Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Exploring Your Senses With Gretchen Rubin
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for Episode 412 of Live Happy Now. When’s the last time that you really experienced the sights, sounds, and smells of the world around you? Well, this week’s guest is here to help you do that in a whole new way. I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week, I’m so excited to welcome back New York Times best-selling author, Gretchen Rubin. Her latest book, Life in Five Senses, looks at how we can tune into our five senses to become happier and healthier. In fact, Gretchen shows us how by dialing into our senses, we can reduce anxiety, boost productivity, spark creativity, and learn to live in the present moment. That’s just the beginning, let’s find out more.
[0:00:49] PF: Gretchen, welcome back to Live Happy Now.
[0:00:51] GR: I’m so happy to be back. Thanks for having me.
[0:00:54] PF: It has been a minute since we last talked with you and you’ve been busy.
[0:00:59] GR: I have. I’ve had a lot going on. That’s true.
[0:01:02] PF: One of the things is the reason we’re talking today, and that is your new book. This book has just been such a great surprise for me, because it’s one you start reading, and it’s like, “Oh my God. Why has nobody written this book before?” Because it’s such a wonderful experience of diving into our senses. Your story of why you wrote it is really compelling. That’s a great place to start. Tell us the journey that brought us into this book.
[0:01:27] GR: Well, it started on a very ordinary moment. I woke up with pinkeye, which I’m one of these people who’s prone to pinkeye. Usually goes away in a few days, but this didn’t. So I just got myself to the eye doctor. And yeah, I had pinkeye, he gave me some drops. As I was walking out of his office, he said to me very casually, “Well, you know, be sure to come in for your regular checkup, because as you know, you’re at much greater risk for losing your sight, so make sure you come in.” I was like, “Wait. What? I did not know I’m at greater risk for losing my sight. Why?” He said, “Well, you’re extremely nearsighted, and that means you’re at greater risk for getting a detached retina, and that can affect your sight. So if it starts, we want to catch it right away.”
As it happened, I had a friend who had recently lost some sight from a detached retina. That, I mean, I really – that really resonated with me. So I walk out onto the street, I live in New York City. So I was walking home from the eye doctor, and it just hit me that I could lose all this, you know, and I wasn’t appreciating it. I realized, like, “Now that I was threatened with the loss of it, I just realized I’d been taking it all for granted. Of course, I intellectually knew that, that at any time, we could lose whatever. I also knew intellectually, that I would still have a rich, meaningful life, even if I did lose my sight or one of my other senses. But still, it was just – it hit me, I was stuck in my head. I wasn’t appreciating the richness of the world around me.
As I had that realization, it was as if every knob in my head just got jammed up to high volume. I saw everything with crystal clarity, I heard every separate sound, I could smell every smell. New York City is pretty smelly, I could smell so many smells, I could feel everything. It was just coming through in this kind of super high intensity. It was just the psychedelic experience. It lasted for until I got home. It was just – this experience showed me that the way to get this feeling of connection and vitality was through my five senses, was to stop taking it all for granted. Get out of the fog of preoccupation, and really engage with the world, and with other people, and with myself through my five senses.
[0:03:48] PF: You do a wonderful job of painting that picture for us of, we feel like we are in your head as you are watching the world just like blossom around you. What’s interesting to me is, for someone else, it might have been, they would have focused on the fact that, “Okay, it’s my site, and they would have worked only in that area.” But you being you took this on as a massive research project and really tackled all five senses. Why was it so important for you to look at not just sight, but for all five of our senses.
[0:04:21] GR: During that walk, I just felt it all coming in through everything. I felt how they were working together, the sensorium, all five working together. I just realized, you know, I paid a lot of attention to my sight relatively, even though I wasn’t that tuned into it. But then there were other things I felt like I very much neglected. I thought, if I could bring all of these up into that level, and appreciate them for everything they really do for me, I just couldn’t wait to learn more. It was like, once I saw that it was my five senses – and it was funny because I’ve been studying happiness, and human nature for more than a decade. I had, had the feeling that I was neglecting something, that there was some piece that I was missing, that there was some element that I wasn’t tuned into.
When I realized it was the five senses, it was sort of that intellectual gratification and being like, “Oh, this is it. This is what I’ve been missing.” Then I could look back on other things that I’d written. I had bits and pieces of it. In Happier at Home, I wrote about smell. Now, it was like, “Oh, if I pull in all five, I can see how it fills out the picture in a whole new way.”
[0:05:26] PF: As you go through the book, it’s very clear to see how this unfolded for you. But for someone who’s listening and hasn’t picked up the book yet, talk about how you decided to dive into this, how did you outline the way that you would explore each of these five senses. Because you are not a casual observer, you deep dive into every one of them.
[0:05:48] GR: Well, I’m very systematic. My view is like, I’ll do all the research, so you don’t have to.
[0:05:51] PF: And you did, thank you.
[0:05:53] GR: I also am very interested in sort of the practical consequences of information. I’m fascinated by sort of transcendent ideas and scientific principles, but then I’m always like, “Okay. Well, if that’s the case, how might I put that to use in my own life.” So we did several things with each of the senses. One is, I just learned more about the functioning of the senses, which was absolutely fascinating. I just had no appreciation for the complexity and sophistication of just the plumbing in our heads, how the brain work, and how the brain is such an editor. It’s not an objective reporter at all. The brain is tinkering with the view.
Then, I also gave myself a lot of exercises. Sometimes I would do – I think the more we know, the more we notice. So I did a lot of things to learn more to educate a sense, like going to flavor university, or taking a perfume class. I would sometimes deprive myself. Sometimes you get more tuned into something if you deprive yourself of something. I did dining in the dark, which is when you eat without your sight. I tried the sensory deprivation tank, which these days they call sensory enhancement tanks. I think that’s very on trend. I would find little ways to indulge with a modest splurge. Like money can’t buy happiness, but sometimes you can buy a little something that does bring you a lot of joy.
I bought – I was like, “Why am I writing with these black and blue felt tip pens?” Like I saw this in an office supply store, I saw a bunch of big pens, and all these kinds of cool colors like caramel and oxblood. So now, I – so just little things that could be fun. I did a lot of things with other people. One of the big themes of the book is how we can use our senses to help us draw closer to other people. I did a lot of exercise. I had a taste party with my friends where we did taste tests and compared varieties of apples and potato chips. I gave them a mystery drink to see if they could guess what it was. It was Red Bull and they did not guess.
[0:07:46] PF: But they were very energetic about it.
[0:07:48] GR: Oh, yeah. Yeah, they were like, “What is this?” If you don’t know what it is, you’re like, “This is bonkers.” But all of it was so fun. There is just this energy that comes to us through our senses, and then it brought so much to me. I got so much out of it, just part of the fun of it, and the learning of it, but then also all of the benefits that we get from our five senses.
[0:08:08] PF: Obviously you are known for your research and studies in happiness. What is the correlation that you found between being aware of our five senses and living in happiness?
[0:08:19] GR: There’s so many different directions and kind of ways. It’s sort of like going for a walk outside? It’s like, how long do you have for me to describe why that’s going to make you happier? There’s so many reasons. One of the things that I really seek as part of my happy life is to connect with memories. I do not have a good memory for my own life, so I’m always looking for ways to evoke memories and capture memories. So often, the senses tie us to the past, whether it’s like the smell of our grandparents’ kitchen, or the taste of our family Thanksgiving stuffing, a song from a particular time. So many of our senses can pull us back.
Part of it was the memories. Part of it is deeply connecting with other people, really – I did a five senses portrait of my husband. Really like, what are the sights smells, taste, touch, sounds that I associate most with him. That was like a beautiful way to just like really tune into my husband. It was interesting. Then when I finished the book, and I handed it into my editor, you write a little like about the author. She said, “I think you should do a five senses portrait of yourself.” I thought, “Well, I just wrote a whole book about life, my experience, and yet it never occurred to me to do that about myself.” That was actually a very interesting kind of self-knowledge experience, like, what are the five smells that I’m most associated with myself? That was interesting.
[0:09:33] PF: Yeah. Let me ask you about that for a minute, because what does it do for someone else to do that, like if they sit down and do that?
[0:09:39] GR: It’s an amazing process how much it like makes it evokes that person, it makes you remember. It’s harder than you might think to come up with the perfect examples. But what I like about it is, it’s pretty easy to write them down, like it’s not arduous to actually physically create it. I have a podcast, The Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. We talked about this idea in the podcast. What was really interesting is how people played with this idea and used it in different ways to connect with people in their own way.
One person immediately emailed and said, “I’m going to do this for my grandparents. Both my grandparents recently died, and I want to do this to hang on to those concrete memories before I forget them. Also, I have very young children who will not remember these family members who have died.” This is a way for me to like, and I’m like, “That is such a great way to –” you learn a lot from somebody of like, what were the five signature tastes that this person is associated with? It’s such a delightful way to capture someone’s essence.
Then somebody else said, “Oh, I did it for my two children as like a present for them. Then, my husband was so wistful. I could tell he wanted one of himself, so I made one for him.” She made it into sort of this beautiful book, so she really like took the time to write it, but then also turned it into kind of this beautiful object to give. She said like – we talked about wanting to feel seen. This is a way that not only do you feel seen, but you feel heard, felt – like you feel like someone’s completely tuning into you and getting you.
My in-laws are having a big milestone wedding anniversary. As my toast, I did five senses portraits of both of them to read as my toast. Because again, it’s just such a fun way to capture someone’s essence. You can put it on one page, and yet in that page, you can convey like – it’s like a highlight reel of your experience with this person. It’s like all the things that you remember best, the inside jokes, the happiest memories. Maybe some of the most unpleasant memories, but sometimes, the things that go wrong often make the best memories. It’s kind of like the time you burned the pan of brownies before the really important party or whatever. That turned out to be like an exercise that people are interpreting in a lot of different ways, and taking it in a lot of different directions to suit their own aims.
[0:11:51] PF: I think that is such an interesting way to create a portrait and a memory for families. As you said, there’s so many different applications. When people do that, how does it change the way, say that they look at that other person or even look at themselves? You’re really opening up your eyes in a whole different way.
[0:12:09] GR: As you’re talking, I’m thinking this could be a really fun thing to do like around a family dinner.
[0:12:13] PF: I was thinking that.
[0:12:14] GR: It’s like New Year’s Eve and like, “Let’s go around and do it. Let’s do it as like a table exercise for each of us and like come up with it. That can be so fun.” It forces you to focus on someone, to really think about what do they like, what do they not like, what are the funny memories that we’ve shared? It’s a way to cast back your mind, unless I say, “I’m really bad at sort of pulling up memories.” But there’s a specificity to this that I think helps kick up those memories you forgotten you remember.
I also did something, a taste timeline where I did a timeline of my life through tastes, like for different epics of my life, what were the tastes that were – my favorite taste or the most distinctive taste. So it’s doing that, and it was so much fun. So then I called my sister so we could reminisce about our childhood. We had so much fun just kicking it back, like what do we eat on long car trips? And like, what was some junk food that our grandparents would buy for us that like our parents wouldn’t?
She used to drink pickle juice out of the jar. I mean, does anybody in the world know that other than me. And yet, I’d forgotten about that whole thing, or she used to do this thing. She would put butter on saltine crackers, and then toast them in the toaster oven. Periodically, the toaster oven would burst into flames. We just had so much we’re just laughing about it. The fact is, I just forgot about that whole thing, because it’s like –
[0:13:30] PF: It’s not something you would bring up. It’s not something you normally think about.
[0:13:33] GR: Yeah, you just don’t cast your mind. You’re not setting – you don’t put the fishing pole into your mind. This is just a way to dredge up these things from the bottom. But in a way that’s very fun and very playful. And then it’s very easy to memorialize that and capture it. It’s a fun, creative, and yet it connects. It creates these feelings of deep connection. It’s a reminder of shared memories, and shared experiences. It’s also kind of sort of a family identity. If it’s a family member or whatever, it’s sort of a family identity.
[0:14:05] PF: I’ll be right back with more of my conversation with Gretchen Rubin. But right now, I’m bringing back Kate [inaudible 0:14:10], to talk about the adventures of Kittles. Kate, welcome back.
[0:14:14] K: Hi, Paula.
[0:14:16] PF: Well, it’s been a minute since we talked about Kittles the cat, and his amazing cat tree from Mau Pets. Is Kittles still loving it?
[0:14:23] K: Oh, absolutely. He just loves climbing to the top of it, being high above the chaos, hiding up at where our dogs can’t reach him.
[0:14:33] PF: That’s a plus.
[0:14:35] K: Exactly. He just loves his little tree.
[0:14:39] PF: Well, it is so pretty. We’ve talked about how beautiful it is. But one thing that I thought was super cool was that, it’s so easy to clean because it talks about, the cushions are all machine washable, and you can use different fabrics. Have you had the chance to wash it, and use it, and see how that goes.
[0:14:54] K: Yes. It’s so nice to be able to take the cushions off, actually wash them, and the fabrics are just beautiful. We have a white faux fur one right now. But if I ever move his cat tree to another room, I’ll probably change out the cushions to get something that matches within the other rooms as well.
[0:15:10] PF: I guess it’s safe to say that Kittles will never settle for anything less now.
[0:15:14] K: Neither will I.
[0:15:15] PF: Well, there you go. If you want to upgrade your kitties’ furniture and save 5% off your order, visit maupets.com/livehappynow. Now, back to my conversation with Gretchen Rubin.
[0:15:34] PF: I think anybody who reads this book, there’s no way that you can keep your mind from going down your own story. Like in every sense, like you just have to apply it in your own life. It really invites you to take this in and do the experiments. We do live in a world where we’re so involved in social media, we’re so caught up in our own heads, we are not seeing the world, failing the world around us. How can this help us get back, and normalize ourselves, and be more in tune with ourselves, with our family, with the world around us?
[0:16:06] GR: Right. You’re right. I think there’s just a hunger now for direct contact. I mean, I think that’s one of the reasons that you see so many things billed as immersive, whether it’s an exhibit, or it’s like a museum show, or a store that’s having some kind of class, or display that’s inviting you to come in, and smell, and taste, and touch. Because we have such a hunger for that. I think it’s because as you say, we’re behind screens. I think there’s sort of two things that point in the opposite direction that from both directions make us want to connect with our five senses. On the one hand, I think things are kind of, like you say, thin and drained, two dimensional. They’re coming to us through screens. They’re not full, and so they’re sort of thin.
But then on the other hand, some things are kind of like hyper processed, and ultra-saturated. so it’s like this food is hitting every bliss point at one time. It’s like – and yet, at the same time that it’s like engineered to hit every bliss point, I picked it up to go. I don’t have the drifting smells of baking, and caramelizing, and grilling that are going to fill the air and kind of awaken my senses and prepare myself to taste this delicious meal. It feels kind of like, on the one hand, kind of like too much at the same time, too little. I’m going to a movie and the images are huge and vivid. The music, the soundtrack is like enriching and all beautifully. Yet at the same time, I’m not feeling air on my face, I’m not smelling anything.
It’s kind of too much and not enough at the same time. That’s why I think the physical – we’ll talk about the metaverse, it’s like, let’s connect with the universe. It’s right there. There’s just an energy that kind of – it kind of an almost an excitement, and a cheer that comes from that feeling of just like digging your hands in. Like all these metaphors, you realize, they’re so focused in the body. You want to dig in your hands, you want to follow your nose, you want to stick out your tongue, and taste everything, and really experience it for yourself.
[0:18:05] PF: It’s an incredible form of mindfulness. For people who say mindfulness is tough, all they have to do is apply some of the things that you’re doing, because this is mindfulness. This is being in that present moment.
[0:18:17] GR: Yes. I was thinking, especially about smell, because the thing that’s fascinating about smell is like, you can’t let yourself on smell. You can’t bookmark it, you can’t save it for later. Like you can experience it right now, and you can’t even keep experiencing. It’s not like a song that you could listen to on a loop for three hours. Because of odor fatigue, it will fade out. You can only experience it right now. You have to appreciate it right now, because in a few minutes, it’s going to fade out, and you’re going to lose it. I think it is this call to what is happening to you right now, in this moment. You can listen to a recording of a sound bath, that is nothing like the experience of lying on the floor with your eyes closed, while someone is actually striking, singing bowls in your presence.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the recording of a sound bath, but it doesn’t at all replace what the actual, that moment, the mindfulness, and the intensity that that moment would have kind of in real life.
[0:19:13] PF: Yeah. One of your most interesting, I’d say experiment, was that you went to the Metropolitan Museum every day for a year. First of all, what an incredible commitment, because I don’t think there’s anything other than going to the bathroom, and eating, that I can do every day. I can say, definitively, I’m going to do that. First of all, what made you commit to an entire year of that, and what happened as a result of that experiment?
[0:19:40] GR: Well, the thing is, I keep doing it. I love it so much. I have never stopped, so that years long over, and I’m still going every day. And I have to say, of course I recognize that I’m so extraordinarily fortunate that I have the time, and the freedom, and I live within walking distance. Because I’m a member, I live in New York State, I can go for free, though I did join as a member to support the museum, given that I was going all the time. But, you know, I’m very drawn to repetition and familiarity, like I’m very interested in how experience has changed through repetition and familiarity.
I also, I find it easier to do something every day than to do it some days. I’m kind of an all or nothing kind of person. Then, that also to me, I don’t know if there are things like this in your life, where it represented to me kind of this treasure trove that I wasn’t reaching out this experience that I could have. But that just sort of out of neglect, or inattention, or whatever, I just wasn’t availing myself of it. It was really exciting to me to think like, “I’m really going to make the most of it.” I’m so incredibly fortunate. Why am I not doing it? If I moved away from them, I knew I would be full of regret, thinking, “Why didn’t I go to the Met every day when I live within walking distance?” I didn’t do it. I was very excited about it.
Indeed, the experience changed dramatically over time, as I became more familiar with the Met, and it continues to change to this day. I mean, I think that’s why I sort of have never stopped, because it never feels like it’s over. It still feels like, oh my gosh, I’m still in the middle of this experience. This experiment. I want to keep going. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the end of it.
[0:21:17] PF: I think, someone who hasn’t done that, the fear might be, “Well, I’m going to just start seeing it like I see the rest of the world.” Like, “Oh! Here I am at the Met again. That’s not the case for you. Why is that?”,
[0:21:29] GR: Well, you’re exactly right to point that out, right? Because anything that’s familiar can just fade into the background wallpaper of our life. I think that is a great challenge. One of the things that I do do is like, when I’m there, as I walk through the doors, I’m like, “I’m here now like.” That’s part of what is a beautiful relief about it, because I really – I’m like – it lets me step out of myself. It’s a time – if I’m in a really bad mood, I love going to the Met, because it’s just sort of like, I just put it aside. It’s not like meditation, where you’re really disciplining your mind and your attention. It doesn’t mean this is recess. I’m not making any attempt to discipline my mind.
I do just sort of say like, “Well, I’m just here. I’m just going to explore. I’m just going to play around. I’m not going to think about my to-do list, or like that annoying email that I have to answer, or anything like that. Just going to let my mind go into this building.” It gives me sort of a respite from my day, kind of a quiet, and sort of the cacophony of my inner chatter. It really is a relief, and I always leave just feeling very energized, much calmer. And just a sense of perspective, I think looking at beautiful artworks, it just gives you a sense of perspective, just this vast history. One of the things that was interesting to me, as I thought maybe like this was a very idiosyncratic thing. But I think some people really are drawn to this, I heard from many people who did their own version of it. A lot of people will take the same walk, like they will do exactly the same neighborhood loop, or the same hike.
Part of what’s fun is like, if you look at the same tree every day, you really notice the season’s changing. Or if you’re watching a build – somebody said like, “There’s a building was being built.” That’s interesting. Like, “I’ve seen the building being built.” Sometimes people like to take a picture, like sunrise over the river every day at 7am. Like there’s something fun about having that collection. Somebody told me that he goes to the CVS drugstore every day. I thought, I totally get it. There’s a lot going on.
[0:23:19] PF: CVS is like a disco or something.
[0:23:22] GR: I mean, what’s going – there’s always, you’re like, what are they selling here? Who’s buying this? What’s the holiday display? What’s on sale? There’s a lot happening. There’s a lot of people doing odd things. There’s a lot to see. He said, he got to know the people who work there. For him, it was also kind of a point of connection. I think that this idea of doing something every day, the world reveals itself in a different way. I think you’re exactly right. You can’t let it just become a checklist on your to-do list where you’re racing through it. Like in your mind, you’re packing for your weekend trip. You have to say, this is about the experience of what do I see, hear, smell, taste, touch along the way. I’m really going to sink into that experience and use it as a way to connect with myself through my five senses.
[0:24:06] PF: That’s terrific. As we tune into our five senses, you really bring out the fact that we each have different dominant senses. I was so happy to learn that it’s actually feasible. It’s an actually reasonable thing to turn down the stereo when you’re driving the car and you want to see better.
[0:24:23] GR: Yeah. Want to see the road, yeah.
[0:24:26] PF: I felt vindicated. If you’re going to tune into your senses, do you go for one that’s already dominant and refine that? Or do you go for maybe something that’s a little bit weaker, and try to build that up?
[0:24:38] GR: Well, I think you can do both. I think we all should do both, because there’s so much fun to be gained. But I do think there’s a special power in thinking about your neglected sense. I’m going to have a quiz to help you identify your neglected sense if you’re not sure, so stay tuned for that. I can’t wait to unleash that. Because with the neglected sense, you have all this low hanging fruit, because it isn’t a sense that you have typically been exploring, or learning about, or talking to people about, or looking for ways to broaden your experiences with it. You might be more tuned into kind of the negative of it than the positive of it. You’re really aware of loud noises, and clatter, and racket, but you’re not thinking about like, “Well, how can I cultivate silence, or beautiful sounds, or music.” There’s a lot of potential, because it’s something that you have neglected.
I think it’s great to go deeper into what you already love. Like I love to go deeper into my sense of smell, which is one of my most appreciated sense, and it always has been. But I was – it was really exciting to have kind of that atmosphere of growth, around feeling like, “Wow, I really had not been dialing much into my sense of taste.” But even someone like me, who’s not really a foodie, and never really paid that much attention, there really is so much beauty and appreciation by really spending time on that sense that before I kind of overlooked.
[0:25:59] PF: When people start tuning into their senses, what is going to happen to them? How is the world going to open up and change for them?
[0:26:07] GR: Well, part of it is just fun. I mean, that’s the thing that I think is interesting is like, just think about sensory experiences. If I was like, “Hey, I’m going to come over to your house, and let’s make Jiffy Pop popcorn.” You’d be like, “That sounds so fun.” Or like, “Let’s make a non-Newtonian fluid out of cornstarch.” You’d be like, “Yeah, bring it on. What is that?” And you’re like, “That is bonkers.” I think it’s just the pure fun and the pure delight.
I do think it’s this, I mean, [inaudible 0:26:30] memories, of course, the senses are famous for their ability to spark memory. I think you do that. It’s a great way to connect with other people. So if you’re looking for a way, like maybe you have a grandchild, or you have a friend, or you have a team at work, and you’re thinking like, “How can I draw closer to these people in a way that feels fun and intimate? But maybe not personal and revealing? Or, maybe we’re a very different ages, and so what would be fun for both of us? Or, we don’t know each other that well.” It’s like, tuning into the senses, it gives us something. We’re sharing this right here, right now. It gives us a lot in common, a lot to talk about, a lot to engage with, a lot of –
I think that’s why you see people going out to meals together, visiting historical sites together, because sharing a sensory experience is a great way to connect with other people. It’s a great way to get energy, like we get energy through the body. You just walk through your kitchen and take a big whiff of vanilla, and you’re just going to feel good. Oh, here’s a drive by hack, by the way. I mean, you’re talking about the big things people get. Here’s a little thing.
One of the things about the sense of taste is, this is a sense, where a lot of people feel a lot of temptation, right? They don’t complain about like, “Oh, I really over indulge in my love of hip hop, right?” But people will be like, “Oh, I really do over indulge in my love of like doughnuts.” If you’re a person who, that’s kind of your go-to treat is, you know, you walk into the kitchen and you open up the fridge or a cabinet. Try instead of satisfying your sense of taste, think of a different sense, and do something to really like overwhelm and delight that sense.
Let’s say you’re a person who loves music, too. Well, you might say, “Oh, instead, I’ll listen to new music. I love listening to new music. I’ll try some new music. I’ll have a playlist of my favorite songs. I’ll go listen to one of my favorite songs instead of having a treat.” Or maybe you love beautiful texture, and you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to go – like feel some of my amazing yarns that I love to put my hands through. I’m going to use therapy dough, and really work it in my hands and get that feeling.” What I found is, that a lot of times, when another sense is very stimulated, then the desire to snack kind of fades away. Because you given yourself that jolt of energy, that kind of that boost that you need through a different sense.
So you can replace that weight with something that’s a healthier treat, if that’s something that you want. I mean, you mentioned this earlier. I do think this is a way for us to know ourselves better. One of the things that astonished me was how little I knew even about my own likes and dislikes. You’d think, of course you know what kind of tea you like. I mean, what can be more obvious, but I truly did not know what kinds of tea I liked and didn’t like, because I never paid attention. There were clothes in my closet. I didn’t even know what color they work, because I’ve never really looked. When you know yourself better, you can suit yourself better.
This is really important because people really live in extremely different sensory environments. This is really – I found it’s hard to wrap my mind around how different people’s sensory experiences, because you think – well, the world is the world. We’re all experiencing basically the same objective reality is just not true. Which is why it’s really important for us to show consideration for people who are having different sensory experiences. Just because I’m like – that smell is no big deal. Maybe for someone else, it’s intensely uncomfortable to be smelling that smell. So we really want to show consideration for each other. But also, when you know yourself, I’ve got an email from someone who said like, “Well, my son was diagnosed with autism, and I made kind of a to go pack for him with all these things to help him manage sensory overload.”
Then I realized, I need this for myself. Why am I doing this? I need one just as much. So she said, “I created something for myself, because I realized I need noise cancelling headphones because I get overwhelmed in loud places. I need peppermints to crunch, because that helps me feel grounded in my body. I think, when we tune into ourselves – oh, here’s a great question. Okay. When you’re focusing, what kind of sound environment do you like? Do you like music with lyrics? Music with no lyrics? Silence?
[0:30:22] PF: Nothing.
[0:30:22] GR: Busy hum. Ohm silence?
[0:30:25] PF: Yeah, which is crazy. Music is my go-to thing. but when I’m working, when I need to focus, I have to have complete silence.
[0:30:32] GR: But do you think that maybe you find music distracts you because you tune into it, you love it?
[0:30:35] PF: I do. I start thinking about work, and I’m going down, then I’m like, “Oh. Now, I gotta go listen to Take On Me, and then I got to –
[0:30:42] GR: I’m exactly the same way. I need to have silence. But then I know people who – they’ll listen to different music, depending on what kind of work they’re doing. I just was talking to somebody who listened to the same song over, and over, and over, and over for a whole day. That was the way he focused. My brother-in-law needs like busy coffee shop. He needs that kind of like bustle and hum.
Once you know that about yourself, you can really seek out that environment, because you’re like, “You know what. I work in an open office plan, I really need silence. I need to get myself someplace where I can get what I need to work effectively. Rather than thinking like, “Well, everybody else can work in this environment, so I should be able to too. There’s no right way or wrong way. But the more we understand ourselves, the more we can suit ourselves, the silliest things, it is by tuning into our own universe of sensations. We can really try to suit ourselves whenever it’s within our control.
[0:31:33] PF: This is such a fantastic book. I can see it being a great thing to do as a book club project, or as a family where you really take each sense, and you dive into it. Because it’s not something that you can just kind of read through and go, “Oh, that’s great, and put aside.” I mean, I think because you walk us through how you did it, you just as a reader want to get involved. It’s like, “Well, I got to try this too.”
[0:31:57] GR: I’m so happy to hear you say that, because in all my work, that’s what I aim for. I’m like, “It’s not that what I did is so important. It’s more like, somebody said, “There’s something about reading about you that makes me think about myself.” I’m like, “That’s exactly what I want.” It’s supposed to be like, I want everybody jumping out of their seat to be like, “Oh my gosh, I have to go play with some tinfoil right this minute.” Or like, “Oh my gosh, I am so excited to have my own daily visit.” I know exactly what – “I’m going to visit this fountain every day, and I can’t wait. It’s like, “That’s what I –” I’m so happy that you had that response, because that was truly my hope, is that it would make people like excited with all the possibilities for exploring their own sensory experiences.
[0:32:36] PF: I truly don’t see how you can read it and not have that feeling. Are you going to have more resources for people? I know you have your podcast. Are there other ways that they can continue this journey with you?
[0:32:48] GR: Absolutely. If you go to my site, gretchenrubin.com, I have a lot of articles there about sort of different, how can you use your senses for productivity and focus? How can you use your senses to calm down? Or all kinds of things like that. This neglected sense quiz that I’m very excited about. I have all kinds of resources. If you go to gretchenrubin.com, that’s really the clearinghouse. I’m on social media all over the place, just as Gretchen Rubin. I love to connect with listeners, and readers, with people. I feel like the world is my research assistant, because people give me so many ideas, and observations, and questions, and resources to check out. I love to hear from people about happiness and the five senses. You can get to everything through the website.
[0:33:31] PF: All right. We’ll make sure our landing page is going to have links, and it’s going to take them directly to your website, so they will be sure and connect with you. But Gretchen, thank you for sitting down with me. This is incredible book, as I said when we started, like I can’t believe it’s taken this long for somebody to say, “Hey, we need this book.” I’m so glad you figured it out. It’s truly eye opening. I don’t mean to pan on that. It is, it is such a fantastic addition.
[0:33:59] GR: Well, thank you so much. I so enjoyed having the conversation.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:34:06] PF: That was Gretchen Rubin, talking about the power of our five senses and how we can explore them better. We invite you to check out her new book Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World. When you visit our website at livehappy.com, you can download a chapter and even better, you can register to win a free copy of this groundbreaking book for yourself. We’ll also tell you how to find Gretchen’s podcast, website, and follow her on social media. Just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.