Happiness interview: Trish Ryan.

I got to know Trish Ryan because I was such a fan of her first memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Hope, and Happily Ever After. We exchanged emails, and then when I was in Boston for my book tour, I finally got to meet her in person. Her next book just hit the shelves: A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances.

I'm a big fan of Trish's writing for two reasons. First, although I would describe myself as a reverent agnostic, I'm very drawn to accounts of other people's faith. Trish writes about Jesus and her faith in a way that's engaging, thoughtful, and even very funny. Also, Trish is extremely honest. Not just honest about the things that have happened in her life, but also honest about her real thoughts and judgments and motivations -- to an unusual degree.

A major theme of both her books is finding happiness, so I wanted to hear more about what she had to say.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Trish: We have more time in life than we think, and mistakes aren’t the end of the world.

My prevailing memory from high school graduation on is of being terrified that I was behind—I rushed through college and law school, rushed into relationships, generally rushed through everything trying to line up all the pieces of a real life: career, romance, family. Most of what I accomplished in that rush crashed and burned. But I survived, and tried again (and again, and again). Eventually, I figured out how my life works. But it’s because of all those mistakes that I have the career I have now as a memoirist. No one wants to read a book about someone who got it all right the first time! My one pearl of wisdom for 18 year olds (and why I’m seldom asked to address them by their parents) is: It’s okay to take some chances…you, and life, are more resilient than you think.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Worrying about time. Again, it’s the feeling behind thing. I recently blogged about wrestling with “chronos” time (the Greek word for time that means chronological, sequential time) while longing for “kairos” time (the Greek word describing how events unfold at the perfect time). For me, “chronos” is a harsh taskmaster, while “kairos” is a word of faith. At my best, I take the chance to lean into kairos—to believe that I’m not behind, that things will work out, and that life is bigger and has more facets than my race against the clock.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
“Things tend to get done.” (From my law school friend Jon, who napped while the rest of us studied, came to exams in his bathrobe, and—to my eternal consternation—graduated with the same GPA as me.)

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).
I watch Project Runway! As a writer, I wrestle with a fair amount of the usual angst over my creative process—the mess in the middle makes me despair of ever reaching a satisfying end. I was in this space the first time I watched PR host Tim Gunn visit finalist Jay as he was putting together his collection for the big show in Bryant Park. Jay was right in the middle of the messy part—yards of fabric everywhere, sketches tacked to the walls. And you could tell he was freaking out a bit to let Tim see his work at this stage. Tim was so encouraging, reminding him, “You only need 12 cohesive pieces to make up a collection.” I grabbed that idea and held onto it as I shaped my first book: I looked at each chapter as a piece in my collection. Did it fit? Was it cohesive? It gave me a way forward (always a happiness boost) and reassurance that there was a finite amount of work between now and “the big show.”

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?
I picked up this marriage happiness boost from my sister: She’d been married a few years when I realized that I’d never heard her criticize her husband. She didn’t deify him, but she resisted the urge to jump into conversations about what “all men” do or don’t do, and I never once heard her complain about who he was, or how he treated her. It was a powerful thing to behold.

I try to follow her lead in this, and have found it a great protector of marital happiness. When I have an issue with my husband Steve, I discuss it with him. It’s a simple thing, but it creates a boundary of trust and mutual respect around our marriage that brings us both a great deal of happiness. So even though my new book opens with a scene of Steve and me in a fight, he knows I would never reveal a live issue publicly, and that the reason for sharing the story was not to rat him out, but to show that couples survive real fights and emerge unscathed. It’s a happiness boost to have that sense of safety and trust between us.

* A friend pointed me to a great blog, Make Grow Gather. I especially liked this post -- what a great idea. Treasure hunts, newspaper ads! What's the 2010 equivalent?

* Eager to start or track your own happiness project? Check out the Happiness Project Toolbox! New feature: when you post something to your Toolbox, you can also simultaneously post it to Facebook, which is super-fun.

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