Kit Warchol

 Writer, editor, etc.


Interview: Gretchen Rubin on Living in Five Senses
KonMari.com, Summer 2023

Some shifts in perspective take years; others take a split second. For Gretchen Rubin, the bestselling author of The Happiness Project, podcaster and lifelong investigator of human nature, the epiphany happened at the end of an eye exam. “Make sure you come in regularly for check-ups,” her optometrist said as she gathered her things. “You’re at higher risk for losing your sight.” That moment led directly to her latest book, “Life in Five Senses.”

Sight, smell, taste, sound and touch. Rubin spent years researching how we experience the world — and how those sensory experiences directly influence how well we thrive within it. 

What’s sparking joy for you right now in your daily life?    

During the pandemic, I decided to go to the Met every day for a year, and I’m still doing that. I’m so lucky that I live within walking distance. Some people are drawn to novelty, but I’m very drawn to repetition. I’m interested in repetition and familiarity and how they influence experiences. My experience at the Met? It’s inexhaustible. I like doing it more all the time.

From your NYTimes bestselling book, “The Happiness Project,” to your HAPPIER podcast, you’ve focused your writing career and life (thus far) on exploring the meaning of happiness. Marie Kondo’s philosophy, meanwhile, centers on joy. So I’m curious — would you say that joy and happiness are synonyms or different concepts?

I started my career in law, so I have happy memories of spending an entire semester arguing about the definition of a contract. If anything, happiness is an even more elusive concept. It’s whatever you want it to be. Happiness is sort of broad enough to be anything — it could be joy, contentment or well-being. I don’t like to think of it in terms of definitions, though. I prefer thinking about it like this:  How do we have more of what we want? That looks different for every one of us. 

Happiness seems to be a regular subject of study and discussion in 2023, and everyone has a slightly different take, but you’re widely acknowledged as a leader in the field. In a 2010 New York Times profile, you said, “I don’t have anything that’s really original, though I do think I had a few original ideas, which was very exciting to me.” If it’s not original ideas, what do you think sets your definition of happiness apart from all the noise?

I think it’s a couple of things. I’m a student. I talk about what I learned, what I tried and what I found out. People can think, “Well, maybe that would work for me,” but I’m not telling people what to do. 

I find it’s really easy to tell people what you think they should do — to give people advice. But that isn’t me. Instead of being the expert who says, “This should work, and if it doesn’t work, there’s something wrong with you,” I prefer exploring. My approach is more like, “I’ll do all the research and distilling, so you don’t have to.” 

Second, while I personally love the transcendent ideas [about happiness], in my work, I think: How could an ordinary person put this in practice for a typical day? How could it make a difference? What would that look like? 

I’m always interested in the practical implications of big ideas. People respond to that. I think people get energized and excited to try [my ideas] because they can — they can put them to work in their own lives.

Cont. on KonMari.com