This is the third book by Gretchen Rubin that I’ve read (I read The Happiness Project back in 2010 and Happier at Home in 2015) and my favorite so far. In this one, Rubin talks about how an offhand remark by her eye doctor (she’s there for a case of pinkeye; the doctor mentions that she’s “more at risk for a detached retina” because of how nearsighted she is) made her think about her senses, and inspired her to want to learn about them, focus on them, and appreciate/pay attention to them more.

When Rubin writes about how she moved through the world, she says this: “I didn’t make much effort to shape my experience, and I always chose convenience over pleasure.” I think of myself as making a lot of choices to shape my experience, and I also think of myself as being pretty good at choosing pleasure. But I also, like Rubin, can find myself “preoccupied” with “plans and lists”, or stuck in habits or routines. So I was interested to read about what Rubin learned about the senses in general, and about what she did to pay attention to her sensory experiences in particular.

The book focuses on what Rubin calls “the Aristotelian Senses or the Kindergarten Senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch,” in that order; it doesn’t try to cover things like proprioception. For each sense, Rubin talks a bit about how it works (like: all the things your eyes and brain do related to visual processing, or how the senses of taste and smell are connected), and a lot about her own personal experiments and experiences, which was the right balance for me and made this a really fun read. As part of the project of writing this book, Rubin also decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every day for a year, inspired in part by her love of E.L. Konigsburg’s classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (which is such a great book), and each section of the book also includes something about what she saw or heard or experienced on those daily visits. And within each section/for each sense, there are lots of ideas for things to do to focus on or play with sensory perceptions: taking a walk and trying to pay attention to trees, or hats, or dogs; trying miracle fruit/flavortripping; taking a shower in the dark; throwing a taste comparison party where people do taste tests of different unlabeled potato chips or sodas or whatever. I really liked reading about Rubin’s sensory explorations, and about how focusing on her senses taught her things about herself and also helped her connect with others.

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