Happiness interview: Aidan Donnelley Rowley.
Aidan Donnelly Rowley and I were set up on a blind coffee date, as writers who live in the same neighborhood, by the indefatigable Danielle LaPorte. Which is a bit odd, because at that time I’d never even met Danielle, who lives in Vancouver, but only knew her through the internet. When I met Aidan, we discovered that we have another mutual friend right here in our neighborhood…small world!
Aidan is a novelist who also has a blog, Ivy League Insecurities, so it was a lot of fun to talk shop about balancing book-writing and blogging. At last, her terrific novel, Life After Yes, has hit the shelves. Other people’s books seem to get written so fast! (Just the way other people’s pregnancies seem to speed by.)
Aidan’s novel has a lot to do with the search for happiness, and what does or doesn’t make us happy — particularly in the context of marriage — so I was curious to hear what she had to say on the subject.
What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Conversation. Having conversations with people – online in the “virtureal” (because though virtual it is very real to me) world and offline in my physical world is something that consistently makes me happier. It occurred to me relatively recently that the vast majority of my happy memories are of conversations – with friends and family and professors and colleagues. It is the sentences, the ideas, and the debates, that stick with me and sustain me. It also occurred to me that one of the main reasons I have fallen head over heels in love with blogging and writing in general is because that is what these things are in essence: conversations.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I don’t think I thought much about the concept of happiness when I was eighteen, but I’m pretty sure I thought it was meant to be constant state of being, a destination at which to arrive and stay. I know now that happiness, whatever it is (and I don’t pretend to know), comes in ebbs and flows, in fierce existential flashes, and is not remotely permanent. Its transience, its impermanence, its chameleon and cunning nature, is what makes it so intriguing and wonderful.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I say and think the word “should” far more than I should. (See?) I am constantly fashioning unrealistic expectations for myself, ones that I will never possibly meet, and when I don’t, I am quite hard on myself. Self-criticism, particularly when a recurring theme in one’s life story, has a way of eating away at happiness.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
I love, and recently blogged about Hawthorne’s quote about happiness: “Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” I appreciate this metaphor and these words because I do think there is something fragile and fluttering about happiness and that if we pursue it too obsessively, it will evade us. As for books, I recently read a wonderful one called The Happiness Project and though initially cynical about the premise of studying happiness like a science and test-driving its principles, I found the book to be profoundly insightful and compellingly practical. [Awww, thanks Aidan!]
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).
My comfort activity is playing with my little girls. When I press pause and engage with these little creatures, the blues go rainbow and my stress evaporates. And almost instantly. Whether it is an impromptu pajama dance party or trip to the grocery store with them, I am instantly cured of whatever ails me. There is something about their unsullied youthfulness, their bright blue eyes, that immediately calms me and refocuses me on what matters most in life.
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?
I think I have hovered around the same general level of happiness throughout my life, but there have certainly been dips and rises in my happiness thermostat over the years. There have been times when I have been particularly down or lost – while practicing law, after my miscarriage, when my father was dying – but I think that interestingly these periods of sadness have made the happiness I feel today – now that I am ensconced in a family and a career that I love – all the more brilliant.
* Join the happiness discussion on the Facebook Page. Lots of interesting conversation there.
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