During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.
There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him, than by any other kind of argument. I ask the same set of questions in each interview, the better to compare different people’s experiences.
One of my favorite Zen sayings is “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’m usually inclined to scoff at that kind of notion, but I’ve found it to be uncannily accurate.
A great example of this happening to me is Chris Brogan. When I started my blog, I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying a lot of different things, and seeking information from a lot of different places.
On my desk, I still have a copy of an email I printed out from May 25, 2006, from Chris, with various pieces of advice which I followed slavishly. I don’t even remember how I happened to get in touch with him, but he was a huge help.
Chris is a guru of community and social media — he can be found all over the internet, but especially on Chris Brogan.com.
He had no reason to take the time to help me, but he did – and his help made an enormous difference when I was starting out. As you’ll see in one of his answers below, this kind of effort is a deliberate happiness-inducing strategy that he follows.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Chris: Going to a bookstore makes me very happy. I love the possibility all wrapped up in those pages.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Chris: I know that confidence matters so much more than we let on, and that I wished I used that knowledge more when I was 18.
Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Chris: I’ve picked up the bad habit of letting things go until the last minute, and this means that there’s no margin for error, and far too many self-imposed deadlines. I need to replace this habit. Soon.
Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Chris: I tend to remind myself that I only know MY way to do things. I can dabble in other people’s way, but mine has brought me this far.
Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity?
Chris: My favorite comfort food is plain pasta (elbows is fine) with butter and parmesan cheese. My other thing to do when I’m really down is to help others. I go on huge bursts of reaching out to folks to be helpful, because it reminds me that there are others worse off.
Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Chris: I think that people detract from their happiness when they introduce undue complications into their lives. I fall into this trap often. I over-book my schedule. I make promises that are difficult to deliver. I try my hardest to stay simple
Gretchen: Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
Chris: I feel happy more often than not. I feel happiest lately when I achieve a breakthrough of some kind or another, or when my children reach a milestone. Both seem equal in my eyes.
Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Chris: This is a great question. I do. Right now, the way I’m doing that is by retooling my work life. I’m thinking on how I can do something that’s more centered around my interests and principles, and further, how I can work the hours and style that suits me best. I’m not yet ready to pull the trigger on this new lifestyle, but when I do, I suspect happiness will be an outcome.
I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.