The Thrive Questionnaire//

The Thrive Questionnaire With Isabel Gillies

The bestselling author opens up about her morning routine, her relationship with her phone, and what inspires her most.

Jennifer Lee/ Harper Collins
Jennifer Lee/ Harper Collins

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Isabel Gillies is a New York Times best selling author of Happens Every Day, A Year And Six Seconds, and Starry Night. Her writing as been published in Vogue, The New York Times, Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, GOOP, and Saveur. A life long New Yorker and actress for many years, she lives in Manhattan with her husband, three kids, and two dogs.

In her Thrive Questionnaire, she shares what gives her energy, inspiration, and strength.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? 

Isabel Gillies: Half the time, I’m on early morning dog duty. I throw on something to disguise my PJ’s and walk Maude and Duke. The fresh air, be it frigid or gentle, is always a boon. Seeing people coming out of their buildings, dressed and ready for a new day, is moving. Everyone trying to participate in life. (The other half the time I drink two glasses of water, get back in bed, and wait for the kids to come say goodbye.) 

TG: What gives you energy? 

IG: Community! From PTA meetings to marathons to concerts at Madison Square Garden, the mojo of people working/cheering/singing together gives me huge bursts of energy. 

TG: What’s your secret life hack? 

IG: Noticing things I like. If I feel blue or stuck, I’ll look around for something to bring me a small thrill. Last week I saw a gigantic hawk sitting in a tree and it turned everything around — took my breath away. Even looking at the stout spice jars standing in a row on the counter will sort me out. There’s a lot right under one’s nose that can bring joy or serenity. 

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

IG: Heartburn by Nora Ephron. I read it when I was too young to understand the complicated pain of divorce — or lots of the grown-up things she was talking about, but her voice was as familiar as pie to me. As so many did, I felt like she was my friend — even at 16. Though I didn’t write my own books until decades later, her books were the first that made me understand writing could come from the truth of who you are. You didn’t have to write like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen to be an author. 

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? 

IG: In the name of honesty, I am going to say I sleep with the phone a foot away from my head. Ahhhh! So terrible. I do feel I have control of it though (she said like a defensive adolescent). It’s like I have a spigot for the phone. I use it and use it and suddenly, I just stop, can’t look at it for one more minute. It’s not that the value of the phone is lost on me, in many ways I find it friendly. I don’t believe I’m addicted, but I will say, if I could do this parenting thing again, the kids wouldn’t have gotten a phone until they were able to pay for it themselves. 

TG: How do you deal with email? 

IG: I try to answer it as it comes in. The phone is a bit problematic here because sometimes I’ll see an important email while I’m out and about, but perhaps have groceries in my arms or am rushing onto the subway. I’ll acknowledge the message in my head, and unfortunately, that will check some box in my brain that I have actually responded. Then I will forget once I get home. The sender never knows that while I was on the street I was mentally saying, “Yes! Thank you so much for having me.” 

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it? 

IG: Read a cookbook.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

IG: Sadly, it was around Christmas time. There is a weight during the holidays that uses energy. I don’t mind the heaviness, as much of it is profound and important. BUT when you add it to end of the year business and obligations — even fun ones — things can get wound up and short circuit. Not sure there is much to do about it. Maybe next year I’ll leave a little more time for self-care. 

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

IG: Oh dear, I fail so much! When I really notice failure is around my family. The worst pain is feeling you failed a loved one. We have three teenagers under the roof, and recently instead of speaking positively, I reacted with fear, worry and shaming to deal with a typical teenager issue. It was a missed opportunity on my part to be gentle and empathetic. I corrected it by apologizing and seeking counsel on how to do it better the next time. There is usually space to try again. 

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 

IG: “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” My father told me about that quote when I was getting divorced years ago, and now it’s my go-to. There are so many wonderful quotes in the world, I wish I could pick another one, but it feels cozy to hear Dad’s voice in my head, and I truly believe it is so important to try and find the light.

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