I've admired Gabrielle Blair's blog Design Mom—"at the intersection of design and motherhood"—for a long time. (Clearly I'm not the only one who likes it, because it was named a top website of 2010 by Time magazine.) Gabby is a designer, the mother of six children, and lives in a farmhouse in the French countryside, and those are the things she writes about.
I finally got to meet Gabby in person last month, at her terrific Alt Design Summit. Gabby is someone who has obviously made a very careful study of what makes her happy, and worked hard to bring those elements into the forefront of her life, so I was curious to hear what she had to say on the subject of happiness.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Gabrielle: Everything's better if I have enough sleep. There were years, probably for us all, where sleep didn't matter as much as it seems to count today. It never once won a contest between a late night with friends or just one more kiss from Ben Blair. I could catch up on sleep tomorrow or the next day. But now I'm lucky enough to have a lot more people in my life and care—six, to be exact!—all of whom love it to the moon when I'm smiling, laughing, dancing in the kitchen, or coming up with a glittery, gluey afternoon project. When I'm exhausted, I'm one step behind, smiles are hard to come by, I don't dance, and making a mess is the last thing I want to do.
It's the same story professionally, as well. Projects tackled on very little sleep take twice as long, make me twice as tired, and often end up flat and uninspired. A good night's sleep is a treasure, and I never feel guilty about sneaking in an extra hour or two whenever and wherever I can!
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Begin now.”) Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
Ox-Cart Man is my favorite picture book of all time. It's calming and reassuring. It reflects a work ethic I like and hold as my own standard; work really hard, and then benefit from your work. The seasonal, cyclical theme resonates hard with me, too. There's a time for everything. There really is. And another chance will come next time around. It really will.
A stillness falls over me when I turn that last page, and everything in my life somehow suddenly feels like a gift. I read it, and like magic I restart enjoying the smallest pleasures and tiniest luxuries, like one perfect peppermint candy that lasts exactly long enough.
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).
Sex! Luckily, I adore my husband and we both work from home. We make an effort to steal away as often as we can, which is sometimes a trick when you live with lots of little people, but it's so worth it. Always. Sharing a connection, feeling loved and loving, burning off the calories from the tarts I can't seem to resist from our local patisserie...it's all pretty wonderful.
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 happiest, most content people I know in my own life are actively creative in some way, shape, or form. Creativity looks different on each of us, right? We may not all be painters whose art is on display in a Parisian gallery or designers whose clothes we all dream of wearing, but if we're expressing our talents and nurturing our interests, you can bet the house that happiness is happening.
Someone else is always going to be doing something more interesting, more innovative, more everything; it's the beauty of living in this big, creative world of ours, isn't it? So jealousy or feelings of inadequacy are perfectly natural, but that doesn't mean they have to stick. For me, that first pang of envy is a not-to-be-ignored signal that I need to get inspired and be inspiring. The simple act of sketching out an impossible idea, gathering up the ingredients for a decadent dessert, learning how to work a new setting on my camera, or even organizing a drawer are all perfect antidotes.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I guess I work hard on anything that's important to me, and happiness tops every list. Over the past few years, I've realized how much of me feeling happy is a choice. I'm still just figuring it out, but I try my best to make that choice every hour of every day. When I'm feeling negative emotions, I take responsibility for them and acknowledge that I can actively choose to feel happier that very minute. That very minute! How empowering is that?
I can usually create a clean slate in my mind if I sit still for a moment and offer up a quick, silent prayer. I try to envision how I would be behaving if I was happy. Then I do my best to behave that way. It sounds simple, but most of the best ideas in life are!
Really, life is so much more enjoyable when I'm happy. It makes my skin glow, too.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t—or vice versa?
I have to drag myself outside for chores, procrastinating like crazy to avoid it all.Shoveling piles and piles of snow? I'd rather enjoy the all-white view from inside, preferably armed with a mug of hot cocoa and a roaring fire. Prune the rose bushes? Ouch. Weed the garden? No, thank you. But as soon as I get out there and start, I don't want to stop!
There's beauty in tasks like that, though. Try not to smile when you think of a freshly-shoveled walk, or when the roses seem to multiply overnight. And pulling a carrot from the dirt or plucking a ripe tomato that grew from next-to-nothing? Breathtaking. Even though I perpetually forget it, these tasks have a beautiful effect on my immediate world, and I actually really enjoy yard work.
* Are you reading The Happiness Project in your book group? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like the 1-page discussion guide. Or if you're reading it in your spirituality book group, Bible study group, or the like, email me for the 1-page spirituality discussion guide.