The Happiness Project

Reading in the Tub, Escaping From the Cubicle

By far the best part of the SXSW conference was meeting other bloggers whom I’ve read but never seen face-to-face—such as Pamela Slim, who has a terrific blog, Escape From Cubicle Nation (one of the top career blogs), and whose book, Escape From Cubicle Nation , is just about to hit the shelves.

I was lucky enough to get a copy of her book early, and the thing I most love about it is that it’s very specific . It is packed with useful information and suggestions for actions you could take right now to work on your career. I don’t need to escape from a cubicle, and nevertheless I found it hugely helpful.

Because of the strong relationship between happiness and work, Pam has done a lot of thinking about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Pam: I love to read books in the bathtub. If I am tired or grumpy or stressed, climbing into a hot bath with a good book is an instant mood shifter. The type of book is important if I am feeling really low. It needs to be exceptionally well-written, creative and uplifting. Favorite bathside reads are The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I am stronger than I thought I was at 18. And I don’t have to change myself to please anyone. That was a lesson that took about 10 painful years to learn. But once I did, I got really clear that the only way to be truly happy was to be very clear with my boundaries.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I sometimes let stressful thoughts swirl around in my head for too long, which causes anxiety and makes me feel grumpy. When I notice that I am making myself unhappy, I step back, examine the thought (like “Things are never going to change” or “This situation is hopeless”) and turn it around to something more true and useful (like “Things are always changing, and for the better” or “No situation is hopeless—there is always a way out.”) When I change the thought, the feeling changes, and my mood lifts.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I adore the Buddhist Loving Kindness Meditation and use it all the time if I am feeling stressed:
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be free from suffering.
May you be safe.

I also love a particular part of a Navajo prayer, which I learned from my husband:
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.

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 think that many people, including myself sometimes, look for happiness in the future. They think they will be happy once they have a certain level of financial success or their blog traffic doubles or they get lots of clients or they find a man (or woman) and get married. In reality, wherever you go, there you are. So by finding joy in the present, in its beautiful imperfection, any future goal that you accomplish will just be a cherry on top.

* The fabulous Sister Project is an enthralling collection of material having to do with sisters and sisterhood, very broadly imagined. Fascinating.

* Want to volunteer as a superfan— to help with the prelaunch of my soon-to-be-unveiled fabulous new happiness-related Web site, and/or other various things? I’d be thrilled to hear from you. You can click here or e-mail me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail [dot] com . Just write “superfan” in the subject line.