With her books, blog, and megapopular weekly podcast, Gretchen Rubin has gathered a large audience over the years. She’s also found a tremendously successful niche. In all of her work, Rubin focuses on happiness and explores how things like habits, mindsets, and human nature all affect our happiness. Within these themes, Rubin constantly expands her body of work on multiple platforms. Rubin’s reporting on happiness began with her New York Times best-selling book 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, which detailed Rubin’s year-long dedication to reclaiming happiness in her life. She followed The Happiness Project with Happier at Home and Better Than Before; today, her books have sold nearly 3 million copies around the globe. Her most recent book is The Four Tendencies, in which Rubin explores four key personality types and helps readers identify which one they are – and then use that knowledge to develop better habits, become more effective, and generally improve their lives.
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The Happiness Project idea was going to be just for me. I realized I hadn’t spent any time thinking about if I was happy or could be happier. I got all these books from the library about happiness and realized there was rich subject matter. I wanted to write about it.
Happiness encompasses so many things. Relationships, including romance, parenting, friendship, work relationships. It’s the body, which includes energy, exercise, and diet. It’s all kinds of things related to health, such as mindfulness or spiritually. It’s also about time efficiency. It’s sort of limitless. The more I learn, the bigger it gets. To me, all my books are about human nature. What I like is taking a huge subject that I have to distill and make accessible to other people. I like that as an intellectual challenge.
The blog is short and one idea. Sometimes I’ll put something out there because I’m trying to figure something out or I have a question. It’s one idea that I can break off from a whole book, but they are complementary.
It’s a huge part of my work. Reading novels and memoirs, as well as science and traditional research. I read philosophy and essayists. I just talk to people and try to be an observer. Sometimes I find insights in unexpected places. I’m always taking notes and trying to process information, but it’s not always conventional.
I carry a notebook and will email myself notes. I also keep huge documents sorted by subject. I have quotes, which I think are said really well or profound, but don’t fit into any other category. I also think that by copying something, it helps put it into my brain.
It depends what stage I’m on with a book. I do blog posts just about every day, and they’re not very far ahead. So that’s constant. If I’m working on a book, I try to have three hours a day for original work during the week. There’s a little private library called the New York Society Library that’s a block from my apartment, and I’ll often go there to do writing. I’ve always loved working in libraries.
I might write a little funny book about color, because I’m obsessed with it. It would be sort of a weird little book – not about the optics or physics of color perception, but just weird facts. I get obsessed a lot with different things, and it usually doesn’t turn into a book, but this one might.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.