The subscription-box industry is blazing right now for a lot of reasons, but one of them is disarmingly simple: People like getting stuff in the mail. The real mail. Some little corner of your mind probably remembers the thrill of opening your mailbox to see birthday cards, comic books, baseball cards or (gasp) handwritten love notes. “For some reason,” entrepreneur Eric Walrabenstein says, “It’s hardwired into our psyches that we like to get surprises in the mail.”
It’s also hardwired into our psyches that we should strive to be better people than we are now. Enter BetterBox, a subscription box service Walrabenstein launched in July in the hopes of merging a relatively new field with the decidedly more traditional field of self-improvement. With BetterBox, as with services such as Stitch Fix, Birchbox or any of the other hundreds of subscription-box models, a package of goodies arrives on your doorstep once a month. But instead of clothes or socks or razors or beauty supplies, BetterBox aspires to address, well, you.
“Most of us weigh our attentions on things that aren’t going right,” Walrabenstein says. “As a result, our life begins to feel like it’s much heavier than it truly is.” As such, BetterBox is designed to gradually train people to gravitate toward the many blessings around them every day instead of the three or four problems.”
It’s a new twist on what is still a pretty new twist. The subscription-box boom is only a few years old, but it’s on fire. The Dollar Shave Club boasts more than 1.7 million subscribers; Birchbox—which sends out personalized beauty products—more than a million; and BarkBox, which sends a package for pooches, more than 200,000. It’s estimated that 500 subscription-box companies are fighting for space in your mailbox. And the personal development industry has lost none of its resilience: It’s worth about $10 billion a year.
But BetterBox, Walrabenstein says, sets itself apart by being less about stuff than an experience. To that end, each box is pegged to a different field of self-improvement: mindfulness, organization, gratitude, creativity, better sleep, paying it forward. (You can order individual boxes by theme.) Every morning you receive an email containing the day’s task, geared toward helping you reach that month’s goal. It might be as simple as writing a thank-you note. These little pushes of inspiration are designed to be small enough to be manageable but large enough to catalyze change.
“We recognize that everybody knows how to activate gratitude in their life, for the most part,” Walrabenstein says. “The trouble is, as busy as we are, we just don’t do it. So what we’re endeavoring to do with BetterBox is give people a simple path. Every day they get a reminder of one simple thing to do that will help them form a more positive habit.”
Walrabenstein thinks of BetterBox as a living personal-development book. “Most of us are walking around with an awful lot of good intentions,” he says. “But even people with the best intentions will go right back to their usual habits. We’re trying to dispense information and activities in digestible chunks. We’re really only asking people to do little things that fit in their lives.”
Walrabenstein arrived at the BetterBox idea thanks largely to his diverse background. A former U.S. infantryman, he came out of the service with a chronic back condition, as well as stress and anxiety issues that occasionally manifested themselves in full-blown panic attacks. A friend suggested a yoga class, and though Walrabenstein wasn’t a big new-age health guy, he quickly found himself drawn in. “I noticed right away that I was experiencing significant improvements in both my stress episodes and my back,” he says. Over the next few years he grew more curious about the deeper aspects of the practice. “My curiosity was strong: How is this supposed to work? How does standing around in funny shapes create happiness? I was interested in why these things were working, the hidden mechanisms behind the curtain.”
He began mixing those curiosities with his entrepreneurial bent. In 2001 he opened a studio called Yoga Pura in Phoenix; it became one of Arizona’s largest and the first to offer a master-level yoga teacher training program. As Yoga Pura grew, he found himself drawn more to veterans’ issues and launched BOOTSTRAP, a program that employs yoga and mindfulness to help vets deal with post-traumatic stress; to date it has produced 70,000 sessions. BetterBox, he says, came about when he began thinking about of ways to expand those principles to a larger audience.
“The interesting thing is that oftentimes what people need is not necessarily what they want to do,” he says. “We’re creatures of habit. So what we’re trying to do is find that sweet spot between what will actually give people palpable improvements in their quality of life, and what resonates with their current desires.”
There are two sides to BetterBox. The first is the subscription model ($24 per month): You’ll be directed to complete 21 tasks in 21 days, some using the supplies provided in the box. The boxes are a little bigger than a shoebox and contain items such as a cookie, a bag of chamomile tea, a small gratitude touchstone, a heart-shaped notepad and a handful of artisanal note cards. Subscribers receive daily email prompts directing them to use one of the items in the box—write notes to people for whom they are grateful, for one, or filling out a gratitude map, designed to get people thinking about the positives in their lives. The second is single-serving: You can purchase individual boxes ($34) by theme. Walrabenstein hopes to have boxes curated by names such as Deepak Chopra as the project expands.
But, Walrabenstein says, how that expansion will unfold is a mystery. “It’s really unclear, especially with how fast things are going in the industry,” he says. But it’s clear that whatever success he has, he’ll be grateful.
This article appears in the December 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Jeff Vrabel is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as GQ, Men's Health, Time, Billboard and the official Bruce Springsteen site, because though he's had many bosses, there is only one boss. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two sons—the older just stole bacon off your plate and the younger was personally approved by Springsteen (long story). He can be reached at the cleverly named JeffVrabel.com.