I recently interviewed New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, which was fascinating given that I focus on grief and resilience and Gretchen tackles all facets of habits and happiness. Gretchen’s written the groundbreaking books, The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, and she also hosts the popular podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Her forthcoming book, The Four Tendencies (about the personality framework she’s discovered) comes out September 12, 2017. But Gretchen was actually the best person to highlight this time of year!
Being proactive about remembering loved ones can make us happier. I call this positive and transformational concept the “Reflection Effect” and I write about it in O, the Oprah Magazine, and it’s at the heart of my book, Passed and Present, Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. So, it’s with this in mind that I turned to Gretchen to find out how she’s derived joy and meaning from life after the loss of her beloved grandparents. As we spoke about resiliency and overcoming her personal losses, she also shared the importance of keeping a few cherished mementos and how certain smells (hot dogs!) spark comforting memories.
Allison: Harnessing loss and embracing nostalgia drives happiness, decreases loneliness, sparks creativity, and boosts resilience. Have you found this to be true?
Gretchen: Absolutely. One of the things that makes us happy is to remember happy times from the past, or to enjoy tender thoughts of someone we love. Christmas is a very big deal in my family, and my Christmas is happier when I take a moment to appreciate my grandmother’s old Mr. and Mrs. Claus salt-and-pepper shakers. Such small items, but they bring back a lot.
Allison: What do you know now about keeping the memory of your grandparents alive that you didn’t know when the loss occurred?
Gretchen: In my case, I’ve found that I remember odd, everyday details more than big events. For instance, I remember the fun of going grocery shopping with my grandmother, and how she’d buy my sister and me things that my mother would never buy. Pop-Tarts will remind me of my grandmother for the rest of my life.
Allison: Is there one memento that reminds you most of your grandparents?
Gretchen: I have a china pink flamingo that reminds me of my grandparents and their house in North Platte, Nebraska. It’s an odd memento, but when I was a child, I admired it so much – so when I was asked if I wanted to take anything from their house for remembrance, that was the thing I chose.
Allison: Where do you keep the pink flamingo (in private, out in the open)?
Gretchen: I keep it on a bookshelf where I see it every day.
Allison: What is the most satisfying way you’ve developed for keeping your grandparents’ memory alive (sharing stories, cooking certain foods, playing specific music)?
Gretchen: I’m obsessed with the power of the sense of smell, so I really key into the power of scent to help me hold onto memories. The smell of Lava soap, for instance, instantly makes me think of my grandfather. The smell of hot dogs cooking reminds me of how we’d take a picnic to Cody Park. I used to let these memories slide by, half-remembered, when I noticed smells that carried a memory, but now I use them as a way to spark associations from the past.