The Happiness Project

Fun and Creativity in the Kitchen

My fellow Huffington Post contributor Karen Leland is an expert on increasing efficiency and happiness at work, so she spends a lot of time thinking about how people can manage their time to get the most satisfaction and productivity out of their workweek.

She has a new book out, Time Management in an Instant . I love this approach—thinking about how accomplishing manageable, concrete tasks can make a difference in your daily life. It seems to me that feeling out of control of time is a major happiness challenge for many people.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Karen: Keeping my home, office, and e-mail relatively organized. While it might sound trivial, when I know where things are and can find them easily, I stay out of overwhelm. For me, overwhelm is a definite happiness stressor.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That it’s not a constant condition, and it’s not supposed to be. The amount of happiness I experience ebbs, and flows and that’s OK. Sometimes I’m superjoyful, sometimes content, and sometimes down. It’s a cycle, and it all changes.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I’m embarrassed to say that I still have a tendency to compare myself to others with some degree. It’s not as bad as it was in my youth, but it’s one of the patterns I need to continually fight.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Yes, my happiness mantra is “Follow my own path and truth, and trust that the right people and results will appear. Be grateful when they do.”

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Three things are guaranteed to give me a happiness boost:
1. Singing along to any musical.
2. Talking to my girlfriends on the phone.
3. Doing something new, creative, and fun in the kitchen.

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 people I know who are happiest seem to protect their time and space. In other words, they don’t spend a lot of time doing things that they don’t want to do, or being with people they don’t want to be with. They also say what they mean and mean what they say. The unhappiest are those who are blaming others for their woes and can’t seem to shake off being bitter about a wrong that was done to them.

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?
When I got divorced from my first husband 25 years ago, I went through the unhappiest period in my life. The grief and unhappiness were profound, but that experience really taught me a lot. Since then, I would say my level of happiness goes up and down, but always seems to settle in the same place. Whenever I’m in what I consider to be a less happier place, I do things to fill the tank of my happiness. For me that is art, cooking, being with friends, spending time with my husband (no. 2 for 17 years), singing, and being in nature. All of those things fill me up in a way that can shake me out of my unhappiness—usually.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I would say that I work on being more content. In other words, I try and take things as they come and not get too caught up in how it is on any given day. Recently, I’ve been working on being more serene—which to me is a form of happiness. I do this by simply stopping and taking a breather, when I start to feel anxious or stressed. I find that if I let something upsetting sit a bit, its unhappy quality diminishes—at least somewhat.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy didn’t—or vice versa?
You know that expression “Be careful what you ask for, young lady, for you shall surely get it”? Yes, I have often thought something was going to make me very happy, and it made me crazy! Then again, there are things I have gone into that I had no expectation about, and they have turned out to be among the happiest experiences of my life. I think in many ways having an expectation about how happy something will make me is a setup for failure. For me, I think it’s better to bring my best self to something, which includes my enthusiasm, but stay away from expecting it to bring me a certain level of happiness and just be open to the whatever the experience delivers.

* Zoikes, this is happy news: I just found out that the blog search engine Technorati ranks this blog among the Top 2,000 blogs. Given that as of December 2007, Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs, that sounds pretty good.

* If you haven’t watched my one-minute movie, The Years Are Short , you might enjoy seeing that.