Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin

My experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits


How I Do My Research: Is “Despite” Actually “Because?”

October 16th, 2015

Episode 147 of 540 episodes

People often ask me, “How do you do your research?” I’m a kind of street scientist. I don’t have a lab full of undergrads eating marshmallows to study; I rely on my own observations. Really, I feel more like Samuel Johnson or William Hazlitt or George Orwell, in the way that I analyze human nature. I love reading the science, and I think about the science all the time, but in the end, I pay the most attention to what I see around me. And what I read — not just science, but memoirs, biographies, novels. I tell people this, and they say, “But how do you draw any conclusions?” I can never think of a good answer. I just read a lot, talk to people a lot, take gigantic amounts of notes, and ponder. I look for patterns. Certain actions or remarks strike my attention, often for reasons that take me months to identify. But it did occur to me that I’ve hit on one very useful analytic technique, without quite realizing it. If I’m stumped by something I see, I substitute “because” for “despite,” and see if a proposition makes sense. For instance, one thing that puzzled me tremendously when I was writing

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