I became intrigued with Josh Foer’s bestselling book, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, because it’s a kind of “memory project.” As a consequence of researching memory, Josh started doing memory training and ended up competing in the finals of the U.S. Memory Championship.
Memory is extraordinarily important to happiness, and I was very interested to read a book about the science and history of the “art of memory,” and to ask Josh about his views on happiness.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Josh: Riding my bike. It doesn’t matter where I’m going. Just so long as I’m pedaling.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I keep the Jewish Sabbath, which is not something I did when I was 18. For 25 hours each week, everything gets turned off. No email. No phone. I don’t make anything. I don’t destroy anything. No matter how much stress I have in my life, it all evaporates on Friday night.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
You know that gospel song, “This Little Light of Mine”? I like that one a lot. Not so much the third verse about Jesus and Satan, but the rest of it. When I’m feeling really lousy, I try to remind myself that I’ve got a responsibility to allow whatever little light there is inside of me to shine.
If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
I talk to my wife. Somehow saying things out loud and hearing how silly they sound makes all the difference.
Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy—if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
As a kid, life felt like it moved in one direction. You’re always getting more privileges, more responsibilities, moving up in the world. What a revelation it was when, as a grownup, I discovered that real life isn’t like that. There are good months, and there are bad months. Better years and worse years. But there’s always regression to the mean. I think I’m still only just beginning to appreciate that.
Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?
My garage woodshop. I have yet to find a sadness that cannot be forgotten with a few strokes of a well-tuned hand-plane.
I'm a big fan of the work of Laura Vanderkam (and of Laura herself), and I can't wait to read her new e-book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.
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