I was very happy to hear that I'm going to be on a panel with Brené Brown at the BlogHer conference this August. She's a researcher who studies authenticity, shame, empathy, vulnerability, courage, and compassion -- all subjects that touch very much on the subject of happiness. I've heard a lot about Brené's TED talk, and I've read her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (a subtitle that reminds me of my personal commandment to Be Gretchen), so I'm really looking forward to meeting her in person next month.
In the meantime, I was eager to ask her for her thoughts on happiness.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Brené: Photography. I love to take, process and share photos - it fills me up.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself that The days are long, but the years are short.)
This is my mantra: "Don't squander these moments waiting for that special joyful moment. It's right here. Right now."
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 love design. Right now I'm a little hooked (read addicted) to Pinterest. I don't stay on long, just long enough to be reminded of how much beauty and creativity is in the world. I also love music. The right song can shift everything.
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?
As a vulnerability researcher, the greatest barrier I see is our low tolerance for vulnerability. We're almost afraid to be happy. We feel like it's inviting disaster. I've learned that men and women who are living wholehearted lives really allow themselves to soften into joy and happiness. They allow themselves to experience it. It's a struggle for me - especially since I became a mother, but I'm working on it. Every day.
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 life is more complex than it's ever been, but I'm also happier than I've ever been. I think the change is result of letting go of perfectionism, embracing vulnerability, and practicing gratitude.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
In my work I often write about the lifelong journey from "What will people think?" to "I am enough." For me, working on being happier is all about making sure that I'm heading the right way on that journey. I believe (professionally and personally) that self-worth plays a critical role in happiness. It's hard for me to be happy when I'm perfecting, pretending, pleasing and proving myself. I'm too exhausted.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
As I've learned more about myself and really worked on practicing authenticity, I've found that I'm not a "party person." I love dinner with a few friends or having a couple of families over, but I'm really pretty introverted in crowds. People find that hard to believe because I speak in front of huge groups, but for me it's different. I have fun taking to 5000 people, but dread being at a cocktail party with 50.
* Yes, I know, it seems very sentimental to link to a video of a baby who keeps waking up, smiling, and falling back to sleep, but it is so sweet that I have to do it. Also, I'd be very interested to learn this child's happiness level at age twenty. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that it will be very high.