, very significant. It's a very useful thing to consider.

[00:16:12] Short musical interlude

Annie [00:16:22] Okay, so let's talk now um, Gretchen if you don't mind, about the things that we can do in our daily lives, this is what you do without having to change who we are, how do we make changes to become happier or more joyful?

Gretchen [00:16:38] Well, one thing- the easiest and very fun thing to try is tapping into the five senses. And so I've just finished this book, Life in Five Senses, about the senses, and what I found to my surprise, I did not know this going in is that the five senses is like this Swiss Army knife. If you want to calm down, you can use your five senses. If you want to pump yourself up, you can use your five senses. If you want to evoke memories, you can use your five senses. If you want to appreciate the moment, if you want to sit down and focus and get, you know, fire through your dredge work, you can do that or you can spark your creativity. And the thing about the five senses or whatever your complement of senses are, not everybody has all five, is they're familiar to us. So if I said to you, like, you know what, it seems like you're really, really stressed out, how might you tap into your five senses to give yourself more serenity and more peace? People are usually like, wow, I can think of a lot of things I could do. One interesting thing for people who, uh, want a suggestion of where to start, I have this really fun quiz called What's Your Neglected Sense? You can just go to and it's free, it's short, and it will tell you the sense that you most neglect.

Annie [00:17:43] So, let's take some examples of that. So let's say for smell, I don't really think about that, I don't really buy scented candles. They're 30 quid, can't be arsed. Uh, you know what I mean? I don't think about smelling things ever laughs. Apart from if it's bad!

Gretchen [00:17:59] Perfect, perfect. So that's a perfect example of a neglected sense, right? You're- because this is a thing about a neglected scent, you're often more aware of the negatives, and the irritations of that sense than the positives. Okay. So one of the things you might do is like just look for opportunities to enjoy smells in your everyday life. Like when you're walking through your kitchen, smell some saffron, smell some nutmeg, smell some vanilla. As you're walking through a park, really try to say to yourself, um, what are the smell of leaves on the ground? What is the what does the air smell like? It's about to rain, can I smell how it smells different? I mean, one of the sad effects of Covid is that so many people lost their sense of smell and I have to say like in the West, um, traditionally the sense of smell was very kind of underrated. People thought of it as like a bonus that you didn't really matter that much. It's kind of nice to have it but you didn't need it. But people who lost their sense of smell through Covid, like, I think you really saw, like how much it contributes to our sense of vitality and connection and how bereft the people are who lost it and for whom it hasn't really returned. Um, but I think people don't really appreciate it. I love the sense of smell. The sense of smell is one of my most appreciated senses. So I, I encourage you!

Annie [00:19:07] Need to do it more. Uh, one of the things that struck me when you were talking about the senses is when you talked about hearing, um-

Gretchen [00:19:13] Yeah.

Annie [00:19:13] And the act of listening. So not just- I mean, obviously listening to music, which is such a gift, but the act of listening to your friends.

Gretchen [00:19:22] Yes.

Annie [00:19:23] Or to other people. So how you can use your hearing as a way to connect so much closer to people and be more engaged, uh, and be more in the present through conversation. And such a simple way of doing that is just by putting away your phone because it's proven, isn't it? It's proven that having, even having a phone upside down, facedown on the table, means that you are not as engaged as you would be. You're more distracted, you're so conscious of your phone.

Gretchen [00:19:52] Absolutely.

Annie [00:19:52] So put your phone in a bag. Do not have it insight and commit to listen. Listen to them. So simple.

Gretchen [00:20:00] Yeah. You know, even turning to face somebody so that you're like, your shoulders are parallel to them, not looking over their shoulders.

Annie [00:20:07] Right.

Gretchen [00:20:07] Um, paraphrasing. There's all kinds of ways to, um, uh, work on listening. For me, a lot of it was about allowing silence to fall. I realised that I would rush in, especially if things felt, um, difficult, like I would sort of move, even before I was consciously aware of it I would move the conversation onto kind of safer ground. So I really now I'm trying to be like, okay, stay in a moment. If somebody's saying something that's hard, like, let them take their time, don't rush in, don't edge them away from vulnerable areas.

Annie [00:20:47] Can we talk about other very small things we can do, things that I've heard you discuss in various places... Taking a different route to work.

Gretchen [00:20:56] Yes, well, research shows that novelty and challenge tend to make people happier. Even things like going to a different restaurant or walking a different way, um, to work and so- or through your neighbourhood and so, you know, looking for little opportunities to, um, try new things or expose yourself to new sights and new environments.

Annie [00:21:18] Mmm. Practice smiling. I don't know if you've said that exactly, but I've heard you talk about how actually what happens in your face will trigger the real emotions. So if your eyes are watering, or if your mouth is smiling, you will automatically feel happier. Can you tell me about that?

Gretchen [00:21:34] Yes. This is a kind of bonkers way to kind of manipulate yourself. So if you act the way you wish you felt, act the way you want to feel. So if you're feeling sluggish, act energetic like, speak more rapidly, walk faster, like boost your energy. If you're feeling kind of shy and reserved, act friendly and it will help you feel friendlier. And even something like smiling, just the action of smiling helps you feel like more upbeat. I mean, research shows, and I don't think this is a shock to anybody that people feel like you're friendlier, um, when you're smiling and then they will behave in a more friendly way to you so then again, like you're living in an environment where people are acting more friendly to you because of the way that you're acting so, you're feeling more friendly and then you're also eliciting a more friendly response. Um, there's funny research showing that people who have Botox experience less anger because they can't furrow their brow.

Annie [00:22:26] WHAT?!

Gretchen [00:22:26] And because they can't make an angry face, they feel less anger.

Annie [00:22:30] But doesn't that work the opposite way in that they can't, they cant have laughter lines either? laughs I don't know.

Gretchen [00:22:37] I don't know if they've done that research, that's very funny. Um, yeah. Yeah. But yeah, you can still smile with Botox, but yeah you can't make the frowny face, I guess.

Annie [00:22:47] Let's talk about New Year's resolutions. It is the time, so many people listening will be in the thick of their New Year's resolutions. Do you think those are a good thing, Gretchen, resolutions?

Gretchen [00:22:57] Well, I think that it depends. I was very interested in how people felt about New Year's resolutions. I was trying to understand these patterns and what I found is that people fall into four distinct groups which I call The Four Tendencies, which is upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels. And this is a hugely helpful thing to know about yourself if you want to help yourself keep a resolution, because it really points the way for how you can be successful. I'll describe it very briefly- again,, you can take a quiz, it will tell you what you are.

Annie [00:23:30] I've done the quiz, I am an upholder.

Gretchen [00:23:33] Oh I'm an upholder too! Oh we're, okay, that's interesting, okay. We will discuss in a second but just so people know the framework, um, so what this looks at is something that sounds kind of boring but ends up being juicy, which is how you respond to expectations. So we all face two kinds of expectations: outer expectations like a work deadline and inner expectations like keeping a New Year's resolution. And depending on whether you tend to meet or resist an outer and inner expectation, that's what makes you an upholder like us, a questioner. An obliger or a rebel? So upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. They keep the New Year's resolution, they meet the work deadline without much fuss. They want to know what other people expect from them, but their expectations for themselves are just as important. So their motto is 'discipline is my freedom'. They tend to love resolutions. They love to do lists. They love execution. They love a calendar. Then they don't need a lot of supervision. Then there are questioners. Questioners question all expectations. They'll do something if they think it makes sense. If it fails their inner standard, they will push back. So their motto is 'I'll comply IF you convince me why'. Then there are obligers. Now, obliger is the biggest tendency for both men and women. So you either are an obliger or you have many obligers in your life. Obligers readily meet outer expectations but they struggle to meet inner expectations. These are the people who say, why is it that I can keep my promises to other people, but I can't make my promises to myself? Why can't I make myself the priority? Why can't I take time for self-care? The secret for an obliger is even to meet an inner expectation, there must be a form of outer accountability. So you want to read more? Join a book group. You want to exercise more, you have to work out with a trainer, work out with a friend who's going to be annoyed if you don't show up, take your dog for a run, raise money for charity, think of your duty to your future self, think of your duty as a role model. There's a lot of ways to create outer accountability once you realise that that is what you need. It is not motivation, it is not priority, it is not self-care, it's getting yourself that outer accountability.

Annie [00:25:39] Kind of like a way of obliging people. So you're using your powers. So you are an obliger, you're using that in order to get stuff done, because you have to oblige your trainer to show up or your friend.

Gretchen [00:25:51] 1,000 percent! And that's a very good point which is, what an individual obliger will consider to be a form of outer accountability can be different. So some people are like, look, my trainer gets paid whether I show up or not. And then other people are like, well, if I'm paying, I have to show up or my trainer is going to feel like he's failed if I haven't showed up! So if something's not working with outer accountability and you're an obliger, you might need to, um, experiment a little bit. And then finally rebels. So rebel is the smallest tendency. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do in their own way, in their own time. But if you ask her to tell something, they're very likely to resist. And typically they don't tell themselves what to do. Like, they don't sign up for a 10 a.m. exercise class on Saturdays because they think, I don't know what I'm going to want to do on Saturday. And just knowing that somebody is expecting me to show up is going to annoy me. So their motto is 'you can't make me, and neither can I'.

Annie [00:26:47] Right.

Gretchen [00:26:47] So that's the four. And so you can see if you wanted to get something done- let's say you had an aim that you wanted to achieve in the new year, how you would approach it would be very different if you're an upholder, questioner, obliger, rebel.

Annie [00:26:59] So let's say one of each of those types, um, they all decide of their own free will that they want to cut out processed sugar. They just want to eat lots of honey and fruit and good sugars but none of that, none of the shite. How would each of those go about that? Upholders would just go ahead and do it I guess?

Gretchen [00:27:18] They would just need to be very clear on like, what are the rules for themselves. Like, is honey acceptable or not? Probably that would be pretty straightforward for them to do because they're, they're good at keeping their inner expectations for themselves. Sometimes even when it's feels a little bit cold to other people.

Annie [00:27:34] This is the thing, I think it's important that upholders aren't- they're not perfect.

Gretchen [00:27:38] No, no, no.

Annie [00:27:39] They're very much peoeple that can become too dependent on the rules, right?

Gretchen [00:27:42] They can be rigid. Um, they can get very uneasy if they don't know what the rules are. Um, they can be judgemental and cold sometimes, like somebody said to me, like, well you could never go to a birthday party and not have a piece of someone's birthday cake. And I was like, I would never have a piece of someone's birthday cake, what are you talking about? Annie laughs and they're like, she's was like that's so rude. And I'm like, if another adult cares if I have a piece of their birthday cake, like, I don't care. I mean- and I think some people are like, ooh, that's cold, that's rude, but I'm like, but that's my inner expectation for myself. Like, I've decided that this is a rule for myself and so I want- it feels appropriate to me to honour that and I don't understand why somebody else wouldn't understand this is just my rule for myself and so I'm going to hold myself to it. So they can be rigid, they can be cold, they can be judgemental. Um, they can get kind of caught up in their own, the bureaucracy of their own rules sometimes. So yeah, all of these tendencies have strengths and weaknesses. No one is better or worse than the other. It's  just you want to know what your strengths and weaknesses are so you can take advantage of them and, uh, and, and insure up against the limitations.

Annie [00:28:45] So the questioner would be doing all the research. On sugar, processed sugar.

Gretchen [00:28:51] Why does this make sense? Why am I doing- what's the most efficient way for me to do this? How do I find it lurking in my foods?

Annie [00:28:58] Now how would an obliger go about doing this? Because I can imagine that I definitely have obliger in me. Um, I would end up, if I went in with really good intentions to not eat processed sugar, I have a husband, I have two kids, I would be in a situation where I'm in a restaurant and I can't find anything that doesn't have sugar, and rather than make a fuss I would renege on my desires and end up probably being annoyed at myself because I, I had to compromise. Um, and maybe, I don't know whether that's right or wrong but I can see a lot of people in the middle of trying to do resolutions, maybe halfway through.

Gretchen [00:29:35] Mmmhm.

Annie [00:29:35] They have good intentions but it just, it's hard. It's hard to keep it up for whatever reason.

Gretchen [00:29:39] Mhm. Well, in the specific scenario that you just, uh, outlined, I would say, well maybe you think of your duty to be a role model. I want to show my children what it looks like to keep a promise to yourself, even when things are hard. Um, you might have an accountability partner and like, text a friend every night like, how did you do? And it's like, if I'm constantly like, like letting myself off the hook, then my friend is going to think that it's fine for her to let herself off the hook and I know it's really important for her, for herself to stick to this so I need to stick to it so she'll feel like she needs to stick to it. So we need to, um, we need to do it. You can make- if you know that it's going to be really hard with your family, you might make a game out of it. Like, hey, kids, if I do this for six months or a year, and I like really hold to it, then we're going to like go away for this holiday weekend. And here's a picture of it. This is where we're going to go. And it's going to be great. But if I keep screwing up, we're not going to do it. And so your kids will become like, hey, you got to stick to it. Um, I've heard of many people sort of using, uh, using their children as policemen.

Annie [00:30:41] Laughs it's a good idea.

Gretchen [00:30:41] It's knowing that you need that.

Annie [00:30:42] It's knowing that you need that. It's knowing, going I am an obliger, I need someone to- I need someone who's going to hold me to account.

Gretchen [00:30:49] Right, because I can imagine as an upholder or a questioner might say to you, make up your mind that something's important and stick to it. And it's like, that's not good advice for an obliger, they need outer accountability and there is nothing wrong with that. Obligers sometimes feel like they're weak. They say, why is it everybody else is an adult and they can do this and I can't. It's like, you're the biggest category! You can get anywhere you want to go, you just have to like set things up to suit you. You do not need to change. You're fine. And it's like, there's no one's right and no one's wrong. It's just like, how do we create a situation where we can all thrive?

Annie [00:31:22] That's a really good example, I suppose, of knowing how- if you know who you are and how you work as a person, it's so much easier to do things that will make you happier, that will make you feel more fulfilled. For those who, let's say by the end of this week or get to the end of January, and they feel like they haven't done the resolution or they failed, or they failed enough times for it to not be successful, what would you say to those people who have kind of put that label on themselves as 'I'm a failure', 'I couldn't even do that', 'I couldn't even jog every morning', 'I couldn't even-', I don't know, lose this weight or eat that way or be more productive there.

Gretchen [00:32:00] Well, I would say think about how you're framing your resolutions. So resolutions should be very concrete and very specific. So you should know at the end of the day whether you did or didn't do a resolution. Like, eating healthfully is vague. Did you eat healthily at the end of the day? I don't know, I, kind of yes, but kind of no. It should be something like, I'm going to eat breakfast every day, or I'm going to bring a lunch from home instead of eating takeout for lunch. It should be something where it's like very clear, yes or no. And your resolutions should be about actions, not outcomes. So it's not like lose 20 pounds, that's an outcome. You cannot control an outcome. That's like me saying, I'm going to write a bestselling book. I can't make a book a bestseller. Now, I can write a thousand words every day, you know I can- there's many things, specific actions that I can take that I would hope would lead to an outcome, but you should frame it- like it's not learn Italian, I'm going to learn Italian in 2024. It's like, no, how would, what does that look like? What does a day look like? Did I learn Italian today? No, it should be like, learn three new vocabulary words, it should be a specific action that is, that's leading towards an outcome. Um, so I think a lot of times when people fail with resolutions, it's because the resolutions were sort of fatally flawed in terms of their conception. Um, and uh, but then also, I think, think about your tendency and are you setting yourself up in a way that's right for you? Are you thinking about yourself? Like, I'm a night person, why did I say that I was going to do this- I was going to do morning meditation? Maybe I should do after dinner meditation. Start experimenting because you can still achieve your aim. But you might want to experiment with how you get up there.

Annie [00:33:32] Before you go, why did you not like the gratitude journal?

Gretchen [00:33:37] You know, I tried doing it every day, writing down three things that made me grateful, and it just didn't- after a while, it just started annoying me. It just, it felt very... Forced. And I've since read that gratitude journals for a lot of people work better if you don't do it every day, if you just do it, you know, a few times a week. Um, so it did not work for me. But when I was writing Life in Five Senses, I started keeping a five senses journal where I would write down like seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, I would write down one notable memory. Like if I walk by a movie theatre I would be like, oh, it's the smell of movie, movie theatre popcorn or whatever. And I found that for me, that actually served as a gratitude journal much better. Feelings of gratitude are very important for happiness, I for some reason just found the practice of the gratitude journal to just be annoying.

Annie [00:34:24] I love that honesty. So, so much food for thought. All those little things that you can do. Putting novelty in your day, putting little changes in your day, practising smiling, go a different way to work, take a different route, uh, put your phone away when you're with friends. So many little things and if you're interested in those four different types, uh, it's right, to do the quiz?

Gretchen [00:34:46] Yes. Or you can just go to if you want to go straight to the quiz.

Annie [00:34:51] It's 12 questions, that's all. It doesn't take a lot of time. Thank you so much for your wisdom and for your time, Gretchen. It's been such a pleasure to speak with you, thank you.

Gretchen [00:34:59] Oh, I enjoyed it so much! Stay joyful in January! And the rest of the year.

Annie [00:35:05] Laughs yeah, not just one month.

Gretchen [00:35:06] Yeah, keep it going.

Annie [00:35:07] That would be really depressing both laugh... Thank you so much to Gretchen Rubin. Always good to know that even for a happiness expert, sometimes gratitude journals do not work. I am on team Gretchen with regards to that one, I would find that too much for me but each to their own and that's the other thing we've learned. This is all about understanding yourself, understanding your needs, understanding how you work, and then applying all these little changes to you through that prism, through that knowledge of how you work and what you need. Um, I'd love to know if you have made New Year's resolutions, and if you have, have you made them in the pursuit of joy? Get in touch please, at changespod, all one word, uh, You can email us there, send us a voice note, it's always fabulous to hear from you. Or maybe you have absolutely no time for resolutions, in which case I am also very interested. Um, thank you so much for listening as always aaaand we'll be back next week with more January joy!