Making Your Outdoor Time Better With Life in Five Senses (Gretchen Rubin, happiness researcher and author)

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Gretchen Rubin Humans Outside podcast

What would you find if you spent your outdoor time focused on experiencing life through your five senses? I don’t mean just soaking in the great outdoors by seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting, but by adding an intentional focus to explore what each of them adds.

That’s a question New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Rubin asks through her new book Life In Five Senses and is actively exploring through her own one-year outdoor challenge that she’s shared with listeners of her Happier With Gretchen Rubin podcast.

In this episode Gretchen sits down to chat with us about all things five senses, outdoor habits, what you find by doing the same thing every day — whether that be going outside of visiting a museum — and how you can use your five senses to make your life even happier. Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[3:05] Gretchen Rubin’s favorite outdoor space

[4:10] How Gretchen became someone who likes to go outside

[6:35] The problem of things taking effort

[8:47] Why Gretchen started her Life in 5 Senses project

[11:33] Does she still go to this place every day?

[11:38] How that practice is like a sit spot

[14:40] The freedom (and challenge) of doing something every day

[18:28] Gretchen’s favorite sense and how her experiment impacted it

[19:41] What do we lose when we ignore our senses?

[22:27] All about Gretchen’s daily outdoor project

[24:15] The difference between a chore and recess outside

[27:00] Why the freedom to choose your own rules is important (and hard)

[30:13] The inspiration for Gretchen’s project

[33:17] How her five sense are influencing her outdoor project

[36:19] Personal habits that make her outdoor time better

[40:21] Gretchen’s favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go, heading outside even for a few minutes is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and here at Humans Outside, we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while hearing from fascinating outdoor minded.

As a journalist for 19 years, I’ve let curiosity be my guide. After my husband’s injuries from military service, we started looking for a better way to live. That’s why we moved sight unseen to Alaska to see if an outdoor focused life was the answer. Since September, 2017, I’ve personally spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day no matter what to explore how nature can change my life. Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are while we work to do the same? Let’s go.

Back in 2017, when I first started my daily outdoor habit, that 20 minutes a day every day, no matter what, I knew I needed to present it to myself as a challenge, not just as a new habit. And I knew I needed rules or commandments, if you will, to make my challenge a success. Those were things like deciding I’d go out for at least 20 minutes and laying out that for me, sleeping in a tent counts as going outside, but driving with the window and the car down does not.

And why did I know I needed a challenge with rules? Because I had read Gretchen Rubin’s books, the Happiness Project, Happier at Home and The Four Tendencies. I knew that as what she calls an upholder, someone who responds equally to inner and outer expectations, I would be successful by setting my mind to a quote unquote challenge.

And because having commandments for her own one year happiness project gave her guide rails for making the most of it, I knew I needed those too. I was so excited about the project that at about a year or so in Gretchen and I even exchanged an email or two about my outdoor habit and what I’ve been working on here to share it with you.

What I’m trying to tell you is: Gretchen Rubin’s work has inspired me. So imagine my excitement when three years after I started asking you to join me on taking that 20 minute daily challenge via this podcast. She started her own 20 ish daily outdoor challenge for her fans and listeners of her podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. This month, she’s also launching her new book, Life in Five Senses, which explores how leaning into our five senses can transform our experience of life. All of that to say I am so excited to have Gretchen here with me today to talk about leaning into life through the five senses and how doing so impacting her own outdoor habit. Today Gretchen is gonna share tips, tricks, and takeaways for making the most of your senses as you ahead outside daily. Gretchen, welcome, welcome to Humans Outside.

Gretchen Rubin: I am so happy to be talking to you. Thanks so much for having me to talk about one of my favorite subjects going outside.

Amy Bushatz: Yes. So we start our episodes imagining ourselves with our guests in one of their favorite outdoor spaces, like we’re hanging out, having a conversation somewhere that you like to be outside. So where are we with you today?

Gretchen Rubin: I live in New York City, and so my favorite place to be outside is Central Park, and my favorite place in Central Park usually is Bethesda Fountain, which is this beautiful fountain where you can sort of stand up high and look down on it. But it is also the season of blossoming trees in Central Park. So now um, being underneath the beautiful magnolia trees or cherry blossom trees is also my favorite place to be.

Amy Bushatz: So if we are going to, I don’t know, pivot this to senses um, you, what you have is sight and sound and smell going on here. Just sort of like a big package deal with the blossoms and the sound of the water and just seeing it, all that color. Just great. So.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah, and then you can feel things too, like you can touch the bark of a tree or the metal railings or leaves and so, which I’m a big toucher so I will often do that, just like reach out and just, you know, people say, don’t touch. I’m like, I touch all the time. I’m a grownup. I can do it.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, absolutely. So how did you become someone who likes to go outside and hang out by this beautiful fountain and blossoms in central.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, you know, so many good things happen when we go outside. I mean, I don’t need to tell you that. And um, in my long study of happiness, it’s just sort of you can bundle up so many things when you go outside. You’re getting light in your face and that’s really good for your immunity, your mood, your sleep just all the circadian rhythm. You’re probably exercising even if you’re just you know, walking around the neighborhood walking your dog the way I do. Or even if you’re just taking a cup of coffee and sitting in your backyard, like you’re just, inevitably you end up kind of moving around more. It’s connecting to nature. I think a lot of us feel like we’re trapped behind our screens all the time, and being outside puts you in nature. You feel the weather, you feel the wind in your face, you the changing smells and, and it’s, you know, it often connects us to more transcendent feelings, like looking at a sunset or the sky or watching the birds. These just tie us to sort of the great rhythms of nature and put helps put our, you know, our ordinary kind of irritations and grievances into perspective. Because you’re reminded of the great patterns of nature.

Amy Bushatz: Was this something you always gravitated to or is this a adult life learning?

Gretchen Rubin: I know, I am such a couch potato. I am a kid where my parents had to like, like specifically kick me outside because I would just stay inside and read all day long if I could. But I always did enjoy being in the outdoors. There was a tree in front of our house when I was growing up that had this very complicated set of roots, and for some reason, I just found these fascinating. So I would just like water the tree and make these like tiny waterfalls and little landscapes. So I did sometimes go outside, but I didn’t sort of consciously understand that it was an element that I had to purposely include in my life and make sure that it didn’t drop out. I don’t know about you, but one thing I find is like, we’ll have something that makes us very happy and then somehow something changes and it drops out of our schedule and we don’t notice it maybe for five, 10 years. And you’re like, oh, wow. Oh, what happened? I love being in a book group. But now that that leader left, we haven’t gotten together for 10 years. And so I do think it’s helpful to consciously acknowledge that something’s important. So like you say, you can put it on your calendar, you can make a challenge out of it, or whatever that would look like for you so that you don’t sort of accidentally forget to do something that’s really valuable.

Amy Bushatz: Well, it’s because it, things take effort and.

Gretchen Rubin: They do.

Amy Bushatz: Just not doing them is so much easier.

Gretchen Rubin: Yes, they take effort, they take time, they take a little bit of planning often. Sometimes you have to deal with other people’s time and effort and energy or you know, their schedules. Yeah. So you really have to put some effort into building it in often.

Amy Bushatz: It’s like one of those things, like you have kids and you maybe sing the same song to your child every night before bed, and you’re just, they’re mom, come sing to me. You’re like, oh my gosh again. And you go do it. And then one night they stop and you think, oh, thank God I don’t have to go sing. And then, pretty soon you realize I haven’t sung to my kid in a year and a half and I really miss that.

And now that’s over and gone. And that’s sad. And having that moment where you just appreciate the things, even like the good things about something that take a little effort.

I was ski- skiing yesterday and I wrote up the lift with a lady who was looking like she had, was having a blast, and she told me that she had not been skiing since the 1980s and she couldn’t figure out why. She lived in Anchorage, she just didn’t go. And it just wasn’t a part of her life pattern. It’s a kind of extreme example of what you’re saying, like you real wake up one day and realize, I really enjoy this thing and I just haven’t gone and done it. But going skiing takes a lot of effort, so much effort, and that’s what we talked about In the lift.

Gretchen Rubin: Right. Well, I mean very much the same way. There’s like a joke, my sister lives in Los Angeles and there’s a joke that nobody in Los Angeles goes to the beach. And a friend of mine was a surfer and he deliberately, like when he moved to LA he deliberately lived like within 10 minutes of the beach because he’s like, otherwise I won’t go, because nobody goes. And so it is one of these things where you think, well, why wouldn’t I do this? I love it. But it just doesn’t happen. It just falls out. And yeah. So I think it’s really good to explicitly acknowledge that something’s important to us, will make us happier and healthier. And so it’s, it there’s a priority to it.

Amy Bushatz: Absolutely. Well, you love a challenge. And as I mentioned, that’s something I personally relate to. I’ve been inspired by your other challenge. Your new book explores a challenge of leaning into your senses for a full year. So in exploring each of those in turn, why this challenge? What brought you to the moment of, huh? It’s the five senses for me now.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, you know, for me it was really like this kind of shock an epiphany that I had. So I, I get pink eye fairly regularly, I guess I’m susceptible to pink eye and whenever it was worse, it wasn’t going away. So I went to the eye doctor and as I was leaving, he said to me, very offhandedly. Well, you know, be sure to come in for your regular checkup because as you know, you’re at greater risk for losing your vision. And I was like, what are you talking about? I did not know that. Wh why? And he said, oh, well, you know, you’re very severely nearsighted and that means you’re at greater risk for having a detached retina. And if that starts to happen, we wanna catch it right away, or it can affect your vision. And the thing is, I have a friend who had just lost some of his vision to a detached retina, so this felt very real to me. And so I walk out the door. I live, as I said, I live in New York City, so I was walking home from the eye doctor and I looked around and I was like, I did not notice one thing on my way here. Like I now, you know, very often it’s only when we’re faced with losing something that we really appreciate it. And it just made me realize, oh my gosh, my sight. I’m taking all of this for granted. I think it’s so important to me, but I’m not really looking at anything. And then it was like as if every knob in my brain just got jammed to the maximum setting.

And I could see everything with crystal clarity. I could hear every sound like on a separate track. I could smell every smell. I live in New York City, a lot of smells. I could smell every smell. It was like this psychedelic experience walking home and it just showed me that, you know, I’d been studying happiness for years, but I felt like there was something that was missing. There was some peace of the puzzle that I wasn’t grasping. And that walk showed me it’s connecting through to the world through my five senses, and that’s the element that I need to bring in.

So it was really this shock of being, of considering considering loss. And of course I know I could have a meaningful, full rich life if I did lose my, some of my senses. It’s more that I didn’t wanna take them for granted. I wanted to appreciate them while I had them, so that I wouldn’t regret later thinking, oh, you know. Why didn’t I take advantage of these senses.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Really intentionally leaning into what you’ve got while you’ve got it.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. And I have to make everything into a project. I you know, I have to do everything on purpose or else I just you know, stay up in a fog of preoccupation in my own head. So I needed to figure out a program to deal with the five senses if I wanted to really tackle it.

Amy Bushatz: I completely understand that. And as a part of your experiment, you decided to visit one place every day for a for a year. I, I, are you still visiting this place regularly?

Gretchen Rubin: Yes. Yes.. I visit the Metropolitan Museum every day.

Amy Bushatz: Still?

Gretchen Rubin: I’m so, I’m so yeah. Oh yeah. I’ll probably do that forever. I love it. I’m so fortunate because I have the time and the freedom to go and I live within walking distance, so I am incredibly fortunate also as a New York State resident, I can go for free. Though I did join as a member cuz I’m like, Hey look, I’m going every day. I should support the institution.

But you know, here’s the thing. I had lived within walking distance of the Met for years and I almost never went. And so, and for me, and maybe you’re the same, it sounds like we’re the same in a lot of ways. For me, it’s easier to do something every day than to do it some days. It’s more fun. Also, it’s more interesting and it’s also just kind of easier because then it’s just part of every day. Except for Wednesday, because the Met is closed on Wednesday. But yeah, and I was just very intrigued to see how the experience would change through repetition and familiarity. I’ve always been very interested in repetition just. In a lot of ways and I wanted to see how the met would change as I went over and over again.

Amy Bushatz: That struck me as so interesting in your book, which I just read because that is a very common thing for people who go outside. Uh, If you are forest bathing or this practice of visiting the same spot as a sit spot every day. And I was like, oh my gosh. It’s a sit spot, but it’s a museum, sort of, it, you know, very related though.

Gretchen Rubin: Um, wait, so I don’t know that term sit spot. So explain that.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So in forest bathing you would have a sit spot. So it’s literally somewhere, a spot that you sit and you sit there and you notice. And, the more you visit, the more you notice. Just as you have experienced. And if you go there every day, you might start noticing different things and you are just being in the same nature spot. Over, and over and over again. And so people who do this practice may do it for a period of month, maybe longer. They may stay there five minutes there. There are no rules. There are some best practices and, and I am not a certified forest therapist, but this is a concept that’s been introduced to me by some people who are.

And it’s fascinating to me because if you can imagine, you go, let’s say your sit spot is against a lovely tree where you and I would very much like to read a book, and you go there and you’re just noticing. And as the season changes, so does the things around the tree. Or even in a week things change around a tree and you can just take it in and have this sort of meditative noticing practice that is just so beneficial.

Now, I will say, I hesitate to do this because I like variety. And because I prefer to go on a walk on the same path every day. Sort of like you, what you do with the Met. Also, I’m afraid that if I do this, that I like, I talk myself out of it, right? Oh, I know. I will go to the sit spot, then it’ll be cold, then it’ll be January, then I won’t wanna do it anymore. So on and so forth. It’s, you know, the future keeps me from the now, but it’s very similar to what you’re talking about with the Met that you go and just notice in a same repetition.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, absolutely, and I think that the point you’re making is really important, which is no tool fits every hand. And I think people sometimes are like, well, this is the way you should do it. Somebody said to me, well, if you’re gonna go to the Met every day, what you have to do is go and look at a painting or an object for like a half an hour. That’s the way you have to do it. And like, I don’t have to do anything, you know what I mean? That’s your way of visiting the Met. It’s not the only way of visiting the Met. Maybe I would like to do that one day, but so far I have not wanted to do it that way. And I think you’re right. It’s like a sit spot, I’m sure for some people is an immensely attractive idea. And for others you’re like, well, I’d rather be in motion. I don’t wanna sit. Or I know that over time I would drift away from that in a way. You know?

And I, And I think, I think that sometimes people. Think about themselves, they sort of think, well, other people can tell me the right way or the best way. Or if it works for you, it will work for me. Or if it doesn’t work for me, there’s something wrong with me.

Instead of saying like I don’t, I am a person who doesn’t meditate, you know, and you, and everybody assumes that I do. Cuz if you write about happiness, people think that you’re really into meditation. I’m like, meditation doesn’t work for me. And all the many people are like, oh, but Gretchen going to the Met is meditation for you.

And I’m like, I assure you it is not. It is not meditation for me, it’s recess for me. I’m wandering around, I’m looking at things. I’m doing whatever I want. I’m not trying to discipline my mind. Because that’s what I need. And maybe you’re the same, cuz it sounds like we’re the same. I needed le I need to let my mind off the leash. I, I don’t need more, more discipline and I, I don’t want that.

And so a sit spot sounds terrific and it would get at some of the same things like this idea of repetition and seeing things unfold over time. There’s like a fascination to that. But it’s, but there’s, there are many ways you could bring that or you could make it flexible so that I mean, maybe you’re a person who loves sort of creative expression and so you’re like, I’m gonna wa go on a certain walk and take a picture of the sun rising over a river, and then I’ll have this kind of picture image that I’ll do something with. And so for you, it’s about that. I wouldn’t wanna do that, but for other people that might be, make it very compelling.

So there’s all kinds of ways that we can take these aims and adapt them to suit our own particular interests and idiosyncrasies. Instead of thinking that there’s a right way,

Amy Bushatz: I’m 2035 days into going outside every day. Okay? So I can confirm for you that every day is a lot of days. And there are more than enough opportunities to follow that curiosity that you’re talking about. And try new things. And you could even try doing the same thing for many days in a row and there would still be a lot of days. And that’s not to take for granted like what you’re going back to on the senses. That’s not to take for granted what you have right now. But it also is freeing. So there is still many days. You could go to the Met on any day and decide this is the day that I feel like looking at a painting for 30 minutes.

Gretchen Rubin: Yes. But, and so I think you just hit on something so important and I don’t think everybody understands this, which is if you do something every day, no one day matters. And so you can do it short, you can do it long, it can be bad, it can be good, you can be bored, it can be disappointed, like it doesn’t matter. Because there’s just more and more more, more, more. And with something like Nature or the Met, it’s like it’s infinite, it’s vast, it’s limitless. And so it’s very freeing to think well, I don’t ha, I don’t have to come to this national park and drink it all in in one afternoon and like race from place to place. It’s like, you got all the time in the world, you got all the time you need. It can be big, it can be small, and there is, there’s something very freeing about that. And then you get to places you don’t expect to go because it’s just, it’s happening so often that there’s room for thing. Unexpected things to happen.

Amy Bushatz: Exactly.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah,. So yeah, there’s some, there’s something special about doing something a lot.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Totally agree. What is your favorite sense, and did that change over the year that you were exploring this?

Gretchen Rubin: Ooh, what a good question. Uh, My favorite sense, I think if I went into it, I would say that my favorite sense was smell. I’m very wired for sight, but all of us are wired for sight. That’s how we’re hardwired. That’s just the site has the most real estate in the brain. We just draw on site all the time. But I do love smell. I’ve always loved my sense of smell. And so, I think I get much more pleasure out of it because, you know, the more we know, the more we notice. And by sort of learning about my sense of smell I appreciate it much more. One of the things that’s interesting is well, part one is it’s hard to know your least favorite. So I have this quiz now, which you can take, which will tell you your neglected sense, which is the one at the bottom.

And that’s good to know because that’s where you have all this low hanging fruit. Like I loved learning more about my sense of smell, but really my neglected sense is taste. And so it’s really like I almost gained more because I had more room to go with taste. So it’s really useful to know about your neglected sense, because that points out to you, well there maybe there are all these opportunities for learning or enjoyment or comfort or pleasure that you’ve been overlooking. But there is, but your most appreciated sense really is still is like, there’s something special about that sense too.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. What are we missing when we take those things for granted? When we don’t stop to notice them? When we just say, this is my neglected sense and I’m okay with that.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, I think we just lose the opportunity to make the world so much more rich and vivid and to get so much more pleasure and connection from it. So ta say taste I’m just not that interested in the sense of taste. But I thought, well, how can I use it? And I’ve never been, and maybe it’s part of this is like I love seeing friends and everything, but I never really feel like having a dinner party or whatever cuz I may, and maybe because I’m just not that interested in taste, but I thought, well how could I, how could I come up with a way to tap into taste in a way that would be social and connect me with other people, but maybe not the dinner party, which is not that attractive to me.

So I had a taste party and I had, and I also went to Flavor University for a couple days and we did all these taste comparisons and that was by far my favorite thing. I love taste comparisons. So these friends over and I had like, You know, mystery samples of like four varieties of apples and varieties of chocolate and a mystery beverage. And everybody had to like rate it and discuss it.

And it was the most fun ever. And it was just this different way to tap into a sensory experience and really revel in our sense of taste together. We, we talked about our memories. We were just like laughing and joking around. All these disagreements, you know, about what matters. Turns out some people are super focused on mouth feel and texture. Other people don’t really care. I love things that are sweet. I’m not that very interested in taste, but I do have a, like a really strong sweet tooth. Other people like have a much lower bar for sweet. And it was just super fun and it would never have occurred to me to do something like that if I hadn’t said to myself, Hey. How can I tap into the fun of my sense of taste and its ability to draw me closer to other people beyond the conventional, let’s go out to dinner together, why don’t you come over for dinner? And really lean into it, and it was just so much fun.

Amy Bushatz: Hey humans, just a quick break to remind you that if you wanna build your own outdoor habit, the Humans Outside 365 Challenge is a great way to get started. Cool and exclusive Challenge swag, including a finisher, metal, and decal is waiting for you. All you need to do is visit Don’t get left out. Go to to learn more now. Okay, back to the show.

So, of course we wanna talk to you about your senses and how they’re working with your current yearly challenge, which is to go outside 23 minutes a day in 2023 or 23 and 23. Now you’ve did walk 20 and 20. Last year you did rest 22 and 22. There’s a theme here, obviously. So

Gretchen Rubin: Read 21 in 21.

Amy Bushatz: Read 21 in 21. Yes, exactly. So how do you typically spend your outdoor time and what is your favorite thing to do?

Gretchen Rubin: Uh, Well, my favorite thing to do is to walk in Central Park. One of the things that I realized is that, you know, if you like, cuz I live in New York City, I thought of myself and I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, so I’m not a lifelong New Yorker.

I thought of myself as being very urban and not a very outdoorsy person. But then when I started talking to other people, once we started this go outside 23 in 23 challenge, what I realized is that actually in New York, we spend a lot of time outside because of like public transportation and just, it’s like instead of jumping in my car and driving to the drugstore and going out into the drugstore and then driving home, I walk six blocks to the drugstore and I walk home.

So, you know, that’s time outside. So just for me, I realized I was spending a lot more time outside than I had realized, which was actually great. You know, I think sometimes we get so focused on what, on the to-dos that we don’t give ourselves the ta-das. And so I was like, wow, I’m doing lot better on this already than I realized.

So that was sort of a, a like a, a good thing to realize just because you, there is so much benefit from being outside. But I do prefer to have 23 minutes solid outside. So I’m really having, it’s not just like part of running errands, but really it’s its own activity. So sometimes I’ll walk you know, sort of for 15 minutes, sort of up and down a long avenue.

I love to look into shop windows. Or I will go into Central Park and walk around, you know, just about every day I go for a walk in Central Park and, but interestingly, I almost always do the exact same walk, so I definitely have somebody who’s drawn to doing the same thing every time. Even though I have all the beauties of Central Park at my disposal, I’m like, and yet I always feel like taking the very same walk and so those are the, that’s how I like to do it.

Amy Bushatz: What what you’re striking on is the difference between a chore and recess, as you said earlier, that walking to and from the drugstore on this task is sort of a chore. And you’re outside, but you’re not there to be outside. You’re there by virtue of the fact that you had a chore.

And when you are walking in Central Park, it’s what you referred to as recess earlier, where you’re giving yourself that chance to be intentional about being outside and to notice and, you know, talking about five senses, use all of them for that experience. And in, in my experience and talking to many people who go outside, the difference is one is restorative and the other one is a task. And I, there are lots of examples of that in the world. You know, eating can be a task or it can be very restorative. We have to eat to live. Or you could eat to enjoy. And the difference is in how you approach it and maybe in what you are receive. You know, a fancy meal feels is still nourishing, but it feels different than eating broccoli because it’s good for you.

Gretchen Rubin: Right. Right. You know, and it’s funny because the Go Outside 23 in 23 challenge is a challenge that I did on the Happier with Gretchen Ruben podcast, with my sister who’s my co-host. And, And so we were talking about it in advance, about kind of how we were framing this for ourselves and for other people.

And one question was, did the, did walking into the drug store count. Like you talked about, like does being in a tent count does being in your car with the window open count? Like you sort of have these questions of what counts? And we decided like everybody can make their own rules, but if they were gonna ask us what we considered counting, we would consider walking to the drugstore counting as going outside. Because we’re like, if he counts for you, it counts for you because there are a lot of benefits to being outside, even if it’s not this intentional thing. You’ve got the sun, you’ve got the emotion, if you start, you’re more likely to keep going. I think people who are regularly walking around are more likely to walk for fun than people who are just like really used to being like sitting and relying on their cars.

But I agree. There’s just a vast difference between doing something for pleasure and like really leaning into all of its delight than just like running from one place to the other. But but yeah, but there’s sort of no one right way to do that.

Amy Bushatz: No. No, there’s not. I get that question a lot, by the way, what counts And the answer is exactly what you said, right? Well, how whatever you feel like counts, counts. And, And I wanted guardrails as I mentioned earlier to understand what would count for me. And so.

Gretchen Rubin: Yes exactly, exactly.

Amy Bushatz: I love riding in a car with a window down, but it’s not gonna replace the other benefits I get from other things. Also, as we said earlier, every day is a lot of days, it’s all the days, and so you can have your outdoor time be a , . More chore feeling yes, sometimes.

Gretchen Rubin: Absolutely.

Amy Bushatz: And have it be restorative other days and that’s okay. There are no laws.

Gretchen Rubin: No, you’re out running around and you’re like, oh my gosh, I was on my feet for four hours. I was outside for half of that. Like of course that counts. Yeah. No, I think, but it’s interesting. I don’t know if you’ve found this, but people really want very strict rules. But then they break the rules and they give up. And I’m like, you can build inflexibility and or you, and you don’t have to do it the way somebody else does it. And yet I do think that there is this just sort of sense that there is a right way to do things. And I often feel that people are disappointed when I sort of say, well, like when I go to the Met, it’s like people really expect there to be this very strict set of guidelines that I follow for it to count as a visit. And I’m like, I could walk in the door and turn out and walk out. I can walk up to the front door and never walk through the door. I could just go up the big stairs and come back down. That to me, counts and people are like.

Amy Bushatz: Right, because it’s the practice of going, it’s breaking the inertia being in your office.

Gretchen Rubin: A hundred percent. It’s the practice of going very well said yes. I never thought of putting it that way. That’s exactly what it is.

Amy Bushatz: For my outdoor time, the reason I struck on 20 minutes was because I wanted to pick an amount of time that I felt would be beneficial. And there were studies at the time, this was, you know, several years ago that said 20 minutes was a pretty good amount of time. There have been more studies since, and so confirmed, yay.

But the other thing was, is that I had tried a little bit, like a pre challenge where between Memorial Day and Labor Day, I had said, I’m just gonna go outside every. And see how it goes. Can I do it? Because I had moved to Alaska and I wanted to be someone who went outside and then I found that I was not, that I was letting weather get in my way.

And so I thought, okay, let me see how this is. So for all of those days, I did, I went outside. I had some great adventures. We saw some new things. But there was at least one day when the weather wasn’t very good and I went outside. I just can so vividly remember this- probably because my senses were so involved. I’m getting wet, right? It’s cold. It smells like rain. I remember staying there watching raindrops drop into a cup of coffee, okay, scowling on my porch. It’s supposed to be the summer. What is happening here? And I stood out there for, oh, maybe five minutes tops. And I turned around and I went back inside. And I realized that if that’s how I acted on a summer day in a rainstorm, when things got real in January with negative 20 or whatever, I simply was going to not go outside very much at all. And so I knew that I needed some rules for me to keep my commitment to myself. And other than that, you know, like whatever feels good counts. So in January I bundle up. Also, if you’re gonna bundle up, you should at least, in my personal opinion, spend as much time outside as it took you to get dressed. So,

Gretchen Rubin: No I was just saying, I was just saying that, that’s part of the thing is just like the, just the proportion of time getting ready to time, you know, in activity yes, exactly. That’s a good rule. At least as much time as it took you to gear up. That’s right, for sure..

Amy Bushatz: That’s right. Yeah. Even-Steven. So you mentioned coming up with this challenge with your sister. What was the inspiration for this, for doing this challenge this year? 23 in 23.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, you know, I think there is just, I think people do like a challenge. And it’s funny, like sometimes there’s things that you know, you wanna do, but when there’s sort of the feeling like this is a thing and we’re all doing it and like we’re giving each other ideas and support and enthusiasm and it’s like something I could kind of get credit for, I’ve got a name for it. I keep getting reminded to do it. And one of the things we knew about our listeners of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast was that people really wanted to make more time to read. And as somebody who studies happiness, this was and somebody who loves to read. It was, this was very noticeable to me because I was like, If people love reading and they wanna read, why are they not reading like that to me was a very important question. And so I thought, well, if we do this, maybe this will help people find time to read. And it was just uh, no to Walk to wa well, read was 21 and to walk. And as you say, there’s just this enormous research about walking for 20 minutes as even apart from being outside. So we thought, well, let’s do it.

Well walk 20 in 20. And then it was the pandemic year. So this was just more like people just attached to this far more than we could even imagine because there was just so much restlessness and a desire to kind of, you know, do something that you could do and be part of something. So walk 20 and 20 was just hugely successful.

And the thing about there, there are all sorts of health benefits from walking 20. So we were hearing from people who like, their dogs were so much happier because the dogs were getting outside. Or they were like, or the people were getting off medication because they were getting this exercise or because they’d done a little bit, they could do more or just, or they were doing their spouses and now their spouses were off medication, like just all these following things.

Then we did read. Then by 22, we were like, everybody needs a rest. People are just like so frazzled. So it was rest. And then we thought, well, what are people really hankering for? And what we heard from people is they really wanted to find ways to get outside. They wanted it and that, and yet somehow they weren’t doing it. Just like you were saying, here I am in Alaska and it’s just not happening. So let’s put a little structure around it, a little bit of a challenge around it. Talk about like reminders, like there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing decisions, all that kind thing. Um, And so, and it’s just really fun. It’s very fun to like figure out what’s the yearly challenge gonna be this year? People are very worried what’s gonna happen in 2049? I’m like, we’ve got a plan for that, don’t worry. And like you say, don’t worry don’t not do something now because you’re like, 10 years from now, I can’t do it.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so crazy. Yeah. And, but I do that. We all do that. You know,

Gretchen Rubin: We all do, do that.

Amy Bushatz: Oh man. I can’t commit to eating healthy because in three years I may want to eat pizza. Well, yes.

Gretchen Rubin: Yeah. Well, cuz I wrote Better Than Before, which is my book that’s all about habit formation. I’m very familiar, there’s 10 categories of loopholes. Um, And yeah. And that’s there’s a loophole for that, which is why I can’t do this now is because I can’t do it later

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. There you go. So beautifully. Going outside and your five senses are such a perfect match. And so I’m wondering like how are your five senses in that experiment influencing your outdoor time now?

Gretchen Rubin: Well, part of it is, I’m just so much more aware because what happens with a lot of the senses is that, you know, they’re running in the background, but they’re very easy to ignore if we don’t pay attention. So one funny thing that happened to me in Central Park was once I started paying attention to smell and just really deliberately sort of saying, what am I smelling? What am I smelling? Oh, I’m by this pond. Can I smell the pond? Oh, I’m by this big pile of dead leaves. Can I smell the dead leaves? I’m walking by the carriage horses. Can I smell horses? Well, I was walking, there’s this walk, as I say, I do the same walk all the time for years, and I started noticing at this one corner, there was this very particular smell and then kind of, so first I sort of noticed it and then I noticed, wow, I’m really noticing it every single time. And then I was like, well, what does it smell like? And then I so tried to put words to it, which is can be tricky with smell. And I was like, well, what it smells like is kind of like apple cider. It’s kind of like this warm, spicy, very nice smell. Then I looked around was there a plant? Was there like a food truck? What was going on? Why did it always smell this way? It looked just like every other place in the park. And then I finally thought, why don’t I look it up on Google? It seemed so idiosyncratic, you know? But I thought, well, maybe other people have experienced it. Well, it turns out that the Met, I mean, the Central Park uses clove oil as a kind of pesticide. And so there must be like, they must be, this must be a place where they put a lot of this clove oil. So what I was smelling was clove. But I had been walking through that for years before I even noticed that I was.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah, what you’re talking about strikes me as mindfulness. You said earlier you don’t do meditation. But meditation and mindfulness, they might be neighbors, but they are not the same thing.

Gretchen Rubin: A hundred percent. I could not agree with you more. They’re often used interchangeably. And yeah, I think mi mindfulness is, is, is a much broader term than meditation.

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And mindfulness is using your senses and noticing that’s literally what it is. That’s all it is.

Gretchen Rubin: Yes, it Well, and I think, I think because I do, I really value mindfulness and I, and, but I, you know, I need a concrete way to do it and I think that going through the five senses makes that mindfulness more concrete cuz it’s easier to say like, what am I smelling? Than, ooh, let me appreciate this moment. It kind of gives you something to, gives you more framework. And of course many people use the senses in meditation. There’s a very famous 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 meditation, or people will like meditate while they like, watch a flame.

And so , these things do overlap and many people use their five senses in meditation. But I think, yeah, mindfulness is just sort of a much broader term about like intentionality, and noticing. But I wanted to do it in like a playful, unstructured, kind of fun way. And I think the five senses really make it very like playful and fun and energizing, at least for me.

Amy Bushatz: So we’ve talked, just talked about mindfulness, but are there any other personal practices you find especially useful for leaning into your senses or taking a special advantage of them during your outdoor time?

Gretchen Rubin: Oh yeah. Well, one thing that’s great is like a Five Senses journal. So this, I’m actually creating one of this, like that I’ll sell in my shop. But but I just created one like with the notebook, just wrote like seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and I would write down like a notable experience. Now, often those were things that were outside. They weren’t necessarily, but of course you could do it just for outside if you wanted to do it, to tie it to you’re going outside. But like it might be like, oh, I was walking around downtown and I heard church bells, or I was walking through the park and I smelled the daffodils.

Or I was, you know, standing on a street corner and I put my hand against the lamppost to feel like the bubbles under the paint. And then in just writing that down. And so partly it does help to kind of raise our awareness because when you know you’re looking for these notable experiences, it helps you to notice them because the brain is like flagging them as, Ooh, this is useful information.

You’re you need to fill out that page. And what I also found is, another thing that I, as a happiness researcher, I kind of, don’t do what I’m supposed to do, which is keep a gratitude journal. So much research about gratitude, which I a hundred percent believe in except, but I di for me the gratitude journal was not a useful tool. I found it very kind of annoying to keep a gratitude journal.

But what I found is that this five census journal really is a kind of gratitude journal because it’s, I feel like it’s my way of sort of paying tribute to the beauty of the world and all of the people and places and experiences around me. You know that if you’re like, oh my gosh, the fur on that cat was like the most unbelievably beautiful pattern of colors. That feels like a gratitude practice. But again, it feels concrete to me in a way that I find it much more satisfying. But it’s definitely a way to help as you’re going outside, to tap into all of the senses that you’re experiencing and then and in a very as you say, in a very mindful and attentive way so that, because you don’t wanna be outside and then just be thinking about your to-do list the whole time, which is absolutely something that happens to me if I’m not careful,

Amy Bushatz: Right, or looking at my phone. You know, I’ll get pinged by something. I get distracted, I pick it up and the next thing I know I’m there has actually been a time that I almost quite literally walked into a moose. Yeah.

Gretchen Rubin: Oh, really? Yeah, because I was Alaska. Alaska problems.

Amy Bushatz: Alaska problems, exactly. But I was 100% answering a text message and walking down a the path. And I looked up and I was like, oh my gosh. You know?

Gretchen Rubin: And then moose is like, what the heck?

Amy Bushatz: Exactly. So

Gretchen Rubin: How far do I have to go to get away from people at their phones?

Amy Bushatz: Exactly. So in New York City, you walk in front of a oncoming traffic. I, you know,

Gretchen Rubin: Oh yeah. Or a lamp post. This is a very common thing, like if there’s something about a lamp post that it can get like, right, somehow you know how some things can get right in your peripheral vision. So if you’re bent down to look at your phone, the lamp, like something straight in front of you is in that blind spot. I mean, I’ve seen people just can give themselves a concussion from walking into a lamppost. Yeah. And I’ve done it too.

Amy Bushatz: Well, maybe a moose is our version of a lamppost. You would be, they’re huge. But you would be shocked at how easy they hide behind things because they, from the side, it’s like very broad, right?

Gretchen Rubin: But aren’t they loud? Don’t they make a lot of?

Amy Bushatz: No, No. Not really, they’re just kind of standing there munching.

Gretchen Rubin: Oh, right.

Amy Bushatz: You know, and so on the side it’s very broad. But when you’re coming up to them

Gretchen Rubin: Sure.

Amy Bushatz: They’re very narrow.

Gretchen Rubin: It’s Well, and they’re, yeah. And they’re, they’re the color of nature.

Amy Bushatz: And they’re the color of nature.

Gretchen Rubin: They’re designed to blend in.

Amy Bushatz: Exactly. And so you’re, you kind of get this. You might get this feeling like this feels very moosey around here today, and you can’t really explain why. And then you’ll look around and be like, there’s like a moose standing behind a tree that you think is way too skinny for this. But there they are. And you only notice them because they happen to move and, yeah. Yeah. It’s, it is, it’s in the Alaska problem.

Gretchen Rubin: It’s like a Gary Larson cartoon. I picture this moose like hanging out, like smoking a cigarette where you can’t see them.

Amy Bushatz: Yes, precisely. Precisely. All right. Well, Gretchen, thank you so much for joining us. If you would walk us out though, describing maybe a favorite outdoor moment that you’ve had as just a final thing.

Gretchen Rubin: Well, speaking of Alaska, I have uh, amazing, I went a long, long camping trip in Alaska, but I was up at the tundras, so, I did not see, I didn’t see many moose walking around there.

But it was amazing. And the light and the, just the clarity of the air. And I remember the thinking like, well, speaking of is a tent inside or outside I’m a person who’s very susceptible to cold and I remember on the second night it occurring to me, wow, I’m not gonna be inside for a month. And I’m in Alaska and I was like, but that’s okay. I’m here for it. So anyway beautiful Alaska. It’s definitely one of the highlights of my all time highlights of my life in terms of being outside.

Amy Bushatz: Well Gretchen, thank you so much for joining us today on Humans Outside. I sure appreciate your time.

Gretchen Rubin: It was so great to talk to you.

Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. Help me out by leaving a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It really does help other listeners find the podcast too. Now go, get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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