From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. 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.
Deborah Norville is a name that most people will recognize from her post as anchor for Inside Edition, the syndicated TV newsmagazine. She’s also written a New York Times bestseller, Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You – you can read about the book on her site. (Not particularly relevant, but lots of fun to check out, are the covers they considered and rejected for the book. I love that kind of thing.) Gratitude is one of the KEY factors to happiness, and Deborah has done a lot of thinking about how gratitude and happiness interact – so I was pleased to get a chance to interview her about her experiences.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Deborah: There are a few different answers: One that has LONGER TERM, longer lasting effects is to write down the good things that happened in a day. I keep a little booklet, the size of a check book, in my purse and I ‘ll jot things down randomly during the day…often when I’m stuck in traffic going cross town. It works for a couple of reasons: One, it distracts me from whatever it is that is delaying me. Two, it forces me to go back through my day and find the ‘bright spots’ – of which there are many. Of course, human nature being what it is, we do tend to ‘accent-u-ate the negative’ rather than the positive. Writing the good things down keeps one out of that negative cycle. As I detailed in Thank You Power, researchers have found all sorts of measurable benefits — higher immune response, more active, fewer colds and headaches — and you’ll be nicer to other people.
Another thing that works for me is organizing. Cleaning closets, tidying the linen cabinet, throwing out the junk that seems to accumulate in a house with three kids all gives me enormous immediate pleasure. I love to walk into a closet and actually see the floor!
Finally — I am a do-er and a maker. I used to sew all my own clothes years ago, now I knit, crochet, needlepoint, do slipcovers, etc. There is an enormous sense of self esteem that comes from creating something oneself and that self esteem and self confidence is a welcome weapon when those moments of crisis and self doubt come — as they do for everyone.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Deborah: I have always been a pretty happy person, but I think it’s because I’ve known since I was 17 what I wanted to do. I think when one has a focus, it keeps the self-doubt at a minimum and I suppose self-doubt is a big contributor to Unhappiness.
Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Deborah: I ask myself, Where’s the Thank You Power? Where is the blessing in this? What’s the good thing about right now?
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? (mine is reading children’s books).
Deborah: If you are into children’s books, try I Don’t Want to Sleep Tonight by … me! It’s a poem I wrote to encourage my son to lay off the video games … and children love the pop-ups and lift-the-flap illustrations!
Sometimes I think it’s okay to give in to the blues. We all need to jump of the fast moving train called life that we are on from time to time. Stay in your sweats, read a crappy novel. Eat ice cream out of the box. Whatever it is that lets you feel that you are ‘chilling’ for once in your life, give yourself permission to indulge. But set a time limit. Unchecked, any of those chill-out pasttimes of ours can lead to the slippery path to depression and sloth.
My family recommends that I go to Price Club. I get great satisfaction out of buying 48 rolls of toilet paper or knowing we’ve got Q-tips till the rest of time! Just kidding, tho retail therapy at the warehouse club is sometimes fun! Actually, when I make something, I am always feeling better about myself.
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?
Deborah: I tend to think alot of people bring themselves down by focusing ‘too’ much on themselves. Get over yourself. Do something for someone else. In my research on gratitude, Chris Peterson, PhD of University of Michigan who quantified the twenty-four signature strengths of the human animal along with Martin Seligman, PhD, found the three most vibrant were hope, love and gratitude. While hope can be in short supply in the face of huge adversity and love wont come easily to the utterly despicable individual — even those with very little and whose hearts are filled with hate CAN find something about which they can feel grateful. A beautiful sunrise. The aroma of a hot cup of coffee. The melodic chirp of a bird. But you won’t notice those things if you are completely wrapped up in narciscism.
Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Deborah: I don’t work on it per se … but I know that the people activities that are a part of my life contribute to my happiness. My husband and kids, my job, my hobbies, my friends. It all adds up to a woman who is content.
Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Deborah: I had a poster in my dorm room in college, you’ve probably seen the quote: “Happiness is like a butterfly. If you chase it, it will constantly elude you. If you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” It is true. Happiness doesn’t come from the PURSUIT … it comes from BEING.
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