Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Life In Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World by Gretchen Rubin

Life In Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World 
by Gretchen Rubin
Read by Gretchen Rubin
7 hours, 20 minutes
Published April 2023 by Crown Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
For more than a decade, Gretchen Rubin had been studying happiness and human nature. Then, one day, a visit to her eye doctor made her realize that she'd been overlooking a key element of happiness: her five senses. She'd spent so much time stuck in her head that she'd allowed the vital sensations of life to slip away, unnoticed. This epiphany lifted her from a state of foggy preoccupation into a world rediscovered by seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. 

In this journey of self-experimentation, Rubin explores the mysteries and joys of the five senses as a path to a happier, more mindful life. Drawing on cutting-edge science, philosophy, literature, and her own efforts to practice what she learns, she investigates the profound power of tuning in to the physical world. 

From the simple pleasures of appreciating the magic of ketchup and adding favorite songs to a playlist, to more adventurous efforts like creating a daily ritual of visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and attending Flavor University, Rubin show us how to experience each day with depth, delight, and connection. In the rush of daily life, she finds, our five senses offer us an immediate, sustainable way to cheer up, calm down, and engage the world around us-as well as a way to glimpse the soul and touch the transcendent. 

Life in Five Senses is an absorbing, layered story of discovery filled with profound insights and practical suggestions about how to heighten our senses and use our powers of perception to live fuller, richer lives-and, ultimately, how to move through the world with more vitality and love.

My Thoughts: 
I'm a big fan of Rubin's. I regularly listen to her podcast, Happier (which gave me one of my greatest rules - if it can be done in one minute or less, do it immediately) and this is the third of her books that I've read. Every time I read one of her books, I'm inspired to follow suite. In 2017, when I read The Happiness Project, I launched my own happiness project. To be fair, I never finished it, life having intervened; but I took away the idea that I should look for happiness in life with intention. In 2020, when I read Outer Order, Inner Calm, I was reenergized to declutter my home (8 months after I read it, my mom died, upending my life and ability to work on my own home as much as I wanted). Still, I have carried with me the golden rule from that book that there should be nothing in my home that I do not find to be useful or believe to be beautiful; whenever I'm working on a space, I bear this in mind and it has allowed me to part with things I was struggling to purge. 

As I was listening to Rubin talk here about how she came to realize that she was under appreciating her five senses, I realized that I was doing the same thing. We are all aware that we can see, smell, hear, taste and touch. But how often do we really think about what we're seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching? How often are we intentionally looking for ways to use our senses and to learn more about them? If you're like me, the answer is not often enough. As always, in listening to this book, I was inspired by Rubin to do better. 

Rubin always goes all in on her projects. Some of the things Rubin tried for this project were things that definitely seemed out of her wheelhouse (apparently I feel like I know her well enough to know what is and what isn't in her wheelhouse!), including a sensory deprivation tank and experiencing ayahuasca. Kudos to her for being brave enough to try them. They would definitely be a hard pass for me, as would be the three days weekend she spent in complete silence. But taking a perfumery course? I could see myself giving that a try. Has she convinced me to rethink ketchup? Maybe. 

I think that I'm pretty in tune with my senses; it's more a matter of being daily aware of them and working to expand them. For example, textures are something I'm keenly aware of and know what I like and don't like. Coconut? Might be ok as a flavor but I can't abide the texture. Microfiber cloth? Cannot stand the feel of it and refuse to use it to clean or sleep on it. Could I learn more about why I like or dislike certain things? Certainly. I love music, but not all music. What is it about some songs that I like and others that I don't? Taste - could I train myself to appreciate different spices more and to really be able to pick flavors out in foods? Probably and I'm surely willing to work on that. 

Will I start my own project to learn more about my senses? Probably not. I learned a lot about the senses from Rubin's own research, to begin with; and I don't have the bandwidth for it right now. I am going to try to be more aware, day to day, of the ways life around me impacts my senses and to go out of my way to find new ways to experience them. 

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