Happiness interview: Theo Pauline Nestor.
Through a group of great writers that I’ve gotten to know, I “met” (virtually) Theo Pauline Nestor. I immediately wanted to read her book, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, because it’s a memoir of divorce — and one of my happiness-project resolutions is to Read memoirs of catastrophe.
I loved this memoir and read it in two days. Divorce is a major happiness challenge, and Theo’s account of how she got through it, and made her way back to happiness, is riveting.
Theo also has a great blog, Writing Is My Drink, where she writes about books and writing — two of my favorite subjects.
What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Walking in the woods. There’s a trail about 10 minutes from my house that takes about an hour to walk. Most of the way, the trail winds through a mix of deciduous and evergreens but halfway through it breaks into an open meadow overlooking the water. Whenever I reach that water view, I feel happier. I try to keep a pair of sneakers in the car so when I have a spare hour, I can nip over there for a quick walk.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Oh boy, yes. The first thing I didn’t know was that sometimes you have to work through pain to get to happiness. When I was 18, there were many things that had made me sad that I hadn’t identified, and so while I was very capable of having “fun,” I had a fairly low general happiness level. In my case, I had to root out some of that sadness (through therapy), so that I could be happier.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Yes! Here’s the short list: worrying, obsessing, stressing, forgetting to breathe, spending too much time on the computer.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “There is only love.”)
“Mind your own business,” is something I say to myself quite often. While it sounds rather rough, it helps raise my overall happiness level. Sometimes, I obsess about the actions and non-actions of others—someone did something that bothers me, someone else didn’t do something I think they should have. “Mind your own business” reminds me to bring the focus back to myself and what I can change and control. It also can stop me from judging others, which never makes me happy. [I love this! I've been thinking a lot lately about how to stop being judgmental, and this is a great reminder.]
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).
One of my comfort activities is watching TV shows on DVD’s. I don’t normally watch much TV, partly because I don’t have time and partly because some of the shows I really like (Mad Men, Weeds) aren’t appropriate for kids. It’s a big treat to be home all alone and make a cup of tea and watch TV shows for an hour or two.
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?
The people I know who are most contented are those who have work that is an expression of who they truly are. Yes, family’s important too and a good relationship. But work is at least 40 hours a week (many more for some), and if you love your work, you’ve got a leg up on feeling good about 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?
A few times I have been unhappy in my life because I lived in a place where I had little in common with most of the people around me. In those cases, moving away from those places to places where I was able to meet like-minded people brought up my happiness level overnight.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I work on being happier by letting go of the desire to change and control others. It was through attending Al-Anon that I realized that this desire to control was stopping me from living my own life and enjoying it. Learning to take the focus off of others and put it on the job ahead of me has been—and will continue to be–an ongoing process.
I also work on being happy by working on my long-term goals. While it’s important to have fun and relax, a lot of satisfaction for me comes when I’ve accomplished something that I’ve long worked for. I am a big believer in delayed gratification.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Yes. Last year a few new babies came into my social circle, and I decided that whenever someone I know has a baby, I would make them a blanket. I’ve never really done much sewing, but these are very simple, and I’ve found it very satisfying to pick out the material, sew the blankets, and then send them off to their new owners. It makes me really happy. I even have a picture of one of the babies with her blanket on my phone and every time I look at it, I smile.
* Books make a great gift. If you need a book suggestion, try using the Recomm-engine on the site She Writes. Type in info about the recipient where it asks, “+ Who is the book for?” and get great suggestions.
* Want to launch a group for people doing happiness projects together? Email me at grubin @ gretchenrubin dot com. Just write “starter kit” in the subject line.