Gretchen Rubin on the Pursuit of Happiness

August 7, 2017  • Catherine Lutz

Best-selling writer, blogger, and podcast host Gretchen Rubin came to Aspen to talk about the power of habit. As part of the Murdock Mind, Body, Spirit Series, the author of the overnight sensation The Happiness Project addressed a sold-out crowd, discussing how her fascination with the pursuit of happiness began, led to one book after another, and steered her interest toward other aspects of human nature. Those include habits — which can often be stumbling blocks to happiness — and the topic of her latest book, The Four Tendencies, which focuses on the four personality types that provide the basis of understanding people and drive everything that we do.

“The crucial thing is to understand ourselves,” Rubin said. “We can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own values, our own interests.” She added that it can be much more difficult then we think to get to that critical point of understanding ourselves.

But while the title of Rubin’s talk reflected her popular book on habits, everything she touched on intersected with the notion of happiness. The Aspen Institute’s Eric Motley, who interviewed Rubin, and the audience frequently steered back to the topic.

Asked how she defines happiness, Rubin replied, “I don’t. Happiness is broad enough that we can all have our own definitions of happiness. I think it’s more helpful to think about being happier. It’s more about moving in the right direction.”

We can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own values, our own interests.

Rubin recognizes that the pursuit of happiness itself does not always make us feel happy in that moment. She gave the example of people who choose to endure grueling daily commutes so their families can live in neighborhoods that provide better quality of life. This is a reflection of their values rather than their emotions.

Yet Rubin does believe that happiness is contagious. “People literally infect each other with emotions,” she said. “One of the best ways to be happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”

Finally, in response to a question on the danger of always trying to be happy, Rubin acknowledged that negative emotions also play an important role in our lives. “Anger, resentment, boredom, envy, indignation — these are all important emotions that can lead us to bring about change. They’re meant to help us identify places that need work,” she said.

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