I first heard about journalist and author Pamela Druckerman when her book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting came out–it really struck a chord with many parents.
Now she has a new book, Bébé Day By Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, which hits the shelves next week. I find lists irresistible–and lists of 100, even more irresistible.
I was very interested to hear what she had to say about happiness.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Pamela: Reading a good book. Whenever I do this, I’m amazed that I don’t do it more often.
Also, knowing – and naming – the little things that make me happy, makes me very happy. When I think of something I like, I try to jot it down somewhere. Then inevitably, I lose track of it. The other day I came across a slip of paper on which I’d written simply, “the word ‘shimmy.’” A list I wrote last year included “stretching,” “tea with soy milk,” and “dresses that come with free belts.”
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I know how to be happy around other people. I can share a feeling – a moment – and trust that others are feeling it too. I have more faith that I’m not so different from everyone else.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Internetting. I also watch quite a lot of American TV, using the excuse that I’m keeping up with American culture (I live in Paris). I probably am keeping up with the American zeitgeist. But at the end of back-to-back episodes of Modern Family, I don’t feel energized. I feel exhausted.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
“Done is better than perfect.” I had that over my desk for a long time. It’s a key principle for a perfectionist who’s trying to finish a book.
Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?
I like it when the house is neat. Or rather, I’m extremely unhappy when it’s messy. I reach a breaking point – a sort of point of maximum clutter. When that happens, I usually rope everyone into a mad half-hour of cleaning up. Then I can relax, and be calm again. Of course, by then, everyone hates 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 find that forcing myself to be un-busy and just hang out in an open-ended way with my kids, usually on the weekends, has an enormous payoff for everyone. You can see, at bedtime, how much more content and less anxious they are. They seem sort of filled up with what they needed. Also, the more I trust them and let them do things on their own, the better everything flows at home.
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’ve probably gotten happier as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten better at choosing friends (or rather, at weeding out the narcissists). I used to think that I needed to surround myself with people who are fascinating. Nowadays I much prefer people who are funny and nice.