The Happiness Project

Go to Sleep by 9; Don’t Fret About Missed Opportunities

One thing that has made me happy over the past year has been the chance to write a blog for’s Simply Stated . It has been a lot of fun, given me a way to connect with a different set of readers, and introduced me to a lot of great people.

One person I met is Kristin van Ogtrop, the editor of Real Simple . Along with her demanding magazine work, she has a hilarious blog herself called Adventures in Chaos . Her most recent post, about “whether it’s ever possible to be cool in the eyes of your children ,” actually had me laughing out loud while it also got me thinking about a lot of deep issues about parenthood.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Kristin: That it will always go away—but then it always come back again. I also think that, for the most part, happiness is much more about nature than nurture. That is a completely reductive way to look at things and obviously does not take into account any extreme life circumstances, but I do think it’s true. There are happy people and unhappy people and not a lot you can do (or they can do) to change that. You may disagree!

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Obsessing over stupid, control-freak things like whether my husband and children take their muddy shoes off at the door.

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 have a few comfort activities: go for a jog; drink a cup of Starbucks coffee; have a glass of wine; get into bed and read a book; brush my teeth and get into bed with one of my children at the end of an exhausting day.

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 actually think one big happiness killer for people is spending too much time thinking about how others view them: Did what I just say sound stupid? Do I look fat in these pants? Does my next-door neighbor think I’m a bad mother? That’s one.

I also think people spend too much time thinking about missed opportunities, which in my opinion is not particularly constructive and leads you down a regret spiral. Most of the time I’m just focused on the future, where the possibilities are endless, and that’s how I stay happy. The carrot-on-the-stick way of going through life really works for me.

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?
I can think of two periods of my life when I was most unhappy: First, when I was a teenager and in love with a boy named Fred who went to another school and didn’t particularly love me. I would spend hours in my bedroom listening to Janis Ian records and wondering if life would ever get better. The remedy: I went off to college and forgot about Fred. The second time was when I was working in my first magazine job; it was after I’d been to graduate school, and I was older than all of the other assistants, plus married, and had a useless graduate degree. I just looked around me and wondered when, if ever, I was going to be able to stop answering someone else’s phone. Not to mention the fact that all of my friends who had graduated from law school and business school were buying houses and getting pregnant. That period ended when I got promoted and thought, A-ha, my life will not always be this way. So I think both of those periods of unhappiness were about waiting for my life to “start” in a certain way.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Not really. Although I do know that if it’s after 9 p.m., I am most likely unhappy (not my finest hour; I am definitely not a night person), and if I just get in bed everything will be instantly better.

* If you’ve never taken a look at PostSecret , check it out. Mesmerizing. Some of the entries are explicit, however, so be warned.

* The starter kit is ready! If you asked for a starter kit, because you’re interested in starting a group for people doing happiness projects, you should have received it from me. (In fact, 17 people may have gotten it twice—sorry about that, long story.) If you didn’t sign up, but would like to, click here or e-mail me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail [dot com ]. (Sorry about the weird format—to thwart spammers.) Just write “starter kit” in the subject line.