The Happiness Project

Organic Chocolate and “God’s Reset Button”

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.

Jonathan Fields, of Awake at the Wheel blog fame, has a new book that just hit the shelves two days ago: Career Renegade . Remarkably, Amazon sold out on the first day it went on sale—but perhaps that’s not a surprise, because it’s a book that’s meant to help you figure out how to make a living doing a job you love. That’s obviously an issue of great interest to many people, especially these days. Turning a passion for video games into a career is a transformation that could make someone very happy.

Jonathan has done a lot of thinking about the relationship between happiness and work—one of the most fascinating subtopics within the subject of happiness and also an area that people find very challenging to change when it’s not working.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Jonathan: Coming up with new knock-knock jokes with my 7-year-old daughter. For me, it’s all about people and flow. So, activities that take me away, especially ones I can share with people I love to be around, are the activities I tend to be drawn to.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That it’s not about what you have, it’s about who you bring to the party. Experiences and people are the holy grail, not money and stuff.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Planning. I tend to be very driven and, along with that comes a fair amount of thinking about and living in the future. It’s good to think about what’s coming next, to work to make it unfold the way you want it to.

But, life’s uncertain. That may be the only thing in life I’m certain about. And what you work so hard to make happen down the road may not happen. So, giving up too much of the juicy stuff that lies in front of you every day isn’t necessarily the most intelligent tradeoff in the world. Think about what you want …but love, cherish, nourish, and be grateful for what you’ve got.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?
Actually, it’s something that was shared with me by the soon-to-be former editor of Lifehacker , Gina Trapani. When I was interviewing her for my book, Career Renegade , at one point she said, “You do the thing you can’t not do.”

There’s so much in those seven simple words. A second one comes from the epic poem ” The Bhagavad Gita ,” and it translates roughly as “It’s far better to follow your own path imperfectly than to follow another’s perfectly.”

Similar sentiment. Both speak to the critical importance of being authentic.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
You mean, besides a honking hunk of Green & Black’s 70 percent dark organic chocolate?! For most of my life, movement or exercise has been my go-to pick me up. There’s just something about moving, breathing and sweating.

It’s like God’s reset button.

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?
On the “adds to” side of the equation, focusing on what is right and what can go right and being consciously grateful for what you have. Just flip that around and you end up on the “detracts from” side.

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 definitely run the gamut. Much of my unhappiness, when it’s been more present, has come from either an unwillingness to accept my lack of control over certain circumstances in life or seeing those close to me going through challenging times and being unable to make it OK.

I’m a solver. And, when I can’t solve … well, that bugs me. For the most part, though, I have to admit, I live a pretty blessed life.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Yes, and this follows largely from my last answer. The more comfortable I get accepting some stuff’s just out of my control, the less anxiety and frustration I tend to carry. I don’t waste huge amounts of time or energy trying to fix things that can’t be fixed or make certain things that will never be certain.

I also check in on a pretty regular basis to make sure I’m allocating my time and energy in a way that’s consistent with what makes me come alive. From a career standpoint, that almost always involves the process of creation with great people. And, from a personal standpoint, it means making sure I am not only there, but present, as much as possible to play with my family and friends.

Oh, and one last thing. I try to laugh as often as possible (which isn’t too hard for me, since I’m genetically inclined toward dorkdom).

* Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.