The Happiness Project

Chanting, Kissing, and Reading

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my research, 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.

I feel a bond with writer Amy Ferris because we both had our big happiness realizations while driving—well, she was driving on Route 80, and I was riding the cross-town bus on 79th Street, but that’s the New York City equivalent of driving. You might not expect that sitting in traffic would make fertile ground for an epiphany, but one can strike you wherever you are.

Her new book, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions From a Midlife Crisis , hit the bookshelves today . It’s a humorous but also serious look at all the worries that dogged her during her midlife crisis (a non-sports-car version of a midlife crisis). She’s done a lot of thinking about happiness, so I was very interested to hear what she had to say.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Amy: I chant (I’m a Buddhist) every day, twice a day—for the past 37 years. That makes me happy. Very comforted, connected … at ease. I also love and treasure my girlfriends, I don’t think there is anything better than having great great girlfriends. (And, yes, I have some really wonderful best boy friends.)

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That happiness is not a destination. It’s not somewhere I’m going. It’s a choice. I choose to be happy—or at least try to—every day.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Yeah. I act impulsively and out of fear, thinking that if I don’t do something, say something, fix something RIGHT NOW, this minute, it—whatever IT is—will go away, disappear.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
I read plenty. I read Pema Chödrön often, and I love reminding myself that kindness is so much better than being nice. I try to always always be kind. And I remind myself often that every pain, every struggle, every disappointment and sadness I feel or have felt is so that I can inspire, encourage, and help another person overcome theirs. I feel very strongly about using my life, every bit of it, to help another person awaken to greatness. I hope my book does that. I hope it helps women awaken to their own greatness, power, beauty. I hope it inspires women to fall madly in love with themselves.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity?
Two things: I seek out the biggest greatest best hug and warm kiss from Ken, my husband; and I take a long hot bubble bath. And I read. I read a lot.

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?
My husband gardens, and that brings him great joy and ease and comfort. He loves gardening and creating gorgeous stone beds, and he teaches me, through his very simple actions, that patience (which I have very little of) is a huge factor in both happiness and being at ease with yourself. And, on the flip side, I hear a lot of people complaining about their lives—what they don’t have—which I think always keeps them at arm’s length from feeling true joy.

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 was very unhappy during some early years of menopause: hormones raging, career changes, my mom was sick, I was having huge bouts of doubting my self, my faith …. But one day, while driving on Route 80, odd as it may seem, I had what felt like a major epiphany (sitting in traffic can be a good thing, although, truthfully, not my favorite place to be sitting), that I needed to really start trusting my own life, really stop trying to control the outcome of my life, my intentions, and place trust—REAL TRUE TRUST, not the “battering trust” as I call it—in the universe, and in others. To stop being so fearful of “letting go” (which I have to say I often confused with letting go of someone, or something … rather than letting go of the fear and doubt and worry connected to the desire, the goal, the dream … )

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I work on being happy every single day. And sometimes what I do if I’m feeling really blue, instead of retreating and being self-indulgent, I pick up the phone and call someone—a friend, a neighbor, a colleague—who I know is struggling, or going through a tough time, and I offer a shoulder, or a hand, along with a really good book for them to read, or a really good movie for them to see …

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Oh yes, yes, there was this guy—many, many, many years ago—I was so frickin’ in love with him, he was so good-looking and sexy and unattainable—and I thought, If only if only IF ONLY he would notice me, ask me out . I was just so crazy nuts about him, and thought, this guy, this guy is it. He’s the “it” guy. And then finally he did ask me, and I was, as you can imagine, in frickin’ heaven, I tried on every piece of clothing in my closet, and then the date, then the night … and as I sat there, drinking my Kir Royale, sitting across from my “dream guy,” I thought, “Holy shit, he was so boring, so self-absorbed (not a surprise) with not an ounce of humor in his, oh-so-gorgeous buff body.” And I realized in that moment that this was what mediocre looks like and that I could do so much better than this. And then, not long after, I met and married Ken. Who, by the way, has given new definition to the meaning of marrying well.

* It was interesting to talk to Amanda Berlin at for her piece on How to be happy at a rotten job .

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 26,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (sorry about that weird format – trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.