For Laura Rubin, happiness is equal parts hard work and fun—and those are not mutually exclusive.
The surfer and founder of communications agency Left Left Right (LLR) Consulting has a playful streak, driven by unchecked imagination. Since childhood, journaling has been a creative outlet for her, helping her to clear her mind and conceptualize ideas.
It was while drawing and journaling on the beach that she came up with a seemingly simple idea—lightweight journals with space for both artwork and writing. Ultimately, she launched AllSwell, a line of notebooks (an instant hit), but also began offering fluid workshops to spread the gospel on journaling and create community around creativity. The popularity of those led to AllSwell Excursions, adventures which integrate writing and the power of a change of scenery.
Here, Rubin describes her go-to activities to generate joy and tells us why she believes we all have unique gifts:
Live The Process: When did you first start writing? Do you ever look back at earlier journaling?
Laura Rubin: I was 8 years old when a family friend gave me my first journal, the kind with the little gold lock on the side. I started writing then and haven’t stopped since.
I keep all my old journals, but I don’t tend to revisit them much. That sounds about as fun as going for a swim in toxic sludge. For me, the daily act of putting pen to paper is cathartic. It’s often about getting what’s banging around in my head out on the page, discharging or processing it, so I am lighter and more focused.
When I first started AllSwell and needed a bio image for the website, I got all my old journals together and a friend of mine, who is a professional photographer, graciously shot them. We stacked them all up in a studio and gave them the star treatment. That image was on my “About” page for the first year or so and is as representative of who I am (or more) as any photo of my face.
LTP: What inspired you to start AllSwell and, later, journaling workshops?
LR: I came up with the concept for the notebooks when I was in Costa Rica on a surf trip with friends. It was midday, too hot to be out in the water, and we were hanging out on the front porch. I was writing in my lined journal and my friend was drawing in his unlined sketchpad. It occurred to me that there should be one travel-friendly, lightweight notebook with space for both activities. I just kind of noticed the idea at the time—didn’t act on it, but tucked it away.
Several months later, I was in Montauk doing a morning surf check, but there were no waves. It was a beautiful day and I was already at the beach, so I got out my beach bag, sat in the sand and journaled. I wrote “Swell or no swell, all’s well.” And that’s where the brand was born.
I strung these two ideas together and made the first batch of notebooks (printed in Maine on thoughtfully chosen materials). My philosophy is that creativity doesn’t occur in lanes or silos. I like to both write and draw and thought that maybe other people would appreciate having one place for both creative outlets too. Well, that first printing sold out. So, I did the second one.
I began hosting journaling workshops after getting feedback from consumers that they didn’t know how to journal or that they were “bad” at it. But there’s no bad; there’s just do. Since it’s always been a transformative and supportive experience for me, I wanted to make it accessible for more people. I created a curriculum and packed it with tools and tips, grounded it in all the astounding scientific data that exists about the benefits of a regular journaling practice.
The aesthetics are important. Usually, we sit around one long central table, which I consider a bit of an art piece. Gathering at the table is such a relatable ancient ritual, and I channel that into the workshops. The beautiful setting puts people at ease. We laugh, drink a little wine, write and read out loud to each other. Nobody has to share anything they don’t want to—it’s not school! It’s more of a clubhouse feel.
LTP: Do you find that this type of journaling helps you in your everyday work? How else does it enhance your life and/or help you?
LR: Absolutely, yes, it helps me professionally. I get some of my best ideas when I’m journaling or casually drawing (see above re: how I came up with the idea for AllSwell).
Journaling lowers my stress levels, increases creativity and focus, helps me sleep better, reduces anxiety, boosts immunity and generally makes me a more grateful, productive version of myself. It’s a remarkably accessible, inexpensive, analog tool. You don’t need Class Pass; there’s no app to download. Just a pad and a pen. If you want to use an AllSwell notebook, that’s great, but find the tools that work for you. The ritual that feels good is the one you’ll stick with.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
LR: I think fun is underrated, in general, and I’m pretty good at it. Some of my go-to elements:
- Go somewhere naturally beautiful.
- Do it with people you love.
- Have an adventure.
- Drink or eat something yummy along the way.
- Learn a little.
- Give back a bunch.
- Make stuff.
- Express gratitude.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
LR: Life is a learning process; we’re here to gain insight and grow. We’re all living that process. I think of people like gemstones pulled from the earth: At first, there is a raw beauty. Then, we become polished and faceted over the course of a lifetime (or lifetimes, depending on who you ask) to become more brilliant versions of ourselves. And each of us has unique gifts. A tiger’s eye is not like an opal, which is not like an emerald, yet they are all beautiful in their own ways.
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