Over the past few months, I’ve made a friend out of Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project. She’s a lawyer-turned-author-turned-blogger, mom to two sweet girls, and recently became a columnist for Good Housekeeping magazine.
A few years ago, she had an epiphany on the cross-town bus. She asked herself, “What do I want from life, anyway?” and she thought, “I want to be happy”—but she never spent any time thinking about happiness. “I should do a happiness project!” she realized. And so she did.
I asked Gretchen a few questions this week, and she was kind enough to share her thoughts.
Tsh: I define “simple living” as I define simple living as living holistically with your life’s purpose. In your quest for a happier life, did you see any correlation between happiness and living simply?
Gretchen: Absolutely. I realized that I could only build a happy life on the foundation of my own nature — when I acknowledged my own temperament, values, and interests. The more I got rid of things and activities that didn’t suit me, the more time and space I had for what I loved. Now my life feels simpler, but also more rich.
Tsh: How would you encourage parents to find their happier life? Is there anything special you’d say about including children in the quest for happiness?
Gretchen: Parents — get enough sleep! I’ve become a real sleep zealot. It’s so easy as a parent to lose sleep, whether because your kids wake you up or because you want to stay awake to have some kid-free leisure time. But getting enough sleep gives a huge boost for energy, patience, and health.
At a deeper level, I remind myself all the time, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Getting from breakfast to bedtime on a Saturday may seem endless, but then kindergarten is over in a flash. I really try to make sure that I’m appreciating this time of life — it seems like there will be headbands and crayons underfoot forever, but I know this time will pass.
I realized that one way that children make us happier is by allowing us to re-connect with activities that we truly enjoy as adults, but wouldn’t ordinarily do, without their presence. For example, I’ve loved listening to Jim Dale reading the Harry Potter books — not just because my daughters love it, but because I love it myself — but I never would have bought the CDs if it hadn’t been for them. Ditto, making Rice Krispy treats, playing Uno, playing with sparklers, etc.
Tsh: What was something that surprised you discovered during your happiness project?
Gretchen: I’d read a lot of research about how novelty and challenge made people happier, but I fully expected to find that I was an exception to this rule. Familiarity and mastery make me happy, I figured. But to test that argument, I started a blog — and to my astonishment, I LOVED it. Loved learning to do something new, pushing myself in a new direction, challenging myself to be a different kind of writer, and getting the chance to engage with readers.
I’ve changed my mind 100%. I do believe that novelty and challenge — or put differently, an atmosphere of growth — can add a great deal to happiness.