Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Were Our Ancestors Right About Happiness?

Question: What was the “happiness project” you undertook?

\r\n

Gretchen Rubin: The Happiness Project is the book that I wrote.  It’s an account of the year that I spent testing the wisdom of the ages, the current science **** studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.  I wanted to find out if you really did all of those things that you ought to do, would you really make yourself happier?  And I wanted to do it within the confines of my ordinary day.  I didn’t want to make a radical change, I just wanted to do everything – I wanted to change my life without changing my life.

\r\n

Question: What were some the specific pieces of advice you tested?

\r\n

Gretchen Rubin: One of the things that you see ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree on is that strong relationships are a key to happiness, maybe the key to happiness.  People who have more strong relationships in their lives just feel happier.  So, a lot of my resolutions were aimed at either strengthening existing relationships, things like – I would make resolutions like show up, be generous, remember birthdays, things that were supposed to strengthen my relationships, and then also to build new relationships.  So, I joined, or started 11 groups starting from the time I had my happiness project and from that I made a ton of new friends.  And then of course, I had a lot of resolutions aimed at the relationships in my family.  I wanted to have a tender, more light-hearted atmosphere in my house, and so I did a lot of resolutions that were aimed at strengthening my relationship with my husband and my two daughters.

\r\n

Question: Which nuggets of ancient wisdom did you test?

\r\n

Gretchen Rubin: Right.  Well, one of them was this idea that strong relationships will happen.  If Aristotle talked about the importance of friendships and people today are talking about the importance of friendships.  Another one, one of the most ancient precepts of happiness is this idea, know thyself.  In fact, the words “know thyself” are scribed at the temple of Apollo in Delphi.  And we all know the Shakespeare quotation, “To thine own self be true,” but it was only when I tried to be Gretchen, that was my resolution to myself, that I realize what a challenge it was really to be Gretchen.  I had to think about what made me happy.  Not what I thought should make me happy, or what I wished made me happy, or what made other people happy, but what I really needed to build into my life if I wanted to have a happier life.  So, that’s a place where the most ancient wisdom is still true today.  “Know thyself,” it’s still a challenge, it still works.

\r\n

Question: Which ancient prescriptions for happiness did you find to be false?

\r\n

Gretchen Rubin: Well, I’m not sure that this is so ancient, but definitely a theme within happiness thinking is this idea that if you chase happiness, or you seek happiness that you somehow undermine your ability to find happiness.  So, for example, John Stuart Mill wrote, “Ask yourself if you are happy, and you shall cease to be so.”  And I think that’s just completely wrong.  And I know it’s John Stuart Mill versus Gretchen Rubin, but I think you don’t hit a target by not aiming at it, and at least for me, when I started asking myself, am I happy?  I immediately realized I am happy.  I’m happier than I realized.  I was too distracted by minor irritations.  I was losing site of how happy I really was and so by asking myself if I was happy, I was actually lifting myself up and also helping myself identify what I could change in my life to help myself be happier.  So, that was something where I felt like this idea where you should not seek happiness is actually not a very helpful piece of happy advice.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

For one year, Gretchen Rubin tested the wisdom of some of history’s leading experts on happiness, including Aristotle and John Stuart Mill. Did their advice hold up?

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

Why is everyone so selfish? Science explains

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.

Credit: Adobe Stock, Olivier Le Moal.
Personal Growth
  • Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
  • New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
  • Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Keep reading Show less

How Hemingway felt about fatherhood

Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.

Ernest Hemingway Holding His Son 1927 (Wikimedia Commons)
Culture & Religion

Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?

Keep reading Show less

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

Keep reading Show less

The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

Videos
  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast