Gretchen Rubin — Experiments in Happiness and Creativity (#290)

“I wish I could not wish.” – Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin (@gretchenrubin) is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Four Tendencies, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home. She has an enormous readership, both in print and online, and her books have sold three million copies worldwide, in more than thirty languages.

On her popular weekly podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft; they’ve been called the “Click and Clack of podcasters.” Her podcast was named in iTunes’s lists of “Best Podcasts of 2015” and was named in the Academy of Podcasters “Best Podcasts of 2016.”

Fast Company named Gretchen Rubin to its list of Most Creative People in Business, and she’s a member of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100.


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Gretchen Rubin — Experiments in Happiness and Creativity

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Discipline Equals Freedom -- Jocko Willink

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Gretchen Rubin:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Show Notes

  • “I wish I could not wish.” Agree or disagree? [05:47]
  • How did Gretchen begin her career in law, and what made her move on to writing? [08:16]
  • What inspired Gretchen’s first book? [11:05]
  • Did Gretchen quit being a lawyer before or after selling her first book? [14:04]
  • In hindsight, what key lessons were learned by the process of writing and selling that first book? [16:29]
  • How did Gretchen decide on her next book, and what ties together her body of work? [21:47]
  • What is Gretchen’s note-taking system? What software does she use for composing a book? [25:25]
  • Why does Gretchen recommend Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language? [31:03]
  • What are the key ingredients to Gretchen’s home office? [34:42]
  • What small changes does Gretchen recommend for people hoping to increase personal well-being and happiness? [40:29]
  • End of day rituals and routines. [44:00]
  • Morning routines. [45:30]
  • Changes Gretchen has made in the past few years that have increased happiness and decreased anxiety and other negative emotions. [48:30]
  • How are Gretchen’s children’s literature groups organized? [52:46]
  • What qualifies a book for the young adult genre? [56:47]
  • How does Gretchen use accountability? [1:00:49]
  • Does Gretchen set new year’s resolutions? [1:10:38]
  • Gretchen’s theme for the year is delegation. How does she plan to act on this? [1:14:07]
  • Does Gretchen have a favorite failure? [1:16:21]
  • One of Gretchen’s most worthwhile investments of time, money, or energy. [1:21:40]
  • How did Gretchen start learning the basics of podcasting? [1:22:12]
  • How has Gretchen gone about turning her podcast listeners into a community? [1:24:34]
  • What would Gretchen’s billboard say? [1:28:29]
  • Quotes Gretchen finds inspiring. [1:29:33]
  • What “try this at home” episode of Gretchen’s podcast has had the strongest response to date? [1:40:30]
  • How does Gretchen regain focus? [1:43:43]
  • Short children’s and young adult titles everyone should try. [1:46:28]
  • Adult books Gretchen has reread the most. [1:48:16]
  • How many hours a week does Gretchen spend reading? [1:49:41]
  • Per Gretchen’s Four Tendencies, what is my tendency? [1:53:21]
  • “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” -Novalis [1:59:53]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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39 Replies to “Gretchen Rubin — Experiments in Happiness and Creativity (#290)”

  1. Disclaimer – Yet to listen to the complete episode.

    But it’s so cool to see you interview Gretchen too, Tim. Her book ‘Better Than Before’ and ‘The Four Tendencies’ while may not be backed by science, but the tendency quiz she came up with is legit.

    I use her framework to identify my friends, colleagues at work, and customers’ communication style and it’s surprising to see it being so effective.

    Curious if you’ve had a chance to take her Four Tendencies Quiz, Tim? From my research, you sound like a Questioner with Rebel tendencies. Tony Robbins, a Questioner with Upholder tendencies.

    Excited to add this to this week’s Things-To-Listen-While-Commuting List.[

    Hope your 2018 is off to a GREAT start, Tim.

    Cheers from the Bay Area.

  2. Thank you, Gretchen and Tim! Great podcast!

    FYI–Here is that Thomas Merton quote, in full:


    “Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.”

    Source: (Gretchen’s website):

  3. Lively episode! Question to both Gretchen & Tim on note capture: I like Gretchen’s organization under topics/themes. Right now I have my notes attributed to person/podcast/book so I’m able to return to exact passages later, but this means I don’t have all my notes on say, Motivation, in one place. How to reconcile these two formats?

    1. You could tag your notes. For example, Evernote lets you tag and thus find everything very easily. If you don’t use it yet, worth looking into. However, I’m sure there are other tools out there that let you tag, I’m just the most familiar with Evernote myself. Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks Lisa! I organize my podcast notes by guest name. Often there are multiple themes in a single note, e.g. Hiring, mgmt lessons, etc. If I tag, the tag applies to the whole note, right?

        Gretchen replied: The way I do it – which is very inexact –would be to type the word “motivation” next to the quote, so that if I was looking for material on motivation, I could use search to find those passages through a master document. This system is pretty slow and cumbersome—however I find that zipping through my master document in that way actually helps me to see unexpected connections and insights.

        I wonder if this will serve my purpose if I’m clipping lots of articles?

        LMK if I’m missing an easier way? I’m not wired to think in systems!

  4. Hey Tim!

    I absolutely love your podcast but I have just one request. Is there a way we could somehow subscribe to an email that would automatically send us the show notes? I know I could go to your blog and look them up there but I don’t always have time (or should I say make time) for that so instead I take notes while listening (not smart since I’m usually driving).

    But just a suggestion!


  5. Hi Tim,

    First, I would like to thank you for being instrumental in many people’s lives including mine. I NEED SOME HELP. I was hoping you can provide me suggestions or helpful tips for a shift-worker like myself. Currently a police officer and constantly going from overnights to days and sleep, diet and lifestyle has definitely suffered. A lot of your material has been helpful but seems very challenging for shift-workers like me.

    Thank you for your time and I hope to one day be able to meet you!


    1. I’ve just recently heard a great podcast by Rhonda Patrick. She interviewed Dr. Satchin Panda, on strategies for shift workers. Lots of useful tips and all scientifically verified. Check it out 😉

  6. Tim… I’m a big fan…. my two cents… do yourself a favor and talk to Jorma Kaukonen. Original member of the Jefferson Airplane and going 50+ years strong in Hot Tuna at 77 years old. He’s a mentor for many. You’d love him. Stories galore. Talk to Jorma!!

  7. Happy New Year Tim & Gretchen! Really enjoyed this episode. It’s always refreshing hearing the full story behind someones current success. As always – very inspiring – You’ve got me motivated for 2018 🙂

  8. Hi Tim,

    I am Aditya from a Bangalore based education startup, Walnut Knowledge Solutions.

    Our signature offering is QuizShala, a quizzing oriented developmental workshop for school students where we use questions, stories, and activities to make children more aware and 21st Century ready.

    You’ve been a great inspiration to all of us at the office and we have a weekly time set aside to discuss your podcasts and books.

    At an upcoming quiz event on 26th January, we wanted to ask a question on your books and some of your ventures. The question text is mentioned below and it would be great if you could verify the fact mentioned about your ventures. Looking forward for the go-ahead from you. Thanks.

    Question to be verified:

    “My original intention with The ____ ______ (4HWW), The ______ _______(4HB), and The _____ _______(4HC) was to create a trilogy themed after Ben Franklin’s famous quote: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.””

    Fill in the blanks or tell us who spoke the above words?

    He has also named few of his ventures after the books that he has gifted the most –

    1. Zorba Tree after Zorba the Greek

    2. Feynman Exploration after Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman

    3. Marcus and Seneca after Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Tao of Seneca

  9. Best takeaway:

    It’s better to have a community than a fan.


    Thinking about how I log my notes – I need to find my best way of “tagging” my notes (I just write them in my Bujo currently), so I’m definitely looking into Scrivener to see if that would be a solution.

  10. Tim, I have watched with fascination your evolution to become a more spiritual person as evidenced by this podcast and today’s 5-Bullet Friday post. I am on the same journey, you have given so much that has helped me. Thank you for all you do.

  11. Hi Tim and Gretchen,

    Enjoyed this podcast especially because this was the first time I’ve been introduced to Gretchen’s work and it really seems like something we could all learn from. The idea of the four tendencies really seems like an easy and solid framework, which can help us get on a clearer path in our life.

    Need to give the Happier podcast a go sometimes, although I fear it might become addictive. As many many times, a great conversation which I’m grateful for. Looking forward to more content from both.


  12. This episode combines 2 of my favorite people. Gretchen and Tim. Love it! I also hope that you’re completed okay with me using your 5-Bullet Friday strategy with my online students. I look forward to this every week and thought my students would too. I did cite your website so hopefully you’ll get some traffic. Thank you for all of your wonderful ideas…both of you. I integrate both of your teachings, Gretchen and Tim, in my Economics and Business courses that I teach. Cheers! Amber

  13. Have you considered learning to type with the Dvorak keyboard layout? (Your note about keyboard shortcuts in 5 bullet made me think of this) I tried it because I was having wrist pain. I IMMEDIATELY felt a difference in my wrist, but it took me about 3 months to get back to my previous typing speed, but I kept going and now type much faster than I did before and with less strain. There are keyboard shortcuts that allow you to switch keyboard layouts quickly for tasks for which it’s easier to type visually. It’s also fun to watch the looks on friends’ faces when they try to use my computer and only get gibberish text.

  14. I love quotes and I love the quotes Gretchen shares in her blog.

    My all time favourite is a Rumi quote,

    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

    there is a field.

    I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

  15. Tim – you talked about taking a sabbatical. I started with “5 Days to Clarity” that a friend came up with, to amazing results as a fast from media / social media / communication. 100% worth it.

    [Moderator: link removed.]



  16. Loved your podcast with Gretchen Rubin especially toward the end when you two were interacting more. Would love a short occasional podcast with you two (better yet a book together but there’s that time issue)…You two have some really good chemistry on air. Thanks.

  17. If you are intrigued by Gretchen’s concept of focusing on one word check out Allie Edwards “One Little Word” and she would be a great guest.

    I really enjoyed your conversation with Gretchen, I learned so much from both of you.

    Great job!

  18. Tim this is an excellent interview. I have read all her books and even the one on Churchill was great. The four tendencies book helps us understand ourselves better. Mine is upholder easily meeting inner and outer expectations. I think as we are at the beginning of 2018 the main thing to remember is gratitude and enjoy life. We should all develop our own happiness project because only we can decide what will make us happy.

  19. Tim. THANKS for expanding my world with new ideas, new and old books, and amazing people. Loving the GOLDEN COMPASS that you and Gretchen spoke about. Wondering, what kind of music you listen to in the background while working on your books (if at all), Happy 2018!!


    Rob Meislin, M.D.

  20. At the moment I am alternating between your podcast and Gretchen’s, so I was excited about this interview. I thought it came across a bit different to usual. It seemed as though you hadn’t really encountered each other before, either personally or through each others work. I liked it. It was like listening in on the conversation of two people who hadn’t realised that they had much in common but suddenly realised they did! I previously thought that the two podcasts were very different, but now I realise that many of the concepts are the same, just approached differently. I listen one to expand my mind intellectually and the other to expand it emotionally. It’s like yours is the journal version and Gretchen’s is the magazine version, if that makes sense. Which one I listen to depends on my mood and what I am doing.

    1. A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. The book by the architect about why we feel most comfortable in certain spaces.

  21. Hi Tim,

    First off, this question does not pertain to this particular blog post, it just so happened to be the first link I found to contact you. I was eager.

    I am reading (and a huge fan of) ‘The Four Hour Body’ and am curious as to what suggestions you have about pulling multiple ‘programs’ from the book. I am currently trying to develop a program centered around strength gain in the back squat, bench press and deadlift, from which I’ve pulled portions from “Eating the Elephant” and “Effortless Superhuman”. I’ve also implemented the “Six Minute Abs” section and the portion about 75 KB swings 2x a week for fat loss. What are your thoughts on this approach, with regards to maximal strength gain in those particular exercises and maximal body fat reduction.

    I am 20, 5’10” 187lbs. and eat slow carb 6 days a week. I eat pretty strictly (2500-3000cals/day)and Ive been monitoring my blood glucose 3x a week for the past 4 months kind of just for shits, and the time i’ve been on the slow carb, they’ve been about the same.

    I was introduced to your book by my father, and have been a huge fan ever since. Thank you so much for the great content!

  22. Got here via Gretchen’s site, haven’t listened to the episode yet, but I’m hugely impressed by how you have annotated the episode with time points, people mentioned, all those links, etc! A lot of extra work for you; much appreciated by your listeners, I’m sure.

  23. The question about the colour of dragons is soooo discriminating.

    Of course there are red AND green ones. As there have been black, blue and even yellow and white ones and to give only the choice between green and blue in this question is certainly a trick 😉

  24. Note – when you submit a request for the book In Praise of Shadows, make sure your library offers you the correct version. Otherwise you get an odd book about marionette puppets.

  25. Thank you Gretchen and Tim for a great podcast. I am a High School teacher and I plan on having my students take her test. I look forward to seeing how I can adapt my teaching styles to the different personality tendencies. I also am interested in the discussion with them about how we can all work together.

  26. Thank you to both Gretchen and Tim for being so open. The last 20 minutes allowed me to uncover an epiphany. First I’m new to the world of podcasts and Tim and I couldn’t figure out why I was so drawn to Tim. Maybe it was because I am just getting into mediation, and struggling, and then heard his show with Tara Brach. But then hearing his conversation with Gretchen about being a Questioner and it all clicked. I had never heard about the 4 tendencies before and I’m clearly a Questioner. And then empathizing about some of Tim’s struggles with being viewed as oppositional or overbearing and I realized 1. The reason I was so drawn to him is because he communicates and asks questions the way I think. 2. I need to read up more on being a Questioner so I can work on how to combat some of the stigma I wrongly get labeled with.

    Thank you again both for giving me more insight into myself and about the world.

  27. Early somewhere in the podcast Gretchen mention a book about affecting happiness through things like have two lights in a room, having uneven ceilings etc but i can’t see anything that triggers anything in the book list. Does anyone recall this?

    1. It’s been 6 months since I listened to that podcast and all of a sudden her description of that book popped into my head and I really want to know what it is as well. Did you ever have any luck tracking it down?

      1. Actually never mind, I found a transcription of the interview and found the book, here you go: A Pattern Language is a book by Christopher Alexander

  28. This may be a silly question, but at several points in this conversation Tim and Gretchen each mention little phrases that are described as being an “escape from logic”, but I can’t seem to hear/understand the name that they use for these phrases. The name/word sounds like ‘coens’ or ‘cohens’ or ‘kowins’ or ‘cullins’ or something like that, but my google searches haven’t had any luck yet. Below are a couple of examples of quotes from the podcasts that are examples of whatever this term is. Can anybody help me out with what the term is for these phrases? Thanks!

    – “He who would find the wealth of the Indies must bring the the wealth of the Indies with him”

    – “What color do you use to paint an object that’s transparent?”