Gretchen Rubin Speaks About Habits and Happiness

January 31, 2016

by Katelyn Becker

WASHINGTON- Gretchen Rubin had lunch with an acquaintance and they began to talk about the person’s running habits. Rubin listened as the woman said that she used to exercise daily while running track in high school and she genuinely enjoyed the exercise. Except now, that person can’t motivate herself to run. That’s when Rubin became fascinated with the affect habits have on a person’s life. “I became determined to solve the puzzle about habits,” Rubin said as she began her book talk at Politics and Prose.

Gretchen Rubin, known by her sister as a “happiness bully” is the author of “The Happiness Project,” which sold millions and has been translated into 30 different languages. Her new book is called “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.”

Rubin is a graduate of Yale Law School where she was the editor of the Yale Journal. After graduating, she used to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She then realized that she needed to pursue what made her happy, which was writing. “I’m at my happiest when I’m at a library or bookstore,” Rubin said as she looked at the packed room of people. The writer drew such a large crowd on Sunday that many people had to stand and sit on the floor.


Rubin emphasized how habits shape our decisions. She said they “are the invisible architecture of our life.” Often these patterns govern our lifestyle in ways we don’t even realize. She said that when it comes to lifestyle changes, people often want to make a habit out of exercise or meditating. But even for the woman who enjoyed running in high school, “people just as often complain about things they love to do,” Rubin said.

Half of the battle is getting to know yourself and how you respond to expectations in your life. For people trying to stick to New Year’s resolutions, she said that it takes 21 days to make and break a habit. The biggest step to establishing a habit in your life is to understand how you react when you put expectations on yourself. If we can tailor how we set up new habits in our lives, it becomes easier for us to personally succeed. “What I’ve noticed is that these work sometimes for some people,” Rubin said about specific habit plans. Everyone is different.

The first thing that Rubin said you have to learn about yourself is if you are a morning person or a night person. Rubin said it’s a factor that divides us pretty accurately. Some wake up and can be productive, while others stay up until 2 a.m. pumping out work. Being happy means setting up your life in a way that enables you to succeed.

Rubin then spoke about the concept in her book that deals with vices. She said that in this situation there are two divisive categories as well. When people abstain from something (whether it be cigarettes or ice cream) there are two types of people: the moderators and the abstainers. The moderators can only get by if they allow themselves a small dose of the vice sometimes to keep them going. On the other hand, abstainers are all or nothing people and either can have it or they can’t have any. Rubin admitted she was an abstainer. “I’ve never had a half a dish of ice cream in my entire life,” she said. When trying to stop a bad habit, it’s important to understand how you can chart it according to your tendency. “If you can’t do a little, try none,” Rubin said.

She also said to stray away from goals. If there is an activity you want to truly integrate into your life, then goals can pose danger. “Aiming for a goal is a great way to achieve a goal,” Rubin said. She explained that setting goals means there is an endpoint and often people don’t make it a habit after they get to the finish line. She said with diets, people often set a goal weight and once they reach it, they go right back to eating how they were before. Rubin said it’s not about an end goal, “it’s about eating healthy forever.”

Finally, she described her book’s personality framework that has four categories of people. The framework is designed to assess how a person responds to expectations. There are the upholders that meet all deadlines and fulfill every obligation within themselves and put on them by others. There are the questioners that question every expectation and only do it if it makes sense. There are the obligers that only succeed if they have outer expectation and pressure from others but the inner desire is not there. Lastly, there are rebels who only do what they want. The majority of people are obligers.

Rubin said that the happiest people are the ones who know their tendencies, accept themselves, and implement healthy habits in a way that will work for them. For example, for an obliger personality, if they want to exercise, they should call up a friend or teach an exercise class.

To Rubin, the key to making happiness a habit is self-acceptance. Once we accept our personality traits, our tendencies, and the way we act under expectations, we can learn how to effectively implement healthy habits in our lives. Once you have the aims, you can set up your life in order to maintain healthy habits. It’s about “How can I get the world to suit me better?” Rubin said.


Leaning In at AU

January 21, 2016

By: Katelyn Becker

WASHINGTON- Caroline Jureller, a senior at American University, is showing women can run the world, and the workplace.

Jureller is the co-president of Lean In at AU, which is a global club that promotes gender equality through small circle discussions. Jureller and a recent graduate brought it to AU during her sophomore year. They formed the group after reading the book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg.

Caroline Jureller with Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Photo by Katelyn Becker

Jureller came to AU because she said it was “a place where students had a voice.” This feature became more important to her as she became an upperclassman and desired leadership. When her friend approached her to form a “Lean In circle” at AU, Jureller said, “yea absolutely.”

Since her sophomore year she has organized small groups called Lean In circles where women and men can talk about the gender issues they face at work and on a daily basis. Jureller said she became passionate about gender equality when she came to college and while interning felt the gender imbalance among her coworkers.

Regarding career choices, “a lot of women take themselves out of the game before they’re even playing,” Jureller said. In the book Sandberg wrote about a woman who was scared to apply for a job because she feared it would interfere with marriage and children. The kick was, the woman wasn’t in a relationship yet and wasn’t a mother.

The book is relatable for both men and women according to Jureller. “Women can’t succeed without the help of men,” said Jureller. She explained that women are often too afraid to speak up, then men become unaware of the challenges women face.

Jureller described that gender equality also relies on the way women view themselves and their goals. She said that many women doubt their abilities. “I used to ask myself why” and after reading the book, “I started thinking why not,” Jureller said.

To her, the most exciting part of being involved is the global reach that Lean In circles have established. After attending a Lean In conference in California, Jureller realized tens of thousands of women were attending these circles from the Middle East, to China to the U.S. military.

Outside of AU, Jureller has started circles at high schools back home in New Jersey. Her job after graduation even has a Lean In circle at the office. She also said that continuing her advocacy has a lot to do with the way she views women on a daily basis. Jureller said, “women helping other women is something I take with me in every single setting.”

Click to join or start a Lean In circle!

The Pope Graces D.C.

September 23, 2015

by Katelyn Becker

WASHINGTON-Pope Francis drew a diverse and lively crowd during his parade down Constitution Avenue on Wednesday. Although the audience only caught a quick glimpse of the white cloak, they traveled from across the country to see the pope drive down the street in his pope-mobile.


The crowd was buzzing with excitement and chanting. Men, women and children tightly packed the edge of the silver fences lined with policemen.


Kent Linton, high school senior, traveled to D.C. from Indianapolis. Linton attends Guerin Catholic High School. He said he flew to the east coast to see the pope with his friend, his principal and the school’s chaplain. Linton was standing in the crowd waiting for the parade to start while straddling his backpack and traveling bag between his feet. He said the people next to him were chanting Pope Francisco! Linton was excited for the pope to arrive and said, “the fact that he came to the U.S. shows his caring capacity and expanding influence.” Regarding the momentous day he said, “Am I really feeling this right now? It’s surreal.”


Brother Solanus Joseph traveled from Boston to see the head of the Catholic Church. Joseph was wearing a long brown rope, and he was bald with a long beard. Joseph said he was a brother of the Franciscan order after a recent conversion. As he waited for the papal parade to start on the mall he said, “I hope to get many blessings.” Joseph said he was hoping that Pope Francis would address issues about families and same sex marriage on his visit to D.C. Joseph was eager to see the pope this week and said, “Iprotestor.jpg want to get to know Pope Francis and love him.”

Not all people at the parade were in support of Pope Francis. Jessica Lamb, who labeled herself as “a follower of Christ,” was standing on the lawn with a large poster. The poster had Obama and Pope Francis’ pictures adorned with devil horns. She said, “I am here to protest the Pope and Obama.” Lamb said she was angry with the Pope for allowing same-sex marriage and abortion. (Check out some of Pope Francis’ views on social issues!) Her goal she said was to “save some souls of people who are destroyed by a lack of knowledge.” After talking with her, three security guards asked her and her group of protestors to exit the premises. One of the security guards said, “She was not contributing to the joy of the event.”



As Pope Francis drove down the street, people screamed with excitement. There was a sea of phones and cameras in the air as Francis traveled down the street waving at the American people.


Julia Nabarro of Maryland was wearing a blue and white Argentina jersey on the mall after seeing Francis. She said her parents are from Argentina and today meant a lot to them because of the pope’s background. Regarding Pope Francis she said, “It shows a great representation of the culture. I love that he represents a more touchy feely culpope.jpgture.” Nabarro said she was only disappointed that he did not speak Spanish. Even so, after going to a 4am mass in Maryland and waiting on the mall for the parade she said, “It was definitely worth standing for hours.” After seeing the pope she said, “I love that whatever belief people have, that everyone’s here to support.”


James Marker was a police officer that stood at the gates and faced the crowd along Constitution Avenue. He said that there were a couple of protestors but most people were enjoying the day. He was watching the crowd so he was unable to see the pope come down the street. Regarding the papal visit to D.C. specifically he said, “People always get a negative vibe with all the politics around here, but it was good to have someone uplifting come.”


Marie Serianni came on a pilgrimage from the diocese in Miami. Serianni took a 21-hour bus ride to come see Pope Francis in our nation’s capital. She came with a group from the churches in her area. Serianni said she wanted to see Pope Francis because “from the minute I saw Pope Francis I knew he was something special.” After seeing an article in her Catholic newspaper, she called the number in the article to make arrangements. After seeing the pope she said, “I feel so blessed, I really do.”


See the rest of Pope Francis’ agenda for his D.C. visit!

Lions and tigers and panda claws, oh my!

December 10, 2016

by Katelyn Becker

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WASHINGTON- The animals at The Smithsonian National Zoo are joining in on the holiday fun.

Zoo Lights, an annual event at The National Zoo in the Woodley Park area of Washington, fills the zoo with holiday cheer from Nov. 27 to Jan. 2 between 5 and 9 p.m.

In the spirit of the season, the zoo is decorated with more than 500,000 LED lights powered by PEPCO. The lights adorn the trees, bushes and animal houses throughout the zoo. Admission is free.

Senior Special Events Manager Dan Pierron said what makes him smile most is “talking with people; there’s a lot of people who turn this into a tradition.”

Pierron said staffers start wrapping the trees with lights in October and take a brief break for Halloween. Then in November they put up the dancing lights and animal displays.

On the Connecticut Avenue side of the zoo, the entrance is lit up with the words “Zoo Lights.” Visitors hear holiday music as they enter and see an array of colors on the trees and in the grass.

Pierron said Zoo Lights has become an annual event since the success of the first one in 2007.

“It used to cover only half of the zoo,” he said. “Now the lights go from one end to the other.” He said they added more lights, dancing trees and the laser show. There is even a “Panda Claws” dressed as Santa who will pose for pictures with guests.

The number of people attending has also skyrocketed from 35,000 in the first year to more than 200,000 people this past year.

There are also some special attractions along the walk — a carousel and a tubing slide, which both cost $3. There are gift shops and food stands.

Pierron said watching “the kids probably squealing” makes it a rewarding event.

The visitors’ center is not far on the left side after entering. It features toy trains and a display complete with a town built of Legos. There was a line of children on their tippy toes watching the trains.

The center also has a table of gingerbread houses. Various artists and local residents built the houses and most of them had animals made out of candy.

All of the outdoor exhibits are closed at night, so the visitors cannot see the animals unless they are housed inside.

In front of the elephant exhibit, there is also a laser light show. It is projected on the wall of the building and features a quick-moving laser animation set to holiday songs.

Kristen Long, a Maryland native, works a kiosk and the gift shop at the Smithsonian Zoo. She said she enjoys working under the lights during the holiday season.

Long was standing at her kiosk next to a heater. She said that the hats and gloves are the popular items lately because of the cold weather. Although the most popular item is the necklace that looks like a string of holiday lights.

“I used to work in regular retail and people are in a bad mood,” she said. But during Zoo Lights nights, “People are more positive.”

The zoo also features specialty nights like Brew Nights. This event was a paid night where people over 21 pay a flat rate for beer in tents around the zoo. The night also featured a dance floor and an outdoor bar. Pierron said that their main audience is usually families. With events like Brew Lights, he said, “We can reach young professionals and get them excited.” Upcoming events include Date Night and Military Night.

Liz Emanuel was standing alone near the carousel. “I’m actually on a first date,” Emanuel said at a recent Brew Night event.

She is a graduate of Wake Forest University and recently moved to the District. This is her first holiday season in the area and she had never been to Zoo Lights before. She said her date suggested it.

“It’s a nice break from the norm,” she said.

For more information about the zoo’s upcoming events: