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Gretchen Rubin’s blog, The Happiness Project, is one of my all-time favorites. Every so often Gretchen interviews someone she knows and asks them the same short list of questions, each one related to happiness. I thought it would be fun to do a mock interview with that set of questions for Refocuser. Note that I don’t know Gretchen personally, so technically it isn’t really her asking the questions. I’m just talking to myself here. Check out all the Happiness Interviews over on The Happiness Project for the real deal.
What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Capturing photos and videos and reliving those memories with family. I love to catch my 2-year old daughter doing something fun and unique; something only she does. It gives me this overwhelming feeling that I’m witnessing one of the most special things in the universe – something that’s never happened before – and I can’t help but feel like I’m helping create the narrative of her life. Almost like I’m building memories with her that will someday encompass her early life experience. We’re helping build her past.
Last summer I made a short movie with photos from my daughter’s first two years as we were getting ready to release Movie Maker (what I work on all day). It was one of the best things I’ve done for myself. I was able to express my feelings more completely and creatively through pictures and short sentences, and it’s a gift I’ll give her someday when she’d old enough to understand it. Every so often I go back and watch it, and I find myself filled with pride (and nostalgia) as soon as I hear the first bar of the song start to play. <By the way, I actually got the inspiration for my movie from Gretchen’s The Years Are Short>
I feel like this is one way I tap into that “past positive” aspect of time perspective, which is so critical to overall happiness.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
When I was 18, I thought happiness was something I would have “someday” when things settle down. Until then, I’m go-go-go because I felt I had so much to do before I could really consider myself happy. But one day fairly recently (during the last couple years) I realized that “happily ever after” doesn’t exist at all. There isn’t a time in the future when all will be right with the world, when everything will be exactly how I had imagined it being. And if there is, that feeling won’t last forever… it may not even last a week. The present moment, the here & now, is the only thing that actually is. I realized I couldn’t wait until everything is perfect to be content with life. My perspective shifted for the better once I internalized this.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
All the time. The first thing that jumps to mind is spending too much time in front of a screen of some sort instead of disconnecting. I’m a total information junkie and bad habits stem from that. I frequently find myself late at night clicking refresh on my email, my RSS feeds, and random websites over and over like a crazed junkie looking for a hit. The payoff is never worth it, so I now forcefully shut the laptop lid and pry myself away (though it’s even harder with the buzzing phone in my pocket to fully disconnect… I’m working on it).
I also find myself questioning decisions I’ve made in the past, even when I know they turned out just fine. Whether they’re career choices, financial decisions, or beating myself up for not making it to the gym during the week, I’ve since learned that I always need to move forward. And maybe not take things quite as seriously as I had been.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?
I first saw this William James quote in The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky: “My experience is what I agree to attend to.”
Both sum up happiness for me. You get to choose what you pay attention to every day, and those choices define your life more than anything else. Focus!
If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity?
I have three:
Hugging my wife and daughter takes me into another place and reminds me instantly of what really matters.
Grabbing a short cappuccino and disappearing into a bookstore for a couple hours with a stack of books is something I love to do. I’ve done this weekly for about nine years, and I always walk out refreshed and feeling more positive than when I walked in. I also feel more creative as inevitably I learned something new and interesting that I can put to use.
And when all else fails, I go to the gym with my Zune HD and listen to sappy music while I lift weights. It can be a struggle to get there when I’m not feeling up to it, but I always feel so much better afterwards.
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 seem the happiest are those who are grateful for everything and find the positives in the things around them. A good friend of mine, a working mother, when asked if she is disappointed by how much time she gets to spend with her boys responds, “No because I’m just so grateful for all the time we do get to spend together”. That’s happiness.
Living in Seattle, where it’s beautiful most of the year with very mild weather, I constantly find people letting the weather affect their mood. It could be a case of “misery loves company” – complaining about the weather is a great way to relate to others, I guess. But so many people I know will complain endlessly (on Facebook!) about a rainy day, even after 20 straight days of seventy degree sunshine. Not only is this detracting from their own happiness, but it’s bringing the people around them down too. I don’t have much patience for people who complain all the time anyway. To go back to the happiness mantra above – if you don’t like something, choose to change it!
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?
Years ago I spent time self-employed because I thought I would be happier defining my own schedule, working from home on my own projects, and hanging out in coffee shops writing code. But I quickly found that it was a pretty miserable experience (for me). Happiness with my work involves working with a great team of people and feeding off other people’s energy. I totally lacked this. It also means big, scary, hard problems to solve, and I couldn’t always generate those on my own. I found that I needed a mission shared with others to get the most out of my efforts, and the second I found that again, the emptiness went away. (I also found that having steady income you can count on alleviates all sorts of stress!)
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I do, though I don’t know if I’d consider it work in the traditional sense. I’ve always enjoyed learning about myself and get a lot of pleasure in trying new things. It’s like a big experiment to see just how much I can improve my own life through various means.
I find reading to be a great way to learn. Audiobooks too. But as great as reading is, I find writing to be better. You don’t really know how you feel about something until you’re forced to express it in words. You don’t know how much you really know about something until you have to teach it. I realized pretty early on that just having this blog available to me makes me happier, because I’m growing through my writing in ways that I couldn’t otherwise.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I’m a borderline introvert. I’m constantly scheming to get out of social events, professional and personal, so I can spend more time alone, with my family, or with close friends. But I frequently lose that battle (being married has a lot to do with that). Yet I’m almost always pleasantly surprised to find that I can have fun, sometimes lots of fun, with larger groups of people. Even strangers. Typing this right now I’m thinking “Ugh, I hope I don’t have to go through that again” – even when I know it’s been a blast before. So this is something that I expect to find miserable, but instead find quite enjoyable most of the time.
Thanks for humoring me with my mock interview! 🙂